Monday, December 9, 2013
One of the special items for the holidays would be what I consider the anchor item of a well-stuffed stocking. Usually, a good stocking has a mix of candy, perhaps some small gifts and then a specialty food item. Like the Chocolate Rabbit anchors an Easter Basket, a chocolate orange fills a similar role for Christmas.
There are a few brands out there, though the Terry’s Chocolate Orange is probably the most ubiquitous, it’s also probably the most disappointing for adults as the chocolate quality has declined over the years. It’s fun to see some more upscale versions, but also some that incorporate other flavors and new production techniques to achieve a unique experience.
I’ve reviewed quite a few of the Ovation chocolate oranges, which were also sold under the name Florida Tropics and made by SweetWorks. It’s an American company using all natural ingredients in their chocolate. Today I have two of the holiday versions: Ovation Dark Chocolate Mint Filled and Ovation Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice.
I’m starting with the Ovation Dark Chocolate Mint Filled because I was really excited about the construction. It’s mint filled. So not only is it a chocolate sphere made of 20 sections molded like orange segments, each one of those is filled with a minted white confection. That’s crazy!
The Ovation oranges are wonderfully structured. They’re a bit overpackaged, but it does pay off. All of my oranges were in excellent shape. Though the sticker exhorts the consumer to BREAK then OPEN, I usually choose to pry it apart. This means less chocolate dust, though it’s possible that some sections will still get broken.
This orange is a bittersweet chocolate base (though made with dairy fats) filled with a minted white confection. It smells lightly of mint once removed from the foil. Though there’s not listing on the package, I’d estimate that the chocolate is about 55% cacao.
The snap is excellent and the individual slices have a pretty consistent stripe of minted white confection in the center (not a true white chocolate). The melt is good, very smooth with a silky, cooling note from the mint. If you’re fond of something like Andes Mints, this is a similar product, except much cooler to look at. I wish it was real white chocolate in the center, but it is all natural. It’s made in a facility with peanuts and tree nuts, it contains milk and soy. There’s no statement about gluten. It’s also Kosher, which means it would be a great Hanukkah item as well.
The Ovation Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice is also very well made with all natural milk chocolate and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves and natural pumpkin flavor. The pieces are like the dark chocolate version, 20 segments held together in a spherical form by a dollop of chocolate in the core. They’re easily broken apart by either smacking the whole thing on a hard surface, or just prying it in half.
These smell milky and sweet with a light spice note. The flavor is overly sweet with a lot of milk components and a warm hint of the pumpkin spices. Mostly I got the nutmeg and ginger, not as much of the cloves and cinnamon. It’s a lot sweeter than I like my chocolate, though didn’t quite arrive at the throat searing level. I’m finding now after a couple of years of these spiced chocolates that it’s not my preferred genre. My usual use for chocolate that’s too sweet to eat or bloomed is to make it into hot chocolate or chocolate pudding. I think this is an excellent candidate for that.
Their standard chocolate versions are also very good, and a great value for 6.17 ounces of all natural chocolate. If you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you’ll also notice that their chocolate oranges are made by the same company under the Trader Joe’s holiday packaging. Ferrara Candy also makes chocolate oranges, which I’ve seen on sale at Walgreen’s.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
A few weeks ago the internet excitement for new limited edition products spilled over into big media with the news that Frito Lay was introducing chocolate covered potato chips: Lay’s Wavy Potato Chips Dipped in Milk Chocolate. This news was apparently mind-blowing, as if USA Today and ABC News have never seen chocolate covered potato chips before.
The new limited edition packages are sold only at Target until the end of the year. The bag is small, something I’d call a “king sized” bag that you’d see at a convenience store that would hold two servings. This bag, however, holds five ounces and says it’s five servings. Chocolate is heavier than Potato Chips by volume.
The bag is pretty and it was easy to spot on the shelves (partly because Target devoted so much shelf space to them, I think it was three shelves about four feet wide in the holiday section).
The chips look an awful lot like the images on the bag. Most were whole or at least large with a consistent coating of chocolate ... on one side. Virtually all of the chips were coated with thick milk chocolate on one side. I don’t have an issue with this, as it was plenty of chocolate, but when saying that they’re dipped in milk chocolate, I have to wonder how that was accomplished without getting chocolate on one side.
They are the thick ridged chips, which hold up well to the chocolate coating. The potato notes come through quite clearly. The salty hint and the earthy tubers combine well with the creamy and sweet chocolate. But the ratios are a bit off, there’s still a lot of chocolate and the chocolate is really, really sweet. Like most chocolate covered potato chips, they’re on the greasy side. I enjoyed them, but found two or three were more than enough (4 chips were listed as a serving). There’s a filmy, greasy feeling on my tongue that followed that left me regretting eating them at all.
I might buy these again, but I think I’m more likely to enjoy potato chips as an addition to a bar or bark than as a chocolate coated item on their own.
As a comparison, I happened to have the Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips sitting around as well (similar expiration date). The Lay’s are far more consistent - the chips are more often flat, less often stuck together and since they’re coated on one side, more potato flavor. There’s also far less salt in the Lay’s. The Trader Joe’s variety has 140 mg in a 1.5 ounce serving and the Lay’s has 45 mg in a 1 ounce serving. The price difference is also noticeable. The Trader Joe’s is $3.99 for 6.5 ounces versus the Lay’s $3.49 for 5 ounces. The ingredients are nearly identical as are the calories per ounce.
There’s no statement about the sourcing of the chocolate. These contain milk and soy and are also processed on equipment with peanuts and tree nuts. There’s not statement about gluten on the package at all, but the Wavy Lay’s do not contain any gluten ingredients either.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Several times a week I browse eBay’s candy sellers’ section to see what sort of new products are out there. This is usually how I find out about new varieties of Mentos around the world. I spotted the Mentos Tutti Frutti a while back and have been trying to get a hold of them.
Tutti Frutti means “all fruits” in Italian and is a common dessert and ice cream flavor. This variety looks like it’s available in Europe and possibly Asia. This variety of Mentos is part of a new trend in the European releases made with all natural colors and flavorings.
The candies are the palest pink. They don’t smell like anything, but biting into them, there’s a lot of flavor. If you’re familiar with Juicyfruit gum, this will be a familiar flavor. It’s a combination of banana, apple and a touch of pineapple. It’s sweet and soft, like banana, with a sort of creamy note to it. But there’s also a light tangy hint like fresh apples or canned pineapple.
It’s an awful lot like a Skittles version of Juicyfruit gum. I like that it’s natural colors and flavors, there’s no weird bitterness or aftertastes. There’s a clean sweetness and soft of floral finish that’s not quite as breath-freshening as a mint, but still feels like I’ve had some jasmine tea or some other neutral drink.
There are quite a few other varieties of Mentos in Europe that we don’t have here in the United States. Kristian at CandyBrain.de was good enough to seek them out (some are sold only at gas stations):
I’ll have reviews later of the other versions: Mentos Mintensity, Mentos Incognito and Sour Rainbow Mentos. I feel like Mentos are stalled as a brand here in the United States. They’ve been spending more on their gum line than the mints and chews, so we rarely get to see the new flavors, even as limited editions here. As we become more global, it’s nice to experience the cultural crossover flavors at the local stores instead of having to pay the premium for eBay sellers or JBox. (I have some JBox candies on order.)
Of course it’s hard to do a review of a Tutti Frutti item and not include this: Little Richard singing Tutti Frutti.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Original Beans is a small chocolate company that starts with carefully selected, direct-purchased beans and makes them into single-origin bars. They take special care with all aspects of the sourcing, manufacturing and packaging, as their name might imply. The bars are not easy to find in the United States, but luckily a very good chocolate source has developed walking distance from my office, so you’ll be seeing more of these interesting finds in the coming months and years.
The selection of bars from Original Beans is very small, but quite specific. I chose to review their Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75% as my first. You can read up on the Peruvian Porcelana beans on the Original Beans website and on other chocolate aficionado sites. The history of chocolate is fascinating and many people have become interested in the generic diversity of the trees and their distribution. The Porcelana beans, as a variety of Criollo, are characterized by their white color and distinctive flavor. They’re quite rare and grown in a few small areas in South America, so single origin bars are not common and often limited editions.
The bar features all organic ingredients and is made only exclusively with white Criollo cacao from the Pirua River Valley in the Peruvian Andes. The cacao is 75% and the package says that it’s a 22 hour conch. The ingredients list is simple and short: Direct-trade cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar. There’s no soy and it’s vegan and gluten free.
The tasting notes for the bar online are: Vibrant, luscious with kumquat, lime, apricot, raspberry flavours and notes of toasted pecan; wonderfully balanced acidity and lingering finish.
Though the beans are white, the chocolate is brown. The fermenting and roasting of the beans makes them indistinguishable at first glance from any other bean.
The bar is simply and beautifully molded. The segments have a great snap and neutral medium-brown color. The scent is mild, it has some smoky vanilla notes
The flavor is an interesting balance of acid like citrus and tannins, for the most part the flavors I got were black tea and roasted nuts. The texture was smooth and has and excellent melt and lack of grit. It still has a bit of a dry finish that’s sharp from the tannins.
I loved this bar, this is the third one I’ve eaten, I bought the first two over the summer but found they weren’t doing well in the heat so I ate them and waited for it to cool off to do a proper review. The flavor is not too intense but still very satisfying after three or four squares. The cocoa butter balanced out the clean but sweet sugar to make it very munchable for a high cacao bar.
The next bar I picked for review is Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk, which is a 42% cacao bar with a touch of fleur de sel. Like the dark bar, it’s made with organic ingredients. From the photo above you can see that it’s a dark looking bar for milk chocolate, but compared to many commercial milk chocolate bars, I’m inclined to call it a dark milk.
Original Beans is in The Netherlands, and the packaging is largely in Dutch (though the website also in English) while the chocolate is made in Switzerland.
The ingredients list is a little longer than the dark bar, but still short: direct trade cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, milk and sea salt. The tasting notes suggest: Exceptionally velvety with salted caramel, hints of summer red fruits and spice.
The Original Beans website has a feature where you input the batch code from your bar into their website that says:
Unfortunately that feature just takes you to the same page you could browse to based on the name of the chocolate bar. For true transparency and education, I kind of wanted specifics about the harvest that made my bar. What was that year like? Were there special issues that would distinguish that vintage from the previous year or the coming year? Or even just things like how many pounds of beans were harvested, how many bars were made in that batch.
The bar has a roasted, caramelized scent that has a bit of a cheese note to it, something a little more savory. The melt is great, it’s soft and fudgy without feeling too sugary or sticky. The flavor has molasses notes, maybe even a little fennel but a lot of milk. The hint of salt does keep it from tasting too much like sugar, but it doesn’t jump out. There’s a sharpness to the bar, again, that powdered milk cheese-ness that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’m not a big fan of the powdered milk flavors in some milk chocolates; it’s a personal preference, not an indication of quality.
I also tried the Bolivian Beni Wild Harvest bar, as I was a big fan of Lillie Belle’s Wild Thing, also from wild beans, but found the 66% far too sweet for me.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In the pantheon of candy bars, the simple combination of chocolate and peanuts dominates the most popular candies in the United States. Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are usually jockeying for the top positions with M&Ms. I’m always eager to see what other candy companies are doing with this duo, especially with premium ingredients. Jer’s Chocolates, here in Southern California, makes a line of peanut butter bars from all natural ingredients.
Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Original IncrediBar is all natural peanut butter mixed with crunch rice crisps covered in milk chocolate while Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Pretzo Change-O is all natural, peanut butter with salty pretzel bits covered in milk chocolate.
The Original IncrediBar is rather irregular looking, but for the most part about 4.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
The milk chocolate coating is sweet and milky but with a good cocoa note to it. The filling is soft and crumbly, though not quite fudgy. It’s peanutty, like a peanut butter dough, almost. There are bits of crisped rice in it, which gives it a mild crunch and hint of malt, while there are also bits of crushed peanuts that give a heartier crunch. The salt is a nice touch to keep the whole thing from getting too sweet.
The bar is hearty, at only 1.5 ounces, I found it very substantial, as the 5 grams of protein would indicate. It’s not shy on calories either, at 230. The bars are very soft, and in warm temperatures, they turn to goo, as many peanut butter chocolates tend to. I made sure to keep mine stored properly and was pleased with the fresh taste of the peanut center.
The Pretzo Change-O sounds right up my alley, instead of the crispy rice bits of the IncrediBar, this one has pretzel pieces. This was also a milk chocolate bar (Jer’s makes two varieties with dark chocolate, I’ll review those soon) with the same flavorful and smooth coating. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the two bars, the crunchy bits were a little larger and perhaps the overall effect was less sweet. Both are fine bars. I preferred them over the the Cadbury Wunderbar or Snickers Peanut Butter Squared (which has caramel) which were the closest thing I could think of to these.
One of the thing that vexes me about these is the packaging. The boxes are great at protecting the bars within, but I have a devil of a time opening them. They’re securely glued at both ends, but snug enough that I worry about smashing or poking the bars if I use scissors to open it.
Jer’s Chocolates also makes a mini version called Jer’s Squares of their popular bars. I like these quite a bit, partly because there’s a greater ratio of chocolate and partly because I like smaller pieces of things so I can moderate better. The big issue I have with them is that their list price is twice that of the bars but you don’t get twice the product. The pair of bars is about $4 (3 ounces, so it’s $21.33 a pound) and the gable box of about 10 pieces retails for $8 (4 ounces, so it’s $32 a pound).
Though all the ingredients are natural, there is no statement on the Jer’s Chocolate website about the ethical or sustainability sourcing for the ingredients.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Ritter Sport is the brand of German chocolate bars that come in a square format and more than a dozen different varieties. The newest is Ritter Sport Coconut in milk chocolate. The package says it’s with tropical coconut flakes in a coconut and milk filling.
I like how inexpensive Ritter Sport is compared to other consumer brands from Europe, like Cadbury Dairy Milk or Lindt, and balances quality and munchability. No, it’s not exquisitely fine chocolate, but it’s fantastic chocolate candy.
I tried another version of a coconut bar from Ritter Sport a few years ago, a sample bar from their store in Waldenbuch, Germany called the Ritter Sport Kokosmakrone which also had some corn flakes in the coconut cream. The cream center is a common format for Ritter Sport, in fact, a lot of German candy bars like those from Milka also use this style.
The ingredients were a little disappointing. Ingredient #1 is Sugar and ingredient #2 is Palm Oil. This is similar to the Amarena Cherry I had earlier this year, which is also a filled bar. The saturated fat content is 45% of your daily RDA in 6 pieces. The other interesting ingredient, though far down the list, is hazelnut paste.
The milk chocolate is rich, sweet and smooth. The coconut center is interesting, because the coconut is actually crunchy and the filling with it is quite smooth and creamy, unlike the moist and chewy Mounds bar filling. I liked the filling quite a bit, and had no trouble finishing the bar. Coconut is not my favorite of all of their inclusions and I don’t usually like their white cream filled bars either. So I’ll probably stick to the Corn Flakes bar over this one.
Though Ritter Sport has a sustainability pact for their cocoa, there’s no mention of the source of their palm oil.
Friday, August 16, 2013
A solid layer of crunchy peanut butter topped with caramel and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
It’s made with dairy-free rice “milk” chocolate which can’t actually be called chocolate according to the FDA, which has strict standards about such things. However, there are no other fillers in it, just cacao, cocoa butter and some evaporated cane juice. It’s an actual vegan candy bar that’s also fair trade and organic. That’s a rare thing. Of course, feeling good before you eat the candy is nice, but not really very productive if it doesn’t actually taste good. Now that I’ve tried all three of Eli’s Earth Bars multiple times, I’m ready to say that they’re actually good, but a little funky.
There’s really no comparison for this bar to a commercial bar on shelves today. The center is like a crushed Butterfinger bar (or if you prefer, the vegan version would be an Atkinson’s Chick-o-Stick) mixed in with some peanut butter and then a layer of caramel then covered in chocolate.
It smells peanutty and sweet and a little like Cap’n Crunch. The rice milk chocolate coating is a little greasy and thin tasting, it’s more like a chocolate milk taste than an actual chocolate taste. The soft center is sweet peanut butter with a bunch of crunchy, peanut crisp lumps. Then there’s a stripe of caramel on the top that gives the whole thing a chew.
It’s odd, not quite successful but still compelling enough that I always eat the whole bar. (I’ve tried this bar three times now.) If you don’t or can’t eat dairy, this is a very tasty approximation of a dairy bar (but it’s made on equipment that does use dairy, so not for those with true allergies). But I’d prefer to just eat Chick-o-Sticks if I need a vegan peanut candy fix.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
If I were to dream big and come up with attributes of an ideal candy bar, I’d probably start with real ingredients. Each ingredient should contribute flavor or texture. It should have real chocolate. It should be organic and fair trade, as ethical as possible. (And if this is a dream, it would be one dollar and sold everywhere.)
Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate has been doing just that, with their new line called Eli’s Earth Bars. They’re organic, fair trade and some are vegan as well as being made right here in California. The bar is a nice size, the portion is 1.5 ounces, which is what I prefer for a snack. I picked up all of their bars when they first came out, diligently took their photos, ate them and then tried to find more for the review. It took me 2 years to find them in a store again.
I finally found my Eli’s Earth Bars Dream Big Bar at Erewhon, walking distance from my office. The packaging design is good, it’s attractive but not too weird looking. It looks like there’s a candy bar in there, not some mush of seed hulls and dates.
Caramel and peanut butter topped with whole peanuts and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
The bar looks great. The milk chocolate coating is actually made with rice milk, so it’s not technically milk chocolate since there’s no dairy in it. But the chocolate is still made with real cocoa butter (none of those palm oil fillers). I was thinking the bar was going to be kind of like a Snickers, but it’s actually a bit more like a Baby Ruth.
It’s about 3.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. The appearance of the outside looks like chocolate, but it tastes a little, well, odd.It’s smooth, but has a bit of a milky note without thinning out the flavor. Mostly I get a rice, or cereal flavor from it. The caramel center is stiff and a little tough to bite at first, which tears the bar apart. The peanut butter is the right balance of smooth and salty, the peanuts are fresh and crunchy. Aside from the tougher than normal chew of the caramel, the textures go well together. There’s the right amount of sweet, salt and fat going on.
The bar most certainly doesn’t taste like disappointment or shame. It tastes like a candy bar. It’s not healthier, it’s still a candy bar, but it doesn’t compromise on the core beliefs - it’s vegan and organic and ethically sourced.
Gluten free but made on shared equipment with dairy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.