Friday, November 13, 2015
I have often desired a better version of the Almond Joy. I love the combination of chocolate and almonds and coconut, but the classic Almond Joy is just a little too sweet and well, has a lot of unnecessary ingredients.
Theo Chocolate of Seattle has been making organic and ethically sourced chocolate for quite a while, and even make one of my favorite bars, their Salted Almond Dark Chocolate. Their newest product expansion has been in the arena of traditional candy bars made with better ingredients (liked their peanut butter cups). The newest is Theo Coconut Salted Almond Bites. They’re part of a full line of coconut bites that come in milk or dark chocolate as well, but the twist here that combined an already well-loved bar was too enticing to resist, even at $2.39 for a scant 1.3 ounce package.
The ingredients are non-GMO, fair trade, palm oil free, soy free and organic. It’s also vegan (but made on shared equipment, so not necessarily for folks with dairy or egg allergies.)
The little squares do not look like Almond Joy. The almonds are actually little slivers and chips within the coconut filling, not a couple of whole almonds on top with the chocolate coating.
The smell is comforting, a clean coconut scent, but not quite as sweet and perfumey as suntan oil. The bite is soft, the filling is chewy but not at all sticky. The coconut is moist and distinct. The best part of the whole thing though is the dark touch of the chocolate shell. It’s deep and has a light sweetness that really isn’t found in the coconut. The salt really isn’t evident as a discrete element, but the whole thing isn’t sweet or cloying. The almond provide a different crunch over the chewy coconut.
It’s a very light treat, with really strong flavors and textures. This could become a regular habit ... actually, it has, this is the third bar I’ve purchased since they came out. It took me a while to control myself long enough to take photos.
Monday, October 19, 2015
It’s a pretty good deal for a half a pound of candy made with all natural ingredients, though Trader Joe’s doesn’t say where the chocolate comes from.
The product popped up at my local Trader Joe’s about a week before it was listed on the website, so I bought a box. Then I ate it all, so this is my second box. (You’d think it would get a better rating than a 6 out of 10 if I’ve eaten a full pound.) After the first box I figured I’d pick up another, but it disappeared from the three Trader Joe’s I frequent for nearly a moth.
I think this is intended as a hostess gift item, or perhaps something you’d buy to put out for guests at a party or after dinner.
The tray holds 8 pieces of each variety, so I’ll go ahead and calculate that each is a half an ounce (and about 75 calories). The tray is rather flimsy, and the box doesn’t reseal after you open it. The whole thing, oddly enough, felt a little like a See’s item (they also use a lot of black and white in their packaging, but this has some brown elements and the full product image).
They’re very attractive. The first box was unphotographable because the heat got to it, though it was still edible. The little planks have a squiggle of chocolate across them, making for a lot of chocolate heaped on the top.
The milk chocolate variety is very sweet. The milk chocolate is milky and creamy, the toffee inside has a salty note and an excellent crunch but it falls apart into a bit of a grainy mess, like eating brown sugar towards the end. (I love eating a pile of brown sugar, but not when I think it’s supposed to be toffee.)
The dark chocolate version had the same crunchy then grainy texture and excellent butter flavor, but the dark chocolate really meant nothing. The flavor of the dark chocolate was so non-descript I really kept wondering what it tasted like. If I shaved it off with my teeth, it was like a creamy dark chocolate baking chip, but eating with the toffee it just became a texture.
I don’t think these are bad, mostly I ate the whole box because I was trying to figure them out, but I never really liked them much. They’re better with something else, like crushing them up on ice cream or with some strong coffee. As a hostess gift, they’re probably acceptable, especially for the price point. I don’t see myself buying them again though.
They’re made with milk and soy and may also contain traces of wheat, eggs, peanuts and/or tree nuts.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Il Morso, which means the bite in Italian, is a new, solid form of coffee. Though the concept of coffee being treated like chocolate is hardly new, it’s very rarely implemented. Il Morso not only attempts to make a solid coffee/chocolate hybrid, by using cocoa butter with coffee beans, but they’re doing it with all natural ingredients and far less sugar than others who have come before them.
There are three different little bites in their current line: Americano, Coffee & Cream and Mocha. They also make a Matcha version with green tea instead of coffee. They use organic ingredients, no emulsifiers and pure cane sugar.
I tried Il Morso at the Fancy Food Show, before they were selling at retail. Now they’re available in limited stores and on the web. The company sent me this sampler box so that I could try all the flavors.
An Americano is espresso with a little water in it, to create the same consistency as a standard drip coffee. The Americano Coffee Bar is actually quite simple when it comes to ingredients, just three of them: Espresso Beans, Cocoa Butter and Cane Sugar.
Each little bite of the Americano Coffee Bar, the most intense coffee bar they make, has about 18 mg of caffeine. They’re also only 20 calories, partly because they’re so small (4 grams) but don’t be fooled because there’s no milk in there, there’s still plenty of fat from the cocoa butter (not a bad thing).
The bar smells like coffee, like coffee grounds, not quite like brewed coffee or espresso. It’s woodsy and deep with toffee and charcoal notes. The bite is easy, this is very similar in texture to a chocolate bar. The melt is easy and fast, but not too slick. There’s a slight chalky texture, like that sludge at the bottom of a cup of coffee, but this is by far the smoothest coffee item I’ve had. The sweetness is there from the sugar, but it’s very clean and just enough to moderate the more intense bitterness from the coffee.
Though it’s a small square, it’s quite intense and I don’t feel like I would ever want a full bar of this.
The Coffee & Cream Bar comes in at 16 mg of caffeine and 25 calories. This one contains milk powder in addition to the coffee, cocoa butter and sugar. You can see from the picture though, this is not milk chocolate, it is still very intensely coffee, but the milk is there to bring a more mild note to the bar without adding more sugar.
It’s funny that it does not smell as strongly of coffee as the Americano. It tastes, though, really much the same. The bitterness, the sort of acidic note of strong coffee, that’s all there, but it’s just slightly milder. It’s also smoother and has a lighter finish to it.
The Mocha Bar is the same as Coffee & Cream with the addition of some 70% chocolate. Sometimes I feel like chocolate bars with coffee in them are just that, chocolate bars first. Here, this is fully a coffee bar with chocolate in there. This one comes in with only 15 calories and 14 mg of caffeine.
This bar is absolutely the smoothest. It’s also the least sweet, if that’s possible. The coffee notes are most forward and the least bitter of the three bars, but no less rounded with the toffee and roasted notes. The chocolate is a smooth background with a hint of brownies and bananas.
The final bar is not coffee but all, it’s their only Tea Bar, the Matcha Tea Bar. This one has four ingredients: matcha, cocoa butter, milk powder and sugar. It’s also 20 calories but has only 7 mg of caffeine.
It’s quite green and smells like grass clippings, pistachios, jasmine and tea. The texture is smooth, but the whole effect of the tea is a little perfumey and soapy. There’s bit of bitterness that comes out after the cocoa butter and milk has dissipated. The floral notes linger long after the bar is gone, so it’s much fresher feeling than the coffee bars.
Overall, I think these are fantastic. I love the intensity of the bites, though they feel less like candy and more like a snack because there’s so little sugar in them. I’m also glad they’re so satisfying, I never feel the need to eat more than two at a time, because I wouldn’t want to over consume caffeine, especially late in the day. It’s a great option for travelers as well, if you need a little boost. They don’t seem to have the same problems with cocoa butter bloom as chocolate does, or at least the few that I traveled with melted and reformed pretty well.
The packaging is lovely and has a lot of information packed on to the little squares, which I appreciate. I don’t see myself buying these often by the box, but they would make great favors or gifts for those who truly love coffee. If I could find a candy shop that has them by the piece, I’d be willing to pay $1.75 each for them ... based on how big they taste, not how big they are.
There’s no statement about nuts or other allergens on the packaging. These are very pricey, though premium coffee drinks are also pricey and these are just more portable.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
The candy comes in a tin that’s pretty much the same as the one Altoids come in. The selling point, I’m guessing, of this mint is the fact that it’s made with xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol that is not only “sugarless” but also has been shown in clinical tests that it does not promote tooth decay. Though it does have some calories (about 1/3 fewer than other mints made with sugar), it’s not quickly digested by the body so has a very low glycemic index. The xylitol comes from birch trees, not corn like some xylitol products, so the makers say that it’s GMO free. It’s also vegan, gluten free, soy free and vegan.
Though I picked one of the most pedestrian flavors they offer, the candies also come in cherry, licorice, margarita, pumpkin spice and root beer float flavors.
The chips are, well, chip-like. Think of it like peanut brittle, it’s a thin sheet of a sort of hard candy-like mint that’s been shattered into variously sized bits. Some are as big as a dime but most are more like a small tablet about 1/3 of an inch across.
They’re hard to photograph, which is why I left them in the tin for this shoot. They’re not colored, not opaque, not quite translucent. Not quite milky, so they don’t qualify as white.
If you’ve had xylitol candies before you know that like most sugar alcohols it’s a little cool on the tongue. This works very well with a flavor like spearmint or peppermint, which already has the cooling effect of the mint oils. The dissolve is interesting, but even more interesting is the fact that it’s crunchy, like a toffee only without the buttery notes.
Overall, the unique texture and excellent flavor profile makes these quite appealing. Personally, I find eating too much xylitol a problem (it can make some people gassy), so it’s not something I would eat as a candy, only reserve it as a breath freshener.
I’m curious about the other flavors, especially Root Beer Float and Cinnamon.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Trader Joe’s makes little fanfare with their new products, they just quietly appear on the shelf and perhaps get a mention in the Fearless Flyer. There are rarely announcements of upcoming products, they just show up. However, the same day that the email announced the new Trader Joe’s Ts & Js Sour Gummies, I wanted some for myself. (Sadly, the first location I tried didn’t have them yet, just a blank space.)
The new sour candy pieces are shaped like the letter T or J and come in four flavors: Key Lime, Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Grapefruit.
As I mentioned last month in a long profile about the difference between gummis and jellies, this is another case of jelly candies called gummies. It’s kind of sad that Trader Joe’s did that, because their ingredients are quite clean and vegetarians would probably be more likely to pick them up if they weren’t called gummies.
So, if there’s an analogue to this candy in the big brand world, these are all natural, citrus-flavored Sour Patch Letters. Sorry, I think Trader Joe’s buried the lede ... because this is an incredible concept. It’s everything I already like in Sour Patch Kids, with flavors I prefer and ingredients that shouldn’t interfere with the intensity of the flavors.
The colors are muted, with the lime and grapefruit a little hard to tell apart ... except for the fact that I liked both and didn’t care after a while. All are similar to the structure of Sour Patch candies, a sweet jelly center with a mild flavor and an intense sour sanded exterior. Each piece is a mere bite, not too big and pretty clean to eat with minimal mess.
The red ones are Tangerine: the sour coating is tangy and textured, but melts away easily or provides a bit of crunch if you can’t wait. The center is less flavorful, more zesty. The orange notes definitely veer off into authentic tangerine with quite a bit of orange peel flavor.
The light orange are Lemon: the combination of the sour sanding and lemon peel notes of the center give a good approximation of Meyer lemon, which is more mild than the common Eureka lemons.
Clear is Grapefruit: such a great tangy coating with a very strong bitter zest component. Definitely a winner.
Light green is Key Lime: These have a bright lime flavor that’s pretty generic but really refreshing in a too green apple world. It’s pretty good Key lime notes, which have a little creamy component to them instead of the straight acid of Persian limes.
They’re vegan, there are no artificial colors or flavors ... Kosher and priced pretty well. Really, my only complaint is the fact that they call them gummis.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Chocolate covered dried fruit is one of the simplest confections. Raisins, candied orange peels and ginger and cranberries are the most common chocolate coated items. Every once in a while a company comes along to put a little twist on the idea.
Nature Addicts (which goes by [N.A!]) makes Fruit Sticks, which are basically pureed fruit formed into easy to eat pieces. Then they went one step further and coated them in chocolate. They just call them Fruit & Chocolate, which is a descriptive name but not particularly distinctive. The only flavor is Apple Orange.
[N.A!] nuggets made 100% from fruits coated with a fine layer of premium 70% cocoa dark chocolate for a unique experience.
The fruit filling is made from concentrated apple puree, concentrated apple juice, concentrated orange juice, pectin, citrus fiber and natural orange flavor. The chocolate coating is 70% made with reduced fat cocoa powder, in addition to cocoa liquor. It’s sweetened with cane sugar. There’s also a little honey in there, so it’s not marked as a vegan product.
The nuggets are made in The Netherlands, and it’s all non-GMO ingredients. They’re not terribly attractive. There’s no glaze on the panned chocolate coating, so they’re a little lumpy, a little scuffed. They’re mostly flat rectangles, about 1/2 an inch long and 1/3 of an inch wide.
Even though the fruit bits are really more apple than orange, they taste like orange. It’s an immediately zesty flavor, but also very tangy. The texture of the filling is less of a jelly and more like a fruit paste, think a very soft fruit roll up.
It’s a good combination, though the sweet and sour of the chocolate and the filling is a little jarring because both are intense.
Even though it’s a dark chocolate product, they seem pretty kid-friendly. Smaller children probably won’t like the intense bitterness of the chocolate along with the intense sour of the filling, but older kids may find this a nice compromise candy for families that want something with a little cleaner ingredients for snacking. The bag is just over one ounce and only 110 calories, though there are 2.5 grams of fat, there are also 2 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein. I wouldn’t call them nutritious, but they’re tasty enough as a between meal snack or an addition to a trail mix.
Monday, March 30, 2015
While in London last year, I picked up quite a few chocolate bars. One brand that I noticed had good distribution and prices, was Willie’s Cacao. The company direct sources their cocoa beans and manufacturers their chocolate in England. For a small company they make a wide array of chocolate products, like the bars I picked up in single origin varieties like Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia and two different sourcings from Venezuela. In addition they also have a line of single origin cocoas, chocolate pearls and bars with flavors and inclusions.
I picked up the Venezuela Gold Las Trincheras 72% at Waitrose. The package is two little 40 gram bars that are wrapped separately for £2.99, or about $4.50. A lot of other single origin bars are priced at twice that, so it was a gamble that this was going to be passable stuff. The box is quite elegant, dark brown with orange, creamy yellow and gold foiled lettering. The package states that the single estate cacao comes from Hacienda Las Trincheras in northern Venezuela.
The flavor profile is described as smooth nutty notes, which is exactly why I like Venezuelan origin cacao.
The box helpfully gave me both the bar’s origin date and the best by date. It was produced in November 2013 and good until May 2015. I ate one of the bars after I returned from my trip last year, and saved the other in my climate controlled chocolate fridge until last month.
The bars are lovely, the mold, which says Willie’s Delectable Cacao gives the otherwise ordinary 2.75 inch square a bit more flair. The tempering is very nice, there’s a good snap to the bar and no bubbles or voids. The color is a little on the red side of dark brown.
The melt is easy but not too quick. The ingredients are very simple, no emulsifiers. Just cacao, raw cane sugar and cocoa butter. There’s a little dryness early on, and some bright fruit notes. The overwhelming flavor I get is not nutty but raisins. I usually associate strong raisin flavors with Peruvian chocolate. There are some other notes of rosemary, roses and plums, but I didn’t catch more than a fleeting cashew note. It’s a bit bitter at times as well, but not so much that it distracted from the other flavors, just enough to keep it from getting too sweet.
For the price, I think they’re very well done bars, and I appreciate the packaging style that allows me to actually eat some now and really save some for later, as I did here. However, I didn’t love this particular bar enough that I would import it. I am interested enough in the brand that I would pick it up again, especially some of the other origins.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
There are now dozens of small-batch chocolate makers scattered around North America. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago won the Good Food Award in 2013. Raaka Chocolate is based in Brooklyn, New York and was founded in 2010.
The team at Raaka says,”We make virgin chocolate from unroasted cacao beans. Our unique process preserves each region’s wild flavors, bringing you closer to the bean.”
The unique style of their bars means that they use organic beans that have been naturally fermented and dried but not roasted. The result is a bar that is like the chocolate that we all know, but with some differences ... not necessarily things that make it better or worse, just different. The cacao is direct sourced while the sugar is organic and fair trade certified. Most of their bars are just beans and evaporated cane juice (no vanilla, no emulsifiers) but the bar I picked out for review was the Raaka Virgin Chocolate Bourbon Cask Aged - Belize 82%. This bar also has some maple sugar in it.
As you can guess from the name, the notable thing about this cacao is that it is first aged in oak bourbon casks from Berkshire Mountain Distilling. I’ve had chocolate that’s been aged in barrels before, but never chocolate made from beans that have been aged in barrels. For roasted cacao that wouldn’t work, because the roasting would probably remove the flavors the casks introduce, but remember Raaka is working with unroasted beans, the way the beans are treated before grinding will definitely affect flavor.
The bar mold is dead simple, just a 1.8 ounce plank with no scoring, no design. There’s a great snap to it, and glossy sheen on the outside, but a little rough looking inside.
The bar smells, well, a little like bourbon. There’s a vanilla note and some light peat along with some other more yeasty bread notes. The melt of the chocolate is not quite as creamy as some bars I’ve had, but certainly not gritty. It’s smoother than Taza, which is also stone ground. The yeasty notes are very strong along with an acidic bite and a light coffee and maple note. It’s undeniably chocolate, but with a kick that is a little more unformed, a little less refined. The bar also changed, as I nibbled on it over several weeks. The bitterness dissipated (oxidation can do that) and I found a few more berry jam notes to it.
For an 82% bar, it’s not as dense as you might expect. I’ve certainly had 70% bars that are more intense. This may be because there’s some extra cocoa butter added in, which counts towards the cacao percentage, but does help mellow its severity.
I appreciate the bar, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I kept in my purse for several weeks, but never felt the need for more than a little half inch square at a time. The rustic melt was not as decadent as bars I usually prefer, so sometimes this felt like it demanded more attention to enjoy, like the different between classic sonnets and some free verse.
Their facility and bars are vegan, nut free, soy free, gluten free and made from all organic ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.