Thursday, February 5, 2015
Valentine’s Day candy is disappointing because it’s usually about the packaging. So, I was pleased at Whole Foods when I spotted two limited edition varieties from Theo Chocolate for Valentine’s Day ... and on sale at 2 bars for $3 (they’re usually $4 each). I’ve often said that a fine chocolate bar is better than a greeting card and in this case, far cheaper. There’s even a “To” and “From” spot on the back of the bar. (But the ideal touch would be to include at least a personalized post it note.)
It’s called Theo Red Hot Cinnamon Love Crunch. The description on the back said: The red-hot crunch of cinnamon brittle in smooth, rich, 70% dark chocolate - spicy and sweet.
Sounds amazing: for $1.50, I was getting a unique bar that combined cinnamon and chocolate, that was also fair trade certified, non-GMO, organic, vegan, soy-free, Kosher and made here in the USA. Goodbye, ordinary candy in a heart shaped package! (The other bar I picked up was the milk chocolate My Cherry Baby.)
On the tongue at first it’s a little tangy. The melt is a little grainy, I wasn’t sure if it was the crunchy bits or not at first, but it seems that some of it is spices. It became apparent very quickly that this was not just a cinnamon and chocolate bar. My bad for not reading the label fully.
Here’s the deal: the package is pink, the printing on the back is brown. In full light and my reading glasses, I can read it. But not in the dim light and glassesless state I was in at Whole Foods. (My usual trick when I don’t have my glasses and the print is tiny is to take a photo with my phone and then blow it up, but I read the description and thought that was the extent of the flavors.)
The ingredients of interest here are (after you get through the chocolate stuff): cayenne, cinnamon leaf essential oil, black pepper essential oil, nutmeg essential oil and clove essential oil.
I actually like spicy things (curry, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger), but the one I can’t do is red pepper. Capsascin is one of those compounds that people experience differently because of genetic differences. For me, cayenne isn’t fun, there’s a lot of heat that doesn’t seem to dissipate and in higher concentrations it just induces nausea. So, I avoid anything other than mild chili items. While there’s a proliferation of chili peppers in confection, and for the most part they’re tolerable, though not always enjoyable for me.
This was freakishly hot for me. I got the different sensations from the various spices, I could actually discern the difference between the black pepper and the cayenne and the cinnamon. (Clove actually has a bit of a numbing effect.) The cinnamon really only came in at the beginning as a scent. The tangy bite of the chocolate did help to mellow the pepper at first, but once it hit my throat, the one-two punch of black and red pepper was too much. The little brittle crunch pieces were supposed to be cinnamon, and maybe some of them were, but other larger bits seemed flavorless.
I tried this bar twice, eating only one of the large squares each time in small bits. The warming effect from the spices lasts a long time, well over a half an hour. Though it didn’t upset my stomach, it really didn’t please me either and I don’t plan on finishing the bar.
If your loved one is partial to the extremely spicy side of things, this might be a good option, especially if you’re looking for something without dairy or soy (the Lindt dark chocolate products contain milk and soy ingredients). The bar is made in a facility that also handles peanuts, wheat, milk, eggs and soy.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Last year Mars released Red Velvet M&Ms as a Walmart exclusive for Valentine’s Day. This year they’ve created Dove Milk Chocolate & Red Velvet Swirl Promises which are found only at Target.
The description on the bag of the bag is vague about what a Red Velvet Swirl Heart is actually like, only saying that it’s “a delicious blend of luxuriously smooth chocolate and rich red velvet flavor.” But it never elaborates what constitutes red velvet’s flavor ... which might be the buttermilk touched with cocoa of the cake or the cream cheese frosting.
There are two different colors of foil, but the pieces inside are the same inside. The heart shapes and foil colors are elegant, I always appreciate how well Dove does the packaging of their Promises. I was surprised at how light colored the actual pieces are. I know it’s a milk chocolate Promise, but the combination of the lightness of the milk chocolate and the pink swirled white chocolate makes it a very pale candy.
The scent is odd, I’ve had a few red velvet flavored chocolates now, but this one is not quite the same. It’s not just vanilla or pound cake scented, there’s a note of strawberry in there. Now, I have nothing against vanilla, strawberry and chocolate as a combination, there’s actually a lot of history to the Neapolitan. The melt is nice, as always, it’s excpetionally sweet and there is an immediately “cake” flavor that I can’t quite figure out ... but then there are other flavors that just sit on top of the experience. There’s something that’s a little cheesy and something that’s a little metallic. It’s all dreadful, as far as I’m concerned.
I’m absolutely the wrong target demographic for this candy, as I’m not a fan of Red Velvet cake in the first place, but I haven’t seen anyone who I’ve offered this to (that will eat it) that actually liked it.
On a side note, there will be Red Velvet Oreos this year, which makes a bit more sense as a platform for the flavors.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Jelly Belly announced their new Champagne Jelly Belly just before New Years. I haven’t seen them in stores, but I picked up this sample bag, that calls them Jelly Belly Bubbly. I suspect they’ll be in stores for Valentine’s Day, but I haven’t seen them at my regular haunts like Dylan’s Candy Bar and Cost Plus World Market.
Jelly Belly suggests a flavor pairings with the beans, such as combining them with orange to create a mimosa. I’d imagine strawberry and peach would also go well.
The beans are lovely, with a light sparkling sheen to them. They have a light honey scent, but not much else going on before you eat them beyond the good looks.
The flavor is mild, not like the Draft version they made as a beer flavor. There’s a hint of white grape, a little yeast note ... maybe a touch of honey sweetness. But that’s about it, there’s not tartness or dry bite. They’re appealing, but if you gave them to me without telling me the flavor, it’d be pretty far down on my list of guesses.
Out of curiosity, I went to Dylan’s Candy Bar and picked up just a handful of the Champagne Bubbles, which are white grape jelly drops covered with nonpareils to compare them. They’re similar, the grape and honey notes are on the same wavelength, but there’s a distinct juicy tartness to the Bubbles that isn’t in the Champagne beans. They’re both quite cute and would make a lovely pairing for a candy buffet or favors for a wedding or engagement party. The beans are certainly less messy (the Bubbles do leave little white spheres around from time to time) and can be combined with the other colorful iridescent that Jelly Bean now makes for their favorite flavors.
As a special flavor, I’ll pass on these. I don’t actually like champagne, so a bean flavored like it isn’t of much interest to me. I look forward to seeing folks use them in bean combinations and of course they’ll look nice for special occasions.
Jelly Belly are peanut free, dairy free, gluten free, and considered vegetarian. There is no actual alcohol listed in the ingredients. The beans contain confectioners glaze and beeswax so aren’t vegan.
Friday, January 16, 2015
I was traveling earlier this week. I went to San Francisco to the Fancy Food Show. Though I drove, I still carried some gums with me, as driving over a few of the passes make my ears pop and the drive can be monotonous.
Glee Gum is made with natural chicle and natural colorings, quite rare on the market these days.
The chew is soft, the candy shell has a crispness that doesn’t last long. It’s not a thick shell that makes little crunchies in the gum, it dissolves quickly. The flavor is sweet with a mild but indistinct citrus note to it. It’s kind of like a lemon chamomile tea. The sweetness fades quickly, though it is rather cool on the tongue for a while, as most xylitol candies and gums are. The zest continues, and gets a little more intense after about 4 or 5 minutes ... then I think the gum is done as far as the flavor goes. The chew is still good, in fact, I prefer the chew of the sugarless Glee to the sugared kind ... it’s slightly stiffer and doesn’t stick as much.
After chewing the gum, about a half an hour later, I thought my mouth was still rather fresh feeling. Not a lingering mint, but just a sort of jasmine tea freshness. The citrus doesn’t go well with coffee, but for getting rid of coffee breath, it’s pretty good. Xylitol, as a sweetener, is actually good for dental health, so I’m trying to get into the habit of chewing in the afternoon to freshen up my mouth.
Spearmint is a largely underutilized flavor in the confectionery world. Peppermint is the default, though as herbs go, spearmint is far more ubiquitous and easier to grow. The dark green pieces are naturally colored and quite appealing. They don’t smell like much, it’s not like sticking your nose in a half-emptied packet of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, which always smelled so fresh.
The shell on the sugary variety is a little crunchier, though not by much. The flavor of the spearmint is mild and pleasant, but not overt like an Altoid. The chew is soft, though it stiffens up and gets a little bit sticky at times as the minutes pass. I was able to manage some moderate bubbles at time, though I was much better at cracking my gum with this version.
The sugar faded away within minutes, though the herbal and grassy spearmint notes hung around for quite a while after. After discarding the gum, the minty freshness dissipated within about 5 minutes.
When I first tried Glee Gum years ago, I didn’t care much for it. It’s certainly grown on me and it’s become my go-to gum for traveling. Partly because of the natural ingredients and partly because I like the chiclet style and simplicity of the boxes.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
It’s odd to think that the 10 most popular chocolate candy bars have been around longer than most of us. Those bars are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, M&Ms, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and KitKat, all of which were introduced before 1950. Plenty of candy bars have come and gone over the past century, but it’s so crowded at the top with those tried and true favorites. I bring this up because it’s rare for me to remember the introduction of a new candy bar that’s actually still on the market 25 years later.
Hershey’s launched a new line of chocolate bars in 1989 with a simple idea, that they were a little creamier than their famous Milk Chocolate and Milk Chocolate with Almonds. They came up with the brand called Symphony and introduced them with actual fanfare ... commercials featuring classical music.
Their tagline was pretty good: They’ll never be another unfinished Symphony.
The packaging design is largely unchanged since their introduction in 1989. There are two different bars in the line, the same as at the launch. There’s a plain milk chocolate bar (with red accents) and the Symphony Creamy Milk Chocolate Almonds & Toffee Chips with blue accents. Though they’re both still on the market, the Almond and Toffee Chips is the easiest to find, since it’s distinctively different from those other top 10 bars.
The bars themselves have changed quite a bit, partly because Hershey’s no longer wraps their bars in foil with a paper sleeve. The Symphony bar I picked up bore a striking resemblance in shape to the Hershey’s Almond bar ... once I opened it, it was pretty clear why. It’s now the same mold. The previous versions of the bar had segments with the Symphony logo at the center of each.
The current ingredients are not at all premium:
I found a wrapper online from 2001 that tells a simpler story (but the current bar is .1 ounces larger):
When I was photographing the bar, I noticed that it had a lot of voids and bubbles in it, so I weighed it to make sure that it was accounted for in the bar. Sure enough, the bar weighed 43 grams, the wrapper states 42 grams.
Though it looks like a Hershey’s chocolate bar, it doesn’t taste like it. That’s not to say that it’s spectacular or that different from many of the other inexpensive chocolate bars, but it definitely doesn’t have the Hershey’s sharpness. Instead of the bar is fudgy sweet, so sweet that there’s very little chocolate flavor. The dairy notes are good, and combine well with the toasty flavors of the toffee chips and almond bits. It’s exceptionally sweet overall, only the inclusions give a little relief.
For the most part the bar gave me a sore throat. The combination is refreshing for the price point, but for a little more I could just get a Ritter Sport bar or even a Toblerone (but really the same price per ounce), since their bars are two times or more the size). If Hershey’s wants to step up their game with this bar, I think it needs a brand refresh - I’m not saying they need to go dark chocolate, but actual better chocolate like the Bliss line or going with a certified cacao source would help it stand out.
Friday, January 9, 2015
Friday is good coffee day for me. All days are coffee days, but on Fridays I treat myself to a simple cappuccino in the morning when I get to the office. So, it’s only fitting that this week my Friday review is of a coffee flavored product: Dove Mocha Latte & Dark Chocolate Swirl Promises.
I spotted them at CVS earlier this week, though it’s hard to believe I was able to tell that they were new. There’s no “new” flag in the corner of the package and the muted amber and brown doesn’t look that different from the burnt orange and brown of the peanut butter version.
It’s a very long ingredients list.
I was sorry to see the use of artificial colors and PGPR in there. I think of Dove as trying to be premium, sometimes, but this wasn’t as promising as I’d hoped. I had this problem with too much coloring with the Mint Swirl as well. What was also missing from the back was the Rainforest Alliance logo, Dove has been working towards certified sustainable cacao for a while, and some packages feature the logo (I picked up the dark chocolate RA ones for Christmas stockings).
It’s been a long time coming: a coffee Dove chocolate. There were Tiramisu Dessert Promises seven or eight years ago, but they were caramel filled just had too much going on. Dove has a pretty good track record of putting an appealing coffee flavoring into chocolate, as I did like their Mocha Premium M&Ms and Cappuccino 3 Musketeers (why don’t they make a coffee Milky Way?).
I don’t know what manufacturing magic creates the swirl of dark chocolate and the mocha latte in the Dove Promises, but it’s genius. Each piece is like work of art, like looking at beautifully polished redwood burls.
When it comes to how I like my coffee, I’m very close to black. For brewed coffee, a little dribble of half and half (enough to cover the bottom of the cup) is all I need to give the bitterness a creamy edge. For an espresso drink, I lean towards the flat white or a less milky cappuccino (basically, only crema and a touch of steamed milk). So, I’ve been looking for a chocolate coffee candy that simulates that - not a milk chocolate candy or a chocolate with whole bits of coffee beans in it.
The pieces smell sweet, but authentically like brewed coffee. The bite is pretty stiff, but the melt is smooth. The flavors are balanced, I catch plenty of robust chocolate notes to go with the woodsy coffee. There’s a hint of bitterness along with the sweet aftertaste of the milk.
Basically, these hit all the right elements for an ideal chocolate & coffee candy for me: not too sweet, lots of coffee flavor, touch of bitterness and a creamy mouthfeel. With those met, I consider this great. They’re expensive, at least at my CVS they were marked at $5.29 though I did get them on sale for $3.50 and they’re not Rainforest Alliance yet. Other than that, I find them spectacular. Your mileage may vary, depending on how you like your coffee and your coffee flavored candies.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Theo Chocolate makes organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar in their factory in Seattle. They have a selection of seasonal bars in addition to their regular items, this year I picked out their Theo Chocolate Nutcracker Brittle because I liked their Salted Almond bar. It features almonds, hazelnuts and sugary brittle chunks in smooth, rich 70% dark chocolate
The most notable quality of this seasonal bar is that it’s vegan. That’s right, the brittle is not made with any dairy, so the bar is free from any animal-derived products. (Though it is made in a factory that also processes milk, eggs and wheat, so it may contain traces of gluten or dairy as well as peanuts or other tree nuts.)
The wrapping is nice, a simple paper over-wrap with the chocolate bar enclosed in foil underneath. The bar is made with 88% fair trade ingredients and all organic products (except for the baking soda and salt). The corn syrup is also non-GMO and they do not use soy lecithin (or lecithin of any kind).
The bar looked great and smells wonderful. It’s a woodsy cocoa blend, it smells like toffee and fresh brewed coffee and toast. For a 70%, it’s well balanced. The cocoa flavors are a little on the acidic side with some bright sour cherry notes along with the other woodsy components mentioned earlier. It’s sweet, at first, but the baked brownie flavors dominate towards the end. The nuts are kind of separate as a flavor and texture. The almonds and hazelnuts are crunchy and fresh (though hard to tell apart) and the little brittle pieces are crunchy without being tacky or chewy. I missed the little hint of salt from the Salted Almond bar, but that’s not what was promised here.
It’s a nice seasonal bar, but I have to wonder why it’s not a year round offering ... no reason not to have this for Valentine’s.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The company sent me a sample of 14 flavors of their current flavors to try. They came in a simple clear bag with the truffles actually stacked in color order. (But I chose to show you a photo of their Christmas mint assortment, because I don’t actually like photographing clear plastic packaging.)
Earlier I called them “truffles” because they’re really meltaways. The chocolates are little rectangular blocks of chocolate coated meltaway centers. The centers are a combination of chocolate, flavoring and coconut oil mixed with palm oil. This means that they melt at a different temperature than the chocolate itself. The centers are solid, unlike Lindt Lindor Truffles, which have similar ingredients, but more tropical oils.
If this sounds like a Frango, that’s because Seattle Chocolates also makes Frangos for Macy’s, but also sells them under their own name but with more colorful packaging.
The box I got at the top of the review contained three mint flavors: Mint, San Juan Sea Salt and the seasonal Candy Cane. Pictured above I have Dark Chocolate, Mint, San Juan Sea Salt, Cool Mint.
I think the first one I should address is the Mint. It comes in a medium green mylar wrapper and is a milk chocolate confection. It smells deliciously pepperminty and takes me back to my childhood and the seasonal boxes of Mint Frangos I consumed (often surreptitiously). The milk chocolate has a strong dairy note and the minty center has a satisfying cool melt along with the peppermint. There are also teensy little pops of salt every once in a while. Often candies like this can be ridiculously sweet, but I didn’t find it that way at all.
The next to profile is a standard, a basic truffle on which so many other flavors are based, the Dark Chocolate. This one is in a medium blue wrapper.
The bite has a satisfying snap, and though the center doesn’t look creamy, it melts well. The dark chocolate has a mild flavor, like the common chocolate chips you’d use for cookies. It’s a toasty flavor, a little the bitter side but with a smoother melt than baking chips.
San Juan Sea Salt is a newer piece, and features a seafoam green wrapper. It’s a milk chocolate piece with little toffee bits and a little extra sea salt mixed into the chocolate center. The salt is a wonderful combination with the very milky chocolate and the little toffee bits are a great textural crunch. I did get some of these in the mint set, and they were actually infused with the mint flavors from the other truffles. Either way, it’s good.
Cool Mint was the last one in this set, a bit of a change from the previous since it features a light blue wrappers and a white center in dark chocolate. It’s quite minty and could use a little bit of that salt that the others seem to have. I enjoyed it, but prefer the other mint varieties.
Ah, things are getting a little nuttier in the next batch which features Salted Almond, Milk, Peanut Butter, Espresso.
I’ll start with Espresso because, we’ll, I’m in charge. The wrapper is brown, the chocolate is dark. The interior is smooth and has good roasted flavor note. The meltaway itself has little crispy bits ... coffee grounds. The flavor profile is good, I liked the coffee and the grounds or whatever they are aren’t too gritty. Out of the mix, this was the first flavor that disappeared. Not too sweet.
Milk looks just like the mint, so must give that a glance again except imagine the wrapper is gold. Since there are no other flavor elements in this one, it’s a little easier to pick out the profile of the milk chocolate itself. It has a strong dairy flavor, almost like the flavor of cream cheese. It’s sweet gets a little oily towards the end. I skipped these after getting the profile.
Peanut Butter sounded fantastic. The bronzy wrapper holds a milk chocolate piece with a peanut butter meltaway center. The interesting aspect is that there are also crushed peanuts in there too. Again, this one is oily like the milk chocolate, though it didn’t bother me as much.
Salted Almond is a bit more trendy and comes in a goldenrod wrapper with a dark chocolate coat. The center is dark chocolate and features a bit of salt and a few almond chips here and there. The toasty flavors of the almonds and dark chocolate were excellent. I’d buy this as a bar, as well.
The last set is a little fruity and contains some different concepts in the meltaway concept: Peanut Brittle, Strawberry Creme, Raspberry Creme, Blackberry Creme.
Peanut Brittle is similar to the Salted Almond, a little crunchy peanut, maybe with some crispy caramelized sugar in there. Since this is a dark piece, it’s far and away different from the Peanut Butter, though far less peanutty.
The Strawberry is a white center with what I think is bits of freeze dried strawberries in there. It has some authentic strawberry flavors but suffers from the same oily feeling towards the end.
The Raspberry and Blackberry Creme were similar, with some nice berry flavors with a tangy pop here and there.
Coconut Macaroon is in a lighter blue mylar and features a dark chocolate coating and center. This is a pure tropical piece, the coconut oils in the meltaway work their magic here along with a few little bites of toasted coconut. There’s a definite coconut smell to it, so much it overpowers the chocolate flavors.
Extreme Chocolate comes in a magenta wrapper (I mistook it for one of the berries when I was photographing). This is excellent. It tastes darker than its reputed 65% cacao, with good bitter notes but still enough sweetness. The meltway qualities are still there, but none of the oily textures I didn’t like. Also as a bonus, there are crunchy cacao nibs in there. All of the nibs I came across were crisp, not fibery like some origins.
Seattle Chocolates also makes a wide variety of Truffle Bars, many in the same flavor profile as the Truffles ... though the ratios differ quite a bit, with more solid chocolate and less meltaway filling in most cases.
Seattle Chocolates Truffles are made with non GMO ingredients and are gluten free. They do contain soy and dairy ingredients and obviously the ones that don’t have peanuts or tree nuts in them were still processed on shared equipment. They sell most of the flavors singly as well as different flavor assortments, like the Mint, just dark and coffee flavors.
As a product line, I give it all a 7 out of 10. For the pieces I liked, such as Salted Almond, Extreme Chocolate and San Juan Sea Salt, I go to 8 out of 10.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.