Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Poco Dolce is a small confectioner based in San Francisco known mostly for their lovely toffee tiles (really, take a look). A few years ago they started making specialty chocolate bars as well.
The one I picked up in San Francisco was one I was particularly looking forward to. It’s simply called Hazelnut Bar made with bittersweet chocolate. The ingredients are exceptionally simple, chocolate, hazelnut butter and sea salt. Since it’s a dark chocolate, it’s also vegan (though processed where it may have come in contact with milk proteins, other tree nuts or peanuts and there’s no statement about the sourcing of the sugar).
Poco Dolce sources their chocolate from nearby Guittard Chocolate Company, choosing from their Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate. The hazelnut butter comes from Oregon.
The bar is not that large, though the box makes it seem like it would be close to one of those 3 ounce tablets. Instead this one is 1.763 ounces ... or what I’d consider a very generous single portion.
The dark bar is nicely tempered and the smooth hazelnut butter is well integrated. The texture is smooth, no hint of hazelnut bits but a strong hazelnut flavor. The bar is bitter, but in a roasted way. The melt is good, though a little firmer than a regular dark bar at first, but has a lighter feel on the tongue than a straight chocolate. It’s lightly sweet and lightly salty, deeply chocolatey and nutty. It’s also exceptionally filling. About two pieces were a great pick me up. So while the bar was expensive and small, I felt like it lasted a long time.
One of my complaints about hazelnut paste (gianduia) as I’ve gotten older is that it’s too sticky and too sweet. This bar has none of those issues, yet still remains decadent.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Right now the gumballs are sold in small bags of assorted flavors, a mix of fruits, mint and spice. It’s made with real sugar, no artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols (which can cause stomach upset in some people). Gum made with just sugar these days is particularly rare, and finding it in a fun and familiar shape is a big selling point.
The price for the bag was $1.59 on sale, but I see these on the internet going for about $3 for a 2 ounce bag, which seems a bit steep for gum, even if it is all natural. But when there are so few alternatives when you’re sensitive about ingredients, it’s the going rate.
The gumballs are nicely soft. The colors are consistent though not extremely strong or bright. The balls are a bit denser than I expected. I knew they were hollow, but each piece is a good sized chew and two are an appropriate portion, three a little too much for me.
Cinnamon Spice = Red tastes like those amazing hot toothpicks I was obsessed with as a preteen. The cinnamon is strong and has a woodsy note along with the spicy heat. It’s sweet and has a warming feeling on the back of my throat and a light note of cloves. It’s like a chewable Atomic Fireball, except there was no hint of bitterness from artificial colors, because there were none. I quite liked this one and would love to have more than three in my bag.
Tangerine Dream = Orange is soft and mellow. The orange flavor is more like a scent, there’s no tang but plenty of zest. Because there’s no sour note, it never verged into Aspergum territory (an orange flavored pain relieving gum with aspirin in it).
Orange Mandarin Berry = Pink was actually quite fruity and pleasant. I was expecting something more along the lines of Juicyfruit, instead it does actually have berry notes in it, like blueberry and raspberry and then a sort of citrus zest undertone. The flavor fades rather quickly, but still has a lingering freshness to it.
Peppermint T = Green is extremely strong. It’s truly like an Altoid gum, bold and natural. The flavor, like the others, fades, though the cooling effect of the peppermint lingers for quite a while. I liked these a lot and would like to just buy a bag of the green balls if possible.
Lemon E. Lemonade = Yellow was subtle. It was not at all tangy and has a light hint of fresh lemon or lemongrass. But that’s about it. It’s sweet and has a nice, soft but not sticky chew. Bubbles were appropriate after most of the sugar was gone, though never quite large.
I tried combining flavors, the orange went well with lemon or berry. The mint and cinnamon were both very strong and sort of fought at first before cinnamon won out.
The chew of the gum base is smooth, except for the sugary crunch from the shell. The chicle doesn’t stick to my teeth and stays soft and chewy without becoming stiff like a wad of paper like some gums can get. But it does lose flavor quickly and the bubbles are much stickier than the synthetic versions and can’t get very big. I wouldn’t recommend this for little kids, but older kids looking for something that appears mainstream might like this. Adults like me who like to chew the flavor out and refresh quickly will also like the variety.
The package doesn’t say where they’re made but did list that they’re gluten free, nut free, dairy free and Kosher, but they do contain beeswax so wouldn’t be appropriate for vegans.
Monday, August 13, 2012
The idea was to be able to reach more consumers with Markoff’s taste creations without sacrificing the artisan scale of the original Vosges but still reach more consumers. (Source) I have trouble believing that Vosges is truly artisan any longer since they’re a $30 million company. The Wild Ophelia website feature a hokey story about this mascot for the brand that dipped beef jerky in milk chocolate instead of the traditional lemonade stand as a kid. The story reads like a non-traditional innovator’s checklist:
But again, it’s all just made up. The real story of someone wanting to extend their brand isn’t good enough, yet with this pure fiction they want us to also come on board with the real stories of the artisans that provide some of the key ingredients in the bar flavors.
The Wild Ophelia line features bars that cost one third less than the Vosges bars, but of course are about one third smaller in size. That’s fine with me in principal at least, since I often find the 3 ounce bars a bit too much for me and my short attention span. The new line of bars feature flavors like Beef Jerky, Southern Hibiscus Peach, Salted Chowchilla Almond, New Orleans Chili, Sweet Cherry Pecan, Mount Sequoia Granola, Smokehouse BBQ Potato Chips and the final one, Peanut Butter & Banana is what I picked up.
The Milk Chocolate Bar Peanut Butter & Banana is made with a dark milk chocolate of 41% cacao. Then it’s mixed with pieces of dried Williams Banana, which is grown on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Peanut butter is mixed into the chocolate.
It sounds great, though I wish I knew as much about the chocolate and the origin of the peanuts as I now do about the bananas.
The bar is soft and has a smooth break. It looks like the pieces are quite small and well mixed in. It has a strong scent of roasted peanuts and a little note of maple or sweet hot cocoa.
Though the bar has a peanutty aroma, the chocolate, it tastes of both chocolate and peanut butter, like someone melted and mixed together a peanut butter cup. It’s a little grittier and fudgier than a standard milk chocolate bar. The heartiness is then highlighted with bits of dried bananas. They’re soft and chewy, but still kind of tough. They’re sweet and have a strong banana flavor with a fair bit of tanginess.
I found the leathery and sticky banana bits a little off-putting, they’d get stuck in my teeth. But the overall ratios and the fact that it’s not a sweet bar but still has that satisfaction of a sweet snack is really quite good. There are little bits of salt in it as well, and though it tastes like a lot because they’re little granules, it’s actually only 30mg for a serving.
Now for the transparency part. The company says “Wild Ophelia is a uniquely American chocolate brand that features all-natural and often organic ingredients sourced from small farms and artisans to tell an American story. All Wild Ophelia products are made with 100% renewable energy and packaged in 100% recycled board. Proudly, the Wild Ophelia line is developed by a certified women’s business enterprise.” Nowhere could I find a statement about the sourcing of the chocolate (none was listed as organic, the only organic ingredient in this bar was the peanut butter). So I can’t say anything about the ethics of the sourcing of the cacao and at $5 for a 2 ounce bar of chocolate, I’d prefer that the dairy products in it also be organic.
Wild Ophelia is gluten free, but their facility uses dairy, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. I love many of Vosges products, but have had to stop eating them because of walnut contamination issues (which is fully disclosed on the packages). I did not have any problems with this bar and none of the Wild Opheila products have walnuts in them (my only allergy).
For a more complete rundown of the line of bars, check out Jess at Foodette Reviews.
Friday, July 13, 2012
I reviewed the Sunkist Fruit Gems when they were made by a Los Angeles company called Ben Meyerson. Shortly after that, in 2006 Jelly Belly bought the rights to the candy and changed the flavor set. (Review of both versions here) Here it is, 6 years later and Jelly Belly has relaunched the Sunkist line using all natural ingredients (natural flavors including juices and natural colors).
While I like fruit jellies, I pretty much stick to orange slices or spearmint leaves (I know, not a fruit). The original flavor set was orange, lemon, lime, cherry, raspberry and grapefruit. Then the revamped flavor set (at the same price point but fewer candies in a package) was orange, lemon, lime and raspberry.
Neither thrilled me. Neither really lived up to the name of Sunkist, the citrus growers. Still, when visiting trade shows where Jelly Belly had samples, I always picked up a few of the citrus ones. I really wanted to like them more.
The new flavors are: lemon, orange, grapefruit, raspberry and blueberry. The colors, though natural, are still easy to discern and attractive.
The pieces are the same size as the previous versions, disks of soft jelly covered with large granulated sugar to keep them from sticking together. The sugar coating is just enough to keep them from binding, but not so much that there’s a lot of extra sugar in the bottom of the package. They really look like they should be sticky, but they’re not.
The pieces are flexible and soft, and made with pectin and starch to thicken them. Basically, it’s a vegan product, all vegetable products in there and nothing animal derived.
I particularly enjoyed the citrus flavors, they’re distinct and have a lot of citrus peel notes, even if it does make them slightly bitter. The raspberry is quite floral and has a strong boiled jam flavor to it. The blueberry was probably the most disappointing for me, but I really only like fresh blueberries. It was sweet with a little tannic note like iced tea but not much else going on with it.
Overall, an excellent revamp for a classic line of candies. They’re pricey for fruit jellies, but much cheaper than classic artisan pate de fruit. So think of them as an in-between product.
They’re available in a few packaging formats. This particular box is nearly a pound and just had loose candies inside two separate trays. Just keeping the box closed kept them pretty fresh, even with our higher than normal humidity in Southern California lately. They also come in an individually wrapped version which is better for a candy dish. They’re gluten free and peanut free.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
I first review the revived Flicks chocolate candy about two years ago. (Read that here.) But when I saw this new version called Flicks | Cacao at the drug store last week, I stopped to read the label before I dismissed them.
I’m so glad I did, because these are quite different from the original Flicks, which are tubes of mockolate chips wrapped in foil. The Flicks Cacao are disks of Premium Dark Chocolate. It’s premium West African Cacao, made in a recipe with five simple and tasty ingredients: Cocoa Liquor, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Lecithin, & Vanilla.. They even say that they’re GMO free (I’m guessing that’s the lecithin. In Europe many chocolate companies are replacing soy lecithin with sunflower lecithin, which is not only GMO free, it’s also soy free. I don’t know which kind of lecithin they’re using in Flicks.)
The pieces are more consistent than the standard Flicks, each is about 1 inch round. They’re still a bit scuffed up, but well protected in the package. As I noted in my first review, the packaging was changing. The foil wrapped tube holds a little mylar pouch instead of the chocolate rattling around inside the untreated cardboard tube.
Though the ingredients list is short and possibly vegan, the package says they may contain traces of milk (but nothing about gluten or nuts.)
The disks are perfectly sized for a single bite of chocolate. They fit in the mouth, with a good rounded shape so that they melt easily and mold to the roof of my mouth. The melt is decent, not buttery but at least smooth though a little on the firm and sweet side. The flavor is mild, it’s not intense dark chocolate, it’s light and approachable, hints of oak and vanilla. It’s like brownies.
I enjoyed it well enough and found the package simple, charming and fun. I would prefer a still darker version, but this is a huge step in the right direction for the product line to offer something that isn’t filled with tropical oils. I’d like to know the ethical sourcing of the cacao.
Monday, July 2, 2012
Sure they’re peppermint patties, so you’re wondering what’s so special about that? They have three ingredients in them. Just three: honey, chocolate liquor and oil of peppermint. The center is creamed honey (it just means whipped, there’s no additional dairy) and some peppermint to flavor it. The dark chocolate coating is just cacao, there’s no sugar in it. All the sweetness comes from the whipped honey center.
As far as I can tell, they’re made by Honey Acres of Wisconsin. I first tried them at the Fancy Food Show in 2008 (brief review here) and could only find them online for a while at Natural Candy Store (I’m hesitant to order chocolate candy because of melting problems with deliveries). The first time I tried them, I thought they were good, but not fantastic. But the memory of them stuck with me, so I was glad to see that I could pick them up again. (Update on that, it’s possible they’re made by Heavenly Organics.)
They’re gluten free, contain no artificial colors or flavors and no preservatives.
The patties are 1.5 inches in diameter and wrapped tightly in an aqua colored aluminum foil.
While the ingredients are good and considered pure, this is by no means a low calorie product. There’s more chocolate on them than a York Peppermint Pattie, so don’t expect them to be extremely low calorie. York Patties are about 102 calories per ounce, so almost pure sugar, very little fat. Dark Chocolate Honey Mints are 127 calories per ounce, so less than a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or something similarly fatty.
The dark chocolate is thick and densely dark. It’s all chocolate, so it’s intense. Just eating the chocolate is tough, because it’s unsweetened. But there’s plenty of cocoa butter, so it may be a little bitter but it does have a smooth and silky melt. The element here that surprised me, and remember, I’ve had these before, was the creamy honey center. The mints I had four years ago must have been a little bit older, because these are fresh and exquisitely textured. The honey center is smooth and buttery but not greasy, the dissolve is cool on the tongue. It’s sweet and has that musky honey note to it, but also a refreshing and crisp peppermint note. It’s not too strong, not too sugary.
Taken together, the bitterness of the unsweetened chocolate is offset perfectly.
After writing last week about candy being “unjunked” from artificial ingredients, here’s a candy that takes the confection back to its barest basics ... and then leaves it there. No nutritional fillers ... just pure ingredients, each with a job to do.
Update 3/7/2013: I bought another bag of these recently and noticed that they’ve changed their production style. They’re now a molded candy instead of enrobed, so the shells are very consistent and shiny. The flavor profile is the same, though perhaps a little more chocolate now.
Friday, June 29, 2012
The final candy I have in the initial launch of the UNREAL candy line is the UNREAL #8 Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar. If the description doesn’t spark any recognition for you, it’s a Snickers-type bar.
Like my other profiles of the UNREAL candies, there’s a lot to explore and expose in this new line. There are inconsistencies and it’s a little hard to find things out, but if you’re just interested in the review, skip to the third picture and read on from there. If you’re interested to know more about what’s inside and what they say is inside, well, then read the whole review.
I was really surprised with the #5 Nougat Caramel Bar being so low in calories, but figured it was all the protein. It clocks in at 106 calories per ounce, which usually pure sugar candy, like Starburst or gummi bears. York Peppermint Patties are about that level of caloric density, but they have so little chocolate and a
So I went through and added up all the elements to get to the listed 200 calories listed for the #8 Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar.
Well, that adds up to 228 calories (and accounts for 42 of the 49 grams, fiber which has no calories makes up an additional 5 grams)
The only way it adds up to 200 is if you only added the sugar, not the full carbs. The package lists 17 grams of sugar (4 calories per gram) which would be 68 calories, making the whole bar 196 calories (rounded up to 200 calories). That would make the calories per ounce a more believable 134 calories for a chocolate and nut candy bar. (For the record, a Snickers bar is 135 calories per ounce.) When I redid the calculations for the #5 Chocolate Nougat Caramel Bar I got 191 calories instead of the stated 170 calories on the package. They’re off by 10-12% of what I believe to be the true calorie count. (The other candies in the UNREAL line seem to add up properly.)
The bar is the same size as the #5 Nougat Caramel, about 3.5 inches long and a little more than one inch wide. It smells like toffee and roasted nuts. The bite is soft, the nougat on the bottom of the layers gives easily. The caramel has a wonderful stringy pull and chewy texture. The chocolate is creamy, has a light bitter chocolate note to it, but a good dairy profile to emulate the milky caramel experience that was missing in the #5 bar for me. In this case the peanuts are what changed it. They’re crunchy, not roasted too dark and all fresh and perfect. If there was an extra level of protein enhancement to the nougat on this bar, I didn’t catch it at all.
The textures meld well, the bar isn’t too large and is completely satisfying. It’s great that it doesn’t have partially hydrogenated oils in it, though I’d prefer a bar without palm oil. The darkness of the milk chocolate also keeps it from being too sweet with the really sugary filling of caramel and nougat.
This bar is a winner on so many levels. I have to hope that the company gets through it’s labeling and transparency issues (still haven’t heard back from them) and can expand to make snack size version for easier portion control and Halloween.
The bar is made in Canada and is Kosher. It contains dairy, eggs, peanuts and soy. Made in a facility with tree nuts and wheat. The website says the ingredients are GMO free, but not the package.
UPDATE 9/17/2012: After many months and more than a half a dozen attempts to get answers from UNREAL, I did get a reply. Here is what I can tell you:
Thursday, June 28, 2012
The description matches the Mars Milky Way bar pretty well. It’s been around since 1923 and pretty much established the Mars candy company. Companies come and go over the years trying to make that simple formula better, and right now the prime contender in the field is the new line called UNREAL which features all natural ingredients and even some nutrient fortification.
The UNREAL #5 Chocolate Caramel Nougat Bar is 22% smaller than the Milky Way bar, so that right there makes it a more responsible portion. (Milky Way is 57 grams, UNREAL #5 is 45 grams.)
What’s so bad about a Milky Way? Well, just look:
According to UNREAL, the junk ingredients are partially hydrogenated soybean oil, GMO corn syrup and artificial flavor (I’m guessing vanillin. )
The UNREAL #5 bar is pretty impressive to look at. The insides contain just as many ingredients, though I wouldn’t say that all are specifically better.
The bar is 3.5 inches long and a little over an inch wide.
It smells good, quite a bit richer and darker than a standard Milky Way. The cocoa notes are far more pronounced. The caramel has a wonderful, stringy and chewy pull without being too stiff to chew easily. The caramel isn’t really a buttery caramel, as far as I can tell from the ingredients it’s just sugar with more palm oil than real cream like they promise. The chocolate is much darker than the standard milk chocolate of Mars, it’s rich and has a smooth melt on the tongue, though a light bitter note.
Oh, but that nougat. I’m not fond of the nougat in the Milky Way or 3 Musketeers. But this nougat, this is something else. It’s like a fluffy Tiger Milk bar. There’s a lot more protein in this bar than the Milky Way, and it’s easy to assume that it’s in the nougat as “milk protein concentrate”. It’s grainy, it tastes like cardboard and stale Nestle Quik powder. It really ruins it for me.
I was concerned that I got a bad bar, so I actually went out, to a different store across town, and bought another. It was the same texture and flavor profile. (The did share the same expiry date of 5/4/2013.)
I think the rest of the line is doing great things, but this one is a huge miss for me. Fortification is one thing, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the primary reason I’m eating it: for enjoyment. (And the burps later on remind me of B vitamins.) For a bar that wants to be transparent, I’m having some trouble getting info directly out of the company. I’ve tried emailing them and messaging on Twitter. They haven’t replied to either. They say that they’re sourcing things ethically and sustainably, but there’s nothing to back that up. (Where does the chocolate come from, what kind of Palm Fruit Oil is that? Is that really non GMO soy lecithin? Why doesn’t it say those things on the package?)
The bars are made in Canada. They contain milk, soy, eggs and wheat. They’re made in a facility with peanuts, wheat and tree nuts.
UPDATE 8/1/2012: I have sent multiple messages to UNREAL on several different addresses. The first was to the address they published on their website on June 20, 2012. In the interim I’ve sent twitter messages. Then on July 20, 2012 I sent another message to a named contact at UNREAL at an email address given to me by a reader who met her at a twitter event. I have still not heard back (and sent another message today). So my confidence in the company’s transparency is quite low at the moment. Eat it for the taste and what you know is in the package, but I can’t buy into the ethics at the moment for the claims on the website.
UPDATE 9/17/2012: After many months and more than a half a dozen attempts to get answers from UNREAL, I did get a reply. Here is what I can tell you:
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.