Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The company also introduced a line of sugar free, all natural mints called Minteas recently that come in these attractive leaf shaped (or surfboard, take your pick) tins. They’re also expensive, but a little more affordable considering the number of servings in the $2 package. I picked out the Minteas Retreat: Lemongrass Yuzu.
The bottom of the tin says: Get away with the soothing calm of wild-crafted lemongrass and the comforting citrus of Japanese yuzu. Relaxing chamomile offers the perfect antidote to stress. A sanctuary for the senses.
The tin says that they use organic botanicals and fair trade certified, organic white tea. (The fair trade tea is a minor component in the ingredients, the second to the last element, right before calcium stearate. There is also some plain old organic green tea in there.) They’re sweetened with sorbitol and xylitol, natural sugar alcohols that feel cool on the tongue and have fewer calories per gram than regular sugars.
The scent of the candies is quite nice, if you like Murphy’s Oil Soap or other citrus based cleaning products and candles, you’ll love this. Each little leaf shaped piece is a little longer than a half an inch. The pressed tablet candy dissolves or crunches, depending on your eating style.
The first thing I get is a sharp, bitter zest note. It’s not quite lemon and not quite grapefruit. It’s yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus similar to a grapefruit in its flavor components, only it’s usually the size of a lemon or orange and costs about $30 a pound here in Los Angeles. There are more floral blossom notes to it than just oily zest.
The little mint has a slight lemongrass note as well, which is kind of gingery and soft. There are other herbal and tea flavors in there, some green tea, which might also contribute some of the bitterness and soapy notes and chamomile, which always reminds me of catnip.
As far as “mints” go, these do have a long lasting flavor, a sort of jasmine freshness that lingers after the candy is gone. But the flavor while it’s in my mouth is a bit bitter, a little too much for me.
The package says that the product was designed in the USA but made in China. However the website says that the “source” of the ingredients is Egypt for the chamomile (ingredient #5 on the list) and Japan for the yuzu (not specifically listed as an ingredient, but probably is part of the “natural flavors” of ingredient #3. I feel misled about their transparency. If they’re going to say that something contains fair trade and/or organic ingredients, I also want to know where all the other ingredients come from. The website says they’re gluten free but makes no mention of their vegetarian/vegan status or any nuts or other allergens.
Friday, June 10, 2011
The final Angell Organic Candy bar in my series is probably the most mainstream, it’s the Crisp Angell Organic Candy Bar. The bar is not only organic but also made with fair trade ingredients, kosher and contains no preservatives, hydrogenated oils or genetically modified organisms.
The bar is milk chocolate with a crispy creamy chocolate center according to the package. The best way I can think to describe it is a creamy milk chocolate fudge with brown rice crispies covered in milk chocolate.
The bar, like the others in the line, is a little small at 1.23 ounces but that also means it’s pretty slim on calories at only 170.
The scent is quite milky and maybe even a little malty. The creamy milk chocolate enrobing is quite nice, though definitely on the dairy side of the milk chocolate flavors, not much of a chocolate punch. The center is, as I mentioned earlier, a creamy fudge consistency. It’s not at all grainy except for those little crispy rice bits. The rice though isn’t as crispy and crunchy as I would have liked though, it was a little on the chewy side - so not quite stale tasting but still not my desired texture. If you’re a lover of the the milky flavors, this is a good bar to satisfy those cravings (it even has 4% of your daily value of calcium).
Like the other bars, this isn’t just an organic knock off of another bar that’s already on the market, it’s an original. It uses some common construction formats, but creates a taste and texture experience all its own. I appreciated that the grain of choice here was rice instead of oats, but the texture was still a problem in creating a wholly decadent experience. In the case of this bar though it’s gluten free, so those folks will appreciate a chocolate bar with some crunch. Still, they’re a bit on the expensive side, I paid $2.69 for mine, but that was at Erewhon, where everything is expensive - you should be able to get these for $2 or so.
Angell Bars website says that they have another bar called Angell Classic coming soon. There’s no description of it, but it does have a few peanuts next to it in the picture ... so I’m hoping for the ultimate peanut butter bar.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The Snow Angell Organic Candy Bar is white chocolate sweet and creamy coconut center. Like the previous bar I reviewed, the Dark Angell, it’s a smallish bar at 1.41 ounces which means that it’s less than 200 calories (190). It’s not vegan like the dark counterpart, but it is free from GMO products, corn syrup and artificial colors & flavors.
The white chocolate coating is real, made only five ingredients: cane sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter soy lecithin and vanilla. The center is made from tapioca syrup, oats, dried coconut, honey and coconut extract along with some other natural flavors and sea salt. (The salt isn’t organic because, well, salt is inorganic.)
The white chocolate coating is soft and creamy, more like a pudding than a chocolate. I really liked the texture and the fact that it wasn’t so sweet. The overriding flavor though is the coconut from the center. The middle isn’t quite white, it’s a little more creamy and well, oat colored. In fact, the texture is more oaty at times than coconutty. While I found the oat flavor in the Dark Angell a bit off-putting, I think the combination of oats and coconut is fantastic. The coconut absorbs any of the pasty or gummy texture that oats can bring and brings all the light nutty flavors together.
If you’ve ever wanted a white chocolate Mounds bar, this might be a good option. The center isn’t quite the same coconut experience as the usual candy store fare though, it’s far more flavorful and less sweet. It’s nice to see a line of organic bars doing their own thing instead of imitating others.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
At last there are some niche companies out there starting to make quality candy bars. Real ingredients, ethically sourced but still retaining the essence of what a candy bar should be - deliciously indulgent. Jungell Inc has introduced a new line of candy bars that still fit the mold of candy, but with a bit of a twist on the ingredients. Their new line includes three candy bars, but I’ll go with the one that I was most interested in first, the Dark Angell Organic Candy Bar.
I picked up an array of samples at ExpoWest earlier this year, but I didn’t want to write about them until I bought a real set of bars in a store.
Here’s how they describe it: Dark Angell, sophisticated and perfectly balanced. A refined combination of luxurious organic dark chocolate, wrapped around a smooth cocoa center with organic almonds for crunch. For those who prefer a more complex chocolate, the Dark Angell is the candy bar for you. Grab it. Eat it. Love it.
So let’s have a look at the self-declared specifications of this bar: made with fair trade ingredients, organic, vegan, kosher, no artificial colors or flavors, non-GMO ingredients, no preservatives, no corn syrup, low sodium and 0g of trans fats. What it does have in it is real chocolate, the first ingredient is real dark chocolate. So it looks good so far. Then it goes on: tapioca syrup, oats, almonds, dutch cocoa powder, sea salt and almond extract. That’s it!
It’s not a big bar, if you’re accustomed to Snickers or Milky Way. It’s about 3.5” long and about an inch wide. It clocks in at 1.31 ounces, which doesn’t sound like much, but nuts tend to be very filling for me.
The sheen of the bar is nice, the dark chocolate ripples and shines. It smells like chocolate, rich and deep. The flavors are quite woodsy when I bit into it. The first time I tried it, a few bites at the ExpoWest natural products expo, I didn’t know what was in the bar, so there was a cereal flavor and a sort of chew to it I couldn’t put my finger on. The center of the bar is a bit of a moist but firm truffle sort of thing, it’s chocolatey but is also studded with big almonds. In addition there’s a bit of rolled oats in there. The thing is, it’s not like they’re toasty and crisp, but more like they’re raw and can taste a little pasty.
I feel like the center of the bar would have been interesting without the oats, kind of like a creamy truffle, but maybe more like a fluffy, more chocolate nougat thing.
I love most of the bar, except for that lingering flavor of raw oats. It brought the whole thing into the realm of “nutrition bar” when I’d firmly decided that I was going to eat a candy bar that just so happened to be made with good ingredients.
The nutritional panel shows some surprising nutrition to this bar as well: 90% of your daily value of iron, 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber. Vegans should be excited that this is a bar that’s really no compromise, it tastes like a candy bar, there’s nothing faux about it.
So aside from the texture/taste contribution of the oats, my other misgiving about the bar is the price. I paid $2.69 for my little bar. That’s $32.85 a pound. That’s a pretty fancy chocolate price. And for that price and that many calories I really want decadent.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Tony’s Chocolonely is a rather funny name for a chocolate company. They make fair trade chocolate in the Netherlands and can be found in much of Western Europe. (I saw them in department stores in both Amsterdam and Cologne.)
The packaging is eye catching with its bold use of primary colors and large friendly typefaces.
The issue of slavery, particularly child slavery, in cacao growing regions of Africa has been well documented. You can read more on Tony’s website. The aim of Tony’s Chocolonely is to source their cacao directly in Ivory Coast and Ghana from fair trade plantations in order to create a more responsible supply chain model and provide living wages for farmers. But really, it can’t happen overnight and this sort of widespread change needs more than just niche producers, it requires the involvement of the price-conscious, major chocolate buyers like Hershey’s, ADM, Mars, Kraft, Nestle and Cargill.
The packaging of Tony’s Chocolonely is friendly and casual, and probably a lot more attractive to children than many other fair trade options out there. So it’s a great choice around a holiday when you want to give kids a treat that might include a lesson but also include, well, the actual goodness of the treat they expect. The chocolate levels are not as intense, I’d say we’re close to the family chocolate range instead of the gourmet intense end of things.
The Easter Egg range that they gave me as a sample comes in this cute little egg carton that holds a full dozen eggs, which are about 1.5” inches high - a little larger than the size of a quail’s egg.
The Milk Chocolate Eggs are quite decadent. The chocolate is definitely kid friendly, but not without its appeal to candy lovers of all ages. The bite is soft, like a Cadbury though the cacao density is much higher at 30%. The milky flavors are in the Belgian style, clean but rather thick and sticky.
The Dark Chocolate Egg has a great snap, though in this size it’s a little hard to bite. (So just let the whole thing melt in your mouth.)
The flavor profile is very mild. There are light fruity and woodsy notes, but it’s overall a very sweet chocolate. It’s a dark chocolate for children who can’t have milk products or perhaps vegans.
The Milk Chocolate Praline Eggs are probably the most luxurious of the bunch, perhaps it’s just me because this style is not as common in the United States. The milk chocolate shell looks the same but is easier to bite. They’re filled with a hazelnut paste, which is sweet and nutty ... there’s a light and fresh floral note, a little like the fresh feeling from jasmine tea. I like them, though they were really very sweet and I couldn’t eat more than one at a sitting.
For every day consumption Tony’s Chocolonely also makes milk chocolate and dark chocolate bars. It will be a wonderful day when there are more holiday and special occasion options available and this set is a good start. I’m still a little more inclined towards Green & Black’s for my ordinary chocolate needs, but for folks who want something a little sweeter or kid friendly, this might be the stuff.
Friday, December 17, 2010
I found the Divine Milk Chocolate with Spiced Cookies while in San Francisco last month. It seemed like the perfect place to pick up a limited edition bar for the winter season, as San Francisco always seems to be cold when I’m there.
I usually like the Divine packages; I like the simplicity and flexibility of the icons on the solid color field. The designs are color coded so it’s easy to pick out your favorite on a crowded shelf at the store. This breaks with that tradition and the wrapper sports a shiny red ribbon and bow. Not a pretty hand tied bow, but one of those cheap stick on bows. The design is done with a bit of tromp l’oiel that just ruins it because of the violation of scale.
The bar is made of mostly fair trade ingredients (the chocolate and the sugar) and is all natural though not organic.
The bar is soft, both because the cookies are crumbly and the milk chocolate isn’t quite as crisp as some. The chocolate has a very strong yogurty-dairy flavor to it, a little on the side of cheese even. I’m not keep on this more earthy and grassy flavor of milk chocolate. The chocolate melt is also a bit thick and sticky but very smooth. The cookies are quite good and have a well rounded flavor profile with a hint of ginger, black pepper, a graham cracker base and a hint of salt.
I liked it and eventually finished the bar (with a little help) but I don’t think this is quite for me. It’s a good candy bar that uses fair trade chocolate, but it’s not what I’d consider a good chocolate bar. The spiced cookies are a nice change from crisped rice and plain ginger, but not quite enough for me to wish that they’d make this bar all year round.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Cooler temperatures mean more chocolate consumption in my world. I’ve really been enjoying the bars from Equal Exchange, so I decided to branch out from the plain dark chocolate bars to their flavored offerings.
The Equal Exchange Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt is a modest bar, sporting only 55% cacao content, it’s not extraordinarily dark and has more of a candy bar flair to it with bits of salty toffee.
The bar is wrapped simply in a burnt orange and brown wrapper that goes with the color coding Equal Exchange has going on for their line.
The bar is inside a thin white plastic sleeve which is easy to open and slip the bar back into. The bar looks great, it has a reddish hue to it and the inclusions of toffee bits are visible within the chocolate mass.
The bar has a distinct and bright snap. Breaking the bar reveals a plethora of big crunchy toffee bits (made with just four ingredients: cream, sugar, vanilla and sea salt). The chocolate itself smells like coffee and has a light acidic bite to it. It’s sweet, but not sticky and has a well rounded woodsy chocolate flavor. The toffee bits are crunchy and buttery with a strong salty note. They go exceptionally well with the chocolate and complement the smooth melt of the chocolate with the hard burnt sugar notes and the dash of sea salt.
This bar straddles the world of easy to eat candy and decadent treat. The chocolate isn’t as nuanced as the darker single origin bars, but it’s also more accessible. It’s one of my favorite toffee chocolate bars now. (It still prefer the slightly more candy-ish Green & Black’s Peanut Bar, but that’s milk chocolate and I’ve had more of those bars than the Equal Exchange.)
It’s fair trade, organic and Kosher. It’s made in a facility that processes tree nuts and peanuts and of course isn’t vegan because of the milk in the toffee.
UPDATE 11/16/2010: I transcribed the ingredients incorrectly in an earlier version of this review. There is no corn syrup in this bar. The only sweetener is organic unrefined and/or raw cane sugar. I’ve revised the review to reflect the accurate ingredients.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
So could a company known for it’s amazingly fresh tasting peanut butter (and other nut butters) make something like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup even better? The new Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups have a lot going for them in their lists of specs. They’re all-natural, organic and gluten-free, they use fair-trade chocolate, contain no preservatives and are packaged in compostable wrappers.
They’re also about $2 per package of two cups. Premium has a premium price. But I was on board, I wanted to see if eco-awareness would make the actual candy tastier (and possibly limit my other candy consumption because of the pricetag.) So after I got them home and took a few pictures I turned over the package to see some serious trash talk from Justin himself:
I don’t mind a little puffery in sales copy, but I don’t like it when my preferences are insulted. Why would Justin start out our relationship by exhibiting such contempt for my predilections? (For the record, my problems with Reese’s have never involved the peanut butter, it’s about the lackluster chocolate.) It took me a while to shrug this off, but I think I managed to center myself back to zero on the predisposed opinion scale.
Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
There are two cups in the package, which weighs 1.4 ounces (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are 1.5 ounces per two cup package). Each cup is exactly 100 calories.
I picked these up at Whole Foods within a week or so of them being placed on store shelves (I frequent the one near my office for lunch and I always cruise by the chocolate shelf). The “best by” date was 5/11, so they’re are definitely fresh. Yet there was a slight bloom on all of the cups. This is the opposite of the issue I usually have with peanut butter cups, which tend to get a greasy sheen as the peanut butter oils migrate into the chocolate.
They smell wonderful, mostly like grassy, fresh peanuts but with a light note of milk and cocoa.
What I noticed first when biting into the cup was how sandy and dry the center was. Most peanut butter cups will bend first, this crumbled and broke into chunks. Not a bad thing, just different. The chocolate is silky smooth and like a silky not-to-sweet chocolate butter. The peanut butter center is salty and sweet with strong roasted peanut notes. The texture is odd, it’s not pasty or buttery, it’s crumbly. It’s not grainy either, it’s a very fine sort of powdery texture. The chocolate really makes up for a lot of that with its silken texture and consistent melt.
The other thing I noticed, as the photo shows is that it’s not a coherent block of peanut butter filling. It has some swirls of milk chocolate in it and a rather thick chocolate reservoir on the top. This was the same with all of the cups that I got (see the dark chocolate one below as well).
The Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are also gluten free, organic, use fair trade chocolate, Kosher and packaged in biodegradable wrappers. They’re also vegan. I consider this a pretty big deal, lots of dark chocolate bars are considered vegan but very few “candy” bars are. (But note that they are processed on shared equipment that has been used for dairy ingredients, so they’re not for folks with dairy allergies.)
Many all natural products have brief ingredients lists, but Justin’s is quite elaborate, mostly because each ingredient needs a qualification:
* denotes Rainforest Alliance Certified products
I don’t know what the status of Palm Fruit Oil is on the list of palm oils these days. Palm plantations displace rainforest, but then again this is organic. Maybe some free range, wild-foraged palm fruit oil would be preferable.
The chocolate is silky smooth, just as the milk chocolate version was, but much more intense. In this case the chocolate flavors overpower the peanut butter flavors in many bites (mostly because of the inconsistent distribution of the chocolate, both of my cups had a full chocolate center). The cocoa flavors are woodsy with a slight acidic burn and tannic, bitter bite. It balanced well with the lightly sweet peanut butter center.
I liked the chocolate but I bought these because I thought they were peanut butter cups. Where’s my peanut butter!
I like that the peanut butter is less sweet than many other peanut butter confections, but I wanted it to be more buttery, it was like they used peanut flour instead of actual ground peanuts with all their glorious native oils. For this price I need a cup that delivers consistent ratios of peanut butter and chocolate. It’s a new product and maybe they don’t have things worked out, but the fact that the same swirling and high chocolate ratio occurred in both versions leads me to believe that this is either intended or permitted. Some folks might prefer it that way, so there’s a unique selling proposition for Justin’s. But it doesn’t rise to the level of Peanut Butter Cup Perfection.
Justin’s Nut Butters makes a variety of nut butters, like Honey Almond (which I love) and also a Hazelnut Chocolate (which I haven’t tried yet) ... so once they get their inconsistencies settled, I think that should be their next product developed. An Organic, Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cup. Then we’ll talk about chocolate nut cup perfection.
I picked up some new samples of Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups at ExpoWest. They were given to me directly by Justin himself. The packaging is identical, but the cups are greatly improved.
My main complaints about the cups were that the peanut butter was too dry and there was too much chocolate. New versions hitting store shelves addressed this. As you can see from the photo above, the peanut butter is more consistently distributed in the center and appears less crumbly and dry. The chocolate shell still has a crisp, well tempered bite to it, but the peanut butter portion is well defined and flavorful. It tastes like a little darker roast as well and perhaps even a little saltier.
On the milk chocolate version I have to update my rating to 9 out of 10. Justin really did rise up to the challenge he made on the wrapper, this is better than a Reese’s.
The dark chocolate version also gets an upgrade, but only to 8 out of 10. It’s vegan, so that’s a huge thing, but the chocolate is still bitter and has a strong olive and grassy taste to it that overpowers the peanut flavors. The textures were excellent and the ratios dead on perfect.
My last hesitation on this product line is still the price though, but they’re definitely worth it now.
I was a bit overwhelmed when talking to Justin that I forgot to mention my desire for the Hazelnut Cup (though he said he’d read the review). Instead of pitching that I told him I wanted someone to make an all-natural peanut butter that had an additional bit of cocoa butter in it instead of hydrogenated tropical oils to keep it emulsified. The cocoa butter would keep it from separating but also add that inimitable texture, (and if you used un-deodorized) a light malty taste and keep it spreadable.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.