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.
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
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.
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!
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
As I reviewed last week, Nestle is creating some limited edition bars. This tactic seems to encompass adding peanuts to current candy bars.
The Nestle Crunch with Peanuts is simply a Nestle Crunch bar with peanuts mixed in. Think of it as Mr. Goodbar meets Krackel (well, if you were in the Hershey’s universe). It’s a really nice bar and I like how the peanuts moderate the sweetness of the Nestle chocolate. I actually prefer it over the regular Crunch bar which I’ve always found a little too sweet and bland.
The crunches come from both the crisped rice and the roasted peanuts - so there’s variation in texture and taste. I certainly prefer it to the Crunch with Caramel they did a while back. It also seems to be more innovative than the White Chocolate and Dark Chocolate versions from last year. I’m not likely to buy these, but if there were an assortment of Nestle miniatures with them in it, they’d certainly be one of the first I’d pick out.
The other thing I like about adding nuts to chocolate and other sweets is that it gives a little protein/fat punch to the sugar. I know it sounds odd to be talking about things like glycemic load when talking about candy, but I like to feel good while eating candy and an hour later, instead of having a severe sugar crash and getting the shakes.
This was another one of the Eastern European sweets that a friend of a friend brought back that I’m just getting around to posting about. What I thought was rather interesting about it is that it’s made by a company owned by Kraft. I suspect that the original company has been around for more than a hundred years in Latvia or Lithuania and was bought by the international food corporation more recently and that the production has not changed markedly. But I am kind of at a loss to figure this one out, as the labels haven’t a bit of English on them ... not even any other languages I’m familiar with such as German, Italian or Spanish.
As far as I can tell, each 100 gram bar is milk chocolate. The Princas is dairy milk, the lighter of the two. It’s very smooth with a slight coconut taste to it. It’s exceptionally sweet with a good milky flavor. The chocolate is neither American style nor Swiss style. It’s less grainy than the American chocolates like Hershey or Mars but still as sweet. Overall it’s just good. Not great, but for mass-market chocolate it’s well packaged, fresh and tasty. It could use some more chocolate complexity but it’s certainly something that I’d pick up while traveling to keep in my purse for a little pick-me-up.
The Karuna was also very sweet, exceptionally smooth and had the same coconut flavor to it. It was a little stickier and with a slight hint of cinnamon-woodsiness to it.
I’m not quite sure what the difference between the two is except that the Kuruna is darker. Of the two I prefer the Karuna but I’d probably be pretty happy with either one. I’d probably munch on it with some pretzels or some other savory or bland salty treat (or maybe some shortbread).
Monday, January 9, 2006
I heard about these last October. When you think about it, it’s a natural idea - combine figs and chocolate to create a candy. I’m all for wholesome candy, there’s no reason that healthy ingredients can’t be combined to create something tasty. And don’t worry, they’ve done it here.
Chocolate Covered Fig Bar: Before you try these you might want to ask yourself if you like figs. The first ingredients in the two bars is figs, then sugar, then chocolate. The fig center isn’t at all like a Fig Newton, there are no identifiable seeds even. Instead it’s a moist, soft and chewy center with a good fresh, figgy taste. There’s also a hint of raspberry to it. If the seeds of a Fig Newton always bothered you, this might be a good way to get the fig taste without the fig texture.
Chocolate Covered Fig Bar with Almonds: This one was actually my favorite. It’s the same fig bar as above with almonds mixed into the center. The combination of fig and almonds is a natural and the texture added by the nuts gives it a little crunch and nutty taste. Almonds also add their own nutritional benefits, a dash of protein and a little fiber in their own right. I don’t know how much attention you pay to calories, but as a chocolate candy this bar has the lowest calorie/ounce rating that I think I’ve profiled yet. That means you feel like you’re eating a lot (that’s what fiber does for you), so there’s the munching satisfaction, but not actually whole lot of calories. The bars feel substantial, but they are smaller than your typical 1.75 ounce candy bar that we’re accustomed to with Hershey’s, Nestle & Mars.
Figamajigs are billed as healthy candy as they provide both high fiber (4 grams per bar), small amounts of calcium and iron in addition to the antioxidants inherent to both figs and chocolate. The Figamajig website provides more info about these health benefits and the full story of Mel Lefer, the creator of Figamajigs, who invented the bars in a search for a healthy snack that would satisfy.
Candy Pieces: These are really pretty candies. I saw them on the website and I thought, there’s no way they’re that cute. But they are. They’re large dollops of fig centers from the bar, covered in chocolate and then covered in a candy shell. The shell is crunchy and sweet and the center has a good balance of chocolate and figs (more chocolate in this ratio, it seems). They’re actually quite a bit sweeter than the fig bars, and I don’t know if I could eat a lot of them in one sitting for that reason. But, if I were making a trail mix for snacking in the car, out whalewatching or on a hike, this is the perfect format. In fact, if I were going to make a trail mix, it would be a combination of mini pretzels, chocolate covered raisins, chocolate covered nuts (I prefer cashews, but I know almonds are better for me) and some plain almonds. It gives you a good mix of sweet, salt and of course the creaminess of the chocolates. It also has a good balance of sugars to proteins so you don’t get a sugar high and crash ... the proteins moderate the processed carbs and give you lasting and satisfying energy. I can’t wait for them to be sold in bulk at Whole Foods or maybe in tubs at Trader Joe’s. If I have one complaint it’s really that the little colored candies have no name. Really, what am I supposed to call them?
When the time comes for me to choose between a Luna Bar and a Figamajig, I’m totally going for the Figamajig. (Sorry, I’m not going to pick a Figamajig over a KitKat though.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:30 am
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.