Tuesday, September 5, 2006
I’ve avoided Cocoavia since it was introduced last year. There’s something disconcerting about selling candy as health food in my mind. I don’t disagree that things like chocolate can have beneficial elements in them, but the fat and calories and lack of other positive characteristics makes it seem like we’re kidding ourselves when we believe that chocolate is good for us.
But all things in moderation, eh?
I’ve only seen the bars at the store, so I wasn’t particularly interested in what appeared to be a Dove bar with a lot of health benefits. But then I found a product I hadn’t seen before, Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. Inside this large but light box are five one ounce packets of dark chocolate covered almonds. I usually buy Trader Joe’s mix of dark & milk chocolate covered almonds, but these were in individual packets, which is a nice feature and a quick glance at the box showed that they were even fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.
Each packet has an ounce, which is about 13 chocolate covered almonds. The package is appealing, with luxurious dark colors and some sassy photos of the candy within. The chocolate is glossy and dark though it doesn’t really smell very compelling. It melts readily on the tongue and though the package says semisweet, it’s not sticky, sickly sweet at all and buttery smooth. It has a nice smoky and complex flavor without much acidity. There’s a little floral note to it that gave it a little lightness. The almonds are superb, crunchy and fresh and a decent size.
I was really surprised at how good these were. Though I still don’t subscribe to the whole “eat these for a healthy heart” thing, I will definitely finish the box. The packages provide a good degree of portion control and each bag is only 140 calories. It also offers 3 grams of fiber and protein, 20% of your calcium, 4% of your iron and 10% of your Vitamin E, Folic Acid, B6, Vitamin C and B12. The almonds contain essential fatty acids and of course the chocolate has cocoa flavanols that recent studies are showing can have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease risks. Even though there are all these things on the box and the marketing that are saying how healthy these are, I’d prefer to think that they’re at least not a detriment to your health when eaten in responsible quantities.
So, if you’re on a restricted diet and are looking for a little treat that won’t throw you off whack, I’m a huge believer in the nut and chocolate combo as a satisfying sweet. (Not nearly as bad for you as, say, a dish of ice cream.) The benefit over any old chocolate covered nuts is this proprietary Cocoapro (tm) process that’s supposed to pack more flavanols in there that can lower bad cholesterol levels. The price is, well, pricey (about $16 a pound) but try to find them on sale.
Monday, September 4, 2006
One of my splurges last month with my ill-gotten-gain (payoff from a production company) was to buy some goodies from Mel & Rose’s and this was the big ticket item of the day (I would have bought more but the heat lately is death to chocolate). I’ve only tried Michel Cluizel once before and I wasn’t that impressed. But people keep telling me how good it is and I always enjoy the variety of a tasting kit.
Michel Cluizel is a French chocolatier who is not at all new to this, his company has been making gourmet chocolate since 1948. It’s one of the few chocolates you’ll find that has no soya lecithin in it. It’s just cocoa beans, sugar and vanilla. His single origin tasting kit showcases his chocolates that are created using beans from only one plantation. Most of the chocolate that we eat is a blend of beans from all over the tropics, or perhaps one region.
It came with a nice little brochure that talked about each of the plantations that the cocoa beans came from, but I thought it would be fun to taste the chocolates first and then see how I did. So my initial tasting notes are followed with the ones from the leaflet.
Los Ancones (green) x4 - What I tasted was ultra smooth. Slightly bitter at first with some very dark smoky notes but as the buttery chocolate gives way, more acidity comes through and gives way to raisin and cherry notes.
The brochure said:
Maralumi (fuscia) x4 - quite a bit more acidic than the first, this one was kind of tart and brought to mind olives and apricots (dang, I shouldn’t have read that brochure!). I was also getting some woodsy notes of cedar and balsam. The acidity gave the whole thing a dry finish with a slight bitter note that lingered far after the cocoa butter was gone.
The brochure says:
Tamarina (blue) x2 - quite tangy with some powerfully deep smoky notes and a lowgrade bitterness that was offset by some mellow sweetness. The chocolate is slick and smooth with a dry finish.
The brochure says:
Concepcion (orange) x2 - a great start with instant chocolatey roundness, the smoke and woodsy notes come out right away, and perhaps some coffee, followed by some tangy notes that might have some mango essence in it. Then a crisp, dry finish.
The brochure says:
Mangaro Noir (yellow) x4 - instant notes of raisin and fig, sweet and mellow with a pleasant tang. There are also some balsam notes, maybe juniper or sage. It reminded me of the desert, that crisp feeling.
The brochure says:
It’s obvious I’m getting the general vibe of each chocolate, but not the specificity that the brochure reveals about each one. I think part of it might be the small pieces. I liked the slightly larger E. Guittard tablets that I tried earlier this year, which makes it easier to discern the more obscure notes. I was really pleased with the smooth buttery consistency of each of the tablets, they’re all in the 64% - 70% cocoa solids range, so they’re intense without being too dense.
If you’re looking for some extensive reviews and commentary on the range of single origin from Michel Cluizel and how it compares to the rest of the world of chocolate, check out SeventyPercent.com. I was really pleased with the kit, it’s fun to share or just spread out over a week as I did. I’m always disappointed when they don’t do comparable numbers of squares for each variety, but it’s a small kit and really only appropriate for two people at most.
Friday, September 1, 2006
There are a lot of candies that are not unique, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to have choices. But usually there are similar products on the market becaue they’re made by different companies. I ran across these recently: Chewy Mini SweeTarts and Chewy Tart n Tinys. SweeTarts and Tart n Tinys used to be nearly identical products, except for the shape of the little pieces. And that was fine because one was made by Sunline (SweeTarts) and the other was made by Wonka (Tart n Tinys). Then Tart n Tiny’s were glazed in a bright candy shell and they were suddenly a vastly different product and coincidentally now owned by the same company (Nestle).
But here we are again with the same thing?
Chewy Mini SweeTarts are little spherical versions of the larger Chewy SweeTarts which, in turn, are like the original SweeTarts. They come in five flavors: grape (purple), cherry (red), orange (orange), lemon (yellow) and apple (green). There are also Giant Chewy SweeTarts, which have been around since I was a kid.
They have a little glaze on them to keep them from sticking together and their colors are a little mottled, but not unattractively so. The chew is soft but grainy, with a nice cool feeling to it and a quick dissolve. The flavor is about what you’d expect from a SweeTart - a lot of tart at the beginning with a round, chemical flavor and then it finishes sweet and grainy.
Somewhere back in the distant past Tart n Tinys were not colorful - they were plain and chalky, like SweeTarts only pellet shaped. Then someone gave them a shiny color coating. They have little character versions of the candies on the package, but I’ve never paid much attention to them, but I guess that’s what sets them apart from SweeTarts.
The Chewy Tart n Tinys are little chewy pellets of tartness, a bit of flavor and a grainy chew all coated in a thin, crunchy shell. They come in five flavors: grape (blue), cherry (red), orange (orange), lemon (yellow) and apple (green). Sound familiar?
Besides the colorful coating and the difference in the color of the grape flavor, and the slight difference in size (the Tart n Tinys are 11% smaller than the Chewy SweeTarts Minis) they’re the same candy.
SweeTarts come in a handy dispenser tube (but I’ve seen them in the bags before, too), which is kind of fun for sharing and saving for later. There’s a little more in the Tart n Tinys package (1.6 ounces vs 1.75 ounces) but I guess it all comes down to how you want your candy to look. Chewy SweeTarts Minis look kind of like tiny Trix and Chewy Tart n Tinys look like little beads. Chewy Tart n Tinys have fewer calories per ounce, I can only guess this is because the tartness ingredients are higher on the list and perhaps there are more colorings in the Tart n Tinys, which take up mass but have no calories. Both deliver a lot of variety and a consistent product. Why they both exist from the same company is beyond me, but then again they stopped making Wacky Wafers because they said they were too similar to Bottle Caps, and I really miss Wacky Wafers.
In the end, the Chewy Tart n Tinys win out by a very slight margin. I’m not sure why, I think it’s just that I like the look of them better, and when the taste is the same, that’s just about all it comes down to.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Green Tea (Matcha) KitKats from Japan have been around for a while, but it took me this long to get my hands on some. I couldn’t even find a single-serving bar so I had to buy this bag of miniatures. At over $6, it’s not something I’m likely to repeat for a mass produced consumer candy.
These little wafer sticks are covered in a white mockolate flavored with real green tea. The color of the coating is real, it’s a pretty shade of creamy green. It smells of sugar and the delicate scent of matcha. The layers are flaky and crisp, just like a KitKat ought to be. The mockolate coating is very sweet though, so the matcha nuances are lost until you reach a saturation point ... at about the second stick.
A little about matcha. Matcha is a style of preparing green tea that starts with preparing the tea leaves before harvest, where they are covered from the sun for a few weeks before they are picked. After drying they are ground into a fine powder to create the matcha. This powder is used to prepare the tea and unlike regular brewed teas, the hot water is added to the powder and it is not strained out. Think of it as the difference between coffee and cocoa. With coffee we brew the beans by passing hot water through the grounds. With cocoa we grind the beans very finely and add them to hot milk. You get more complex flavors when you consume the whole leaf.
While I found these enjoyable, they were a tad sweet, which covered up much of the green tea flavors. The white mockolate had more of a greasy consistency, since the ingredients go: sugar, vegetable oil, lactose, wheat flour, milk powder and the cocoa butter. The American label on the package may or may not be correct, as I found a huge discrepancy in the reported calories for them and I had to puzzle my way through the Japanese listing. Luckily numbers are universal.
I think these are limited edition, as they’re no longer on the Breaktown.com site, maybe someone can read that label and let me know. (Dont’ worry, these weren’t expired candies or anything, the freshness date said 01/2007 on it.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:31 am
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Sometimes I buy chocolate and it melts. Lately that’s been happening a lot. Why not just buy already melted chocolate?
A dear reader sent me an email telling me about this new product called Lava Bar which is just that, liquid chocolate in a pouch. I wrote to the manufacturer and soon I had a few in my hot little hands to try! And this is one case where my hands being hot was not necessarily a bad thing!
The Lava Bar is billed as the world’s first liquid chocolate bar.
Since you’re probably curious, here are the ingredients: corn syrup, chocolate liquor, sugar, butter, water, high fructose corn syrup, whole dry powdered milk, vanilla extract and salt. Chocolate liquor listed there is not alcoholic, it’s just ground up roasted cocoa beans - it contains both cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
So now that we know what’s in there, what’s it like? Well, it’s like brownie batter. Very, very good brownie batter. It’s smooth and thick, but not sticky. The chocolate is very sweet, which is a little disappointing, but has some nice complex flavors. Mostly it’s woodsy notes and some smoke. There’s a little bitterness to it, but I didn’t mind that at all.
I don’t know if this could ever replace my desire for a chocolate bar, which has other things to recommend it from a sensual point of view - it’s a solid and then a liquid, you can break off pieces of it and share, you can stack the little pieces up or just admire the unwrapped bar.
The dispensing system, which amounts to squeezing the stuff into your mouth is a little odd, too. Unless you squeeze it out and then lick it off, you never really see what you’re eating. The package holds two servings (2.5 ounces) but it’s not that easy to just reseal it for later (I’d recommend a clip or something for that). I think astronauts would love it though (of course M&Ms and Hershey Kisses probably travel well in space, too).
The wrapper and website recommend using it as a sauce or dip, which I found much more satisfying. I squeezed a little on pretzels and almonds and found that to be great because I could control the proportions or each element. You can also add it to ice cream or use it in shakes.
It’s certainly interesting, but lacked the sort of ultrasmooth true chocolate experience that I was looking for. I think it’s because of the lack of enough cocoa butter ... but if there were more cocoa butter it would be a solid and then it wouldn’t be the Lava Bar.
I can see this being a great thing to hike with. You don’t have to worry about it melting, because it already is. As a nutritional replacement ala Chocolate Cliff Shots, it’s got a lot of fat: half the calories are from fat, some solid chocolate have 2/3 of their calories from fat. So if you use it as a sauce to satisfy a craving, this could be a way to keep on a diet.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I’ve been a little depressed lately and I figured the thing to cheer me up would be some bouncy candy. So I headed down to Little Tokyo over the weekend to buy myself some candy. I was lucky enough to find the Juntsuyu that I love so much (they were out the last time I was in there) so I bought two packages. I also scoured the aisles for something new to lift my spirits.
I enjoyed the Strawberry Hi-CHEW I had last year and a friend at the office recently gave me some green apple ones that were equally lifting. I found a new variety I hadn’t seen before, Grapefruit!
Flavored with real grapefruit juice, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. They’d be like a super soft version of the Pampelmousse Mentos.
These did not disappoint. The chew is soft and smooth and has a sort of pleasant rubbery quality that I can only report as ‘bounce’. The flavor is complex, with sweet and tart notes and some of the grapefruit oil essence in there, too.
If you’re ever confused about Japanese candy, so far I can say that the Morinaga brand is one that doesn’t disappoint. The candy has always been of high quality, the flavors good and the packaging is great. So if you’re standing in front of a big display of Japanese candy, try something Morinaga. (I like Meiji, too.)
If you wanted to try the Pink Grapefruit Mentos but you’re a vegetarian, you’ll be happy to hear that there is no gelatin in Hi-CHEW, it’s all vegatable ingredients in there!
Monday, August 28, 2006
When I was the All Candy Expo there were lots of candies there that I’d never seen before, and many that I’ll probably never see again. One that seemed to be everywhere in the little freebie bowls were Garfield’s Chocobites by Arcor.
Yeah, they’re knock-offs of Peanut M&Ms. They’ve been sitting in my pile o’ candy I really don’t wanna eat.
I got a little piece of email last week that I had to share. Kendra wanted to make sure that everyone know about the bad candy known as Garfield’s Chocobites.
Here are some of her words:
Technically that white greasy substance isn’t lard, it’s probably cocoa butter (though the ingredients also list something called polyricinoleic acid, which is a red flag that whatever is in the package will disappoint you). And usually I say hurray for cocoa butter, but when cocoa butter leaves the chocolate, it’s not a pleasant thing. If the cocoa butter has left the candy, it means that the candy has been stored improperly, in a warm environment long enough for the cocoa butter to melt and vacate the candy ... ew. And what’s left inside the candy shell if the cocoa butter is gone? Sugar and cocoa, dried milk and some other additives. What’s worse is that a vending machine would have this issue - it should be some sort of climate controlled machine! It’s plugged in, can’t they keep the temperature below 80?
Now, I’d say that Kendra should just forgo that vending machine ... but she’s not the only one. Even Candy Addict Victoria has found the similarly dismal results with her experience:
A quick websearch did find one person who liked them, giving them 4.5 gummi bears out of 5.
Some anonymous person commenting at Junk Food Blog posits that:
Um, yeah, anonymous should check out the ingredients list and notice the presence of PGPR. It’s not that we’re uneducated dweebs, they’re made with inferior ingredients.
Anyway, my take on them (and mine are fresh) is that the peanuts are substandard. The candy shells are pretty but not tasty looking. They’re a little more textured than M&Ms (which isn’t a bad thing, just different) and the colors are vibrant, but a little uneven. The red and orange ones were a little mottled which made it look like someone had dribbled another color of dye in there. The shell is very crisp and thicker than M&Ms which is kind of fun. It makes them very crunchy. But after that it’s downhill. The peanuts are simply substandard. At least half of them were awful, chewy and bitter or tasted burnt. The chocolate is sweet and uninteresting with no creamy balance to the peanuts or crunchy shell.
I’m really sorry that some vending companies are putting in bad quality products to up their profits. At 1.74 ounces, it’s the exact same size as a bag of Peanut M&Ms, so you’re not the one getting a better value here. I’m all for generics, I buy them all the time, but this is one case where you’re gonna get burned.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.