Monday, August 29, 2011
In my recent travels abroad I picked up a lot of chocolate bars. Here’s a brief little run down of three of them:
As a little reminder, I went to Amsterdam and Cologne earlier this year. There are flavors there that just aren’t very well known in North America. One of the new flavor trends that I noticed was Absinthe (I’ve seen a little of it in the United States but its influence in The Netherlands was a lot more ubiquitous).
So when I spotted this bar from the Chocolatier Marc Antoine called Edelbitter Absinth Truffle, I though it would be a perfect item to pick up as it would probably travel very well.
The box was stiff and nicely designed with the sickly green swirls of anise & wormwood liqueur. Inside the bar was in a simple cellophane sleeve but remarkably unscathed by its journey.
The bar was big and the pieces were chunky. The dark chocolate was glossy with large reservoirs of the dark chocolate truffle filling inside. The truffle was smooth and creamy and very soft, almost like a caramel sauce. The scent was definitely on the grassy fennel side of things, even before I bit into it. The dark chocolate was smooth and bitter though had a lot of cocoa notes mixed with a sharp and tangy anise. The truffle center had a lot of licorice flavors, very soft and fluffy notes that were sweet along with a little hint of eucalyptus and some other botanicals.
I wouldn’t call it a hallucinogenic experience, but it was a wonderful, strong herbal bar that I enjoy quite a bit. There as a little alcoholic burn to it but it was more like tequila.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The package was a big, flat square, about 4.5 inches. The box was pretty and featured raised and gold embossed lettering for the logo and the image on the front of a clay oven. The chocolate is described on the front a little more puro ciccolato fondente con fichi affumicati or “pure dark chocolate with smoked figs” - so it’s the figs in it that are smoked, not the chocolate itself.
The back of the package is in a bunch of different languages and featured notices about recycling but most importantly that Cuorenero does not use any dairy products other other major allergens, that means no gluten, no eggs, no soy, no peanuts, no nuts with hard shell (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.), no celery, no mustard, no sesame seeds, no sulfur dioxide, no lupines, no shellfish and no fish. On top of that, all their ingredients are GMO-free.
The ingredients were: cacao mass, sugar, cocoa butter, smoked fig pieces, sunflower lecithin and flavours.
The bar is beautiful, a thick circular slab sectioned into 16 wedges. The bar smelled like molasses, deep and sweet with a lot of notes of smoke, leather and pipe tobacco. The chocolate flavors were tangy and had notes of coffee and charcoal. The figs were little bits with the occasional seed. There were notes of dark rum, raisins and the grassy fresh notes of figs. The smoke flavors were like cognac and fine whiskey.
If you’re a chocolatier and looking for a new flavor combination, please try smoked, dried fruit in dark chocolate. Then let me know how I can buy some from you.
The bar was 60 grams (2.1 ounces) and I think I paid about $6 for it at the Cologne Chocolate Museum Gift Shop (I think it was 4 Euros). Cuorenero Website.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Zotter is a popular maker of fair trade candy bars in Austria. They’re crazy. If you think smoked figs are off the beaten path, you have not explored the uncharted wilderness of Zotter. I’ve had two of their bars before, Banana Curry and Zitrone Polenta. They’re fair trade and organic.
This was another bar that I picked up at the Cologne Chocolate Museums Gift Store (which was a phenomenal chocolate store, if you hadn’t figured that out). It’s Zotter Mandel - Rosen which is almond and rose. (I passed up the Peanuts & Chocolate bar.)
The bar is about 4.5 inches long and about 2 inches wide and weighs 70 grams (2.47 ounces). It’s thin, for a filled bar but rather dense.
Inside there are two fillings layers. The base is a creamy but rather solid almond paste and sandwiched in between two layers of that is a rose petal jelly (which seemed to have a touch of raspberry in it). This was a great flavor combination, classic and sure, a bit Victorian in sensibilities. I liked the delicate almond flavor (no screaming Amaretto here) and even the rose was light and had less of a soapy taste than some other floral flavors I’ve tried. It was fragrant and sweet with that light touch of berry to it.
It wasn’t as crazy bar but like the others I’ve profiled here, it’s unusual for American tastes. It’s not the kind of candy you can get addicted to, it’s hard to find and the flavors come in and out of production. Check out their website.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Friday, June 10, 2011
The final Angell Organic Candy bar in my series is probably the most mainstream, it’s the Crisp Angell Organic Candy Bar. The bar is not only organic but also made with fair trade ingredients, kosher and contains no preservatives, hydrogenated oils or genetically modified organisms.
The bar is milk chocolate with a crispy creamy chocolate center according to the package. The best way I can think to describe it is a creamy milk chocolate fudge with brown rice crispies covered in milk chocolate.
The bar, like the others in the line, is a little small at 1.23 ounces but that also means it’s pretty slim on calories at only 170.
The scent is quite milky and maybe even a little malty. The creamy milk chocolate enrobing is quite nice, though definitely on the dairy side of the milk chocolate flavors, not much of a chocolate punch. The center is, as I mentioned earlier, a creamy fudge consistency. It’s not at all grainy except for those little crispy rice bits. The rice though isn’t as crispy and crunchy as I would have liked though, it was a little on the chewy side - so not quite stale tasting but still not my desired texture. If you’re a lover of the the milky flavors, this is a good bar to satisfy those cravings (it even has 4% of your daily value of calcium).
Like the other bars, this isn’t just an organic knock off of another bar that’s already on the market, it’s an original. It uses some common construction formats, but creates a taste and texture experience all its own. I appreciated that the grain of choice here was rice instead of oats, but the texture was still a problem in creating a wholly decadent experience. In the case of this bar though it’s gluten free, so those folks will appreciate a chocolate bar with some crunch. Still, they’re a bit on the expensive side, I paid $2.69 for mine, but that was at Erewhon, where everything is expensive - you should be able to get these for $2 or so.
Angell Bars website says that they have another bar called Angell Classic coming soon. There’s no description of it, but it does have a few peanuts next to it in the picture ... so I’m hoping for the ultimate peanut butter bar.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The Snow Angell Organic Candy Bar is white chocolate sweet and creamy coconut center. Like the previous bar I reviewed, the Dark Angell, it’s a smallish bar at 1.41 ounces which means that it’s less than 200 calories (190). It’s not vegan like the dark counterpart, but it is free from GMO products, corn syrup and artificial colors & flavors.
The white chocolate coating is real, made only five ingredients: cane sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter soy lecithin and vanilla. The center is made from tapioca syrup, oats, dried coconut, honey and coconut extract along with some other natural flavors and sea salt. (The salt isn’t organic because, well, salt is inorganic.)
The white chocolate coating is soft and creamy, more like a pudding than a chocolate. I really liked the texture and the fact that it wasn’t so sweet. The overriding flavor though is the coconut from the center. The middle isn’t quite white, it’s a little more creamy and well, oat colored. In fact, the texture is more oaty at times than coconutty. While I found the oat flavor in the Dark Angell a bit off-putting, I think the combination of oats and coconut is fantastic. The coconut absorbs any of the pasty or gummy texture that oats can bring and brings all the light nutty flavors together.
If you’ve ever wanted a white chocolate Mounds bar, this might be a good option. The center isn’t quite the same coconut experience as the usual candy store fare though, it’s far more flavorful and less sweet. It’s nice to see a line of organic bars doing their own thing instead of imitating others.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
At last there are some niche companies out there starting to make quality candy bars. Real ingredients, ethically sourced but still retaining the essence of what a candy bar should be - deliciously indulgent. Jungell Inc has introduced a new line of candy bars that still fit the mold of candy, but with a bit of a twist on the ingredients. Their new line includes three candy bars, but I’ll go with the one that I was most interested in first, the Dark Angell Organic Candy Bar.
I picked up an array of samples at ExpoWest earlier this year, but I didn’t want to write about them until I bought a real set of bars in a store.
Here’s how they describe it: Dark Angell, sophisticated and perfectly balanced. A refined combination of luxurious organic dark chocolate, wrapped around a smooth cocoa center with organic almonds for crunch. For those who prefer a more complex chocolate, the Dark Angell is the candy bar for you. Grab it. Eat it. Love it.
So let’s have a look at the self-declared specifications of this bar: made with fair trade ingredients, organic, vegan, kosher, no artificial colors or flavors, non-GMO ingredients, no preservatives, no corn syrup, low sodium and 0g of trans fats. What it does have in it is real chocolate, the first ingredient is real dark chocolate. So it looks good so far. Then it goes on: tapioca syrup, oats, almonds, dutch cocoa powder, sea salt and almond extract. That’s it!
It’s not a big bar, if you’re accustomed to Snickers or Milky Way. It’s about 3.5” long and about an inch wide. It clocks in at 1.31 ounces, which doesn’t sound like much, but nuts tend to be very filling for me.
The sheen of the bar is nice, the dark chocolate ripples and shines. It smells like chocolate, rich and deep. The flavors are quite woodsy when I bit into it. The first time I tried it, a few bites at the ExpoWest natural products expo, I didn’t know what was in the bar, so there was a cereal flavor and a sort of chew to it I couldn’t put my finger on. The center of the bar is a bit of a moist but firm truffle sort of thing, it’s chocolatey but is also studded with big almonds. In addition there’s a bit of rolled oats in there. The thing is, it’s not like they’re toasty and crisp, but more like they’re raw and can taste a little pasty.
I feel like the center of the bar would have been interesting without the oats, kind of like a creamy truffle, but maybe more like a fluffy, more chocolate nougat thing.
I love most of the bar, except for that lingering flavor of raw oats. It brought the whole thing into the realm of “nutrition bar” when I’d firmly decided that I was going to eat a candy bar that just so happened to be made with good ingredients.
The nutritional panel shows some surprising nutrition to this bar as well: 90% of your daily value of iron, 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber. Vegans should be excited that this is a bar that’s really no compromise, it tastes like a candy bar, there’s nothing faux about it.
So aside from the texture/taste contribution of the oats, my other misgiving about the bar is the price. I paid $2.69 for my little bar. That’s $32.85 a pound. That’s a pretty fancy chocolate price. And for that price and that many calories I really want decadent.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Cooler temperatures mean more chocolate consumption in my world. I’ve really been enjoying the bars from Equal Exchange, so I decided to branch out from the plain dark chocolate bars to their flavored offerings.
The Equal Exchange Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt is a modest bar, sporting only 55% cacao content, it’s not extraordinarily dark and has more of a candy bar flair to it with bits of salty toffee.
The bar is wrapped simply in a burnt orange and brown wrapper that goes with the color coding Equal Exchange has going on for their line.
The bar is inside a thin white plastic sleeve which is easy to open and slip the bar back into. The bar looks great, it has a reddish hue to it and the inclusions of toffee bits are visible within the chocolate mass.
The bar has a distinct and bright snap. Breaking the bar reveals a plethora of big crunchy toffee bits (made with just four ingredients: cream, sugar, vanilla and sea salt). The chocolate itself smells like coffee and has a light acidic bite to it. It’s sweet, but not sticky and has a well rounded woodsy chocolate flavor. The toffee bits are crunchy and buttery with a strong salty note. They go exceptionally well with the chocolate and complement the smooth melt of the chocolate with the hard burnt sugar notes and the dash of sea salt.
This bar straddles the world of easy to eat candy and decadent treat. The chocolate isn’t as nuanced as the darker single origin bars, but it’s also more accessible. It’s one of my favorite toffee chocolate bars now. (It still prefer the slightly more candy-ish Green & Black’s Peanut Bar, but that’s milk chocolate and I’ve had more of those bars than the Equal Exchange.)
It’s fair trade, organic and Kosher. It’s made in a facility that processes tree nuts and peanuts and of course isn’t vegan because of the milk in the toffee.
UPDATE 11/16/2010: I transcribed the ingredients incorrectly in an earlier version of this review. There is no corn syrup in this bar. The only sweetener is organic unrefined and/or raw cane sugar. I’ve revised the review to reflect the accurate ingredients.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
So could a company known for it’s amazingly fresh tasting peanut butter (and other nut butters) make something like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup even better? The new Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups have a lot going for them in their lists of specs. They’re all-natural, organic and gluten-free, they use fair-trade chocolate, contain no preservatives and are packaged in compostable wrappers.
They’re also about $2 per package of two cups. Premium has a premium price. But I was on board, I wanted to see if eco-awareness would make the actual candy tastier (and possibly limit my other candy consumption because of the pricetag.) So after I got them home and took a few pictures I turned over the package to see some serious trash talk from Justin himself:
I don’t mind a little puffery in sales copy, but I don’t like it when my preferences are insulted. Why would Justin start out our relationship by exhibiting such contempt for my predilections? (For the record, my problems with Reese’s have never involved the peanut butter, it’s about the lackluster chocolate.) It took me a while to shrug this off, but I think I managed to center myself back to zero on the predisposed opinion scale.
Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
There are two cups in the package, which weighs 1.4 ounces (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are 1.5 ounces per two cup package). Each cup is exactly 100 calories.
I picked these up at Whole Foods within a week or so of them being placed on store shelves (I frequent the one near my office for lunch and I always cruise by the chocolate shelf). The “best by” date was 5/11, so they’re are definitely fresh. Yet there was a slight bloom on all of the cups. This is the opposite of the issue I usually have with peanut butter cups, which tend to get a greasy sheen as the peanut butter oils migrate into the chocolate.
They smell wonderful, mostly like grassy, fresh peanuts but with a light note of milk and cocoa.
What I noticed first when biting into the cup was how sandy and dry the center was. Most peanut butter cups will bend first, this crumbled and broke into chunks. Not a bad thing, just different. The chocolate is silky smooth and like a silky not-to-sweet chocolate butter. The peanut butter center is salty and sweet with strong roasted peanut notes. The texture is odd, it’s not pasty or buttery, it’s crumbly. It’s not grainy either, it’s a very fine sort of powdery texture. The chocolate really makes up for a lot of that with its silken texture and consistent melt.
The other thing I noticed, as the photo shows is that it’s not a coherent block of peanut butter filling. It has some swirls of milk chocolate in it and a rather thick chocolate reservoir on the top. This was the same with all of the cups that I got (see the dark chocolate one below as well).
The Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are also gluten free, organic, use fair trade chocolate, Kosher and packaged in biodegradable wrappers. They’re also vegan. I consider this a pretty big deal, lots of dark chocolate bars are considered vegan but very few “candy” bars are. (But note that they are processed on shared equipment that has been used for dairy ingredients, so they’re not for folks with dairy allergies.)
Many all natural products have brief ingredients lists, but Justin’s is quite elaborate, mostly because each ingredient needs a qualification:
* denotes Rainforest Alliance Certified products
I don’t know what the status of Palm Fruit Oil is on the list of palm oils these days. Palm plantations displace rainforest, but then again this is organic. Maybe some free range, wild-foraged palm fruit oil would be preferable.
The chocolate is silky smooth, just as the milk chocolate version was, but much more intense. In this case the chocolate flavors overpower the peanut butter flavors in many bites (mostly because of the inconsistent distribution of the chocolate, both of my cups had a full chocolate center). The cocoa flavors are woodsy with a slight acidic burn and tannic, bitter bite. It balanced well with the lightly sweet peanut butter center.
I liked the chocolate but I bought these because I thought they were peanut butter cups. Where’s my peanut butter!
I like that the peanut butter is less sweet than many other peanut butter confections, but I wanted it to be more buttery, it was like they used peanut flour instead of actual ground peanuts with all their glorious native oils. For this price I need a cup that delivers consistent ratios of peanut butter and chocolate. It’s a new product and maybe they don’t have things worked out, but the fact that the same swirling and high chocolate ratio occurred in both versions leads me to believe that this is either intended or permitted. Some folks might prefer it that way, so there’s a unique selling proposition for Justin’s. But it doesn’t rise to the level of Peanut Butter Cup Perfection.
Justin’s Nut Butters makes a variety of nut butters, like Honey Almond (which I love) and also a Hazelnut Chocolate (which I haven’t tried yet) ... so once they get their inconsistencies settled, I think that should be their next product developed. An Organic, Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cup. Then we’ll talk about chocolate nut cup perfection.
I picked up some new samples of Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups at ExpoWest. They were given to me directly by Justin himself. The packaging is identical, but the cups are greatly improved.
My main complaints about the cups were that the peanut butter was too dry and there was too much chocolate. New versions hitting store shelves addressed this. As you can see from the photo above, the peanut butter is more consistently distributed in the center and appears less crumbly and dry. The chocolate shell still has a crisp, well tempered bite to it, but the peanut butter portion is well defined and flavorful. It tastes like a little darker roast as well and perhaps even a little saltier.
On the milk chocolate version I have to update my rating to 9 out of 10. Justin really did rise up to the challenge he made on the wrapper, this is better than a Reese’s.
The dark chocolate version also gets an upgrade, but only to 8 out of 10. It’s vegan, so that’s a huge thing, but the chocolate is still bitter and has a strong olive and grassy taste to it that overpowers the peanut flavors. The textures were excellent and the ratios dead on perfect.
My last hesitation on this product line is still the price though, but they’re definitely worth it now.
I was a bit overwhelmed when talking to Justin that I forgot to mention my desire for the Hazelnut Cup (though he said he’d read the review). Instead of pitching that I told him I wanted someone to make an all-natural peanut butter that had an additional bit of cocoa butter in it instead of hydrogenated tropical oils to keep it emulsified. The cocoa butter would keep it from separating but also add that inimitable texture, (and if you used un-deodorized) a light malty taste and keep it spreadable.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The first experience I had with fair trade chocolate as Equal Exchange exactly five years ago. I was in love with their ethics and their product. Fair Trade as a concept means that everyone in the chain to create a product for sale gets a fair payment. It also means that working conditions are safe and that child labor or slaves are not engaged.
The bars are now much easier to find and the breadth of the program and the product line has expanded over the years. I was sent this assortment of their darkest bars: Ecuador 65%, Very Dark 71% and Panama 80%. First of all, they’ve redesigned their packaging to great effect. The wrappers are simple and compelling and distinctive in the now cluttered world of chocolate bars. The focus is on the product and the producers, the inside of the wrapper details Equal Exchange’s programs.
Each bar is 3.5 ounces and is certified organic and Kosher. Unlike some Fair Trade bars, all of the ingredients in Equal Exchange’s dark bars are Fair Trade content.
The Organic & fairly traded Dark chocolate from Ecuador (the bar on the top of the pile) is 65% cacao content. The bar looks crisp and perfect, right down to the snap when I broke it in half. Each bar is sealed inside an opaque plastic sleeve to keep it fresh.
This bar did have a crunch to it, the tempering was crisper than the other two bars. It smelled of toffee and stewed fruits. It was sweet on the tongue at first but had a lot of flavors going on immediately, a light tangy note of apricots and then some more fudgy flavors like the tasting notes predicted. It was sweet and didn’t have the puddly melt like the others but still had a very fine texture.
The Organic & fairly traded Very Dark chocolate is 71% cacao content but doesn’t list the origin beyond “Latin America.” The bar was nicely molded, shiny and with no voids or bubbles. It had a slight red cast to it.
71% has a great blend of flavor characteristics. It has a rich scent, very woodsy with coffee and cherry notes. On the tongue I was getting more green notes, like olives and asparagus plus a little hint of charcoal. It’s bitter but also has a silky melt that’s also a little sticky.
The Organic & fairly traded Extra Dark chocolate from Panama is 80% cacao content. This bar was more of a smoky brown and had less of the red color that the other two had.
This bar smells distinctly like raisins, tangy and fruity with a little wine note to it. The flavor is the same: a strong tannin base but with berry and cherry notes. It’s a little tangy but with a great soft melt on the tongue and a light dry bite. For a very dark bar this is incredibly munchable, smooth and not too bitter or chalky.
I found myself drawn to both the 80% and the 65% for wildly different reasons, they were all distinct but those two fit my desire for rich chocolate at the moment. I liked the wrappers and the plastic sleeve that held its own (I was able to put the uneaten portions back in there without making a crumbly mess or melting it by handling too much).
Equal Exchange has also made some more “candy” version of their bars such as Organic Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt and Orange Dark Chocolate. I’ll have reviews of those soon. All of their chocolate is a pretty good value, retail for these bars is around $4.00 which is less than some of the more upscale bars but more than your standard Lindt or Ghirardelli.
They’re vegan, soy free and gluten free. They may contain traces of tree nuts, milk and peanuts.
Friday, September 24, 2010
As some of you who follow along on my twitter or flickr photostream might know, I’m an avid whale watcher. For the past six years I’ve been a certified naturalist with the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and American Cetacean Society and lead whale watching trips as a volunteer from December to April in the nearby Santa Monica Bay when the Gray whales migrate by.
I love it so much that I often go up to Santa Barbara in the summer to see our other nearby visitors: Blue whales and Humpback whales who come to feed near the Channel Islands. Unfortunately I also have a problem with motion sickness. So I’m often seen on the boats eating little ginger candies (and sharing them with other like-stomached passengers).
Ginger has been proven to reduce nausea. The great thing about that is that I love the taste of ginger and it’s not an expensive product for the most part.
I found these Newman’s Own Organics Ginger Mints at Mother’s Market in Orange County. They were only a buck and a nice compact format, like a roll of mints instead of an awkward package of individually wrapped candies (the wrappers can get blown away on a boat and into the water) or a tin (which can easily spill while I’m trying to open it).
The little disks are about 3/4 of an inch around and have a little “Newman’s Own Organics” engraved into them.
They smell toasty and earthy with a light citrus note. They’re sweet and a little chalky on the tongue, like Life Savers Wintergreen at first. The ginger is readily apparent, very woodsy and with a strong warming property that kept the back of my tongue and throat burning.
They dissolve quickly or can be chewed easily, which I guess speeds relief. I don’t know if ginger really works for tough stomach upset, but I find that occupying myself with hard candies (even non-ginger kinds) helps. Anything that keeps nausea from really taking hold can help since the cruises are only 2 to 3 hours. They’re sweet and not that complex overall, there’s no lemon or honey in them. But they seem to do the trick for me. I like how small and portable the package is.
As an organic product, as you can guess, they’re natural and contain no colorings. They’re Kosher and vegan. However, they are manufactured on shared equipment with peanuts, nuts, milk, wheat and soy.
I’ll leave you with a photo from last weekend. There is a strange and welcome gathering of Blue whales off of Los Angeles right now, at least 30 individuals hanging out within 5 miles from shore. They’ve never been spotted here in these numbers like this before. They’ve been feeding on a huge upwelling of krill, and I guess they’ll stick around as long as there’s food. So if you’ve ever wanted to see the biggest animal on earth (ever), get yourself out to the sea. I go out with Voyager Excursions.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.