Wednesday, January 18, 2006
There are a lot of good things about chocolate. It tastes good and in moderation it could actually be a good addition to a normal diet. But one of the suprising things is that chocolate may actually be good for tropical economies and ecosystems as well. See more here.
There are quite a few free trade/organic chocolate companies now, but one that’s making the best inroads with consumers, including kids, is Endangered Species Chocolate Company. (I have no data to back this up, just my awareness of people’s affection for it and that I see it in far more stores than other bars of the same type.) They have a huge selection of bars and chocolate formats, good packaging and a pretty good distribution network. Oh, and they taste good, too!
Because Endangered Species has such a large selection of bars, I thought I’d start small. I saw these little impulsive tasting squares called Bug Bites that came in both dark and milk chocolate. They’re obviously a little bit of chocolate for the kids, but I’m a kid at heart and I love bugs.
The little .35 ounce squares are Fair Trade certified, organic and Kosher. The little nibble has a butterfly on it and though the package says something about a bug trading card, I didn’t get any in either of my packages. The milk chocolate is very sweet and in the style of the European dairy milk chocolate bars. It has a good milky, woodsy smell, but is probably too sweet for me. It’s exceptionally smooth and I’m sure will please children quite readily.
The dark square was exceptional. Very fruity, with some apricot and cherry notes it also had some woodsy balsam qualities. It was buttery and had a slightly bitter finish that wasn’t too dry.
Though not all the bars are completely Fair Trade or completely organic Endangered Species Chocolate Company donates 10% of profits to protect wildlife (including those animals featured on the bars). Inside the wrapper is a profile of the animal on the package, in this case it is the bat and notes that of the 45 species in the United States alone, 7 of them are endangered.
I was specifically looking for this “Bat Bar” which is 75% cocoa content and cocoa nibs. I hadn’t seen it at Whole Foods, where I’ve been picking up my other organic bars. Whereas the other nibby products I’ve tried like the Michel Cluizel Noir au Grue de Cacao and Max Brenner Dark Chicao have large nib pieces in them, this bar had kind of crushed bits in it. This has its advantages, but it also creates a different sort of bar.
First, this is a very dark bar. At 75% cocoa, it’s already pretty dense. Because the nibs are crushed smaller they impart a bit of a grain to the chocolate that I didn’t detect at all in the Bug Bites, so I’ll credit that to the nibs. The nibs add a wonderful variation in texture though, with a good fruity burst in spots and sometimes and unpleasant astringency. Nibs are pretty high in fiber too, so eating a serving gives you 3 grams of fiber! I wish the entire bar wasn’t quite so sweet though.
I think if I’m going for a nibby fix I’m going to stick with the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs ... but the wide availability and decent price of the Engangered Species bar would make it a close second.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Sometimes I wish that candies were made in different flavors. Like, I used to wish that Starbursts came in cinnamon, mint and licorice flavors.
It turns out that product already exists. BlackJack is a licorice (actually anise) flavored chew that’s made in the shape of little square pieces that are sold in a roll.
What was dissapointing about them is that they’re slightly tart. I’d expected a smooth, sweet and spicy chew filled with licorice goodness. Instead it’s slightly lemony (citric acid is in the ingredients), with a tart bite and not much of a licorice flavor to it. It smells a lot like anise, but doesn’t really deliver. I like the combination of licorice and lemon, which is done really well in the Lemon Lakritsi from Finland.
Bassett’s, now owned by UK candy giant Cadbury, is well known for their Allsorts, and I was hoping this was a pocket version of them. They may just take some getting used to, but I’ve had this pack for quite a while and after eating about three of them, I have no desire to continue trying to like them. I’m sure they have their fans, but I don’t think I’ll ever be among them.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:42 am
Monday, January 16, 2006
I love Pocky. I’ve tried regular Chocolate Pocky and even Green Tea Pocky, but I hadn’t tried this one, called Men’s Pocky. I’m not sure why it’s called Men’s Pocky, but I’ve heard that it’s because it’s not as sweet as regular chocolate Pocky.
What is Pocky? It’s an unsalted pretzel/biscuit stick covered with chocolate. Simple, crunchy, sweet and smooth.
It’s really a simple candy, or perhaps it’s a snack. I don’t care what you call it, it’s good. The pretzel base is crunchy and actually rather bland with has a wonderful consistent crisp to it that stands up to the chocolate. The chocolate is smooth and sweet with a hint of dry bitterness. Unlike the regular Pocky that I tried, this one has far less trans fatty acids (.5 grams for half the box). Of course there’s also 5 grams of protein in each serving.
The snack is a pretty good value as imported candy goes - it’s a 100 gram box and I picked it up at regular price at Mitsuwa for $1.59. In fact, I found it hard to eat a full serving of it. The box has two pouches in it and the box protects the long sticks from getting broken. In fact, this is my fourth box of Pocky and I’ve never had a broken one.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:50 am
Friday, January 13, 2006
I’ve always loved cinnamon. It breaks my rule about not liking “red candy” which I made for myself at the worldly age of nine, so it may just be a rule about not liking cherry candy. My dislike for red goes back to the Red Dye #2 scare in the 70s where all red candies seemed to be called “poison” by concerned parents. To this day I can’t stand red sweetarts.
As a kid I would get the box of SweeTarts at the movie theater and before eating any of them during the show I would touch my tongue to it to see what flavor it was. Reds were dismissed. Now as an adult I carefully dump out the box and remove the reds, usually giving them to The Man, who doesn’t mind me poisoning him at all.
Hot Tamales are like super cinnamony jelly beans. They used to come in a box, which meant that they were more likely to get either cloudy and sticky from dampness or extra hard from drying out. But the boxes were fun because they would make noise. You could shake it to find out how much you had left and it presented a satisfying sound while you were popping them at the movies, not that annoying plastic wrap sound.
This particular bag I picked up seemed rather odd, it had a hint of watermelon flavor to it. I can’t figure why, as I don’t think Mike and Ike’s come in watermelon flavor. But Just Born also makes mini-jelly beans called Teenie Beenies so maybe there was some cross contamination there. The real reason I picked them up was because I saw the new Hot Tamales Fire candies and wanted to compare because the regular Hot Tamales said ““Now with More Kick!” on the package.
I think Hot Tamales have been introduced in extra-zested versions before, in fact, I recall buying something in a box last September in San Francisco in a box and being rather disappointed that they were neither as hot as I wished nor as fresh. (They were cloudy looking and very grainy ... I ate them anyway.)
Happily the Hot Tamales Fire did not have a watermelon taste to it. They were wonderfully sizzling, with a good burn that actually hit my throat a little hard a few times. If I have a choice in the future between the two, I’ll definitely go for the Fire ones.
I think I could tell the difference between the two if placed side by side. The Fire ones are a little more clear, a little darker red. The originals are a good red color but perhaps more opaque. After eating about half of each bag, I mixed the two. Now I’ll just take what I get.
I’ve always found spicy candies to be very good driving candy. When I’m going long distances I like a candy with feedback, something that keeps my glands salivating (so I need less water) and keeps me awake. I usually opt for hard candies as they’re easy to travel with, but when I think of it, I usually grab some Hot Tamales.
As a side note, I checked out the Hot Tamales website, and it’s pretty cool. I mean hot. Whatever. ... I was expecting something tired and circa 1998 like you get at the Annabelle’s website, instead it’s really nicely designed flash site (loads quickly anyway, not terribly informative). I also saw on the Just Born site that Mike and Ikes come in a few different flavor combos since I last tried some, so I’ll see if someone carries those.
While cinammon isn’t eligible for the Scoville Hotness Scale (which measures capsaicin, not Cinnamaldehyde), I’d rate regular Hot Tamales as the equivalent of a Poblano Chili Pepper - a good bit of spice, but little burn. I’d give the Hot Tamales Fire a rating on par with Seranno Pepper, which means that you get a good burn going in your throat and if it catches you wrong, you might tear up.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:34 pm
While up at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA last month I discovered that there was another factory in the industrial park: Thompson’s Brands. I’d never heard of their chocolate before but Tomi, who gave me my tour at Jelly Belly said it was worth the stop. I realized when I got into the little shop that I’d probably seen and had their products dozens of times. They seem to specialize in foil wrapped chocolates and have a HUGE selection of them for all occasions at the factory store.
What caught my eye though were these cute little 1 ounce bars of organic chocolate. It’s getting easier to find organic chocolate these days, but it is pretty difficult to find them in smaller portions (most bars come in the 2.5-3.5 ounce size). They also had a large variety at 89 cents each I picked up one of each. I’m all about getting wholesome food that doesn’t pollute the planet. The big challenge has always been getting it at a price that’s reasonable (I’m willing to pay more, but not that much more) for a good quality product. Luckily Thompson has found a solid middle ground with price and taste.
70% Dark Chocolate: their darkest bar, this one has a nice sheen and good snap. The smell is chocolaty and slightly fruity. Upon tasting it there’s a distinct cherry note to it and some other woodsy qualities. A little bitter, but smooth. It also has a smoky charcoal note to it, that I detected in all the bars; it’s not an unpleasant taste, just a little different. Their website says that all their beans are from South America and I understand that a smaller variety of source beans can give chocolates a very distinctive taste (as witnessed by the single origin bars I’ve tried). It’s an exceptionally buttery chocolate and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
50% Dark Chocolate: this bar was very sweet, though had the same buttery quality of the others. The melt was a little less smooth with a more detectable grain. I didn’t care much for the “chocolateness” of it, it felt a little watered down by the sugar.
Milk Chocolate Almond: the Thompson milk chocolate is sweet, not terribly sticky feeling and has that European dairy flavor to it from using powdered milk. The combination of nuts and this style of chocolate gives it a rather twangy series of notes that are compelling and satisfying.
Milk Chocolate Caramel: this was the only bar that I think I could shovel down like “candy”. The caramel center isn’t terribly big, not a large reservoir like I’ve had in bars like the Caramello or Hershey’s with Caramel, but the caramel is nicely caramelized with a slight grain to it. Not runny but not quite chewy, it’s a nice balance for the milky bar because of the good hit of salt.
Milk Chocolate Truffle: when I think truffle, I think buttery smooth, soft centers. That’s not this. This is a firm truffle, more like a Frango. It’s not bad, smooth and lighter than the milk chocolate outside, but I prefer the plain dark, caramel or almond bar to this.
If you’re looking to indulge your children with chocolate but with an eye towards keeping organic, you also might want to explore their line of novelty items that include foil wrapped chocolates. Their pandas are pretty ding-dang cute. Unfortunately I don’t know what stores carry these items. Pop a comment here if you’ve seen Thompson’s in your stores. GroovyCandies.com seems to carry quite a bit of their traditional line. Thompson is also the company that makes the Adora Calcium Tablets.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Before CandyBlog came into my life, I was completely unaware of the wonders of flaked and aerated chocolate. How can this be? I’m the kid who seemed to have as much fun blowing bubbles into my chocolate milk as I did drinking it.
It seems that the UK does not have the corner on the market when it comes to bubbly chocolates, I’ve now discovered these from Israel and Japan:
Elite Aerated Bittersweet Chocolate: This is the first semi-sweet bar I’ve tried that’s bubbly. I’m not even sure if Nestle or Cadbury make one anymore. This bar is large, about the size of a 100 gram one, but weighs only 85 grams. The pieces are oddly light in the hand and melt quickly on the tongue. The bubbles are very consistent and I think a little smaller overall than the ones in the Aero bars. Very sweet at first and with a nice sweet smell but perhaps a little too much fake vanilla to it. It’s very buttery on the tongue, though with a little grain towards the end but a nice crisp finish. This bar is 48% cocoa solids.
Lotte Airs: This isn’t a bar at all. Inside the box, after opening the plastic pouch you’ll find a tray with little pieces. (12 in all.) Kind of like the Dars I tried before. The Airs bar is milk chocolate but what’s really different about it is that there’s also hazelnut paste in there. It gives the bar a wonderful nutty aroma that mixes well with the dairy milk taste that might make it a little too sticky otherwise. The bubbles in them are very small, which gives it less of an airy feeling on the tongue, but it still has a good cool sensation. I love that it’s in pieces, which makes it easy to share. Also, the other aerated bars tend to be a little messy when you break off a piece. Lotte is so clever.
It looks like a bar of the future. Something that robots would eat. Or maybe robots would bring them to us. They’d enter the room through the shooshing automatic door with a tray full of snacks that we munch on while watching TV beamed directly into our optic nerve.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a Zero bar before, but I know I’ve seen them. They haven’t been a Hershey’s product for very long and if you go to the page on Hershey’s site you’ll see a long and detail history of who’s made the bar over the years.
It’s a fascinating bar, billed as “Caramel, Peanut and Almond Nougat covered with White Fudge.” But that really doesn’t describe it properly. The nougat is malted and there are peanuts and almonds and possibly soy nuts in there. But it was the malted part that surprised me. If you want me to buy this bar, you might want to mention that!
So, you’ve got this nougat that has an assortment of crunchy nuts in it with a dash of malt. On top of that is a caramel stripe and the whole bar is enrobed in “white fudge” which I’m guessing is like “white chocolate.”
It’s a very pretty bar.
And I was surprised to like it as much as I did. There must be a reason that it’s survived to this day and I’m guessing it’s partly its originality. I’m guessing the other reason might be its packaging and name. If you were to alphabetize your candy display, the Zero would be there with the Zagnut. The malt really stands out because there isn’t any chocolate to overpower it. I think I can taste the soy nuts in the nougat, which doesn’t upset me or anything, but it is a little odd for a “candy bar” (but expected in a nutrition bar).
If Hershey’s has a mind to improve the bar, I’d say a real “white chocolate” that has cocoa butter on it instead of the slightly chalky “white fudge” would make this one a real winner. (I just can’t get into all those hydrogenated oils.)
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I hardly thought it was possible, but I found a marzipan I actually like. (See, I didn’t give up.)
The chocolate is good quality, slightly bitter but smooth and the center is a different kind of marzipan. It’s not the ultrafine paste that you find in some of the sculpted varieties. Instead this one has palpable bits of almond in it and a darker color (because of the coffee flavoring). There’s also only the slightest hint of amaretto, which is the actual thing I don’t like about marzipan. I love almonds, I just don’t like the “flavor” of almonds.
The bar doesn’t really have much of a capuccino flavor, but a pleasing scent and creamy quality that I found really compelling.
I doubt these are widely available, but I noticed that Cost Plus had quite a variety of this brand (they were on sale for the After Christmas clearance) so I might give their actual plain marzipan a try in the future or perhaps the Orange I saw on this site.
Interesting fact: Niederegger was founded by Johann Georg Niederegger on March 1, 1806 ... that means they’re going to celebrate their bicentennial of marzipan in a few scant months. Happy Birthday Niederegger!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.