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.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
They recently reformulated all their bars when they got a new cacao source (which does change the flavor profile for high end chocolate), so they sent me an array of bars to try. Today I thought I’d start with their simplest offerings, their single serving bars in Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa and Organic Milk Chocolate 43% Cocoa.
The chocolate in the bars is Rainforest Alliance Certified as well as gluten free, Kosher, organic and ethically trade. The dark chocolate bar is also vegan (though made on equipment that also processes diary, peanuts and tree nuts). The package is made of 30% post-consumer recycled material yet it’s pretty nice to look at. The 70% Dark bar features the Karner Blue Butterfly, which is only about 3/4 of an inch across but a sparkling iridescent blue that draws the eye.
The bars are nicely proportioned. They’re slender - about 5.25” long and only 1.5” wide. Each is divided into three segments that are slightly domed and thick enough to provide a satisfying snap when broken.
The melt is smooth for the most part, though I did get an occasional spot of grit (fibery bits of cacao). It’s thick and lightly acidic with some bitter cherry notes. There’s coffee and anise and maybe some light citrus peel plus a strong note of vanilla. It puddles like pudding on the tongue and though I think there’s a smidge too much cocoa butter in it, the ratios support the flavor profile well. There are a lot of flavors going on and at times the finish is dry while other pieces I’m noticing a much lighter green tea note at the end.
Sometimes very dark chocolate isn’t as munchable as milk or milder stuff. It’s as if it’s too complex; this bar is dark and has a good mix of flavors but doesn’t feel too sophisticated for snacking. It pairs well with salty foods as well as nuts and dried fruits.
The second bar is the Organic Milk Chocolate 43% Cocoa Bar. I have to say that 43% is a pretty dark shade of milk chocolate. Some are as low as 20% cocoa content and there are those that go as high as 68% - but the low 30% range is what I think we’re most accustomed to.
This package features a lion. The package tells me that lions spend up to 21 hours a day sleeping. The rest of that time is spent in search of food, though they don’t eat every day. The package also says that lions are the only felines that live in social groups, maybe meaning that society leads to such high levels of cooperation that 21 hours of sleep are possible ... maybe we could learn something from that.
I stuck the milk on top of the dark here to show you the difference in color.
The main dairy ingredient in this bar is organic milk powder. It smells just like that - like sweet powdered milk.
The snap is much softer than the dark chocolate, though not fudgy like some milk bars like Cadbury can be. The melt is smooth, though not light and slick like Dove. It’s much thicker and velvety. The dairy notes fade and there’s a stronger caramelized sugar flavor along with the stronger bitter cocoa notes. There’s a hint of coffee, toffee and cedar in there.
This wasn’t my style of milk chocolate, it’s just too powdered milk flavored to me. I don’t know quite what that flavor is, but it reminds me of nutrition, which is not what I want in my treat. I’m guessing that this is just the profile that others prefer. The fact that it’s organic will also have appeal for folks who are looking to avoid hormones in their dairy products.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Sunflower Butter Cups ... saying it out loud it doesn’t even make sense, is it a flower or is it a candy? Seth Ellis Chocolatier of Boulder, Colorado has come out with a nut free, peanut free, gluten free, fair trade and organic candy. They simply call them Sun Cups.
Sun Cups come in milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Confusing sounding name aside, they’re sunflower butter (like peanut butter only made with sunflower seeds) in a chocolate cup. Just like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, except, well, not like them.
Each cup is .75 ounces and comes in the industry standard dark brown fluted paper cup. The packages I picked up from the Seth Ellis booth at the Winter Fancy Food Show were flawless and perfect. Even the glossy and bold packaging is made from a compostable film.
The Milk Chocolate Sun Cups smells sweet and milky. There’s a touch of sunflower scent, but mostly it’s a fresh note. The organic milk chocolate is silky smooth and has a strong European dairy note. It’s cool on the tongue as it melts. The sunflower center is creamier than a Reese’s, not exactly moist, but not crumbly and not oily. The center is made with sunflower butter mixed with white chocolate, so it’s a little stiff but has an amazing melt with just a hint of sea salt.
The Dark Chocolate Sun Cups smell like semi-sweet chocolate - a little bit woodsy and fruity. The chocolate is actually rather dark and bitter and though it’s vegan (no milkfat) the cups overall aren’t because of the dairy in the white chocolate & sunflower center. The sunflower butter isn’t very sweet, so the whole cup has a much more savory appeal to it. There’s a grassy note to the sunflower which reminds me a little of jasmine tea and tahini.
I thought I was going to love the dark chocolate more than the milk chocolate, but I found both compelling for different reasons. In the milk chocolate version the milk flavors and silky textures blend together well for a decadent and rather fatty feeling treat. The dark chocolate version is deep and complex and kind of requires a little bit of attention while eating to appreciate how it all fits together.
The fact that they’re gluten free and nut free (both tree & peanut) will set these cups apart from most others right away. The milk chocolate version will be easily gobbled up by kids with allergies and sensitivities without any feeling of them getting a compromise candy. Grown ups without allergies will still appreciate the social responsibility (organic & fair trade) behind them along with the tasty ingredients. I still prefer peanut butter, as it’s a more rounded flavor, but I can’t ignore how great these are.
They might be a little hard to find, though most Whole Foods will order if they’re in the system and not on the shelves. They should be in Whole Foods (Rocky Mountain, Northwest and Bay Area) chain-wide at Pharmaca, Sunflower Markets, Cost Plus World Markets, Jimbo’s in So Cal. I still haven’t found them in stores yet, but they should retail for less than $2.00 a package. Hopefully they’ll have individually wrapped ones around for Halloween later this year.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Rococo is a small chocolatier and chocolate maker based in London. They grow their cacao in Grenada, in a partnership with the Grenada Chocolate Company. They grow organic Trinitario beans which are then turned into bars and fine chocolates at founder Chantal Coady’s space in London.
The design of the packaging and candy itself is charming, quaint and distinctive from other chocolatiers. The flavors she employs are also a distinctive palette of aromatics, spices and florals.
The chocolate is sold primarily in Great Britain, though there are a couple of shops that have mostly the bars in North America. When I was in San Francisco last time I found the line of Bee Bars at Miette Confiserie. The bars are expensive, so I opted for the petite versions - these are only 20 grams each but cost $3.50 (that works out to $39.50 a pound). The bars are about three inches long, so really just one portion.
The packages are beguiling with reproductions of antique French chocolate mold images lined up and printed in pastel colors like purple and olive green in the case of my bars and navy blue, pink and orange for other bars. I picked up Organic Plain Lavender (dark), Organic Milk 37% Cocoa and Organic White Cardamom.
I was a bit surprised when I got home and opened my boxes that there is no inner wrapper. No foil, no cellophane, no overwrap for the box or even glue or tape for the tabs.
Still, my bar was in exquisite condition - glossy and beautifully molded. The bee bar, my guess, is named for the mold that has a little bee with outstretched wings on each segment. There are no honey ingredients.
The Milk 37% Cocoa Bee Bar is quite simple. It’s a little softer than a dark chocolate, though certainly doesn’t bend like a Cadbury bar.
It has the light scent of milk and sugar and a little musky hint or malt. It’s quite dark for a milk which appeals to me, though it still has that light cooling effect on the tongue that’s common in milk chocolate. The melt is silky and smooth though on the sticky side because of the sugar and 17% milk content. The chocolate notes are overshadowed by the milk for the most part, but it’s still a great texture and the fresh dairy flavors are a highlight.
The Lavender Bee Bar is made from 65% cacao and uses no vanilla, instead it’s organic lavender essential oil that gives this bar its pop. The fact that they use oil instead of flowers is different here. I’ve had other bars that use whole flowers to flavor the chocolate and while that does a nice job of imparting complex flavors, lavender buds really aren’t that tasty or smooth.
The dark chocolate is smooth, a bit dry and bitter. The lavender is woodsy with a hint of pine and a whiff of aromatics like menthol. I like the flavor of lavender, it reminds me a lot of rosemary - both go well with all kinds of chocolate.
The bar that was most compelling to me was the White Cardamom Bee Bar. This one was wrapped - both in foil and then a paper-overwrap. The mold of the bar is also slightly different - it’s four sections instead of six.
The bar is beautiful, a light and creamy yellow with specks of spice. The ingredients list 28% cacao (that’d be cocoa butter) and 22% milk.
I love cardamom and love tasting it in candy. This bar utilizes it perfectly, it’s like a rich rice pudding. It’s a little sweet, but the deep nutty flavors of the cardamom, which is kind of like nutmeg, coriander and saffron all in one. I could eat this bar regularly. I wouldn’t mind a little vanilla in it, to give it some bourbon notes, but this is fabulous as it is.
Other flavor combinations I’m eager to try are Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh; Arabic Spices; Basil & Persian Lime; Orange & Geranium and Peppered Mint. For web orders in the US, it appears that Miss Del’s General Store in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At these prices they’re certainly not an everyday indulgence, more of a way to explore the world of flavors.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The problem with Mr. Goodbar was that it was never Mr. Greatbar in the first place. When Hershey’s replaced the cocoa butter in it, I completely lost interest. So, I’ve been looking for Mr. Betterbar because I still believed there could be a simple, satisfying combination of milk chocolate and fresh roasted peanuts. When I was at the Target in Harbor City shortly before Halloween I spotted this new bar: Green & Black’s Peanut. Since Green & Black’s is organic and expensive, I thought for sure it was going to be better.
After I got the bar home and photographed it, I read a little closer to see that it wasn’t just a plain milk chocolate with whole (or half) pieces of peanuts. No, this was something quite different but still equally compelling: Milk chocolate with caramelized peanuts and a hint of sea salt - 37% Cocoa Content.
The bar looks smooth and shiny. It also looks darker than most milk chocolate bars, somewhere between a true dark and a milk chocolate. I like how Green & Black’s bars are just a little thicker than the Lindt Excellence or Scharffen Berger. This is great especially when there are inclusions, because it leaves room for them to stack and still be surrounded by chocolate.
The bar smells incredible. It’s deep and smoky with a great authentic peanut scent along with the faint hint of caramelized sugar and milk. The texture is equally great, there’s a silky smooth melt and a sweet dairy flavor along with some dark bitter notes of both chocolate and toasted nuts. The peanut flavors are quite strong, and the nuts themselves are crunchy but there’s also the wonderful surprise of both little buttery toffee bits and a crisp toffee coating on some of the peanuts. The salt is also a nice complement to the flavors, keeping the rather sweet milk chocolate from becoming too sticky and setting off the woodsy notes.
I ate this bar up in less than two days. Then I went looking for another. I still haven’t found one, but when I see it, I’ll buy it. Oddly enough, it’s still not the Mr. Goodbar substitute I was looking for, but I’m going to just be happy with the serendipity that brought it into my life and be grateful that my mistakes are so tasty.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
When on vacation I often pick up candy that fits in the intersection between my candy tastes (pretty broad) and The Man’s (not quite as broad but also includes many red flavors). Often we share things like Swedish Fish, Goetze’s Caramel Creams, dark chocolate with nuts or gianduia.
On our travels we selected some Marich 72% Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews at the Sweet Offerings shop. Yes, they were expensive at $6.95 for a 4.5 ounce package but they weren’t for Candy Blog, they were just for eating. But I enjoyed them so much and was positive that I’d be referring to them again that I needed to review them.
Well, I couldn’t find them. Instead I ended up with the pictured Marich Organic Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews which were similarly priced at Whole Foods.
The box seems like a little bit of overpackaging, but they do the job of protecting the candy inside (which is just in a cellophane bag). The box is 9 inches tall and 3 and a half inches at the base ... far larger than a four and a half ounce packet of candy really needs to be. It could easily be two inches shorter and not press on the candy at all. (But maybe they use the same format for a large variety of weights and this is simply efficient.)
Even though they’re called a Sea Salt Cashews, the sodium levels are quite responsible. The package says that there are 60 mg in a 40 gram serving (about 1/3 of the package).
First, these cashews are huge ... and then the thick dark chocolate coating is, well, thick. So they’re amazingly large. (I would compare them to my thumb, but I don’t really want to repeat the photos of my digits & candy.)
The chocolate is dark and slightly bitter, the grassy and clean flavors of the cashews come through with the deep woodsy and coffee notes of the chocolate. Just three or four of them were quite satisfying. They hardly seemed like a sweet treat though. I honestly did a double take with the first few 72% ones I ate - they hardly seemed like candy because they’re not sweet. It wasn’t the little bit of salt in there that made them seem like they weren’t sugary ... it was the fact that they weren’t sugary. The salt just brought out the flavors.
Some of the cashews seemed over-toasted, to the point that they were actually a creamy brown color, so they were far crunchier and of course had a darker, breadier flavor. I liked the lighter cashews, personally.
I kept the package from the 72% and a couple of the cashews and found that the non-organic ones were made with a darker chocolate, if that’s possible for it to be more savory. (Okay, full confession, that photo includes the packet of cashews from the organic in there, instead of photographing it empty, but believe me, you really can’t tell them apart by looking at them.)
These are incredibly tasty, easy to eat and even though the packages are small and expensive, it’s easy to be satisfied with only a handful. The ingredients and panning is superb - both packages were fresh & shiny.
Inside the flap on the organic version it says Brown is the new Green. Inside the 72% it says Rich, Dark and Gorgeous Has Never Looked Better.
Unfortunately the last ingredient on the list is resinous glaze, so even though the chocolate contains no dairy products, these aren’t vegan. (But they are Kosher.) Another curious note, the 72% dark version contains 20% of your daily RDA of iron! Finally, though I paid the same amount for both versions, Whole Foods is actually cheaper overall - they have the non-organic items for $4.85, which felt kind of like a deal at this point.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Since the introduction of chocolate covered espresso beans sometime in the seventies not much has changed. Oh sure, sometimes they’re milk chocolate covered ... sometimes dark chocolate and even white chocolate.
At the Fancy Food Show in January I did get to try what I thought was one of the best revisions of the classic caffeinated confection: JAVAZ.
First, they’re all natural and use organic, fair traded coffee beans. Second, they use good quality chocolate. Third, they have a candy shell. But most of all, they actually roast the coffee for eating. That is, instead of roasting it for optimal brewing, it’s roasted with the idea that someone is going to crunch & consume it.
They come in two varieties: Milk and Dark.
JAVAZ Milk are much larger than most chocolate covered coffee beans, so it’s a goodly dose of chocolate. I threw some coffee beans into the photo to show the scale.
They’re even larger than Peanut M&Ms.
They look like little bird eggs: a faint tan color with brown speckles.
The shell is thick and crunchy and the milk chocolate is sweet and has a strong dairy/milky flavor to it. The coffee bean at the center is crispy and light, I wasn’t getting the fibery, woody bits that some coffee candies seem to leave behind. The coffee beans don’t have that acrid, oily taste to them.
The whole thing tastes like coffee ice cream with crunchy bits.
Though there’s obviously caffeine in here it’s not as much as you might think: a 55 gram bag has about the same amount as a cup of coffee.
JAVAZ Dark are decorated in the reverse of the milk ones. The shell is brown with beige speckles.
The chocolate layer here is dark chocolate, though not “pure” in the sense that there’s some dairy in there (sorry vegans, but the confectioners glaze spoiled these for you anyway).
The chocolate is quite sweet and the punch of the coffee bean is nice and balances that sugary-ness quite well. I might have preferred a little more coffee flavor.
They’re substantially crunchy, I can’t say that these are a quiet way to get a caffeine boost.
I like how thick the shells are and how easy it is to hold them in my hand or just throw a few in my jacket pocket without the protection of the bag. As long as they stay dry, they do just fine. (Okay, maybe that’s not the most sanitary thing, but I’m just being honest about my road-testing of the product.)
The coffee is sourced from Indonesia and uses only Arabica beans and benefits the Indonesia Relief Fund.
They’re made in the USA and are Kosher. The packages are a little expensive ($3.00 for 1.94 ounces), but I expect that’s because they’re just starting out ... volume usually helps to even these things out and they’re only sold in the small package. Right now I can only find them on Foodzie, though they’ve been at some food trade shows so might be in cafes and gourmet delis as well.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.