Wednesday, January 18, 2006
There are a lot of good things about chocolate. It tastes good and in moderation it could actually be a good addition to a normal diet. But one of the suprising things is that chocolate may actually be good for tropical economies and ecosystems as well. See more here.
There are quite a few free trade/organic chocolate companies now, but one that’s making the best inroads with consumers, including kids, is Endangered Species Chocolate Company. (I have no data to back this up, just my awareness of people’s affection for it and that I see it in far more stores than other bars of the same type.) They have a huge selection of bars and chocolate formats, good packaging and a pretty good distribution network. Oh, and they taste good, too!
Because Endangered Species has such a large selection of bars, I thought I’d start small. I saw these little impulsive tasting squares called Bug Bites that came in both dark and milk chocolate. They’re obviously a little bit of chocolate for the kids, but I’m a kid at heart and I love bugs.
The little .35 ounce squares are Fair Trade certified, organic and Kosher. The little nibble has a butterfly on it and though the package says something about a bug trading card, I didn’t get any in either of my packages. The milk chocolate is very sweet and in the style of the European dairy milk chocolate bars. It has a good milky, woodsy smell, but is probably too sweet for me. It’s exceptionally smooth and I’m sure will please children quite readily.
The dark square was exceptional. Very fruity, with some apricot and cherry notes it also had some woodsy balsam qualities. It was buttery and had a slightly bitter finish that wasn’t too dry.
Though not all the bars are completely Fair Trade or completely organic Endangered Species Chocolate Company donates 10% of profits to protect wildlife (including those animals featured on the bars). Inside the wrapper is a profile of the animal on the package, in this case it is the bat and notes that of the 45 species in the United States alone, 7 of them are endangered.
I was specifically looking for this “Bat Bar” which is 75% cocoa content and cocoa nibs. I hadn’t seen it at Whole Foods, where I’ve been picking up my other organic bars. Whereas the other nibby products I’ve tried like the Michel Cluizel Noir au Grue de Cacao and Max Brenner Dark Chicao have large nib pieces in them, this bar had kind of crushed bits in it. This has its advantages, but it also creates a different sort of bar.
First, this is a very dark bar. At 75% cocoa, it’s already pretty dense. Because the nibs are crushed smaller they impart a bit of a grain to the chocolate that I didn’t detect at all in the Bug Bites, so I’ll credit that to the nibs. The nibs add a wonderful variation in texture though, with a good fruity burst in spots and sometimes and unpleasant astringency. Nibs are pretty high in fiber too, so eating a serving gives you 3 grams of fiber! I wish the entire bar wasn’t quite so sweet though.
I think if I’m going for a nibby fix I’m going to stick with the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs ... but the wide availability and decent price of the Engangered Species bar would make it a close second.
Friday, January 13, 2006
While up at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA last month I discovered that there was another factory in the industrial park: Thompson’s Brands. I’d never heard of their chocolate before but Tomi, who gave me my tour at Jelly Belly said it was worth the stop. I realized when I got into the little shop that I’d probably seen and had their products dozens of times. They seem to specialize in foil wrapped chocolates and have a HUGE selection of them for all occasions at the factory store.
What caught my eye though were these cute little 1 ounce bars of organic chocolate. It’s getting easier to find organic chocolate these days, but it is pretty difficult to find them in smaller portions (most bars come in the 2.5-3.5 ounce size). They also had a large variety at 89 cents each I picked up one of each. I’m all about getting wholesome food that doesn’t pollute the planet. The big challenge has always been getting it at a price that’s reasonable (I’m willing to pay more, but not that much more) for a good quality product. Luckily Thompson has found a solid middle ground with price and taste.
70% Dark Chocolate: their darkest bar, this one has a nice sheen and good snap. The smell is chocolaty and slightly fruity. Upon tasting it there’s a distinct cherry note to it and some other woodsy qualities. A little bitter, but smooth. It also has a smoky charcoal note to it, that I detected in all the bars; it’s not an unpleasant taste, just a little different. Their website says that all their beans are from South America and I understand that a smaller variety of source beans can give chocolates a very distinctive taste (as witnessed by the single origin bars I’ve tried). It’s an exceptionally buttery chocolate and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
50% Dark Chocolate: this bar was very sweet, though had the same buttery quality of the others. The melt was a little less smooth with a more detectable grain. I didn’t care much for the “chocolateness” of it, it felt a little watered down by the sugar.
Milk Chocolate Almond: the Thompson milk chocolate is sweet, not terribly sticky feeling and has that European dairy flavor to it from using powdered milk. The combination of nuts and this style of chocolate gives it a rather twangy series of notes that are compelling and satisfying.
Milk Chocolate Caramel: this was the only bar that I think I could shovel down like “candy”. The caramel center isn’t terribly big, not a large reservoir like I’ve had in bars like the Caramello or Hershey’s with Caramel, but the caramel is nicely caramelized with a slight grain to it. Not runny but not quite chewy, it’s a nice balance for the milky bar because of the good hit of salt.
Milk Chocolate Truffle: when I think truffle, I think buttery smooth, soft centers. That’s not this. This is a firm truffle, more like a Frango. It’s not bad, smooth and lighter than the milk chocolate outside, but I prefer the plain dark, caramel or almond bar to this.
If you’re looking to indulge your children with chocolate but with an eye towards keeping organic, you also might want to explore their line of novelty items that include foil wrapped chocolates. Their pandas are pretty ding-dang cute. Unfortunately I don’t know what stores carry these items. Pop a comment here if you’ve seen Thompson’s in your stores. GroovyCandies.com seems to carry quite a bit of their traditional line. Thompson is also the company that makes the Adora Calcium Tablets.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I hardly thought it was possible, but I found a marzipan I actually like. (See, I didn’t give up.)
The chocolate is good quality, slightly bitter but smooth and the center is a different kind of marzipan. It’s not the ultrafine paste that you find in some of the sculpted varieties. Instead this one has palpable bits of almond in it and a darker color (because of the coffee flavoring). There’s also only the slightest hint of amaretto, which is the actual thing I don’t like about marzipan. I love almonds, I just don’t like the “flavor” of almonds.
The bar doesn’t really have much of a capuccino flavor, but a pleasing scent and creamy quality that I found really compelling.
I doubt these are widely available, but I noticed that Cost Plus had quite a variety of this brand (they were on sale for the After Christmas clearance) so I might give their actual plain marzipan a try in the future or perhaps the Orange I saw on this site.
Interesting fact: Niederegger was founded by Johann Georg Niederegger on March 1, 1806 ... that means they’re going to celebrate their bicentennial of marzipan in a few scant months. Happy Birthday Niederegger!
I’m keen on sour things and I guess it’s pretty surprising that I’ve never had Airheads, let alone anything else in their line.
I saw these at the 7-11 and thought they were so intensely pretty that I had to buy them.
The colors are vibrant: red, yellow, green, orange and aqua. The flavor, as far as I can tell, is strawberry or possibly green apple or maybe a cross between the two. I dissected a couple of the belts to figure out if there was a difference in flavor between the colors and I couldn’t tell. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t, I just couldn’t figure it out.
They’re sour, but not in a toxic way. They’ve got a dusting of sugar crystals to keep them from sticky, but they’re soft and chewy. The best thing about them is that the flavor lasts all the way through the chew. Some chews lose their initial flavor, like they’ve been dusted or something when you chew them. But these are tangy and sweet all the way to the end.
The only complain I have is that as an adult I find them a little hard to eat. The sugar gets on my hands and I don’t want to eat the whole thing at once, so I’m left holding it or pulling it apart. As a kid, I’d probably think they were the coolest thing in the world and wouldn’t mind the sticky fingers in the slightest.
Interesting note: AirHeads are made by the same company that makes Mentos - Perfetti van Melle. The company is Italian, but the Xtremes were made in Spain.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
As I reviewed last week, Nestle is creating some limited edition bars. This tactic seems to encompass adding peanuts to current candy bars.
The Nestle Crunch with Peanuts is simply a Nestle Crunch bar with peanuts mixed in. Think of it as Mr. Goodbar meets Krackel (well, if you were in the Hershey’s universe). It’s a really nice bar and I like how the peanuts moderate the sweetness of the Nestle chocolate. I actually prefer it over the regular Crunch bar which I’ve always found a little too sweet and bland.
The crunches come from both the crisped rice and the roasted peanuts - so there’s variation in texture and taste. I certainly prefer it to the Crunch with Caramel they did a while back. It also seems to be more innovative than the White Chocolate and Dark Chocolate versions from last year. I’m not likely to buy these, but if there were an assortment of Nestle miniatures with them in it, they’d certainly be one of the first I’d pick out.
The other thing I like about adding nuts to chocolate and other sweets is that it gives a little protein/fat punch to the sugar. I know it sounds odd to be talking about things like glycemic load when talking about candy, but I like to feel good while eating candy and an hour later, instead of having a severe sugar crash and getting the shakes.
NOTE: I’m not going to make a habit of revisiting previous reviews, but I was contacted by Jason Barba, the inventor of CraniYUMS! He pointed out the product that I tasted was probably not at its best:
I have to admit that I got my sample last summer and hung onto it for many months (and perhaps didn’t store it properly, as I opened the package, took the photo and didn’t eat it for several days). The new samples seemed “plumper” which leads me to believe that mine dried out a bit. Combine that with the candy center which was opaque instead of transparent and it seems like I had an over-ripe sample.
So, here’s an updated review.
What is it? It’s a hard candy lolly in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull then covered in a gummi “flesh”. The fleshy part is transparent, so you can see the skull shape at the center. It’s actually a pretty fun idea.
The skin is soft and pliable, like a very soft gummi (not the more firm ones like Haribo). The mellow, uncolored cherry flesh tears easily from the skeleton and reveals a transparent green skull in the shape of a T-Rex. The skin is pretty mild, not tart but not terribly sweet either. The center candy is dense and smooth in a very pretty shade of emerald green. The other flavor is lemon flesh with a cherry hard lolly center. The gummi on this one is actually really good - it’s very zesty with an intense burst of lemon essence. Again, not very tart, but really fragrant.
I’m obviously not the target market for this candy, but I can see it being a fun thing to pick up at a museum gift shop for my nephew should we go look at a dinosaur exhibit. It’s a good combination of taste, interactivity and design. I’m upgrading my review from a 5 out of 10 to an 8 out of 10. Still a little pricey, but a nice treat. If they made a giant ape one, they could sell them as a set for fans of King Kong! Maybe something to think about if you’re planning a DVD viewing party.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:16 pm
Monday, January 9, 2006
I heard about these last October. When you think about it, it’s a natural idea - combine figs and chocolate to create a candy. I’m all for wholesome candy, there’s no reason that healthy ingredients can’t be combined to create something tasty. And don’t worry, they’ve done it here.
Chocolate Covered Fig Bar: Before you try these you might want to ask yourself if you like figs. The first ingredients in the two bars is figs, then sugar, then chocolate. The fig center isn’t at all like a Fig Newton, there are no identifiable seeds even. Instead it’s a moist, soft and chewy center with a good fresh, figgy taste. There’s also a hint of raspberry to it. If the seeds of a Fig Newton always bothered you, this might be a good way to get the fig taste without the fig texture.
Chocolate Covered Fig Bar with Almonds: This one was actually my favorite. It’s the same fig bar as above with almonds mixed into the center. The combination of fig and almonds is a natural and the texture added by the nuts gives it a little crunch and nutty taste. Almonds also add their own nutritional benefits, a dash of protein and a little fiber in their own right. I don’t know how much attention you pay to calories, but as a chocolate candy this bar has the lowest calorie/ounce rating that I think I’ve profiled yet. That means you feel like you’re eating a lot (that’s what fiber does for you), so there’s the munching satisfaction, but not actually whole lot of calories. The bars feel substantial, but they are smaller than your typical 1.75 ounce candy bar that we’re accustomed to with Hershey’s, Nestle & Mars.
Figamajigs are billed as healthy candy as they provide both high fiber (4 grams per bar), small amounts of calcium and iron in addition to the antioxidants inherent to both figs and chocolate. The Figamajig website provides more info about these health benefits and the full story of Mel Lefer, the creator of Figamajigs, who invented the bars in a search for a healthy snack that would satisfy.
Candy Pieces: These are really pretty candies. I saw them on the website and I thought, there’s no way they’re that cute. But they are. They’re large dollops of fig centers from the bar, covered in chocolate and then covered in a candy shell. The shell is crunchy and sweet and the center has a good balance of chocolate and figs (more chocolate in this ratio, it seems). They’re actually quite a bit sweeter than the fig bars, and I don’t know if I could eat a lot of them in one sitting for that reason. But, if I were making a trail mix for snacking in the car, out whalewatching or on a hike, this is the perfect format. In fact, if I were going to make a trail mix, it would be a combination of mini pretzels, chocolate covered raisins, chocolate covered nuts (I prefer cashews, but I know almonds are better for me) and some plain almonds. It gives you a good mix of sweet, salt and of course the creaminess of the chocolates. It also has a good balance of sugars to proteins so you don’t get a sugar high and crash ... the proteins moderate the processed carbs and give you lasting and satisfying energy. I can’t wait for them to be sold in bulk at Whole Foods or maybe in tubs at Trader Joe’s. If I have one complaint it’s really that the little colored candies have no name. Really, what am I supposed to call them?
When the time comes for me to choose between a Luna Bar and a Figamajig, I’m totally going for the Figamajig. (Sorry, I’m not going to pick a Figamajig over a KitKat though.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:30 am
Friday, January 6, 2006
There are two things that are great about tasting international candies (well, more than two, but two that I’m going to point out here). The first one is finding new and exciting candy with combinations or ingredients I’ve never had before. The second one is finding the same thing that we have available here in the States. And you wonder why I find the latter a great thing? It’s because it’s a confirmation of the universality of candy. Whether it’s the same megaglobalcorp making it elsewhere or a spontaneous expression of convergent evolution, it’s all a reminder to me that candy is the Great Uniter.
These fun little popables are kind of like those Pirouline cookie sticks. They’re a little wafer cookie tube covered with chocolate. There are little holes in either end (most of the time) that makes them look like chocolate macaroni that you could string up and wear (and eat!). This is one of those rare instances where the candy shown on the package looked exactly like what was inside. They were glossy milk chocolate that smelled like sweet, milky chocolate. They’re also very light since they’re crunchy, hollow cookies. That amount of air in there is actually, I think, a good thing as it makes you feel like you’re eating more and also allows the flavors and aroma to mix. The chocolate is very sweet but really smooth and a little sticky with a hint of the European style of milk chocolate. The crispy cookie center is airy and with a hint ofcaramelized sugar to give it a little contrast to the vanilla sweetness of the chocolate.
It’s easy to just keep eating these. It’s such a simple idea, it makes me wonder why we don’t have something like this in the States. There’s a huge variety in theKlik line, including chocolate corn flakes, which reminds me of the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes.
This sounds like an unlikely bar: Extrafine Milk Chocolate with Cookies and Crunchy Wheat Germ. Let’s face it, most of us grow up thinking things like wheat germ are yucky. But think of it like Grape Nuts. In fact, why isn’t there a chocolate bar with Grape Nuts? These cookie and wheat germ aren’t as big as Grape Nuts but they’re very tasty and add more than texture to the bar. The wheat germ has a wonderful malty quality that gives the bar a nutty punch and moderates some of the sweetness. The chocolate here is also the same very sweet but exceptionally smooth milk chocolate.
It’s also a really pretty bar. When I opened it up I was pleased to see that it’s molded in the shape of a bunch of bubbles. It makes it easy to break off pieces, but they’re not little squares, instead they’re nice little domes which means more room for crunch.
Even though I don’t read/speak Hebrew, I was easily able to pick out the Klik items from the box from Michal. I credit this to the vibrant design and packaging. I know I’m not going to run across these again, but I know I’ll recognize them if it does happen.
Note: Israeli Kliks are nothing like the American Kliks which are a candy dispenser similar to Pez but they dispense Smarties ... the American Smarties, not the UK ones ... sigh, it’s tough being global.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.