Wednesday, May 9, 2007
I tried the Theo Chocolate BonBons earlier this year and have had the bars sitting around for a while. I’m feeling quite pressured to eat them all (though they need to be savored) before Los Angeles gets so hot it bursts into flames (oops, we’re already on fire).
Theo makes chocolate from bean to bar (actually roasting their own beans on site) using fair trade and organic ingredients. Don’t let all that squishy-hippy stuff fool you, this is quality stuff without compromise.
Even the wrappers are sassy and fun (designed by KittenChops) instead of making you feel like you did a good deed. Come on! Half the fun is feeling that your chocolate bar is an indulgence ... a wrapper that tells you how many lives you may have saved, how many species will continue to exist because of your support ... all the wonderful skin-clarifying, artery-blasting ingredients that are contained within might be nice (and might get you to buy it) but they aren’t going to get your salivary glands going.
The dark bars contain 65% cocoa solids, so these are dark, but not too intense.
The Theo Chocolate bars are actually called 3400 Phinney Bars, named after the address of the Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle. Not only are they not afraid of you knowing where they are, they actually welcome visitors and offer tours with tastings, of course, as well as a factory store. I’m hoping to get up there next fall to really dive into their complete chocolate experience.
The Milk Chocolate bars boast 40% cacao content, so they’re pretty rich.
All the bars a welcome change from the ordinary candy bar. The two I would find myself munching on regularly would be the Nib Brittle and Chai Milk Chocolate. They are expensive though, so only for special occasions. I could see tucking these into a special picnic at Pt. Dume or going to the Hollywood Bowl for a concert, but I just can’t buy them every day ... but knowing that the cocoa is grown responsibly (socially & environmentally) would help me pony up the dough.
You can find the bars online at Theo, Chocosphere and at stores like Whole Foods. The bars are
now Kosher (as of March 2008).
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Quetzalcoatl is one of the gods of the Aztec pantheon with a serpent head and feathers. He was the morning star, the giver of agriculture and creator of books & calendars. Most importantly, the legends say that he gave cacao to the Aztecs. (Truly making it a food of the gods, as the botanical name for the plant implies Theobroma cacao.)
The traditional chocolate of the time was made by taking whole beans and crushing them/grinding them on a metate (also used for corn). The resulting paste (what we now call cocoa liquor) was combined with milk or water and spices to make their chocolate. Xocoatl, the early name for chocolate actually means “foamy water.”
Gary Guittard created this bar using whole cacao beans and no added cocoa butter. So the ingredients are just about the shortest you’re going to see on a chocolate bar: Cacao Beans, Pure Cane Sugar, Soya Lecithin, Vanilla Beans.
The package characterizes the bar thusly:
This bar is dark and roasty with strong woodsy flavors in the cedar family along with smoke and tobacco. There are a few dried fruit flavors in there as well, with some raisin and cherry notes. It has a dry finish and is very filling. I have to admit that I’m a big fan of high-cocoa butter chocolate bars, as I think the butter buoys the flavors so that they can roll around on the tongue a little longer and you can tease out more of the intricacies. I was really missing the extra fat here.
This isn’t a bar I’d eat all the time, but I like it as an educational piece of chocolate.
As part of the effort to Keep it Real, I asked Guittard if they’d be willing to donate something to the cause that I could give away. So after I pledged my $100 Chocosphere gift certificate to the lovely chocolateactivists who took the challenge, I also got a package of a dozen of Guittard’s bars (a $38 value) plus this extra bar for my own enjoyment, of course. I did a second drawing yesterday using all those people who entered with the “raffle ticket” that commented to the FDA (to kind of even the playing field). The winner was reader desertwind! Congratulations ... I hope you enjoy the array of fine (and real) bars.
I found this bar at a store called Kearn’s on Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles. I’ve passed by this little convenience store for 13 years without ever stopping in. Because it’s in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, I thought they might have an interesting selection (and perhaps some leftover Passover Coke). They carried a good line of candies, with a strong focus on jelly based ones (Sunkist Fruit Gems, anyone?). They also had some imported items, especially ones from Israel in the Paskesz brand.
I’ve had a few Paskesz candies and find them decent middle of the road fare, rather like Hershey’s or Mars but with a good wholesome twist on the ordinary crunch.
Looking at the Milk Munch bar it was pretty obvious that it’s a Milky Way knock-off (Mars knock-off for your European readers).
The milk chocolate is unremarkable. It’s sweet and creamy, but lacks any real chocolate flavor contribution here. The main flavor here is the rather cereal tasting nougat. Salty and perhaps a little malty, it tastes a bit like cookie dough. The caramel is nice and soft, but again, not very flavorful.
I was hoping for a Milky Way Bar here, but I got something a little more toned down but far saltier ... and Milky Ways are pretty sedate as it is. But there was something more dense about the nougat portion that just didn’t please me. And at more than the price of a regular Milky Way, it just wasn’t worth it.
Note from wrapper: made under the supervision of Rabbi O.Y. Westheim, Manchester
Friday, April 27, 2007
I tried the Dove chocolate last year and was pleased with it. It’s kind of a slick chocolate, both in packaging and in texture. They market this as silky, and I’m not sure if it’s the level of fat in it or the size of the particles of cocoa solids ... or perhaps both.
While I’m not that keen on the plain bars, I got a note from some marketing folks offering me some of their other products and I figured, “what they hey!”
The Dove line is built around their plain dark and milk chocolate, sold in single-serve bars and the more popular “Promises” which I think of as a hybrid of Hershey’s Kisses and Perugina Baci (pure chocolate plus a little note in the wrapper).
These aren’t called anything ... just Smooth Milk Chocolate with Caramel. The bronzy foil holds a little rounded chocolate square with a filling of a caramel-like goo.
The wrappers also have little notes inside. Mine said things like Smile at yourself in the mirror and Sing along with the elevator music ... honey, I don’t need my candy telling me to sing out loud in public. I’m sure the folks at the Ralph’s on Glendale Blvd. are well aware of me belting out the 80s tunes when I visit and would probably hide these candies from me if they knew what they were telling me to do.
The chocolate here is smooth and creamy, perhaps a little sticky and sweet. The caramel filling doesn’t really have enough of the true caramel qualities I like, such as a burnt sugar taste or soft chew. I wanted more salt. But the whole thing is tasty and certainly worth the price of admission (free with my comp). But the thing that’s most appealing to me was how photogenic they were.
6 out of 10
The second item that’s much more up my alley is the Smooth Milk Chocolate Covered Almonds. I think the publicist who sent these to me intended to give me the dark chocolate ones, as there were two bags of milk chocolate in my little box. Oh well. The almonds are rather good, not as large and choice as the Trader Joe’s version that I often pick up, but there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. They’re nicely toasted and crunchy. The chocolate is sweet and offsets the almond’s toasty flavors pretty well.
7 out of 10
At a regular price of $3.50 a bag, I don’t think I’d get these, except maybe if I was stuck in an airport and looking for something to bring on the plane. Both bags are easy to open and reclose, which is always a plus. I would probably pick them up on sale if I could get them for something like $2.50 though.
Monday, April 23, 2007
I got an email from Marvo at The Impulsive Buy alerting me that there were some new Snickers and M&Ms to celebrate Shrek the Third. I spotted the bags of minis at Target but just couldn’t bring myself to buy a whole bag, so I was happy to see the single bars at 7-11 the following week. The wrapper has a little drawing of a cross section and an arrow pointing to it with the words With Green Shrek Filling - Same Snickers Taste” next to it.
Can I just say that I’m wondering if they include smell in that?
It smelled a bit like feet to me. Perhaps Shrek’s feet, I can’t be sure, as he’s an animated character and likely smells more like pixels or ozone. Maybe “feet” is too strong. Latex balloons ... yes, that’s it: chocolate, peanuts and rubber gloves.
It tasted the same as the regular Snickers ... but perhaps a little peppery. (It’s not Wasabi that makes it green, is it?)
I’m just glad they didn’t cover it in a green “white chocolate.” A Snickers bar without the green filling gets an 8 out of 10. This one only gets a 7 out of 10. Until it goes on sale at five for a dollar later this year.
The other movie tie in are Ogre-Sized M&Ms Peanut Butter ... which might be similar to the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs. Can anyone confirm that?
Friday, April 20, 2007
The Snickers Creme Sports Egg is odd. I don’t know who told them they needed more sporty Easter candy and I wonder if anyone’s been fired over this. First, there was a perfectly good Snickers Egg last year. The change this year, by all outward appearances, was putting a sporty theme on the package. But no! Instead they mucked around with the innards.
It’s not that this is bad, but I don’t know where they got the idea that this stuff is “creme”. It might be syrup or maybe caramel, but it’s not cremey at all. It’s a caramelly goo with some ground peanuts in it ... I think.
I rather liked it, but not as much as the original Egg.
After tasting the suprisingly good Livesavers Jellybeans, I wanted to try the Lifesavers Jellybean Pastels. But I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the price. So I waited.
Red Raspberry (medium pink) nice and berry, much more vibrant than all the other flavors
The mystery here was the purple one. Sometimes it was tart and sometimes it was completely sweet. Is that Cotton Candy? Which one was supposed to be Mango Medley, are they also
Many of the colors are devilishly similar. Unless I looked at them in bright natural light, I couldn’t tell the peach and two pinks apart. As a mix, I found them all rather similar and didn’t dislike any of them enough to pick through it, so it wins on that front.
My final purchase I didn’t photograph. I stopped at Rexall by the Beverly Center and found that they had a nice display of 75% off goodies. It included two bags of Island Orange Mounds in the Fun Size. I wasn’t sure if they supposed to be part of the Easter sale. They expired last month but I’m okay with stuff on the cusp. When I got to the register they rang up at $2.00. I said I didn’t want it. The fellow shrugged and tossed in the 75% discount and I took them. They’re a little stiffer than the regular bar format I reviewed last year, but still quite nice. (Kosher)
The whole lot of stuff ... for only $1.24. At full price I wouldn’t love it ... at this price everything gets a 6 out of 10.
Monday, April 16, 2007
In my bargain hunting last weekend I was able to secure bags of the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs and the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs at rock bottom prices.
I picked up the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs mostly because folks are still commenting on the Wonka Oompas (currently fruity) post lamenting the loss of the old Peanut Butter Oompas.
First, a rewind to the old Peanut Butter Oompas (see wrapper here) from Wonka. Introduced in 1972 after the film Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, they were larger than M&Ms but the same ovoid shape. The top half was peanut butter and the bottom half was mockolate then it was all covered with a crisp candy shell. (There may have been other flavor varieties.) The separation of the peanut butter and chocolate meant that you could cleave them in half in your teeth if you wanted, or suck the shell off and then melt away the chocolate creme to have only the stiff peanut butter left. I liked them and recall buying them rather often (there was no such thing as a Peanut Butter M&M at the time and Reese’s Pieces didn’t come along until 1978).
I was hoping that the larger format of the Speck-tacular Eggs would be similar to the old Oompas.
The normal M&Ms Peanut Butter have a core of peanut butter and a covering of milk chocolate then a shell. A little larger than a regular M&M, they average about the same size as a Peanut M&M. The Speck-Tacular Eggs are larger still and thus have a larger proportion of the peanut butter center since the chocolate coating seems about the same thickness.
It’s been at least thirty years since I’ve had the old Peanut Butter Oompas, so I can’t say that the Speck-Tacular Eggs are as good or even the same, but the proportions feel better to me. I’m going to say that this is the best modern day equivalent to the old Peanut Butter Oompas.
I don’t eat Reese’s Pieces much, though I do recall loving them as a kid. I used to buy bags of M&Ms and mix them with Reese’s Pieces. I could always pick the Reese’s Pieces out on my tongue by feel because their shells were ultrasmooth. (Ah, the ways I used to amuse myself.)
While the Speck-Tacular Eggs were rather uneven in size, the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs are exceptionally regular. The colors are pretty much the same as the Hershey’s Pastel Eggs, though a little more egg shaped (with a pointier end).
The shells on the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs are thicker than the regular Reese’s Pieces and provide a satisfying sharp crunch. The larger mass of peanut butter creme allowed me to really taste it. It has a slight floral taste to it and reminds me a bit of eating peanut butter cookie dough. Sweet with a little dash of salt. Pretty smooth and not as roasted tasting as the M&Ms Speck-Tacular Eggs.
I liked both varieties of eggs equally well. As appearances go, I preferred the Reese’s. But the freak-tacular price of only 52 cents for the Speck-Tacular Eggs is hard to argue with. They are both being added to my repertoire of Easter Candies to pick up at ridiculous prices.
Note: both products are certified Kosher.
Friday, April 6, 2007
Pure Fun sent me some Fair Trade and Organic Cotton Candy last year (who knew such a thing existed?). It’s really not that they created a more socially responsible treat that got me, it was that they made it in Root Beer and Maple flavors! This year I got to visit them at their booth at Expo West. Let me say that they’re the best kind of candy people - friendly, inviting and eager to share. I see the whole ample samples as a sign of confidence in their product.
And I’m not let down. Their candies don’t look like a compromise when it comes to all the best things about hard candies: they look tasty. Glossy, luminous, brightly colored and with a wide assortment to please most folks.
The Citrus Slices are drop dead gorgeous. And the taste does not disappoint. They’re tart, flavorful and just the right size (a little smaller than a regular starlight mint). Lime, Orange & Lemon. (Everyone knows I would also like to see a grapefruit in this mix.)
Barrels of Fun - root beer float with vanilla. I would have preferred a straight root beer barrel, but this was nice. More on the smooth and creamy side of things than the zesty tingle of a root beer.
Chocolate Meltdowns - tangerine, raspberry & pepsin with chocolatey centers. These were the ones I liked the least of all of them. The flavorful outsides were great, but the lack of chocolate punch on the inside made me wish they were just plain old solid candies.
Fruit Rocks - goji berry, pomegranate, honey lemon & sour green apple. Really sassy and flavorful. I can’t say that Goji Berry is really my favorite flavor in the world, but the honey lemon was great and a less artificial tasting green apple rocks.
I tried Yummy Earth last year at the All Candy Expo when they introduced their all natural Organic Lollipops. Not just the plain old flavors like lemon and orange but also pomegranate, raspberry and watermelon.
They have a line of hard candies to go with their lollies in both fruity flavors and peppermint. These are a little different, a little smaller than regular hard candies.
Larger than Altoids but smaller than regular hard candy disks.
I covered Wet Faced Watermelon, Cheeky Lemon & Pomegranate Pucker over here. The new flavors for me were:
Mango Tango - this pretty little swirled candy. I’m not sure what the mango was tango-ing with, but it was definitely tropical. Kind of like a Bonne Bell lipsmacker with a REAL kick of flavor.
Peppermint (not shown) - this was very strong, much like an Altoid only smoother. I took these on Whale Watching trips all winter.
Either one of these brands has the right attitude ... don’t make your candy look all mousy and plain ... jazz it up with vibrant colors to match their vibrant flavors.
Of course they’re a little more expensive, but my guess is that the economies of scale will kick in as more people demand organic and all natural stuff and the prices will drop.
I’ve seen some of the Yummy Earth in Whole Foods but you can also buy direct from them on their website and Pure Fun is available at Whole Foods.
Both products are organic, gmo-free, no artificials flavors, no synthetics, no gluten, no casein, kosher, vegetarian ... and vegan ... whew!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.