Thursday, April 17, 2008
It’s often puzzled me why there aren’t more organic candy bars out there. For the most part candy bars are made (or can be made) with all natural/organic ingredients pretty easily. Why no one does this is beyond me, so for the most part candy fiends with an eco bent have to eat just chocolate (sometimes flavored) or hard candies or pay for bars to be flown from far away places and pay ridiculous prices for kinky combinations ... in reality all I want is the tried and true candy bar, only made with pure ingredients.
Crispy Cat has a nice line of candy bars that seem to defy that notion that candy bars have to be made with sub-par ingredients. Their bars are also dairy free, gluten free, non GMO and use a large proportion of organic ingredients (70-90% organic, depending on the bar). In fact, their ingredients list only looks long because they put things like “organic” or “made with gmo” all over it.
They come in three varieties: Toasted Almond, Roasted Peanut and Mint Coconut ... all with dark chocolate.
Here’s what Joel, the founder of Crispy Cat has to say:
The Toasted Almond features dark chocolate, crispy rice & toasted almonds.
It has a wonderful dark, woodsy and chocolatey aroma. The bite is a bit stiff, it’s not quite crunchy and certainly not chewy. It’s just lumpy.
Once I got used to the complex center, I was pleased with the combination of flavors and textures. It’s part crisped rice, a little bit of a caramel-like chew to hold it together, a toasted sugar flavor and some pieces of almonds for an added crunch. I would have preferred a lighter crunch to it, something easier to chew (either crispier or softer).
This bar also has a crisped rice center. In this case it’s a bit fluffier and softer than the others, with a light peppermint scent.
Instead of the firm and chewy center, this one was a bit crumblier and has big pieces of naturally sweet coconut in it. It’s an interesting flavor combo, very tropical and fresh, a bit of a grassy note to the whole thing.
I can’t say that I loved this one, in fact it was my least favorite of the three. But I can’t help but be pleased that someone is paying attention to coconut these days. I love the stuff.
The center felt fattier though had the same number of calories as the Toasted Almond at 220 it has 10 grams of fat (TA has only 9).
The dark chocolate is rather bitter but has a decent melty texture. The crunchy rice, peanut butter and peanut chunk center is tasty. It’s dark and nutty, a bit salty and only lightly sweet. This one hits it out of the park as far as a peanut candy bar can go.
It definitely tasted like a candy bar, not one of those nutrition bars.
I was kind of surprised to see that they weighed only 1.75 ounces, it’s actually bigger than a Snickers bar, which gives the perception of a much larger mass of satisfaction.
Overall, these are fun and have very few compromises. And what’s the biggest one? Price. These retail for $2.50 ... that’s three times the price you’d pay for a non-organic bar. Pretty startling. But compared to other premium meal replacement bars, they can hold their own. The two nut varieties have 4 grams of protein (not from soy, though they do use soy lecithin so they’re not soy free) and 2 grams of fiber. They also clock in at 220 calories, which is a decent snack. I’d probably prefer these in a smaller variety though ... they’d make an awesome Halloween Treat if they came in snack size.
The Roasted Peanut bar is the one most likely to appeal to kids but none are too mature to miss with a true candy bar fiend.
I’d also recommend a bit of a change in the design of the package. I’m not sure who it’s supposed to appeal to, but it’s not grabbing me. They call themselves “tree huggin’ treats” and have the image of a couple of arms around a tree on the left size of each wrapper. (I’m not sure where the cat comes in.) The website looks completely different and inconsistent from this (but I’m not keen on the web’s cartoon designs either).
I’m not quite sure about them, they’re definitely on the right track and I’d be most inclined to eat the Roasted Peanut again, but if I were faced with eating one of these or a Lara Bar, I’d probably go for the Lara Bar.
Want to win some? Check out Crispy Cat Chronicles, if you can guess Ann’s new baby’s height, weight & birthdate you can win three cases of the bars of your very own.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Theo Chocolate, the only all Fair Trade and Organic chocolate company that makes their confections from bean to bar in the United States is growing. This year they added two new bars to their 3400 Phinney line, bringing the total to four milk chocolate bars and four dark chocolate bars.
They are all a standard format of two ounces in four sections and feature artwork on the wrapper by Kitten Chops.
I picked my full-sized samples of the new bars at the Natural Products Expo last month. The Fig, Fennel & Almond in 65% Dark was the one I was most looking forward to.
Let’s see, favorite things:
Figs? I never knew fig love until I had my own tree. Check!
Fennel? Love it in salads, prefer licorice in candy. Check!
Almonds? I eat them every day. Check!
65% Dark Chocolate? Not too dark, not too dry is the way I like it. Check!
Upon first bite this was too dark, too complex, kind of a mess. But like some Philip Glass piece, the spareness of each note eventually started making music.
It took about half the bar, but I started liking it more and more. The fennel stands out in the scent of the bar, a light and grassy licorice or anise note. Upon letting a bite melt it becomes a bit acidic, a little tangy and rather like raisins, but fresher. Not quite figgy but the seeds help. Later the little bits of crushed almonds pull it all back together.
The chocolate is dry and not quite as buttery as I’d like for a “candy bar” but for a chocolate bar, it has a nice bitter component that keeps the figs from feeling to sticky sweet. Still, it requires a bit too much effort for me to just eat the bar.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I had a very hard time with this bar ... I have a very hard time not eating it all before I finished writing this review.
It’s simply called Hazelnut Crunch Milk Chocolate.
It smells hazelnutty, and has little bits of crushed hazelnuts and a toffee crunch mixed into the creamy and rather dark milk chocolate.
The toffee bits are what makes this really fabulous. They’re very salty (in fact, there’s a lot of salt in this bar: 140 mgs) but man, each little milligram makes a little jolt of electrical energy delivering those flavors right to the pleasure centers of my brain.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Where I had trouble with the FF&A, the Hazelnut Crunch was one I couldn’t believe I ate the whole thing when it was gone. It’s a perfect afternoon bar, not too filling, not too sickly sweet and the little dose of nuts makes it feel very satisfying. In fact, I’d probably eat it anytime, anywhere ... but the Fig, Fennel & Almond would definitely need to be the kind of bar where I’d need to be in the mood.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Somewhere between the candy bar and the fine boxed chocolates is a strange no-man’s land known as the gourmet candy bar. Austria’s Zotter is one of those companies occupying that niche. They not only make innovative flavor combinations, but their products are also organic and Fair Trade certified.
I love the idea of Fair Trade. Everyone should get a living wage (or more!) for making candy. No one needs candy, so if we’re going to spend money on it, we certainly shouldn’t be contributing to sweat shops or slavery. That said, these are very expensive at $8 a bar, so it’s nice to know that the wealth I’m imparting to Zotter is being spread around.
The packaging is simple. The bars are wrapped in foil and have a nicely designed sleeve. Each bar has its own distinctive artwork. On top of that there are a lot of different bars. At any given moment there could be 60 listed on their website. I found these at Fog City News in San Francisco, but have also seen them in the Bay Area at The Candy Store, Miette Confisiere and Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland. (Each store had a slightly different selection.)
The bars are absolutely gorgeous. I was afraid mine would be dented or nicked from the trip, but right out of the package they were pristine and fresh.
They’re rather flat and the chocolate enrobing is very thin (but glossy). The proportions of the filling and the chocolate is ideal ... these bars are about the filling not the chocolate.
I was worried that the center would be stiff and grainy, instead it has a creamy snap to it with a slight semolina grain to it. The citrus is tangy and not very zesty. The chocolate coating is 70% and provides a good bittersweet counterpoint to the center.
The second bar I picked out was Banana Curry. The banana notes were strong and tasted like a fresh mash of super-ripe bananas. It was sweet and rich and almost like a pudding or creme brulee, but a little thicker with a slight chew. I never did get much of a curry note from the whole thing but I honestly didn’t miss it. Yes, I was promised curry, but what I got was pretty yummy in its own right.
If you’re looking for adventurous and inventive flavor combinations with your politically correct candy, well Zotter might be for you. At $8 for a 2.5 ounce bar (over $50 a pound), it’s like buying a couple of fine upscale chocolates from Recchiuti, Vosges, Charles Chocolates, CocoaVino, Chuao or Kee’s. They’re not easy to find in person but they do have a huge variety of flavors. I’m glad I gave them a try, but perhaps I’m more cheap than socially responsible, I just can’t spend that much on a candy bar without rationalizing it as being “for the blog.”
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I’m still in a licorice mood and have been feeling more like “eating licorice” as it’s called. This means it’s soft and chewy and not too harsh.
I got a wonderful full sized sample of the Soft Licorice from Finnska at the All Candy Expo in September from the Gerrit J. Verburg Co. It’s just what I needed. I found the package charming, though every time I looked at it I wondered what an ostrich would be doing on a Viking ship.
The little twist are soft, perhaps a little sticky. They’re pure black and a bit glossy. They don’t smell like much, a little earthy, a little smoky.
They’re not super sweet, not very licorice-y either. In fact, there’s no molasses in there, which is one of the flavors I’m accustomed to in my wheat-based licorice chew. It’s also really low in calories.
It took me about a half a dozen of them before I figured out what they taste like. Beets. (Maybe beets baked in Ouzo.)
I know, it sounds horrible. But it’s great. It’s sweet and woodsy and a little bit like dirt or roots. It doesn’t feel cloying or sticky. It’s good munching candy. I’ve eaten the whole box. It’s rather different from Panda, which has a doughy texture to it sometimes and stronger anise and molasses tones.
This particular Finnska is also organic!
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Terra Nostra is a favorite chocolate brand of mine. I know, I’ve never written about their bars before. I’ve been buying the Organic Dark Chocolate with Pecans and Raisins since I first saw it at Trader Joe’s ... I’m guessing at least six years ago. I was never a fan of chocolate and raisins until I met Trader Joe and he changed my mind with his wonderful dark chocolate covered raisins in a tub. With that in mind, I gave that bar a try, drawn by the pecans and dark chocolate and pretty well sold on the addition of the tangy, chewy raisins.
It’s not the most complex bar in the world, but it’s a good all around contender when it comes to satisfaction. My biggest problem with it? It’s too big. Yes, I know that the 3.5 ounce size is pretty popular when it comes to premium bars, but it’s just too big for me to finish in one sitting and I want a lot of variety in my life.
Imagine my pleasure at seeing that Terra Nostra is bring out a new line of “Pocket Bars”. At only 1.5 ounces, which means a nice sized portion of chocolate, and they even come with a little zazz to make them more like candy bars.
Each bar is four sections, slightly domed, for most of them to accommodate a filling of some sort.
Creamy Caramel in Satin Milk Chocolate - this was an excellent bar, far superior to most other single-serve caramel bars I’ve had. The milk chocolate is rich, creamy and has a lot of the complex dairy flavors to it. The caramel, though rather syrupy is salty and smooth with a pretty good hit of butter to it. (7 out of 10)
Creamy Caramel in 60% Dark Robust Chocolate - this was a nice bar! The dark chocolate is robust, just like they say, with some coffee notes that set off the salty, sweet and gooey caramel center. I’d prefer a caramel that wasn’t quite so gooey (think Caramello) and it does have a little bit of a grain to it. The whole thing comes together nicely. (7 out of 10)
Goji Berries and Pink Himalayan Mineral Sea Salt in 73% Dark Chocolate - this one took away all the fun of being a candy bar and injected a bunch of trendy items. Goji berries are also known as wolfberries; they’re little red berries (related to tomatoes and deadly nightshade) about the size of a peanut, they’re always sold dried. Goji berries tangy, kind of dry and leathery; though they do have some distinctive flavors, but they’re also really fibery. I’m often left with some piece that feels like a wad of chewed paper - really, I shouldn’t have to spit bits of my chocolate bar out. The chocolate itself doesn’t taste salty, just less sweet (but it’s hard to do a one for one comparison with the others since this is the only 73% dark bar in the range). Honestly, this bar just clicked with a bunch of my pet peeves about trendy foods ... if you want to read something really fun, try this piece from the Sydney Morning Herald about the goji berry. (5 out of 10)
Pomegranate Truffle - a base of 60% cacao dark chocolate has a rich chocolate truffle filling flavored with pomegranate. The dark chocolate is creamy, but not too dark or dry. The truffle center is a light and creamy truffle, not greasy but smooth and of course with a tangy & berry bite of pomegranate. The pomegranate kind of overwhelms most of the chocolate flavors, but blends so well with the texture. (8 out of 10)
All the bars are certified organic ... not that it makes them healthy or anything. The Pomegranate Truffle and Goji Berry dark bars are suitable for vegans, however they are made on machinery that also processes dairy (and peanuts, soy and tree nuts). Terra Nostra also participates in Equi-Trade programs, though their bars are not specifically certified Fair Trade. They’re fun little bars and if presented with an array of commercial mass-produced bars and these, if price is not the deciding factor, you might want to give them a try.
(Top photo of Robust Dark with Raisins & Pecans courtesy of Terra Nostra)
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Yesterday I did a little roundup of all natural candies and I forgot to mention Lake Champlain. It’s a little expensive to feed to kids but they do make actual candy bars. It’s an excellent brand that uses carefully selected ingredients, which I always appreciate and recently introduced an organic line.
Each bar is 1.25 ounces, which I think is the perfect portion of good chocolate.
The bars look like they’d be great for traveling too, small enough to tuck in your bag and finish in one sitting but they also feature a nice paper wrap with an inner foil wrapper that means you can actually close it back up (some of these foil wraps used these days are two atoms thick and fall apart in a light breeze).
Dark Spicy Aztec also features a 55% cocoa base chocolate. This one also has spices and pumpkin seeds. I’ve had a few spicy bars over the past few years and my share of spicy hot chocolate as well. This is probably the best of all of them. The spices, while strong, are still very flavorful and don’t overpower the chocolateness. I love pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and they go so well here, adding a little crunch and setting off the spicy flavors all over again.
While it tastes like there’s a whole cupboard of spices in here, the label says only cayenne and cinnamon. I could have sworn I tasted a little nutmeg, some clove and cumin. Amazing!
I have to admit that the spice is, well, spicy. It gave me a bit of a tingly burn on the back of my tongue and in my throat. Not so much to stop me from eating it, but more tender mouths may not appreciate the power. 9 out of 10
Dark Chocolate is a basic semi sweet bar. It’s on the sweet side but also very creamy and has a good, quick melt on the tongue.
I’m not as keen on this as the Spicy Aztec, but since it’s the same chocolate base, it’s a good place to finish off the review. The chocolate notes are rather middle of the road - there’s nothing that jumps out at me like coffee or balsam or raisins. It’s just nice and thoroughly chocolatey. It doesn’t feel like a “better for me” compromise because it’s organic. It’s smoothly conched and nicely tempered. 8 out of 10
The Organic bar line from Lake Champlain also includes milk chocolate, with a plain bar and a sea salt and almonds bar. The Lake Champlain website offers a kit of all four bars as an introduction or you can order them singly. They also make little squares, which I’ve tasted at the Fancy Food Show before, but to be honest, I don’t care for very thin chocolate, l like it a little thicker ... these bars are the ideal thickness.
My hesitations on Lake Champlain as a whole are that it’s not that easy to find and a bit expensive (and I don’t like the logo much). Of course it’s good quality, nicely packaged and all natural, so you get what you pay for. If you’re tentative about them, keep an eye on their Sale Page on their website, sometimes there are insane deals in there (nothing at this writing though).
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The mint market is well, full of mints. So what’s a company gonna do to distinguish themselves from the crowded field? Ver thinks it’s hit on the right balance of novelty, quality and qualifications. Their line of six different flavors are vegan, Kosher and gluten free, nut free and all-natural (and featuring many organic ingredients).
The blue tin was predictably Peppermint, their original flavor. Unlike a mint like Altoids, these aren’t blindingly strong. Just simply, well, mints. The texture is pleasant. Not chalky, but a little crumbly but sufficiently dense. The intensity of the mint grows (though sometimes one mint may be stronger than another) as it dissolves and leaves a breath-freshening coolness when it’s gone.
WinterMint is what I’m guessing is wintergreen since it features wintergreen oil in the ingredients. I think wintergreen flavor is undervalued in our culture and I blame Pepto Bismol for giving us the association of wintergreen with being sick. (Some additional blame goes to Ben Gay for making us think of locker-rooms and old people.) Upon reading a little more on the subject, wintergreen is not to be taken lightly as it can be toxic in very large doses, which you really can’t achieve with a tin.
This was like one of those big Canada pink mints (wintergreen is also called Canada mint), but not as chalky. Smooth and peppery, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There were also little bits of real peppermint leaves in the pastilles.
With my motion sickness difficulties I tend to eat a lot of Ginger candies. I like to strike a balance between their spiciness, the amount of actual ginger in the candy and of course the overall taste. Too much spice and I can’t maintain my intake (though fanning my mouth often takes my mind off of nausea ... so that’s effective).
These crazy mints have a lot of ginger flavor in them and burn on my tongue right away. It dissipates after a moment and I forget about the inital scalding by the time I eat another one.
They have two kinds of ginger in them: ground ginger root and ginger flavor. I think ginger goes particularly well with Maple Syrup.
It’s definitely cinnamon, completely spicy, kind of woodsy and a little sweet. There are peppermint leaves in this one too, but I think it would have been better to throw a few little bits of cinnamon in there while they were at it. But they didn’t ask me.
For a while I was pronouncing this as Very Mints ... not realizing, first that they were spelled Ver with no I in there after the Ver. It wasn’t until I got the VerMONT connection that I understood the name. I still think Very Mints is a good name, too. I might start calling the state it Very Mont.
The two flavors that set this set apart are the flavor combos. This one, Chai features Fair Trade teas from Honest Tea. Of course this means that this ingredients simply say that it contains “Organic Chai Tea” which is a pretty vague thing, kind of like “cake mix”. I can taste a bit of the black tea background, some cinnamon and strong clove, a little nutmeg. I’d have liked, of course, more cardamom and perhaps vanilla notes. And less clove. Just make a clove mint and leave clove out of the other candies.
It’s pretty good and a nice change of pace from the others. The spicy notes are refreshing and I think gives me pleasant breath.
The last flavor is Cafe Express which features Fair Trade coffee from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The ingredients list both coffee and natural coffee flavor and they certainly smell like sweet, sweet coffee. The flavor is a little less intense, mellow and coffee-ish. On the good side of that, there’s no coffee breath afterwards. On the bad side, they feel more like candy than a breath mint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that since they’re pretty much gone now.
Overall I prefer the texture of these to Altoids, they’re a little smoother and the binder gums in there give them a very slight slippery feel on the tongue as they dissolve. The flavors are more pleasing than the similarly-textured Pastiglie Leone and completely different from the also-vegan friendly St. Claire’s Organic Mints.
Curiosities & other facts associated with these mints:
The mints are made in Canada.
The tins are made in China.
They contain “pure Vermont spring water” as an ingredient ... which means they must be shipping it up to Canada.
They contain two thickening gums - agar (derived from seaweed) and gum tragacanth (which I sometimes think is related to the coelocanth but is actually from some legume plant - okay, I’ve made that joke before ... but you may have missed it the first time!).
They contain organic tapioca syrup instead of the usual corn syrup (which is often GMO) and organic maple sugar syrup.
Each mint contains 5 calories - there are approximately 40 in each tin.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since the subject came up last with with the news that Mars was using animal-sourced rennet in their whey (and then they later rethought that and reversed it), I thought I’d address dietary restrictions and candy. There are a lot of candies that contain animal-sourced ingredients. Besides dairy products, one of the most common is gelatin. Gelatin is found in gummis but it’s also found in Altoids. So what’s a vegetarian to use to freshen their breath (besides just brushing their teeth)?
St. Claire’s Organics is an entire line of compressed sugar sweets in mint, herb, spice and tart flavors. Not only are they suitable for vegans, they’re also wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and fancy-free.
The St. Claire’s Organic’s line of Sweets & Mints aren’t really that attractive out of the tins, but they rather remind me of Brittany Spaniels: All peppy and speckled.
Peppermints (tin & box) - much stronger than you’d think, but a darker, less “clean” tasting peppermint than an Altoid, more woodsy.
Licorice (tin) - darkly flavored, the molasses and licorice notes blend well. A little sweet, but that’s usually the way real licorice is.
Wintermints (tin) - sassy wintergreen flavor, rather like toothpaste. Not super strong, but there’s a lingering tingly feeling on the lips if you eat a lot of them.
Spearmints (tin & box) - nice and round with a good herby taste, fresh.
Cocoa Sweets (box) - I really thought these were going to be lame (like expecting chocolate and getting a Tootsie Roll). The little balls didn’t have the creamy round flavors of chocolate, just a pleasant sweet cocoa taste. By themselves, they were okay, but when eaten with coffee, there were really quite nice.
Ginger Sweets (tin) - spicy and woodsy. I really liked crunching on them. They had a nice light burn from the ginger and were well recieved on the whale watching boats. Really spicy, but incredibly addictive.
Throat Soother - Slippery Elm may be the active ingredient to sooth achy, stinging throats but it’s the menthol that upstages everything with its strong flavor. Woodsy flavors and cooling effect on the tongue is soothing, but also a bit exciting. I think I still prefer Thayer, but not for efficacy-reasons, just taste. Some people don’t like that sticky-glycerine feeling that Thayer’s has (that’s the soothing, people!) so maybe St. Claire’s is a good alternative.
Tummy Soothers - this little guy is what’s been holding up this review. I’ve been heavily boat-testing them. I go whale watching a lot. (In case you didn’t know.) I’ve never taken anything for it except herbals, of course I’ve also had some bad times on boats. This year has been pretty good. A few queasy days on 8-10 foot swells, but no mishaps. The St. Claire’s Tummy Soothers are big pills that looks rather like vitamins. Kind of smells like it too. It’s woodsy with strong molasses, ginger and licorice flavors. It dissolves pleasantly, I usually eat two at a time, tucking one inside each cheek.
St. Claire’s Organics also come in Tarts. How many little candy tarts out there that are organic and free of all those other things? The ones in boxes are little spheres and the ones in the tins are small tablets.
Raspberry Tarts (tin) - immediately tart and rather smooth but the raspberry flavor is far too floral, it tastes an awful lot like violet to me. I have no problem with violet as a flavor, but not in my tarts.
Lemon Tarts (tin) - these are super yellow, after being carried around in my bag for a while they discolored the little waxed paper insert. Tart with a good sour bite and zesty note. By far this was a no-compromise organic tart candy.
Tangy Tangerine Tarts (box) - mild and orangey. I didn’t get a lot of tangerine in there and it seemed much sweeter than the others.
Grape Tarts - pretty much one note, not quite the plain malic acid, it’s a mild and tasty “grape” flavor.
Green Apple Tarts - kind of woodsy and a bit like real apple juice with a sharp tanginess.
Key Lime Tarts - the lime here is just too mild, and too much like real lime and not Key lime.
Juicy Watermelon Tarts - excellent round and floral watermelon flavor with a good proportion of sour.
Sweet Peach Tarts - I’ve never been fond of peach flavored things, this isn’t much of an exception.
Whew! That was a lot of different flavors!
I give the whole line a 7 out of 10 (could be a little zingier), but the winners in my book were the Licorice and Ginger Sweets and I found that I ate all the Lemon Tarts first out of all the tarts, so they get an 8 out of 10. I also really dig the Tummy Soothers and since they have slippery elm in them, I’ll probably use them for aching throats too because I liked the flavor better.
The little boxes of sweets are great for kids, a very small portion in flavors they’ll respond to. The other great thing about St. Claire’s is that they sell the sweets and tarts in bulk at better than half the price so you can refill your tin (so you could get a really cool little package for your kids to keep refilling). The commitment from St. Claire’s to the environment goes further, with 10% of their profits donated to the Ethno Medicine Preservation Project, which documents medicinal plant traditions with indigenous cultures. The only negatives I have is that I don’t care for the little boxes, I’m not quite sure why, I just don’t respond well to them. They’re hard to reclose securely (I might like a little waxed paper insert or something for extra protection). But the tins are great, simple, easy to open and close (and with a nice saying printed inside the lid). The other negative is even though there’s no gelatin in here, they’re not certified Kosher.
I see these for sale at Whole Foods, Erewhon and other natural food stores, prices probably vary and of course you can order direct from St. Claire’s Organics.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.