Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Chuao is a small village in Venezuela, but to chocolate aficionados is the name for criollo cocoa beans from the area. Casey at The Chocolate Note has some wonderful coverage and photos.
For many years Amadei (Italy) had an exclusive deal for the beans from the region, so the only chocolate made from them was Amadei’s Chuao bars. The bars were hard to find and of course quite expensive (though bars from Chocolat Bonnat existed, that’s kind of another story). And of course there was just the one company’s concept of what was best about the beans (from the fermentation to the roasting & conching). Amadei is no longer the only purveyor of the coveted beans. I picked up three different bars from three different countries to see how they created a chocolate bar from the esteemed cacao: Chocolat Bonnat (France), Amano (USA) and Coppeneur (Germany).
The Chocolat Bonnat Chuao bar is the largest of the group, a generous 100 gram bar (3.5 ounces). It’s 75% cacao and Kosher. There are only three ingredients in the bar: cacao, cocoa butter and sugar. No emulsifiers like soy lecithin and no vanilla.
The packaging is simple and the same as all the other Bonnat bars I’ve had. It’s a large bar with petite but thick rectangular segments. It’s wrapped in a simple paper-backed foil which is then covered in a simple glossy, embossed paper sleeve.
The bar has a beautiful sheen, a light touch of red to the brown color and though the photo makes it look a creamy color, it’s really quite dark.
The scent is rather earthy with a few green notes like olives. The melt is exquisite, smooth and thick without being chalky or dry. The chocolate is flavorful, angled mostly towards the deep flavors like smoke, coffee, dried cherries and molasses. There are some slight mineral notes, like iron. While it sounds like this would be heavy and rich, it still comes off a little lighter than that, mostly because of the texture and a lighter acidity. There’s a trace of bitterness towards the end but nothing distracting, more like a finish of a citrus marmalade.
I’m already quite fond of Coppeneur. From the packaging, which is this smart little matte black “wallet” that’s sealed with a dot of wax to the beautiful design of the bar’s mold. I’ve bought several of their Ocumare bars in the past (straight dark chocolate and Mit Chili & Cacao-Nibs) but never wrote about them. They’re difficult to find in the United States, I’ve been buying my bars at Fog City News in San Francisco.
Like the Bonnat bar, the Coppeneur Chuao Dunkle Schokolade is made only with cacao mass and sugar. There is no added soy lecithin or vanilla. This bar is 70% and comes in a 50 gram tablet (about 1.76 ounces).
The bar has a similar red hue. The format of the bar is different from both the Bonnat and Amano, so I photographed them together. It’s quite thin but has an excellent snap to it.
The initial melt is quick and smooth but the thing I noticed first was the raisin flavors and light tangy notes. Though it’s only 70% instead of the 75% of the Bonnat, it’s not sweeter though perhaps a little more acidic and has a dry finish. Though most of the flavor notes were overwhelmingly fruity, like prunes and raisins and dried cherries there were some light roasted notes of pecans. Towards the end, the flavors got deeper with notes of toffee, leather and tobacco.
There were a couple of little gritty bits, this bar is a 70 hour conch. I have another set of bars from Coppeneur that I got in Germany that are paired: a 70 hour conch and a 100 hour conch. I’ll be trying those soon.
This bar comes in the same package style as the other Amanos, a slim and glossy box. The bars are 2 ounces (56 grams) and wrapped in a sturdy gold foil. This bar differs from the other two in the ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla beans. So I was curious what the vanilla beans would contribute to the profile of the Chuao cacao. The cacao content is 70% and is Kosher (note that it’s also made in a facility with nuts, peanuts, dairy & soy present).
I find the size and format of the bar to be ideal for the way that I like to each dark chocolate. The bar is thick, but not so thick that a lot of chewing is necessary. The segments are a great size for a single taste and the foil is of good quality for rewrapping and saving for later.
The first flavors I got were woodsy and green with a little citrus peel twang in there of grapefruit. The melt is smooth but a little more gritty and sugary than the previous two bars ... and when I say gritty, that’s just a comparison. Taken by itself I don’t know if many folks would notice. The vanilla is noticeable in the flavor profile, I definitely got some oak cask and cognac flavors in there and the finish has that vanilla note and the freshness of white tea. There are more floral notes, like orange blossom and jasmine. But there’s also a kind of volatile quality, a sort of burn like orange oil can give after a while.
I’ve been nibbling and formulating my tasting notes for these bars for about two months. I traveled with the bars, taking them all the way to Europe and back. The Venezuelan Chuao beans are extraordinary and very expensive. They create a wonderful chocolate, apparently every chocolate maker is able to do something extraordinary and unique with the beans. The price is prohibitive though and in some ways it makes me question spending that much on a bar ... the Chuao bars are usually priced 20-25% more than the other bars in that company’s line - so my Coppeneur bar was $8, where a regular single origin bar from them would be $6 and these are only 50 grams to begin with.
My final conclusion is that everyone makes a wonderful chocolate bar from these beans. But I’ve also been very impressed with each of these company’s chocolate bars made with other less expensive beans, they’re simply good chocolate makers. I’m not convinced that the chocolate bars are worth the premium for these beans in particular, but fans of chocolate in general should try at least one of the bars made from Chuao beans as a point of reference. Personally, I’m not afraid to go back to blended bean bars, which offer a good balance of consistency of flavor over they years and affordability. But with some folks, once you go Chuao you never go back.
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.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
As if Ritter Sport doesn’t have a large enough repertoire of bars, they have been introducing seasonally-themed limited editions. I tried the Fruhlingsspezialitaten 2010 that I found at a local import shop earlier this year. They included Haselnuss Krokant, Cashew in Alpenmilch and Bourbon Vanille. The summer versions were not so easy to find in the States but some Ritter Sport folks were happy to help me out with some samples. The summer flavors were: Stracciatella, Pfirsich-Maracuja Joghurt and Waldbeer Joghurt.
The Stracciatella features 37% cacao milk chocolate and a bourbon vanilla cream filling with chocolate bits.
It’s been many years since I’ve had real Stracciatella, which is a gelato (Italian ice cream) with stripes of chocolate that form little crunchy flakes or chips. In my experience it was usually dark chocolate.
I recall being excited by the spring version of Bourbon Vanille, but then disappointed by the lack of rum-laden vanilla notes. Here too I thought that the kind of fudgy vanilla cream center was a little bland. It’s not fatty and doesn’t quite melt in my mouth. It also isn’t very flavorful ... but also not very sweet or sticky. The little chips in it are small and don’t really add much flavor to it. I think I would have been really happy if this was a dark chocolate bar, I think that’s the kick it needs - some really rich dark chocolate. However, plain vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips has never been a favorite flavor of mine, so this might be the perfect bar for folks who do like that.
Ritter Sport is also big on yogurt. I’ve tried their Yogurt, Strawberry Yogurt and Olympia bars before. The only other country that I’ve noticed with such a fanaticism for yogurt flavored candy is Japan.
The Pfirsich-Maracuja Joghurt is a white chocolate shell with a peach and passion fruit yogurt cream center. There are also little rice flakes thrown in there for texture and crunch.
The bar is simple and plain, a soft and creamy yellow/white chocolate bar.
When I saw the reviews of this bar, I really wasn’t interested. I like real peaches and I find passion fruit okay but not my favorite. So a white chocolate bar flavored with these ... along with yogurt (which is good stuff but not exactly a candy flavoring), well, I just didn’t think they could pull it off.
But they did! It’s utterly surprising. It smells like passion fruit - a tangy and sharp floral and tropical scent that goes well with the dairy yogurt note. The peach is a faint pine and pear whiff in the background. The white chocolate is sweet but rather smooth. The rice flakes give it a little crunch, like there are freeze dried fruit bits in there. It’s milky but mostly fruity.
I wouldn’t buy this often, but I do see its appeal and I’m glad that Ritter Sport is taking a few risks with outside the box flavors in their limited editions.
The Ritter Sport Waldbeer Joghurt seemed positively the tamest and safest flavor of the bunch. Waldbeer is forest fruits, or basically mixed berries. The package shows blackberries, blueberries and strawberries.
The format is similar to the Pfirsich-Maracuja Jogurt in that it’s a yogurt cream center flavored with fruit and studded with little crisped rice flakes. The chocolate on this bar is milk. At first glance it didn’t seem that different from the classic Strawberry Yogurt bar that Ritter Sport is already known for.
It smells nice, exactly like berry yogurt - there’s the floral notes of the berries and the dairy twang of the yogurt.
The flavors are pleasant and the yogurt takes a back seat as the berry flavors come forward. The milk chocolate is smooth and give a slight dairy contribution, but also keeps the whole thing from getting too sweet. The rice flakes have a little crunch, but there are also little bits of freeze dried berry in here too, so sometimes they’re tangy and sometimes they’re more of a light malty cereal flavor.
Overall it’s decent. Munchable and satisfying, but not quite what I’d find myself craving. These may be available online at shops like GermanDeli.com and eBay.com.
Don’t take my opinion as gospel, see: Gigi Reviews Waldbeer Yogurt, Cinabar reviews Waldbeer Yogurt, Candyholic (German) reviews Waldbeer Yogurt and Stracciatella, ZOMGCandy reviews Stracciatella, It’s All About Limited Edition reviews Stracciatella and Jim’s Chocolate Mission reviews Stracciatella and Summer Limited Editions in Mini form.
Friday, November 06, 2009
This summer Morinaga came out with a limited edition line of World Fruit flavors of HiCHEW. I tried to collect all of them. Shown here is the Blood Orange I reviewed over the summer.
HiCHEW, originally from Japan but now sold all over Asia and now in North America, are a soft chew made from sugar, glucose syrup, palm oil and gelatin. They’re rather like Starburst, but with a much smoother chew and a bouncy texture. It’s kind of like soft bubble gum that you can swallow. The flavors are usually very faithful to the real fruits.
I’m not usually fond of peach flavored candies. I like peaches but peach candy often ends up tasting either too much like the skin or like a bland version of the flesh but rarely an authentic combination of the two.
White Peach HiCHEW are extraordinary. They’re sweet, a little tangy and have that strange peach skin flavor which is some kind of cross between popsicle stick, rosemary sprig and Christmas tree. Though some folks say that the outside and inside have different flavor intensities, as far as I can tell it’s all the same.
Rating: 8 out of 10
When I ordered this I’d never had a real dragonfruit before. I didn’t know what they were and thought they were far too exotic to find at my local farmers market. Well, that turned out to be untrue. I did find dragonfruit at the Los Angeles Farmers Market and though it was expensive ($3.99 for one, which was about the size of a large pear) I bought it to try. What I found out is that a dragonfruit is just a prickly pear fruit (something I have in the back yard). The one I got was rather bland. It tasted like a cross between Kiwi (lightly tangy with a crunch of seeds), Fig (a fresh and clean flavor) and Musk Melon (sweet with a touch of honey) but not nearly as good as any of those on their own. Not worth the bucks.
The Dragonfruit HiCHEW package looked a bit more exotic than my real dragonfruit. The flesh of mine was white with little black seeds, the one on the wrapper had magenta flesh. Inside the foil the pieces are an intense pink with little black flecks, which I assumed would emulate the seeds. The flavor is fruity, like fruit punch, cantaloupe, peach and strawberry. It’s a little tart, but not nearly as intense as the peach from above or citrus flavor HiCHEW I usually prefer.
Though I enjoyed it, the flavor wasn’t as distinct and innovative as I’d hoped. (I guess part of me is hoping there’s a fruit out there that I’ve never tasted that will blow my mind.) The seed bits provided only a tiny bit of texture, like those in kiwi usually do. Certainly tasty enough to keep eating them, but not something I’m going to put on my list to seek out.
Rating: 6 out of 10
CamuCamu HiCHEW was a complete mystery to me. One of the things that is so compelling about tasting candies from around the world is that it exposes me to fruits, spices and flavors that I would probably never encounter otherwise. Camu camu is a bush native to the Amazon River basin and the berries (the size of grapes) don’t travel well, so the chance that I’ll run across them in the grocery story is pretty slim. They are available as frozen pulp or juice. Most of the information I could find about camu camu makes it look like it’s the next superfruit, another acai. (It can cure herpes! Detoxifies the liver, improves mood balance and promotes healthy brains.)
The pieces were white on the outside with pink from the inside kind of peeking through the not-quite-opaqueness. It’s immediately tangy: really really tart and smooth. It made my mouth water and gave me that tingle in the corners of my jaw. The flavor is a bit like cranberries, sour grapes and apples. I enjoyed it quite a bit, not really because of the flavor but because of the nicely rounded sourness that wasn’t a screaming acidity.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The final on the list is Durian HiCHEW. For those of you who don’t know what durian is, well, as far as I’m concerned you’re not missing anything. (You can read more about durian here.)
My personal experience with durian candies is limited. I’ve had a few hard candies that I mentioned here and some durian taffy another friend gave me that I couldn’t even bring myself because it smelled so bad. Neither of those, combined with what I’ve read about it, has compelled me to seek out the real thing. (They’re available frozen whole at several local markets in Los Angeles and seasonally in Chinatown.)
Oh sure, this HiCHEW looked benign, even smelled a little like vanilla. It was all white, no different colored center. Biting into it, it was a little tangy like a yogurt chew. But then the real durian flavor. It’s a mix of strawberry and mirepoix. The onion notes weren’t completely revolting, it was like eating ice cream that had been stored in a smelly freezer ... just off and not something that you’d think flavor-ologists would slave over and present to their bosses as something that should be placed in production.
If you’re durian-curious, I think candy is a great way to expose yourself to it and maybe even check it off of that omnivore list you have. As far as I’m concerned this was the best durian candy I’ve ever had.
Rating: 4 out of 10
HiCHEW use all natural colors, but I don’t think the flavors are all natural. They contain gelatin so are unsuitable for vegetarians and those who are looking for a Kosher/Halal chew.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Every once in a while a limited edition comes back. This one, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Lovers Cups, came out in 2005 along with its companion, the Reese’s Chocolate Lovers Cups. I spotted them again in stores a few weeks ago and picked them up on sale at Walgreen’s over the weekend.
The package is more peanutty looking than the traditional bright orange wrappers. It was easy to spot on the shelves as a different variety. Unlike some limited edition varieties that other candy companies make, this is a full sized version of the original - the same 1.5 ounces (.75 ounces per cup). Yes, it’s true that Reese’s Cups have gotten smaller over the years. Brad Kent has the 1.6 ounce wrapper from 1997 and the change made sometime circa 2003 based on Mike’s Candy Wrappers.
I don’t think I tried these the first time they came around, as I think that the regular ratios of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are ideal. When I opened the package I was wondering if there was any chocolate at all ... even though it said Milk Chocolate right at the top.
Once I pulled the brown fluted paper off the cup I understood the construction. There is a milk chocolate container which is filled with the Reese’s peanut butter center and that’s capped with a peanut butter candy coating.
The cup has a soft bite, slightly crumbly. It’s definitely all about the peanut butter. The chocolate base provides a little cool & creamy sweetness but very little in the way of cocoa notes. The dry and salty peanut butter center has that inimitable texture and roasted peanut flavor. I found it to be much saltier, so I looked around for sodium content for the original and found that has 130 mg per package and this limited edition version has 170 mg. (Just a note, I think everything is salty these days ... my otherwise healthy diet is rather low in sodium.) However, it does have 6 grams of protein versus 4 grams in the classic. More peanut butter means more protein and actual less fat & fewer calories ... a whole 10 fewer calories.
I enjoyed these, and certainly had no trouble finishing the package. But given the choice I’m either going to go for the regular cups or the minis (I don’t think I’m going to touch the once perfect eggs now that they’ve gone mockolate).
Friday, September 25, 2009
I’ve been on a HiCHEW spree lately. Partly because Morinaga went on a binge and released about a dozen flavors. Besides their traditional array of 6 or 7 standard flavors they have another half a dozen single flavor packs out.
HiCHEW is one of those rare Japanese candies that’s being distributed around the world. Here in Los Angeles, I can get Lemon, Mango, Strawberry or Green Apple HiCHEWs at just about any 7-11 or Cost Plus World Market. But the limited edition flavors, the seasonal and the specialty assortments are a little harder to come by and require either an order directly from Japan (I’ve been using JBox and Asian Food Grocer) or a visit to Little Tokyo to Marukai Market, Mitsuwa Marketplace or Nijiya Market.
Today I have the two from the Summer Festival (Matsuri) line: Candied Apple & Cotton Candy. (I don’t know if there were more than these two ... maybe a Kettle Corn or Deep Fried Butter version escaped my view.)
The packages are compact, they have only 7 pieces in them instead of the longer packs that have 10. Even without knowing Japanese the packages are bold and easy to understand. There’s a little picture of a man selling candied apples with some stylized fireworks above him. Then of course the big candied apple (which seems to be dipped upside down to the way I’ve always had them, the stem is a the top, not where the stick enters the apple).
On the side of the package is the little diagram of what the candy looks like. A pink outside and white core with little flecks of what I’m guessing are the candied coating bits.
It smells softly sweet, a little like milk tea. Biting into it there’s an immediate apple juice flavor then a background of sweet sugar.
The little flecks are sparkly crunches of sugar. I couldn’t quite get an actual flavor from them. It becomes quite juicy. The texture is quite smooth except for the crunches.
I don’t think I’ve had a candied apple in over 15 years, so I can’t say for sure that this is an authentic representation contained within a 1 inch by 1/2 inch block. But it was still fun.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Cotton Candy HiCHEW smells simply like sweet. Pretty much the same as the Candied Apple.
It’s sweet, but not sticky sweet or cloying. It’s simply fresh. Not quite vanilla, which can be a little boozy and not quite a toasted sugar flavor either. It’s creamy without being milky. It’s clean without being flavorless. It’s a mystery wrapped in foil and stuffed with little crunchy bits.
The combination of the texture of the HiCHEW which is a taffy/gummi product that’s at once bouncy and smooth and the little cotton candy grainy bits is odd. Really nicely done cotton candy always has these little bits of grain where either the sugar didn’t melt & reform properly or moisture has caused it to recombine into a hard candy bit. Yes, it’s grainy, but the grains give way to soft sugar flavors.
It’s like cotton candy in all the right ways. And it leaves out the sticky paper cone.
It’s just so hard to describe that all I can say is that after I took the photos of the first pack I got from JBox, I made sure to pick up two more packs when I saw them in Little Tokyo.
It’s difficult to say but this is the best colorless and flavorless candy I’ve ever had. How do the Japanese do it? (I’m also still obsessed with the Juntsuyu I wrote about several years ago and add it to my order at JBoxevery time.)
Rating: 10 out of 10
Monday, July 13, 2009
The simple bar features Fudge with peanut butter nougat & peanuts wrapped in milk chocolate. Like most other limited edition bars, it’s smaller than the standard, this one is the smallest yet at 1.78 ounces.
While the bar may feel a little light, it’s pretty dense and the textures consistent throughout.
I’ve often felt like the Snickers/Milky Way/3 Musketeers nougat is more like a fluffy fudge than a nougat anyway, so this seemed like a stack of dense fudge on top of a layer of light fluffed fudge.
The peanut butter nougat layer has a light creamy color with a distinct salty hit and peanutty flavor. The peanuts studded in the fudge are distinct, a little on the soft side but crunchy and tasty.
The fudge itself has a slight but consistent grain to it, a nice chocolatey flavor and good salty/sweet balance.
The creamy chocolate coating brings it all together.
I missed the chewy caramel, but give this one its due because it is rather different from other existing bars. The salt keeps it from being cloyingly sweet like a Milky Way. Also, I noticed as I was trying to do my bites & slices that there were quite a few voids in there around the nuts. I can’t tell if this is normal or if mine was just an anomaly.
It’s quite a satisfying bar and I can see it being a big success all on its own.
Clocking in at 250 calories, honestly it doesn’t need to be bigger. (Regular bars are 2.07 ounces and 280 calories.)
This bar is supposed to be on shelves in August, but that’s what they said about the Coconut M&Ms which are actually out, so look sharp they may already be available. I’m planning to try another one when I find them.
Friday, June 19, 2009
If there’s one thing I think that’s might pull our government out of the red, it might Mars excessive registration of trademarks for their limited edition & marketing tie in candies.
For the new Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen movie this summer, Mars has created a line of collectible M&Ms packages that feature different characters from the Transformers pantheon plus M&Ms in Transformers-styled outfits.
The seven packages:
(Yeah, I’m missing some package images, but that’s all that came with the press kit Mars gave me ... how odd.)
What I think is most interesting about this is that the package is the only thing that’s different (besides, of course the Strawberried Peanut Butter M&Ms). Open up the packet of the M&Ms (mine was Bumblebee 2 of 7) and there’s no fun new design of the M imprint with a twist on the Transformers like they did with Pirates of the Caribbean Pirate Pearls, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and Shrek II (basically Mega M&Ms). The Star Wars ones, though introducing Dark Chocolate M&Ms, did not have fancy imprints.
What is good news is that the packages are no smaller. With many of the limited editions what you get in addition to “specialness” is less. The Milk Chocolate Chocl-O-Bots packages have the same 1.69 ounces as the standard Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
The only truly transformed product for the movie tie-in is the Snickers Nougabot (tm). Due to physical laws of the conservation of matter, the energy required for the transformations, the bar is smaller than an unTransformerized one. *
This isn’t the first time Mars has mucked with the nougat for a movie. Back in 2007 they turned it green for Shrek but left it the same size, because really, how could a Shrek-ified candy be smaller? The traditional bar is 2.07 ounces and the Nougabot is 1.83 ounces.
The difference, otherwise, is really just the addition of Yellow #5. Considering how much some parents hate Yellow #5 (hint: enough to get it banned in Europe), it’s hard to understand why a candy which was formerly artificial coloring free would add it. Further, the Snickers website doesn’t list the Yellow 5 on the page for the Nougabot bar (sorry, can’t link directly to the page because of stupid flash & beware of annoying sounds).
So how does it taste? About the same. The flavor seemed a little “darker” but I don’t know if that was the caramel batch ... sometimes even big factory candies like Snickers can vary from day to day.
The only thing I liked about it is the same thing that I prefer about the Snickers Dark, that there’s one less bite in it. Because honestly I think that 1.83 ounces is the perfect size for a Snickers bar.
* My theory of this kind of violates the whole world of Transformers and many other fantasy, action & sci-fi movies where small things turn into big things without the perceivable addition of extreme amounts of energy. Anyway, in order to turn back and forth without loss of mass, you’d need lots of energy to turn into matter ... conversely to shrink you’d need to have a way to store a huge reservoir of energy (if you wanted to grow again) or release it. I’ve always wondered if Alice became super-dense when she shrank and puffy, aerated & light when she grew.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.