Monday, October 22, 2012
I’m quite fond of Chuao Chocolatier’s bars, which are made in Southern California. The packaging is spare but eye-catching and distinct. I’ve come to know the brand well enough to be able to spot a new bar on the shelf easily because of the color-coding. One that I’d been looking forward to finding is the Chuao Honeycomb 60% Cacao. The bar is a Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramelize Honey.
I was excited about this bar because Chuao used to make a fantastic item for local Whole Foods markets. It was a thick bar with large chunks of sponge candy (here they’re calling it honeycomb). I haven’t seen it in the market for several years, so I was hoping this bar would be a more widely available version.
The back of the package has a more enticing bit of marketing copy: The Honeycomb bar is a sweet bouquet of silky dark chocolate and crunchy, caramelized honey. Its pleasing layers of tropical flavors and contrasting textures seduce chocolate lovers like bees to a flower.
Chuao uses non-GMO ingredients, including the soy lecithin and the corn syrup for the honeycomb. chuao also sourced their chocolate through a project called Aguasanta Growth Initiative in Venezuela.
The bar has a wonderful decorative design for its mold. They’re changing their packaging yet again, so keep an eye out for the newer designs. Here’s a peek at the ChocoPod version. (Here’s what they looked like back in 2006 when I first tried them.) While it’s fun to look at, it is a little more problematic for portioning. The bar doesn’t break evenly around the “pod” pieces and of course it’s harder to tell how much of the bar you have eaten. (Besides all of it. That’s easy no matter the shape.)
There were a few little voids at the bottom where the mold didn’t fill properly and the same on the bottom of the bar where there were bubbles.
The bar is deep and toasty. The chocolate has a coffee note to it but is complemented by the burnt sugar flavors of the sponge candy. It’s a clean toffee note, with no hint of butter, just the scorched honeycomb. There are some hints of minerals and an earthiness to it. The honeycomb provides a little texture, though it has a bit of a crunch, it also dissolves quickly, like shards of cotton candy.
I was hoping for a bit more differentiation between the chocolate and the honeycomb, at least as far as the textures.
It’s funny that I had to go all the way to Pennsylvania to find a bar that’s made right here in California (and that I’ve been looking for in local stores). But it makes sense that Pennsylvania would be the target market, they’re the folks that make such fantastic pretzels and have innovated so much in the sweet and salty combination. I think I found the Chuao Potato Chips in Chocolate 41% Cacao bar at Wegman’s, and it was even on sale.
The package says that it’s an Ultra Premium Milk Chocolate Bar with Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.
The bar is made from all natural ingredients, the potato chips are made with sunflower/corn and/or canola oil and this wrapper does not say anything about GMO ingredients.
This is an odd bar. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Part of it may be the inclusions. As you can see from the photo, the bits of the potato chips are quite small, I’d call them potato slivers or shards. So the texture doesn’t allow for a full bite of potato chip, but more of the flavor without the crunch. The chocolate smells milky and has a wonderful, silky melt. The chips are at once light and dense. They have a strong crunch, even for their small size. They’re salty and earthy, with a rooty, potato skin flavor to the that’s common to the kettle cooked variety of chips.
In both bars I wanted more of the inclusions ... but it’s hard to fault these bars when the chocolate is so good as well. Chuao never disappoints me with their chocolate. I think my favorite bars are still the Chinita Nibs and their Coffee and Anise bars, which are both rather hard for me to find as well.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Taza Chocolate makes their chocolate from bean to bar in Somerville, Mass. What sets them apart from the many other small batch chocolate makers that have sprung up in the last 10 years is that they stone grind their chocolate in the rustic, classic Mexican tradition. Taza sources their cacao through direct trade sources to assure quality and ethical practices.
They make a wide variety of products but the ones of most interest to me are the Mexicano Discs. They make 10 different varieties, but I got samples of two that I thought would represent the style best: Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% and Taza Salted Almond Chocolate Mexicano. I also noticed recently that Trader Joe’s has started carrying a strikingly similar set of chocolate discs, so I’ll throw in some notes about that.
The Taza website describes the Taza Discs as Rustic, round dark chocolate discs with a distinctively gritty texture, some sweet, some savory, some spicy. The packages have two discs in them, 2.7 ounces total (1.35 ounces each).
The discs are either for eating straight from the package or making into a drink by mixing with a whisk (or molinillo if you want to be authentic) and some hot milk (or water).
The Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% is organic, gluten free, soy free and dairy free plus Kosher and made with only two ingredients: organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar.
The process for making the chocolate is very simple. The roasted cacao is placed in the stone mills and ground, then ground a second time with the sugar added. As noted on their website, it’s not a lot of processing, no conching and no emulsifiers are used. The chocolate is then tempered and molded into the discs.
(My photos for the Puro turned out poorly, so just imagine this Salted Almond is the Puro. It really looks the same, just a smidge darker.)
The look of the bars is a little dusty, less than glossy. The snap is solid, these are tough and dense bars. The melt is, well, not very smooth. It’s described as rustic and rustic is what it is.
The overwhelming flavor note I had was green wood, it’s a little like black tea, with other notes of lemon peel, raisins and a hint of figs and leather.
The texture is grainy, there are grains of sugar, which are interesting because they dissolve quickly. Then the is the grit of the large cacao particles. This gives the overall flavor of the chocolate a sort of variation, there are parts where the flavors might start as citrusy but then after chewing (yes, later because of the grit, there is more chewing than a really smooth dark chocolate might obligate me) some other flavors come out, like the tobacco and tea.
The chocolate here is only 40% cacao, with a larger proportion of sugar plus the almonds and salt taking up the other 60%. I really expected the cross section of this one to look more rustic, with more bits of almond in there, but it’s really well integrated.
It’s quite sweet, the graininess is taken up with the sugary grains with a hint of salt. I didn’t catch much from the almonds, except that they gave it a more creamy and mellow flavor that moderated the bitterness of the cacao better than the sugar. The chocolate flavors were also evened out, so I just got a sort of fudge brownie flavor from the whole thing.
I tried making a hot chocolate with this, since that’s part of the appeal of the Mexican-style of rustic chocolate. I didn’t put a lot of chocolate into it - about half of a disc for about 6 ounces of whole milk, I’ll probably add more next time. It’s best to use a whisk for this, all I had was a fork, so there was a lot of stirring (and a good thing that I didn’t fill up the cup all the way). The flavor is much more nutty and the sugar dissolves completely. The grittiness of the cocoa part goes away (until you get to the sludge at the bottom which is then a mix of almond bits and cacao nibs, which is also great).
I prefer this as a hot drink to a bar for eating, but that’s just me. It’s a bit expensive and requires a lot more work than just dumping a powder into some hot water, but I appreciate good ingredients and can take that extra minute for the stirring. (And now that the weather is getting cooler, I need a sort of whisk that’s ideal for one cup of chocolate.)
The final one I have notes on is the Trader Joe’s special version, Organic Salt & Pepper. It has 54% cacao, so it’s a bit darker than the Almond version. The only real difference between this disc set and the Taza branded ones is the fact that there are no little letters T A Z A on the molded sections.
It smells dark and peppery with some rum notes. The salt is much more forward than the Salted Almond. The gritty texture seemed to go well with the rustic flavors of salt and pepper and the grainy sugar. The cocoa flavors were a bit lost though did remind me of brownie batter. Of the three that I tried, this was my least favorite, but mostly because of the overall sandiness. The heat of the black pepper takes a while to warm up, but lends some nice tones.
The style of chocolate is interesting and definitely different from the standard fare and novelty chocolates these days. Really, I think this chocolate will shine as a drinking product, not for straight eating. But that’s a personal preference. If you’re looking for a chocolate that’s easy to portion, made with vegan ingredients, that has no GMO ingredients, emulsifiers or gluten or added vanilla bean then this is a fantastic option.
Update 10/29/2012: Per the suggestions of readers that I should drink this as hot chocolate, I did just that with one tablet of the Salted Almond. I found it a little bland, but very rich. So for the remaining discs, I made chocolate pudding. The recipe was 1/4 cup of corn starch, 3 cups of milk and three discs (about 3.5 ounces) of chopped chocolate. I warmed the mixture on the stove over low heat while I used a whisk to completely incorporate the corn starch, then as the chocolate melted to emulsify it. Then turned it up to medium heat, stirred constantly until it just started to thicken and boil. I added some vanilla extract (optional). It’s very rich, not at all sweet.
For my mix I had one disc of Salted Almond and two of the Cacao Puro. I wasn’t interested in the Salt & Pepper as pudding.
Friday, October 5, 2012
As I mentioned in some recent reviews, I’ve been chewing more gum lately. It’s hard to find gum that’s doesn’t use artificial sweeteners, but the market has expanded in the past few years as consumers have searched for alternatives to aspartame.
I picked up this package of Glee Gum Sugar Free Peppermint before a recent plane trip but then forgot to take it with me. So I’ve been munching on it at the office.
Unlike sugared gums and other sugar free gums, chewing gum made with xylitol has an amazing cool feeling on the tongue. The candy coating on the Glee chiclets only enhances that.Glee is also made with all non genetically modified ingredients (including sunflower lecithin) and a natural gum base made from real chicle.
The flavor is a mild peppermint, it’s clean and not too overpowering but also lasts quite a long time. The chew is smooth, and while I’ve had problems with the chicle sticking to my teeth before, I don’t have that issue with the sugarless version (it could also be that I’ve had some of my fillings replaced since I started Candy Blog).
Sometimes I find sugar free gums have a strange, metallic flavor, but in this case I got no strange notes. It was refreshing and simple. Xylitol is not a no-calorie sweetener, it’s a sugar alcohol that has a fraction of the calories of sugar. But mostly it has either no effect on the bacteria that cause cavities or, in some studies, can effectively combat it (but it takes more than just a couple of pieces of gum a few times a month). Xylitol, like most sugar alcohols, can cause stomach distress when consumed in large quantities by some people. Gum is usually not an issue, unless you’re chewing more than one package a day if you happen to be one of those sensitive people.
This is pretty much my go-to gum now. I still prefer real Chiclets because of the satisfaction of chewing the sugar out and then going for three more pieces. But this is probably better for my oral health, the flavor lasts longer and is made with all natural ingredients. Now I’m hoping they’ll come out with more flavors, like cinnamon.
Glee Gum does come in little single-serving boxes for Halloween treating, however, the sugar free varieties are not available yet. As far as I can tell, this would be the perfect item for folks who are nut-free, gluten-free and sugar-free to give out without seeming like stick-in-the-muds. (But it would help if it also came in the bubble gum flavor, too.)
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
What compelled me was the window on the package that showed the shape and style of these hard candies was charming - they’re little flowers, and without any artificial colors at all. In fact, the ingredients list had only three things listed: Sugar, Glucose, Peppermint Oil.
They reminded me of Brach’s Sparkles, which were a dense hard candy that was discontinued some years ago. I was hoping this was similar. Sparkles where fruity flavors (though may have had a minty version), and this Silver Mint also came in a mixed fruit version - but the garish colors turned me off in the same way that the elegant lack of color attracted me to these. (But now I regret not buying them.)
Each piece is 6 grams (.21 ounces) but felt heavy and dense compared to a Starlight Mint (which are usually about 5 grams each). They’re one inch in diameter and it seemed really large when I ate it.
The flavor is not overly sweet but very minty. There are no voids or bubbles at all, so the dissolve is exceptionally smooth. The texture is similar to a Jolly Rancher, a little tacky and not at all “crunchable.” The peppermint flavor is clean, and has little pops of intense flavor (reminding me of Reed’s hard candies). All I can say is that when I was done with the candy, I didn’t feel like I was sticky sweet, I just had a clean freshness in my mouth. I found one exceptionally satisfying, probably because I can’t chew them up, so I have to let them dissolve.
These are made in Canada, and probably exist in other store brand versions around North America. The package states that they were made in a facility that also processes peanuts, tree nuts, soy, eggs, wheat and milk. Yay, they’re shellfish free!
Note: The original posting said that these were purchased at Wegman’s. I’ve since been informed that this is a Giant house brand (I don’t remember shopping at Giant, but it’s far more likely that’s what I did than Wegman’s carrying a competitor’s generic brand).
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.