Friday, April 4, 2014
Equal Exchange is cooperative that sells products with fair trade ingredients and/or labor. Many of these are products where the farmers that grow them live in poverty, lack educational opportunities. Things like coffee, tea, bananas and of course, cocoa. These are all grown in tropical regions and depend on a high degree of manual labor. With the chocolate industry, there’s the added issue of slavery of hundreds of thousands of children on farms, mostly in Western Africa.
Equal Exchange also makes its own chocolate, which uses fair trade certified ingredients, not just ethically sourced cocoa. The result isn’t charity, these are real, sustainable products that you can buy at a fair price that are actually good quality as well.
They’ve been making chocolate for a while, but only more recently has it become more mainstream ... and now they have holiday packaged foil-wrapped eggs.
Equal Exchange Milk Chocolate Foil Eggs are 41% cacao, which is as dark as some semisweet chocolate sold these days. The ingredients sound delicious: cacao butter, whole milk powder, cane sugar, chocolate liquor, unrefined white cane sugar, ground hazelnuts and vanilla. The ingredients are also fair trade (except for the hazelnuts and milk) and all organic. There’s no soy, no lecithin, no other fillers.
The melt is smooth and creamy. It’s not at all grainy but very fatty and thick on the tongue. The flavor is interesting and not something I initially liked. It’s deep and not terribly sweet. The milk flavors are definitely more on the powdered milk, flirting with the cheesy side. But the roasted flavors of the hazelnuts balances that. The chocolate itself is woodsy with a sort of green banana note to it. It sounds weird.
I can’t stop eating these. I actually did stop, when I ran out. Then I realized they also sent this to me:
Yes, that’s over a pound and a half of mini milk chocolate bars. In a handy dispenser box. I have it on my desk, like it’s dispensing tissues during allergy season.
The Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Foil Eggs are also quite rich. They feature the same high fat, though in this case there are no nuts and no dairy at all. The 55% cacao content is rounded out only with sugar and vanilla beans. Like the Milk Chocolate, it’s all organic, but in this case it’s also all fair trade certified. There’s no soy in there, no GMOs though there may be traces of milk, peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and/or pecans. Though it doesn’t say on the ingredients, they should be gluten free. Finally, they’re vegan. While there’s not a lot in there, there are a lot of folks these could satisfy. ]
The 55% cacao content makes these quite mild. They smell woodsy, with a light cherry note. The chocolate has a good, silky melt with a light dry finish to it. The flavor profile is all over the map. I taste coffee, cherries, figs and bananas and sometimes even a hint of malt ... though that could have been its storage adjacent to my milk chocolate pieces. There’s a light bitterness in there, nothing too difficult to conquer, but might be enough to keep children away.
You could put these in front of anyone without any information about the origins or disposition and they’d never know that this is more transparently source, ethically accountable stuff. It’s just tasty. As you can tell, I preferred the milk chocolate version, but the dark is a wonderful middle of the road chocolate that’s not too dark for wide appeal.
The only hesitations for most folks will be where to find them and how much you pay. Equal Exchange has them on their website for $6.99 per package, which is pretty steep compared to their very competitively priced bars. (For some reason foil wrapping just amps up the price of any chocolate, good quality or bad.) Some Whole Foods Markets and other natural product stores may carry them as well. The fall back is always the little mini-bars, which are also extremely cute and a bit better deal per ounce, but come in this 23.8 ounce box (yes, a pound a half) for $35.00 plus shipping. It’s hard to compare that to R.M. Palmer (which isn’t even real chocolate, let alone sustainably sourced), but Godiva or Lindt may be a good comparison on both price and ingredients.
On Monday I’ll have a review of Kosher for Passover chocolates, also from Equal Exchange.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
There’s a shop by my office that has very wide inventory of them, so I’ve been able to try a few Chuao varieties. The Chuao Orange A Go Go Chocopod is a rather standard combination of flavors, orange and dark chocolate.
The little choco pods are shaped like a cocoa pod. It’s about 2.75 inches long and only .39 ounces. Not even a full portion of chocolate, but at 50 calories and one dollar, it’s a good way to control your portions.
The texture is very smooth, the chocolate is not particularly dark at only 60%, but nicely rich. Even though it’s not very dark, Chuao does not use milk fillers in its dark chocolate, so this is considered a vegan bar (though is made in a facility that processes milk, nuts and wheat). The ingredients list orange peel and orange extract along with bergamot extract. There were a few pieces of orange peel that I detected in my portion, but not large pieces. More like tiny coconut flakes would be. The orange flavor, though, was very well moderated. Not so strong as to create an oily or bitter note, but not too subtle to be overpowered by the woodsy and rather coffee notes of the chocolate.
It’s pricey if you’re picking this up for anything other than a sample before committing to a large bar. The large bars are 2.8 ounces and about $5 retail ($1.79 per ounce) and these work out to about $2.56 per ounce, even when you buy a box of 36 on the Chuao website. However, they’re a fun favor, if you’re considering something for a shower or wedding, especially since they’re rather gender neutral.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Lindt Gold Bunny Hazelnut is a new introduction that’s sadly not available in the United States. I saw an announcement about it a couple of months ago and put it on my London shopping list. Not only did I find it, they were on sale, two for £5 ... which is still pretty pricey at $4.25 with the exchange rate at the time.
Honestly, I never read past the name of the product and I was sold. So, I didn’t know quite what to expect, I simply assumed that this was going to be an giandiua product, a sort of milk chocolate with hazelnut paste blended in for an extra rich texture.
The bottom label on the foil covered rabbit explained that it was milk chocolate with hazelnut pieces. It’s actually 20% hazelnuts while the chocolate is 30% cocoa solids and then another 14% milk solids. In addition, there’s a touch of malt extract (I don’t know what that means when it comes to gluten status). There’s no actual allergen statement, just bolded items on the ingredients which include dairy, soy, hazelnuts, and barley plus traces of almonds.
The bunny looks a little odd, with the variations in the color, but oh, my goodness it smells great. It’s a roasted hazelnut scent that just makes my mouth water. The ears are nearly solid, so the first bite was quite a treat. The chocolate is a bit softer than the Lindt Dark, though their regular Milk Bunny is also on the soft side and also has a touch of malt.
The note of malt is not completely overshadowed by the hazelnut either. It just moderates the sticky sweetness of the Lindt milk chocolate, as do the generous hazelnuts. The hazelnuts are crisp and crunchy with a macadamia or coconut crispness. They’re quite small bits (as they’d need to be for a molded item like this).
This is amazingly good. Easy to eat, filling but not too sweet. It’s expensive ...but really cute and very well executed. I would love to see these introduced in the United States next year. I was poking around online and saw that they may be available in Canada and there’s always a few eBay sellers that do European confectionery imports.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Alongside the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Eggs on shelves this year are the new Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs.
They’re not something particularly Easter-themed, as chocolate covered almonds are already rather egg shaped. But they’re still a welcome item, since some chocolate covered nuts sound less sweet than the many other marshmallowy, sugar-crusted and white chocolate items that typify the holiday fare.
They were expensive, as real nut items often are. I picked up this 7.1 ounce bag for $3.29, which is on par with what I’d usually pay for an item from Whole Foods ... yet I bought this at Target.
They look great. Dark and glossy. They varied in size quite a bit, from a peanut all the way up to an almond in the shell. I expected this, because almonds themselves vary.
The chocolate itself is Hershey’s tangy, cheesy, fudgy chocolate ... it’s odd. But it goes well with the almonds, which are well chosen, nicely crunchy and good quality. I ate the whole bag in about two days, so I must have liked them, but I didn’t feel satisfied by any particular element. The chocolate is gritty and has that Hershey’s burp note ... the almonds are good, but the fact that I spent over $3 on less than half a pound of a Hershey’s chocolate product was a little odd.
Hershey’s had a version of these in their Pieces line that had a candy shell which added to the texture experience, but I haven’t see those in stores for a while.
If you’re a lover of the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almond bar and wanted an Easter version, I think these ratios are good.
The allergen warning only says that these may contain traces of peanuts. They are made with soy, dairy and almonds as well. There’s no note on gluten or wheat at all.
Monday, March 24, 2014
The resealable pouch and product depiction reminded me in no small way of the Brookside “chocolate-covered fruit juice pieces” which are really just jellies. Brookside Chocolate, a Canadian company, innovated this product, which first showed up on American shelves around 2010. Later there were other versions, such as Trader Joe’s Powerberries, which were also made in Canada, but now seem to have switched suppliers and are now made in the US with slightly different ingredients.
Though Brach’s is usually a sort of low end brand, these are priced a bit higher, I picked this up for $3.49 for the 8 ounce package. This is very similar in price to the Brookside (pictured here) which was $3.50 on sale.
The Brach’s spheres are pretty consistent in size. They’re not completely spherical, but very nicely coated with a shiny glaze. They’re the size of a garbanzo bean or perhaps a fresh blueberry as pictured on the package. Inside is a little, firm piece of berry juice flavored jelly. It’s about the size of a jujube and rather soft and flavorful.
The blueberry and acai flavors are jammy and deep, though it is coated in dark chocolate coating is it’s really not very dark or complex in the ingredients. The consistency of the jelly center is good - it’s not grainy at all and quite flavorful.
As a knockoff item, the Brach’s do very well (seen on the left here, with the Brookside on the right). There’s an extra ounce in the package, even if they were the same price. The Brookside centers are inconsistent. They’re little disks, and most morsels have two at the center, like halves of a peanut. But other pieces have only one piece at the center and others are a stack of three. They have a slight grain to them, but also a bit more of a tangy bite ...for the most part. They’re not completely the same, sometimes it’s as if they’re sanded with a little sour coating, and other times they’re rather bland. The chocolate is smooth and creamy, far better than the Brach’s.
I’d buy either again, though I find I prefer the chocolate a bit better on the Brookside. Brookside is now owned by Hershey’s. Brach’s is now owned by the Ferrara Candy Company. Folks who are looking to avoid dairy will appreciate the Brach’s.
These are positioned to be some sort of antioxidant-boosted, better-for-you, superfood candy thing. They’re not. They’re just chocolate covered jelly beans. The fact that it’s a jelly center means they’re not quite as calorically dense as a straight chocolate nugget and the Brach’s have 100% of your RDA of vitamin C. But they also contain silicone dioxide and modified food starch ... fine items but not necessarily the nutritional boosters I’ve waited for my whole life.
These contain soy. They’re made in a facility that processed nuts, wheat, dairy and peanuts. The only other ingredient of issue would be the confectioners glaze, which is usually made with shellac, so wouldn’t be vegan.
Friday, March 21, 2014
The bites are exactly what you’d think from the name, unwrapped little cubes of 3 Musketeers nougat filling covered in milk chocolate and tossed in a bag.
I’ve observed this with past reviews of the Bites line for Mars: I’m disappointed with the look of the products. It’s tough, because the packaging means that the pieces are tossed around for months and miles and get scuffed. I’m sure when they come off the line at the factory they’re exquisitely cute. But the chalky look is a bit of a turnoff for me, I don’t want to dump these in a bowl and admire then like I usually do with chocolates that come in little pieces.
They’re quite consistent little cubes, with fewer cracking and oozing problems than the Milky Way Simple Caramel Unwrapped Bites. There were also more pieces in the package. There were about 16 Simply Caramel Bites while the 3 Musketeers Bites package had 24 ... that’s all because of the airy nature of the nougat filling.
The bites smell malty, though also a little like plastic. They’re light, definitely not as dense as other candies would be for their size. I really liked the Milky Way Bites, so I had high hopes for the 3 Musketeers. The bite is soft, as the center is fluffy. The chocolate melts well, though doesn’t have much more than a vague cocoa flavor. The center is mostly a fake vanilla with a hint of salt. I didn’t get much in the way of malt from it though the texture is quite nice. There’s only a slight hint of grain from time to time. Overall, it’s just really sweet without much of a definitive flavor profile.
Mars has gone back and forth on the 3 Musketeers filling flavor over the years, tweaking it here and there, to the point where I’m not sure which version this is, but I know I don’t care for it. These might be good when combined with something, or perhaps frozen. I’ll stick to the Snickers version.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I’m not surprised that Russell Stover is expanding its cake-themed candies, as they already have a Cookie Dough Egg and multiple holiday version of Red Velvet Cake. This spring they’ve introduced three new eggs all with cake themes: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake and Wedding Cake.
The thing that’s so odd about them is that they’re eggs. None of these flavors are particularly Easter themed. In fact, I find the idea of a Birthday Cake flavored egg for Easter downright odd. Carrot Cake is the only one that makes a modicum of sense, since carrots are associated with rabbits, which are associated with Easter.
Russell Stover Carrot Cake Egg covered in White Chocolate is only one ounce. It looks the same as the other Russell Stover egg packaging, green foil and a white emblem on the front with a little bow and the Russell Stover logo. There are elements of an amber orange and a slice of cake featured on the lower right.
As with the other cake and dough eggs that Russell Stover started making, it’s an odd sort of bon bon. The filling actually contains cake mix. So inside is an unbaked cake mix that’s creamed together with some milk and butter to create a filling that’s then molded into an egg shape inside a white chocolate shell. Kind of weird.
It smells very sweet with a little note of cinnamon and nutmeg along with some sort of dairy milk. It’s a little flat, so it’s easy to bite. It’s extremely sweet, but the filling has a sort of cookie dough consistency. It’s a little grainy, as I can feel the sugar and the raw flour in the center. It’s not pasty, as there’s enough fat in there to let it dissolve and melt like a bon bon should. The carrot notes are a bit lost, it’s the spice cake flavors that really create the reality.
Overall, aside from its sweetness, it’s pretty good. I can’t say that I’ve ever really wanted a carrot cake bonbon, so this doesn’t fill a hole in my heart. I’d say that some pecans would enhance it, but they’re an unlikely addition at this price point.
Russell Stover Birthday Cake Egg in Milk Chocolate with Sprinkles doesn’t look much like a birthday item. Sure, there’s a bow on it, but there’s a bow on all of them, and they’re not for anyone’s birthday.
This egg feels bigger than the others, though the wrapper says it’s also one ounce. The cake featured in the picture is a yellow cake with a chocolate frosting. Just as the carrot cake version lists cake mix, this one lists Yellow Cake Mix in the ingredients (also white chocolate, even though it’s covered in milk chocolate).
The egg is not molded like the others, instead its enrobed, like the Cookie Dough Egg I reviewed last year. There are little sprinkles stuck to it, though I think there were just as many rattling around in the package when I unwrapped it.
I don’t care for sprinkles, they look pretty and all, but they’re a mess. They don’t taste good and they just leave evidence everywhere that you’ve not only been indulging, but indulging in something with sprinkles on it.
The egg itself smells a bit like dough, it has that uncooked batter note to it. The center is soft and easy to bite, the chocolate stays together, but the sprinkles rarely make it into my mouth. The milk chocolate is merely passable, it’s not strong but does have a sort of malty element that stands up to the otherwise bland battercream. Though I don’t have a cookie dough version right here, I recall this being much different except that the center is a little softer and less crumbly.
If you’re a cake person, sprinkle person or your birthday happens to fall around the time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, this may be the perfect candy for you.
Russell Stover Wedding Cake covered in White Chocolate is an extremely sweet confection. (I didn’t get a photo of the package, or even a particularly good photo of the candy.)
It’s a white cake center with a white chocolate coating, so the notes are pretty much vanilla and sugar. The center is a bit softer than the Birthday Cake, though still has the sugary grain to it. It’s just slightly fluffed but has an overall milky sweet flavor and a hint of the raw flour.
It was far too sweet with no actual purpose to it. The idea of wedding cake that’s all white with white frosting and no note of raspberry or marzipan is actually kind of foreign to me. This taste more like grocery store sheet cake ... which is not something I think anyone strives to emulate. I’m sure there are some super-sweet-toothers who will enjoy this, but I think it as was just too sweet and one-note.
The cake thing is lost on me. I don’t mind when things go back to the source of why we made it a cake flavor in the first place, like taking the flavor elements of coconut and chocolate and caramel from a German Chocolate Cake ... but yellow cake can stay in the realm of baked goods from no on.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Last week I showed off the new Milk Chocolate Mega M&Ms, this week I have the Mega Peanut M&Ms. I picked both bags up at CVS on sale at two bags for $5.00. Since the bag is 11.4 ounces, that’s a pretty good deal.
The bag makes use of the familiar yellow of the Peanut M&Ms franchise and a blue Mega logo similar to the one on the Milk Chocolate M&Ms bag (which has a brown background).
The Milk Chocolate Mega M&Ms boasted 3 times more chocolate, but the Peanut Mega M&Ms only say that there’s more chocolate and bigger peanuts.
While the Mega Milk Chocolate M&Ms were obviously bigger, I didn’t see much of a difference when I dumped a handful of these out. So, that meant that I had to go back out and pick up some regular Peanut M&Ms for comparison. The Mega are on the left and the regular are on the right. Some are identically sized, but many of the Mega are obviously bigger than the standard.
Oddly enough I didn’t find the Megas were different for me, they tasted and behaved like the Peanut M&Ms I might want to eat. That said, I feel like Peanut M&Ms have gotten smaller over the years and these may just be what I used to find ordinary. The chocolate ratio is good, there’s plenty of chocolate there’s a good crunch from the shell and a good crunch from the peanuts. I just don’t see that big of a difference to warrant another slot on the store shelves for this when they could make room for Coffee M&Ms or Crispy M&Ms.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.