Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Equal Exchange, the cooperative that sells cocoa, coffee, tea and chocolate made with fair trade ingredients sent me some of their new candy bars. They really fit right into the candy bar sector, not the high end chocolate bars. They currently make three bars, I thought I’d tackle a review of the Equal Exchange Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Bar first, since it’s the one with the widest appeal.
The bar is 1.5 ounces, which is a perfect single serving size. The wrapper is orange, lots and lots of orange, which is the universal color to represent peanuts, just like blue is supposed to represent milk chocolate. The bars are made in Peru with cacao from Peruvian cocoa co-ops.
The format of the bar is simple, it’s long and narrow with 7 segments. Inside the milk chocolate shell is a peanut butter filling. The ingredients are very simple: sugar, cocoa butter, milk powder, peanuts, chocolate solids, sea salt and soy lecithin. (Organic where possible.) There are not additional oils in there, which is a nice change. Many peanut butter candies use some vegetable oils to stabilize the peanut butter.
The bar smells sweet and a little nutty, but not terribly notable or enticing. The chocolate is smooth, rather sweet but overall has no real defining kick. The peanut butter center is firm, but melts well in the mouth. There’s no chalky grain like many American peanut butter candies. There’s a little hint of salt ... but it’s missing a roasted peanut oomph. I recognize this may be because the peanuts used for the peanut butter are not American (though the label doesn’t say their source). It’s a little grassy, but not much else. It’s kind of like Reese’s Pieces. The ratios are a lot more balanced, you can see there’s a lot of chocolate for the amount of peanut butter.
Overall, this is not a bar I would purchase. There are some good options out there in the peanut butter cup format for those looking for better ingredients and sourcing. For those in Canada, you can also find these bars under the Camino label. As far as Equal Exchange goes, I will still continue to eat the Milk Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt, it’s an excellent hybrid of high end chocolate and candy satisfaction.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
One of the most popular luxury chocolate brands is Valrhona, which is made in France. Though you may not know the name or the label, chances are you’ve had their chocolate because they’re used so widely in the pastry and confectionery trade. Though I rarely buy their bars, I am fond of their feves, which are little oblong chocolate disks which are great for baking or simply eating.
Since it’s Easter, I thought I’d review one of the iconic confections of the season: White Chocolate. Valrhona introduced a new white chocolate bar last year called Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32%. It’s like a dark white chocolate, if such a thing could exist. It’s 32% cocoa butter, which is more cocoa butter than some chocolates have for all of their combined cacao content. The next ingredient by percentage (32%) is then whole milk (in the form of whole milk powder, skim milk powder, butter and whey), then there’s sugar and some vanilla, soy lecithin and salt.
If you think that sounds rich, it is. That’s 50% of your saturated fat in half a bar. When I calculated the calories per ounce, it came out to 195 (that can’t possibly be right). But it’s also 3 grams of protein and a full 15% of your daily RDA of calcium.
The bar is thick, which is nice considering that it’s only 2.46 ounces, smaller than the usual 3.5 or 3 ounce tablet that I’ve become accustomed to as a premium bar. The diagonals score the bar well enough that it can easily be broken into these irregular but perfect bite-sized pieces.
The color is just what you see here, a butterscotch color instead of the creamy yellow-white or most cocoa butter confections. The literature about the Blond Dulcey makes note of the biscuit flavors along with a touch of apricot. They’re not wrong, it does have a rich cereal note to it, along with some toffee and maybe a light hint of lemon.
The bar has a good melt, though I admit that it’s a little fudgy at the start. I’d say that’s more from the milk solids than any sugar-grain. It’s lightly salty at first, there’s over 100 mg of salt. It is like a digestive biscuit flavor, just lightly toasted, sweet but not so much that it hurt my throat. There was no slick or greasy coating in my mouth afterwards as many white confections made with tropical oils can leave.The vanilla note is overpowered by the sort of toffee and burnt sugar flavors, though I would have enjoyed some bourbon or tobacco in there.
I found my bar when I was in London, though they do sell them in the United States. It was about $8, which it’s pretty steep for a smallish bar like this. I’ll probably stick with the Green & Blacks or the Ritter Sport if I can find it.
This may be one of those white chocolate bars that converts people who don’t like white chocolate. Or just something for those who do like white chocolate to munch on. It’s a lot more satisfying than many other white bars that I eat, I didn’t feel the need to eat the whole thing. That may be a function of the high protein content as well.
Monday, April 7, 2014
They’re 3.5 ounces and priced competitively with other premium chocolate bars. Equal Exchange (I reviewed some Easter items on Friday) is a cooperative using fair trade standards to create a whole store filled with chocolate, coffee, tea and other goods.
This bar features organic freeze dried raspberries in organic and fair trade dark chocolate. The cacao is sourced from fair trade cooperatives in The Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Peru with sugar from Paraguay and vanilla from Madagascar. There’s no soy lecithin and it’s considered gluten free though it may contain traces of milk, hazelnuts, cashews and coconut. Equal Exchange makes their chocolate in Switzerland.
The bar is wrapped simply, in thin foil and then a thicker paper overwrap (the inside had all the sourcing details about the bar).
The bar is glossy and attractive, with some bumps on the bottom from the raspberry bits. The molding is good as is the temper, it’s very consistent and I noticed no voids or swirling in any of the bars (which can happen with inclusions). It smells rich, though barely sweet. Like cherries, coffee and honey. Once snapped in half though, the raspberry scent, with its floral notes becomes much more noticeable. The chocolate is sweet on the tongue and has a good, cool melt with a creamy texture. The raspberry bits are crunchy and tangy, though the seeds in the center can be a bit tougher.
It’s a very easy to eat bar, with a lot more acidic tang than most other 60% bars. I don’t care much for the grassy, woody note of the seeds, but that’s berries for you.
The Equal Exchange Organic Lemon Ginger Chocolate with Black Pepper is 55% cacao, so it’s the lightest chocolate intensity of the bunch. The package gives the identical sourcing info for the major ingredients but doesn’t say where the lemon, ginger and black pepper is from, though they’re all organic.
It’s nice to see lemon used with chocolate, it’s not as common as orange, but can still combine well, especially with dark chocolate. The addition of ginger and black pepper makes this the most unconventional flavor in the Equal Exchange line. This package looked the same on the outside as the other bars, but instead of a foil inner liner, it’s in some sort of compostable mylar. I also noticed that the nutritional panel listed this one at only 200 calories a portion, not 230 ...which actually sounds more plausible. (But calorie calculations are fraught with error, as the basis for it is over 100 years old, so really they’re just a guide.)
Though the bar contains no milk, it doesn’t look like a particularly dark chocolate bar. It smells woodsy and fresh, with a little note of rosemary and cedar.
The melt of the dark chocolate is very smooth, but I did start to detect a bit of sugar grain ... this was from the crystallized ginger in the bar. The lemon is a bit strong, rather astringent at first, but it dissipates. The chocolate is mild, woodsy and of course creamy. The ginger and black pepper hit come in slowly as a hint of warmth in the throat. The sugar from the crystallized ginger rather disguised the ginger kick at first, then it came forward.
It’s a satisfying bar.
The final bar is the Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate with Coconut 60%. Like the Raspberry bar, this one has a thin silver foil wrapping.
It is also 60% cacao content and contains only one additional ingredient to the chocolate, the organic coconut flakes.
This bar reminded me most of Passover, which I’ve often thought of as Macaroon Season, as coconut macaroons (often dipped in chocolate) are a typical treat since they can be made without only coconut, chocolate, egg whites and sugar to follow the Kosher for Passover rules.
The bar has a lot of coconut in it, and the silky chocolate goes well with it. There are cherry and raisin notes to go with the more tropical scent of the coconut and hints of the Madagascar vanilla bean.
The exciting development this year for Equal Exchange is their new designation of their dark chocolates as Kosher for Passover. Equal Exchange chocolates that are marked pareve (the 3.5 oz or 100 g line and dark chocolate minis) may be purchased before Passover and consumed on Passover according to Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. The specific bars from Equal Exchange that qualify for this designation are: Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean Bar, Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds Bar, Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Mint with a Delicate Crunch Bar, Organic Orange Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Very Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper, Organic Dark Chocolate Minis.
It’s interesting that before this, there were no certified fair trade chocolates that were designated Kosher for Passover. Which is odd, because Passover is all about the commemoration of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. The best news is that these are tasty and come in a pretty wide variety of flavor options.
CNN has been covering modern day slavery, including in the cocoa trade in a series of articles, segments and documentaries.
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.
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.
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.
Friday, March 14, 2014
The Lovely Candy Company is a new venture that says, “Enjoying candy is like riding a bike - everyone should be able to do it!” So, to take away any trepidation some folks would have to indulging, they’re making their line of individually wrapped chews and caramels from “cleaner” ingredients.
You’ll find they’re gluten free, no GMO ingredients, and they use rBST free dairy products. (However, even though they make no products with nuts, they are processed on shared equipment and may contain traces of peanuts, almonds, walnuts and pecans. They also don’t use soy, but again, may contain traces of soy as well as nutmeg.)
For my first experience with the Lovely Candy, I picked out their all natural Chewy Original Caramels. Unlike the ingredients list for Hershey’s new Lancaster Caramel Cremes I reviewed previously, this is a very short and easy to understand list of ingredients that you might assemble in your own kitchen:
The caramels are soft and have a wonderfully sweet aroma. What I liked best was there was not fake butter note to it that I’ve experienced with other packaged caramels.
The bite is soft and easy to chew. It’s chewy and smooth, but not silky in the same way the Lancaster Caramel Cremes were. It’s odd to compare these to the previous product, but I am since they’re hitting store shelves (they were only a few feet from each other at Target when I bought them) at the same time with similar price points, I think it’s valid to see how they size up. The flavor is robust, not very salty but not sticky or overly sweet. They don’t have the molasses or brown sugar notes I was hoping for, also, I’ve noticed that brown rice syrup can give confections a malty note, but I didn’t sense that here either.
Overall, a decent caramel. Easy to chew, easy to share and pop in your mouth. I’m disappointed to say that I prefer the Lancaster caramels, even knowing their less than ideal ingredients list. Not that I won’t finish this bag ... I’m fully committed to them.
I like that I found these at Target, a place that I know serves a huge portion of this country with an awful lot of heavily processed products. If someone is looking for a candy with more transparently sourced ingredients, this is a good option. However, it’s still sugar and fat, so it’s still not considered a healthy alternative to nutritious food ... it’s just better candy.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
The wrapper is pink and the launch of the product coincides with spring, so I’m going to call it an Easter candy even though there are no rabbits on the package, just a couple of pasty kids in chef’s hats making some sort of bowl of batter.
It weighs a quarter of a pound, which is giant compared to the mini foil wrapped peanut butter cups R.M. Palmer usually makes, but it’s not as large as the half pound peanut butter cups that Reese’s sells in pairs around Christmas. But this isn’t peanut butter, where most of us think more is better. This is cake batter, which is pretty much a room temperature cookie dough smoothie.
The cup is huge, at a quarter of a pound, it’s the size of a small saucer and weighs, well, four ounces. This is not R.M. Palmer’s first attempt at a quarter pound cup, they make a passable Peanut Butter Cup version. The package says that it’s two servings, but that’s a staggering thought when I looked at the ingredients:
The chocolate flavored coating looks like bad chocolate, but that’s about the only thing that it succeeds at. There are no chocolate notes in it, it has no chocolate texture, it’s filled with sugar, milk by-products and oils. The filling isn’t like the Russell Stover cake fillings, there’s no flour in there; it’s just more oil and sugar and fake vanilla.
I’ve never been much for eating cake batter, so the idea of a candy that re-creates this is not up my alley. Add to that, vanilla cake is the least interesting kind of cake. Why would I want to eat that batter? Spice cake, lemon pound cake, devil’s food ... these are interesting. Vanilla cake batter is not.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.