Friday, August 25, 2006
Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the fair trade chocolate and coffee movement in the United States for twenty years. But I think they understand that it’s great to give people a living wage and all, but the important thing is to sell something of value to the customer to keep everything in motion.
At their launch, the Equal Exchange chocolate products were rather mundane. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but the selection wasn’t very exciting. They’ve remedied that with the introduction of three new bars: Mint Chocolate, Espresso Bean Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs.
The Organic Chocolate with Espresso Bean is made with a 55% cocoa solid chocolate (the lightest chocolate of the three new bars) with good reason. Coffee is a powerful flavor and needs a good balance in order for both flavors to shine though.
In general I’m not fond of coffee bars that have coffee grounds (or bits, whatever) in them. The chocolate itself is infused with the coffee flavors, which are dark and pungent, a little smoky and acidic. The beans are crunchy and crisp, which is better than some fibery ones that some companies put in their bars. But still, it’s just not my thing. The chocolate was wonderfully buttery but very sweet so that it can stand up to the espresso beans. Of the three bars, this is the one that I still have some left of. (7 out of 10)
Organic Mint Chocolate. This dark chocolate bar made with 67% cocoa solids was quite a surprise. I fully expected it to be dark, mint flavored chocolate. Instead, it’s a mint crunch bar. It’s not quite like a mint bark that has little pieces or starlight mints in it. Instead it has little sugary grains of mint in it. The grains aren’t large, like big sugar crystals. The chocolate itself is not as sweet as the espresso bar, and has a strong acidic quality to it with a complex chocolate profile. Then as you chew or allow the chocolate to dissolve on your tongue you come across these little crystals of mint. It made the bar much more fun than I expected.
The acidity of the bar still got in the way of the mint, it just wasn’t the ideal match for me. (8 out of 10)
Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs. Now this is the bar for me! 68% cocoa solids make this a pretty dark bar. The acidity here doesn’t bother me a bit, because it goes right along with the blissfully crunchy and rich cocoa nibs. Every nib was great, no fibery ones, no bad ones. The crunch of the nibs isn’t quite like a nut, they’re not quite as fatty tasting, but crisp and of course flavorful, creating a new texture without interrupting the pure chocolate density of the bar.
If you’re a nib fan, you should really seek out this bar. I’ve tried the Endangered Species bar and the Scharffen Berger and this bar really wowed me. At about $3.50 per bar retail for a 3.5 ounce bar they’re a good value for high-end chocolate. Add in the social responsibility and you’re silly not to at least give this bar a try. (9 out of 10)
I’ve been spotting Equal Exchange at Whole Foods, so keep your eyes open. If you have a favorite store that you shop at that doesn’t carry them, ask. (They don’t know what you want unless you tell them!) You can order on the Equal Exchange website, but only in full boxes of 12 for the bars.
Equal Exchange bars are not only organic but Fair Trade certified ingredients are used whenever possible, including the sugar. I think the only part that isn’t fair trade is the organic vanilla bean.
William at Chocolate Obsession has a large review. Siel at GreenLAGirl had a tasting party, so you can see lots more opinions on the bars there. If you’re interested in anything that has to do with incorporating fair trade, social responsibility and environmentalism into your everyday life, she’s your girl.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I picked up a couple of little Choxie items at Target over the weekend while I was getting my new bike tuned up.
The first one was an impulse buy, the lines were very long and I was scouring all the checkout areas for limited edition items when my husband pointed out this bar. It doesn’t have a very sexy name: Choxie Peanut Butter Pretzel Bar, but the package was certainly cute and all the elements were compelling.
It’s like a combination of a peanut butter meltaway and a chocolate covered pretzel.
The bar is thick and has an ultrasmooth peanut butter filling. Mixed into that are pretzel bits and peanuts. The whole thing is cloaked in milk chocolate.
The pretzels and nuts are unevely mixed and the first two squares I ate didn’t have anything in them but peanut butter. The peanut butter filling is nice and as far as I can tell from reading the ingredients label it’s so freakin’ smooth and sweet because it’s blended with white chocolate.
The real distraction here are the pretzels. They’re stale. They’re not crispy, they don’t add a satisfying crunch. Color me disappointed.
I don’t have much to say about these Choxie Caramel Pecan Nesters. They’re basically milk chocolate turtles: pecans, caramel and chocolate. They came in a little box and there were only two of them, each individually wrapped.
I took the photo and I gobbled both of them up!
High praise, I’m usually the model of restraint. It’s not that they were so divinely delicious, but they smelled awesome, that sweet pecan smell and chocolate, I wish I could bottle it. Though the caramel wasn’t anything more than sweet and the chocolate was just ordinary, the pecans were fresh and tasty.
Even on clearance (are they discontinuing them?) they were $1.40 for this wee box that had only two in them (one ounce). If you’re looking to torture yourself with a very small portion, this might be the way to go. At the regular price of $2 a box, pass this up and go straight to See’s.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
There’s a favorite candy here in the United States, it’s called M&Ms ... or maybe they’re called M&Ms, I’m never quite sure about how to make implied plurals singular.
M&Ms are not unique, they have a similar candy product in the UK and other former parts of the crown called Smarties. And of course there are plenty of knock-offs, including Hersheyettes, Jots, Rocklets, Sun Drops and Garfield’s Chocobites. There are quite a few legends about how M&Ms and Smarties were invented, but suffice to say that they exist and that’s the important part.
Milk Chocolate M&Ms
You’re not crazy, they were once called Plain M&Ms, but in 2000 they shifted their name to Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
A little bit of trivia and history. The Ms in M&M stand for Forrest Mars and R. Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars left his fathers candy company and partnered with Murrie to create the M&M. It took some help, which came from Murrie’s father, who ran the Hershey Chocolate company at the time. The technology behind the manufacture of M&Ms and even the chocolate itself came from Hershey’s factories. In the 60s Mars starting making their own chocolate and no longer needed to order it from Hershey.
Red M&Ms were discontinued in 1976 because of a scare with a food dye called Red Dye #2 (which was not used in M&Ms). At that time the colors in the M&M pack were: Green, Orange, Yellow, Light Brown & Dark Brown. The Red M&M returned in 1985, at first as part of the Holiday color mix then in the regular mix.
Overwhelmingly consistent in size, which is a credit to M&Ms production line choosing peanuts that are all the same size. The crunchy candy shell and slightly smoky tasting nuts combine well but overshadow the chocolate a smidge. But the chocolate provides a mellow sweetness and a creaminess during the final stages of chewing. I do get a bad peanut every once in a while, but usually not one every bag.
M&Ms were not a blazing success when they were launched, though they were well received. The trick for Mars was to figure out how to reach both their intended consumers (children) and the decision makers (parents). M&Ms were initially sold to the military during WWII, but Mars thought they were the perfect kids candy. Kids loved them, they just couldn’t convince their parents to buy them. It wasn’t until they hit upon their slogan, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” that parents caught on that it was a less messy chocolate candy for kids. The rest is history.
Really, this is the perfect M&M, as far as I’m concerned. They almonds might not be top notch as they’re often small, but they’re fresh and crunchy and provide a good backdrop to the very sweet and slightly grainy chocolate.
Peanut Butter M&Ms
These are very nice and satisfying, but I find them a little greasy and smoky tasting.
One of the interesting bits of trivia about M&Ms Peanut Butter is that there was a large lawsuit between Hershey & Mars when they first came out. Hershey accused Mars of trying to make them look like Reese’s Pieces - the packaging was the same color, the format of the bag, the type was in brown, etc. Now you’ll notice that the color is slightly shifted away from the Reese’s Orange (tm) to a reddish color.
The look of these is terribly inconsistent, which strikes me as a little odd since you’d think they’d have more control over how big the crisp centers are than peanuts. The colors also weren’t quite the same, the green was a little light and the red was a little thin looking. I wasn’t able to find the American Crispy M&Ms, so I bought some Canadian ones. So the chocolate on these is slightly more milky tasting, which is an interesting, malty complement to the crispy center. A little sweet, a little bland.
Dovetailing with the earlier issue with Reese’s & Peanut Butter M&Ms, you’ll notice that the Crispy M&Ms are positioned to rival the Nestle Crunch Bar, which is really all they are, a little Crunch bar in a shell. The light blue and use of the Red M&M echoes the Nestle Crunch colors.
Dark Chocolate M&Ms
These have a smoky and darker flavor than the milk M&Ms, but also a little note of coconut. The ingredients also list skim milk, milkfat and lactose, so I’m not sure how they’re considered “dark chocolate.” They’re gorgeously shiny and consistent, so consider me tempted when they’re sitting in front of me. There’s currently an additional reward of 2 million Dark M&Ms being offered for the return of The Scream.
White Chocolate M&Ms “Pirate Pearls” (Limited Edition)
Yup, white chocolate in a candy shell. They’re nice enough, but just too sweet for me. They’re okay when you eat them in combination with other M&Ms (especially the Dark ones), but I’m not sure I’ll buy these again and I won’t protest if they don’t end up as a permanent item.
Other versions of M&Ms over the years: Dulce de Leche (2001), Mega (still around), Minis (still around), Spec-tacular Eggs (seasonal), Mint (seasonal) and of course many color promotions and movie tie ins. Then there are other M’azing things done with them that I’ve never gotten on board with.
There has never been an M&Ms gum ... but I’m not saying it won’t happen.
Have you had enough of M&Ms? If not, check out these scans of knock-offs, Brad Kent’s wrapper collection (you’ll have to search for M&Ms to find them all), how they’re made, some more history, Candy Critic’s M&M Destruction Project, a Century of Candy Bars (there are pictures of M&Ms wrappers through the years) and if you’re still obsessed, join the M&M Collectors Club (they collect the merchandise, not the actual candies).
The product line gets a 9 out of 10. I might not like every variety, but they’re a great product and really do make snacking fun.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
At first I was irritated when I saw this new flavor set from Starburst. What the heck would Icy Bursts be? I thought that they’d have some sort of cooling sugar alcohol like Xylitol that’s all the rage these days, but instead it’s just the addition of mint to each of the flavors.
Once I figured that out, it reminded me of the not-so-great Bear Bubble Gum that had that awful menthol in it. But then I settle down and stopped trying to draw negative connections.
Part of what changed my mind was that I’ve been going to a new Gelato joint (well, I’ve been there twice) and sampled quite a few of their sorbet flavors. The ones that I’ve liked best were Limoncello & Basil, Strawberry & Licorice and Pineapple & Cardamom ... you can see where I’m going with this, right? Fruit and herbs are a great combo!
What’s even better about the addition of mint is that I don’t have that awkward chemical aftertaste when I’m done. I’m left with a minty feeling, not a strange green apple burp taste in my mouth.
Strawbrrrrry - yes, that word has six Rs in it, and five of them are in a row. I can actually pronounce that, as I can trill my uvula, so if you ever run into me in person, ask me to say it out loud. This one looks and smells like a regular strawberry Starburst and it isn’t until very late in the chew that the mint comes out. It didn’t rock my world, nor feel like a burst of anything, but I liked it.
Kiwi Snowberry - creamier than the others, kind of like kiwi/strawberry, but who knows. The wrapper was green but the candy itself was mauve. Of all of them, the mint was the least welcome.
Blue Raspberry Freeze - a rather pleasant surprise, the raspberry had some nice floral notes to it, a good tart burst and then the minty overtones. It ended up being my favorite of the set, which is odd because I never would have thought that raspberry should go with mint.
Polar Citrus - it’s an orangy/lemony citrus with a little bit of a creaminess to it and a much more subdued minty undertone. It didn’t really have anything “blasty” to it.
The thing that I’ve always liked about Starbursts is their way of tickling my salivary glands and making them tingle. These don’t do that. They’re mild and pleasant and don’t really deserve the word BURST in their name twice. That said, they’re nice enough and if they were in a bowl on my desk mixed with regular Starbursts, I’d eat them after the others were gone. These are a limited edition product.
Did you know that Starbursts have 50% of your recommended daily value of Vitamin C? That was their unique selling proposition when they were introduced in the 60’s.
Monday, August 21, 2006
I’ve had Dove chocolate a few times, but I’ve never bought it before. It’s usually on someone’s desk in an assortment and I’ll take a bite, but it was never something I was terribly blown away by. But then again, if the assortment has Reese’s Miniatures, I’m pretty much blind to everything else.
At Target over the weekend they had these bars, which said they were NEW!, but I’m not sure there’s much new about these except the shape. These bars are just like a bunch of linked Promises miniatures.
If there’s one thing that defines Dove chocolate, it’s their promotion of its silkiness. The bars aren’t large (1.3 ounces each), but they pack a lot of chocolateiness into each little segment. The dark bar has a lovely sweet aroma, but the vanilla notes aren’t as complex as I’d like.
The Rich Dark Chocolate melts quickly on the tongue, giving a thick taste of chocolate instantly. It’s very sweet, so the chocolate notes aren’t as prominent as they are in some of the upscale bars I’ve tried. The flavor is just middle of the road chocolaty, there aren’t hints of raisins, cherries or smoke. Just chocolate. But it’s dependable and wonderfully creamy.
The ingredients in the Rich Dark Chocolate bar start with sugar, which is apparent from the beginning. But this is another candy, like the Dark Raisinets that uses milk products in the “dark” chocolate, though not quite to the degree that the Nestle product did. Right after cocoa butter the ingredients list milkfat, which probably explains the cholesterol level (5 mg), which is the same as the Milk Chocolate bar.
The smoothness of the bar, I’m guessing, can be attributed to a process called conching. This process is what the liquid chocolate is continually ground up using rollers or metal beads, this works all of the larger particles of the cocoa bean into ultrafine pieces that cannot be detected individually by the tongue. Less expensive chocolate is usually conched for a much shorter period of time, which means that it might have some noticeable grain to it. Conching is an expensive process because it takes so much time, so some companies skimp on this step. Lesser chocolate can be conched as little as 6 hours and the finest chocolate may be conched for 72 hours. (Unusual graininess may also be caused by bad tempering, which results in an inconsistent cocoa butter crystaline matrix.) This conching process is one of the reasons that you can’t make chocolate at home - the particles in standard cocoa are not fine enough.
The other thing that accounts for the silkiness of the bar is the fat. These bars are pretty high in fat, which is definitely not a bad thing, but rather uncommon in the standard consumer chocolate bars like Nestle’s and Hershey’s.
I’d never tried Dove Smooth Milk Chocolate before, so I was kind of curious if it was like European milk with its powdered milk taste or if it was like American chocolate which can be a little smokier/tangy tasting.
It’s smelled rather like the European version - sweet and with lots of dairy tones to it. This bar is also very sweet, sweeter than the Dark by a longshot, which is easy to see on the nutrition label, the dark as 17 grams of sugars, the milk has 20 grams (the only other difference seems to be the dark has 3 grams of fiber and the milk only 1 gram).
I actually found this to be a very pleasant bar. It went well with my strong coffee and I ate some of it with some salted pretzels. It’s a little on the sweet side and lacks some chocolate notes, but those are replaced by the complex dairy flavors. There is some tangyness to it, which I rather liked.
My biggest fear about the bars was that they’d be waxy, which is something I’ve noticed with the chocolate on the Dove ice cream bars (but the chemistry associated with frozen chocolate is vastly different than room-temp chocolate). But still, there’s something that feels very plastic about the bars, I’m not quite sure what it is, and it’s not a feeling that I get with Hershey’s Kisses or M&Ms. It might be that I don’t like ultra-smoothness. And that’s purely a personal preference.
(Update: Because it has become an issue, no comments will be allowed here promoting any sales of Dove at Home or any other chocolate. Please limit your comments to the products reviewed here.)
Friday, August 18, 2006
My recent shopping spree at Mel & Rose’s has a little story attached to it. A commercial was recently shooting on our street and the production crew paid us $300 for the inconvenience of having other people park in our driveway and the fact that they were going to wake us up 90 minutes earlier than they told us. I vowed to spend $100 of that on import/upscale candies (I consider it an investment in Candy Blog!). So off to Mel & Rose’s while the crew was making a ruckus and fouling the air with their diesel generators.
I was very tempted to get the Nougat de Montelimar again, but they had quite a few other import varieties, so I thought since someone else was footing my experimentation bill, I’d branch out to other continents.
Massam’s Deluxe Nougat is about as far flung as I could find, made in South Africa. It’s a lovely chunk of nougat, about the size of half of a Snickers bar. The white inside wrapper on it is actually a potato starch paper that’s edible. The nougat itself is not quite hard and not quite soft. The almond distribution is a little uneven. I had two bars, the first one had a great balance of them, but the second one had a complete void of almonds on one half and then a nice amount in the other half.
The taste of the nougat is sweet and smooth and the starch of the potato wrapper gives it a rather cereal quality. It’s odd, as I get to the end of the chew it reminds me of Cheerios. The honey notes weren’t as rich as I’d hoped, but these bars are pretty good in their own right. I had a little trouble biting them, so for the second bar I started cutting it with a knife and it worked a bit better.
At a dollar twenty-five a piece for an imported nougat (they’re a little over an ounce each when I weighed them, but there’s nothing on the label) they’re pretty good. I might pick them up again, especially for the novelty of the potato paper.
For the record, I only spent $50 on candy that day, including a tasting kit of Michel Cluizel that I’ll have a review of soon. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess you should never go to a candy store AFTER lunch. I bought a new bike with the rest of the money.
This nougat is both Kosher (Parev) and Hallal.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I was minding my own business, cruising the web back in the spring and I stumbled across another chocolate blog, The Chocolate Nerd. She’s only been around since March, but she’s got some sassy archives of chocolate products she’s tried. The one that drew me in at that moment was a post about a company I’d not heard about called Cocoa Bon.
Their current market niche is this set of little tins filled with wafers of chocolate or panned chocolate candies. When I went to Mel & Rose’s a couple of weekends ago I saw them there and decided to select a rather traditional item to give them a try.
The little tin is cute and seals a little fluted cup of plain, 61% cocoa solids chocolate pieces. Each has the name Cocoa Bon on them. They have a wonderful and sweet chocolate aroma. The back of the tin recommends a wine pairing, in this case a full-bodied Zinfandel.
The little disk is rather mundane looking but perfect for tasting. It melts quickly and fits into the roof of the mouth as it does. This 61% cacao version is buttery smooth and instantly sweet, taking just a few moments to release its chocolate notes. It has a slightly dry component and rather simple flavor that has only vague fruit and smoke notes. What really makes this chocolate appealing is the extra smooth melt. There are many chocolates out there that feel waxy or chalky at this level of solids, but this one is extra fine.
I’m curious to try the darker variety of 72% to see what that 11% will get me. I’m also curious to give the other panned sweets a go, with the Chai Chocolate Caramel and Dark Chocolate Gingersnap on my list at the moment.
At $3.29, these are a little more expensive than a gourmet bar (there’s only 2 ounces in there), but it’s the individual pieces and tin make it easy to share and even easier to keep some for later. They’re more expensive on the Cocoa Bon website, so you’re probably better off finding them in a store. I suspect you’re going to see them in gourmet foods and upscale wine & liquor stores. They also have a line of mixed drink flavored jelly beans. However, one thing I noticed about the website is that they sell larger quantities of the chocolates in half pound tins where the price isn’t bad at all (less than $20 a pound).
Cocoa Bon is having an open house in conjunction with The Mountain Winery at their Los Gatos, CA store location on Friday, August 18th & Saturday, August 19th from 5PM to 8PM. If you’re in the area, the event is free, so maybe you should check it out!
I suspect these little tins of candies would make an excellent wedding favor if you’ve got the money and I bet if you’ve got a large affair they could do special labeling.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Jolly Rancher Double Blasts are billed as “flavor-infused powder filled candy.” Each little bag contains a mix of two flavor combos, Chorange (Cherry outside and Orange inside) and Raspilime (Blue Raspberry outside and Lime inside).
Each little candy rod is about the same diameter as a pencil. The color and shape makes them look more like little pegs that you’d use with Tinkertoys than candy, but that didn’t keep me from putting them in my mouth (or from them marking them as a choking hazard for young children). The hard candy outside is nice, it’s tangy and flavorful but not at all like the traditional Jolly Rancher hard candies that have a pliable stickiness to them. Pretty soon, as the candy dissolves, especially around the seams, you start getting a little jolt of the powdered center. The center is the second flavor and is not that strong, but the texture and effect is pretty stunning.
They’re pretty addictive in the sense that each time I ate one, I was trying to either crack them open with my teeth to get to the super-cooled center or suck on the candy so that as much of it as possible had dissolved by the time I got to the powder. In the sense that the flavor combos are tasty, well, I could take them or leave them. I was surprised at how much I liked the Chorange, seeing how the bulk of it is Cherry and the Raspilime was just kind of boring (and my assortment had twice as many Choranges).
I’m hoping they’ll do some other flavor combos, but I’m most interested in the other version of these called Sour Bolt Blasts, which might be more like Zotz and have one flavor through and through.
Of course they still make Zotz, so I could just go find some of those.
These candies were made in Canada.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.