Thursday, April 13, 2006
Last fall I got to try Equal Exchange Chocolate. The company has done a good job of balancing respectful business practices with making a good product.
I was excited about these miniatures - the other bars I tried were 3.5 ounces, which is rather sizeable bar. I like a lot of variety in my candy so small pieces (even if I buy a lot of them) help me to maintain my portion control and get some variation. These wee little buddies are only .16 ounces each.
What’s also different about these little bars is that they’re 55% cocoa solids. The other versions of theirs I tried were 70% cocoa in the dark and the 55% had almonds in it. The almond bar I tried really reminded me of the Chocovic Ocumare.
Without the almonds of course I can concentrate more on the chocolate itself. The first thing I notice, besides the beautiful dark glossy sheen, is that it’s sweeter on the tongue. The scent is slightly acidic by very chocolatey. The bar melts quickly on the tongue, releasing some very nice light fruit notes of apricot and cherry blossom. It’s a well rounded chocolate but not too complex and not at all acidic. In my opinion, because of the sweet start, this is a dark bar children might like.
The only bad thing about these is that you have to buy them by the case if you want them direct from Equal Exchange. They’re about $18 a pound. However, if I were planning a wedding or large event where I wanted to send a tasty message in a little favor, this might be a good choice. You also may start seeing these more at Whole Foods and other retailers as they grow. I actually like this chocolate better than the Endangered Species - the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate feels more decadent (if you can feel decadent with a fair trade, organic, kosher, all natural product).
If you’re interested in ordering, they don’t ship when the weather is warm, so if you don’t get it this month you’ll have to wait until the fall.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
I don’t know what came over me. I bought a bar of white chocolate. I know there are purists out there who don’t think that white chocolate is chocolate at all. But if the stuff that is called mockolate (cocoa solids and hydrogenated or palm oils) can’t be called chocolate because it’s lacking cocoa butter, then this stuff that has cocoa butter but not the cocoa solids can at least be called white chocolate.
Each year, as Easter gets closer, against my better judgment I want white chocolate. I don’t actually like white chocolate, it’s usually so sweet it makes my throat hurt and has some sort of electrical effect on my fillings so as to give me a jolt. But there it is, I get to craving it.
I know it has to do with those molded chocolates that my paternal grandmother used to put out on display at Easter. Little bunnies and molded white chocolate baskets filled with different colored white chocolate lollipops. It always smelled of vanilla, sugar and jelly beans ... far sweeter than anything had a right to be. It was like it was some sort of super-dense sugar confection. I’ve mentioned candy season before, and it’s important to note that Easter is the final holiday in Candy Season - so it’s probably the reason that I felt the need to gorge on the highest sugar content products available to me.
But I’d heard that the Green & Black’s Creamy Vanilla White Chocolate Bar was different. So, I bought one at Whole Foods. Rationalizing the whole time that I was doing it for you, dear readers. I was taking the white chocolate bullet for you, so that you might avoid it.
I opened the wrapper and instead of being greeted by something that looked like paraffin, it was creamy colored and flecked with real bits of vanilla. It smelled milky and sweet, but not sticky. A mix of cognac, butter and honey.
The first ingredient is still sugar (well, organic raw cane sugar), but it boasts 30% cocoa content and 28% milk. If you like the dairy milk flavor of European milk chocolates, like Cadbury, then I think you’ll like this bar. It’s sweet, but flavorful, with a good hit of bourbon notes in the vanilla. The bar melts smoothly and velvety on the tongue and leaves me wanting more.
I ate the whole bar yesterday at work, which is saying a lot. I don’t usually consume something this big in one sitting. (Even an eight hour sitting.) Something about a rainy day makes me want to snuggle up with a nice bar of sugar, dairy and fat. Mmmm.
This bar has done something dangerous, it’s changed my mind about white chocolate. Luckily, I’ve only come to the conclusion that I like Green & Black’s White Chocolate. I can’t give it a ten ... let’s face it, I’m prejudiced ... I just can’t do it. If I cave in and buy another one, I’ll come back here and update the rating. The true test is whether I want it after Easter is over.
Note: Though Green & Black’s is a UK company, the bar was made in Italy. Green & Black’s is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes. This bar is organic, but not fair trade certified.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
I was searching for this bar for a while. I’ve only tried one other milk chocolate bar from Dagoba (the Chai), so I was curious to see what their plain milk chocolate was like without all the other embellishments. But I think that milk chocolate shines well with some textured interest like nuts, so this was next on my list of bars to try. However, I didn’t see it at Whole Foods or Wild Oats. This bar was given to me by Amy, the neighbor.
This bar is milk chocolate (high cocoa solids content at 37%) with hazelnuts and crisped rice.
The Dagoba milk chocolate is insanely smooth. It’s very milky and has a slight floral note to it, maybe orange blossom, but it’s not soapy. It is, however, very sweet. The dairy part of the milk chocolate is a little sticky and tastes like powdered milk, though much better than a Cadbury. The crisps in the bar are fun, but few and far between. I counted three or four per “stick” of the bar. I’m not asking for them to be as dense as a Nestle Crunch, but a little more frequent would be nice. The hazelnuts were similarly scarce, though I think they imparted some of their nutty flavor to the rest of the bar nicely.
I think I wanted more nuts, or maybe something a little more from such an expensive bar. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of the other bars I’ve tried (Roseberry) but this one didn’t quite sing for me. It’s still a solid performer and I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered it to me, but I doubt I’ll buy it again.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
There are a lot of good things about chocolate. It tastes good and in moderation it could actually be a good addition to a normal diet. But one of the suprising things is that chocolate may actually be good for tropical economies and ecosystems as well. See more here.
There are quite a few free trade/organic chocolate companies now, but one that’s making the best inroads with consumers, including kids, is Endangered Species Chocolate Company. (I have no data to back this up, just my awareness of people’s affection for it and that I see it in far more stores than other bars of the same type.) They have a huge selection of bars and chocolate formats, good packaging and a pretty good distribution network. Oh, and they taste good, too!
Because Endangered Species has such a large selection of bars, I thought I’d start small. I saw these little impulsive tasting squares called Bug Bites that came in both dark and milk chocolate. They’re obviously a little bit of chocolate for the kids, but I’m a kid at heart and I love bugs.
The little .35 ounce squares are Fair Trade certified, organic and Kosher. The little nibble has a butterfly on it and though the package says something about a bug trading card, I didn’t get any in either of my packages. The milk chocolate is very sweet and in the style of the European dairy milk chocolate bars. It has a good milky, woodsy smell, but is probably too sweet for me. It’s exceptionally smooth and I’m sure will please children quite readily.
The dark square was exceptional. Very fruity, with some apricot and cherry notes it also had some woodsy balsam qualities. It was buttery and had a slightly bitter finish that wasn’t too dry.
Though not all the bars are completely Fair Trade or completely organic Endangered Species Chocolate Company donates 10% of profits to protect wildlife (including those animals featured on the bars). Inside the wrapper is a profile of the animal on the package, in this case it is the bat and notes that of the 45 species in the United States alone, 7 of them are endangered.
I was specifically looking for this “Bat Bar” which is 75% cocoa content and cocoa nibs. I hadn’t seen it at Whole Foods, where I’ve been picking up my other organic bars. Whereas the other nibby products I’ve tried like the Michel Cluizel Noir au Grue de Cacao and Max Brenner Dark Chicao have large nib pieces in them, this bar had kind of crushed bits in it. This has its advantages, but it also creates a different sort of bar.
First, this is a very dark bar. At 75% cocoa, it’s already pretty dense. Because the nibs are crushed smaller they impart a bit of a grain to the chocolate that I didn’t detect at all in the Bug Bites, so I’ll credit that to the nibs. The nibs add a wonderful variation in texture though, with a good fruity burst in spots and sometimes and unpleasant astringency. Nibs are pretty high in fiber too, so eating a serving gives you 3 grams of fiber! I wish the entire bar wasn’t quite so sweet though.
I think if I’m going for a nibby fix I’m going to stick with the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs ... but the wide availability and decent price of the Engangered Species bar would make it a close second.
Theobroma cacao, the cocoa plant, is a rather strange thing. The pods that produce cocoa beans grow on strange trees in the tropical and sub-tropical jungles of North and South America and have been successfully cultivated all over the middle of the planet since the discovery of the New World.
Like coffee, cocoa wants to grow in the shade. The cocoa trees are rather squat and unassuming looking and need the tall canopy of the larger trees. What this means to the jungle ecosystem is that a cocoa plantation looks suspiciously like a jungle ... tall trees, a good deal of leaf litter on the ground and of course a good variety of critters to keep the cocoa plants pollinated. Plant cocoa trees too close together and you’re asking for diseases and of course it exhausts the already weak soils of the rain forest so you’d be obliged to fertilize.
A properly balanced cocoa plantation can be relatively manageable with a good hands-off approach. Maintain the trees, control disease quickly by removing infested trees and you can have a sustainable crop that keeps the rain forest intact for generations to come. The tall hardwood trees of the canopy can be sustainably harvested as well and other fruit trees can be planted as well. Birds and beasts can thrive along with the jungle as a whole and the humans merely as caretakers. It’s a Utopian ideal, and with the help of Fair Trade and other small scale cooperative initiatives that support the future of the forests means we can have our chocolate cake and eat it, too.
There’s no reason that reasonably priced chocolate can’t be produced from cacao grown in a sustainable fashion that preserves the local ecosystem and the local people’s autonomy. In fact, the future of the tropical regions may depend on global demand for agricultural products like coffee and cocoa that can be grown this way. At the moment the solution is not to buy more chocolate but to make an effort to support those chocolate products that work with farmer co-ops, operate under Fair Trade policies and of course support sustainable agriculture.
You can read more about these projects and the theories behind sustainable cocoa plantations here:
Friday, January 13, 2006
While up at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA last month I discovered that there was another factory in the industrial park: Thompson’s Brands. I’d never heard of their chocolate before but Tomi, who gave me my tour at Jelly Belly said it was worth the stop. I realized when I got into the little shop that I’d probably seen and had their products dozens of times. They seem to specialize in foil wrapped chocolates and have a HUGE selection of them for all occasions at the factory store.
What caught my eye though were these cute little 1 ounce bars of organic chocolate. It’s getting easier to find organic chocolate these days, but it is pretty difficult to find them in smaller portions (most bars come in the 2.5-3.5 ounce size). They also had a large variety at 89 cents each I picked up one of each. I’m all about getting wholesome food that doesn’t pollute the planet. The big challenge has always been getting it at a price that’s reasonable (I’m willing to pay more, but not that much more) for a good quality product. Luckily Thompson has found a solid middle ground with price and taste.
70% Dark Chocolate: their darkest bar, this one has a nice sheen and good snap. The smell is chocolaty and slightly fruity. Upon tasting it there’s a distinct cherry note to it and some other woodsy qualities. A little bitter, but smooth. It also has a smoky charcoal note to it, that I detected in all the bars; it’s not an unpleasant taste, just a little different. Their website says that all their beans are from South America and I understand that a smaller variety of source beans can give chocolates a very distinctive taste (as witnessed by the single origin bars I’ve tried). It’s an exceptionally buttery chocolate and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
50% Dark Chocolate: this bar was very sweet, though had the same buttery quality of the others. The melt was a little less smooth with a more detectable grain. I didn’t care much for the “chocolateness” of it, it felt a little watered down by the sugar.
Milk Chocolate Almond: the Thompson milk chocolate is sweet, not terribly sticky feeling and has that European dairy flavor to it from using powdered milk. The combination of nuts and this style of chocolate gives it a rather twangy series of notes that are compelling and satisfying.
Milk Chocolate Caramel: this was the only bar that I think I could shovel down like “candy”. The caramel center isn’t terribly big, not a large reservoir like I’ve had in bars like the Caramello or Hershey’s with Caramel, but the caramel is nicely caramelized with a slight grain to it. Not runny but not quite chewy, it’s a nice balance for the milky bar because of the good hit of salt.
Milk Chocolate Truffle: when I think truffle, I think buttery smooth, soft centers. That’s not this. This is a firm truffle, more like a Frango. It’s not bad, smooth and lighter than the milk chocolate outside, but I prefer the plain dark, caramel or almond bar to this.
If you’re looking to indulge your children with chocolate but with an eye towards keeping organic, you also might want to explore their line of novelty items that include foil wrapped chocolates. Their pandas are pretty ding-dang cute. Unfortunately I don’t know what stores carry these items. Pop a comment here if you’ve seen Thompson’s in your stores. GroovyCandies.com seems to carry quite a bit of their traditional line. Thompson is also the company that makes the Adora Calcium Tablets.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Name: Roseberry, Lavender and Xocolatl
I know it seems strange that I got this on the same trip as the dismal SunDrops, but it’s true. I tried the Dagoba Chai bar last spring and really enjoyed it. That was a milk chocolate bar and I was very interested in the more botanical and spice flavored bars, but alas, Whole Foods does not seem to carry them. So, the trip to Wild Oats was most fortunate in the end. All the bars contain 59% cocoa mass chocolate. It’s extra smooth and very buttery. The chocolate itself isn’t too sweet and is a nice backdrop for the flavor additions.
Roseberry - Dark Chocolate, Raspberries & Rosehips. 59% cocoa mass chocolate. This was not one of the bars I was most interested in, but the concept of rosehips was rather intriguing. I used to try to eat rose hips when I was a kid because I’d heard they were good for you. Though they didn’t really taste very good. This bar has a wonderful fruity and flowery aroma. The raspberries provide a dash of zesty flavor. However, I found the raspberry seeds incredibly annoying. They’re big and when chewing or dissolving such a smooth bar, a big seed was a rather unpleasant finding.
Lavender - Dark Chocolate, Lavender & Blueberries. 59% cocoa mass chocolate. I’ve heard of a few lavender infused chocolates and even tried the New Tree Tranquility bar (which was milk chocolate) and still believed that there would be a better lavender chocolate bar out there. Well, this might be it. I was a little leary of the blueberries in the mix as I thought maybe they’d give the chocolate too much of a fruit punch flavor. Of the three I tried, this was by far my favorite. Where the Roseberry has gritty things in it, this bar is smooth through and through, with little chewy bits of blueberries. The lavender gives the bar a soft essence, a lingering top note that doesn’t overpower the smokey and woodsy flavors of the chocolate itself. Not sticky sweet or cloying, it’s just an incredibly pleasant bar with a good, slightly dry finish.
Xocalatl - dark chocolate, chilies & nibs. 74% cocoa mass chocolate. The darkest of the three bars, this one was much more chocolatey. Not quite as buttery, it still melted quickly and had a very nice flowery note at first, like orange blossoms. That quickly gives way to a peppery heat that sizzles on the tongue as the buttery chocolate melts away and brings out some very woodsy, earthy tones. The finish is slightly dry with some lingering plum notes and of course the warm burn in the throat. The most interesting part of this bar is that it contains no cinnamon. Most of the other “spicy” chocolate bars I’ve tried have cinnamon (and sometimes cloves) in them. What’s cool about this one is that it’s all New World spices (okay, maybe that’s not true ... seems there’s some nutmeg in there).
I am completely in love with Dagoba now and I want to try everything of theirs. However, at $2.79 for a 2 ounce bar, it’s freaking pricey stuff and I don’t plan on buying much of it anytime soon. I’m curious about their single origin line and there are still about 20 bars that I haven’t tried yet. Maybe I’ll splurge via mailorder on one of their tasting kits except for the fact that it’s more expensive on their website than in stores. Sigh. I need a corporate sponsor.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Friday, October 28, 2005
I was really excited about doing this review. While I enjoy candy of all kinds, especially chocolate, it’s hard sometimes to balance that with not destroying the earth and human lives. Fair Trade is only recently developing as a mainstream option for many products. For those of you not familiar with the concept, first you have to remember that cocoa pods from which chocolate is made are grown in tropical regions all over the planet and require a large amount of space and time to cultivate. Those regions also happen to be ones where farmers are particularly poor and have fewer economic opportunities. I cannot claim to be an expert on this subject, but it seems to me that the folks growing cocoa, which is not necessary for life, should at least be paid a living wage for it and not be exposed to terrible working conditions. Since chocolate and candy is a luxury item, it seems to make the most sense to start with it and coffee and teas as a way of changing the lives of those in these areas.
Of course the most important thing about sending a message with your pocketbook is that the product be good. Good intentions are nice, but if the chocolate isn’t good enough for me to want more, I’m not going to buy it just because it’s the right thing to do because wasting food is also bad. (The next step, of course, is to have it easily accessible, too.) So, instead of skipping to the bottom for the verdict, I’ll say that these are worth the trouble of finding them.
The bars are not only fair trade, but made from all organic ingredients, including the sugar (which is organic raw and unrefined cane sugar) and nuts. Also, for those who are wondering, it’s certified Kosher. Inside the plain wrapper (which has some wonderful information inside about Fair Trade and Equal Exchange) the bar itself is sealed in a mylar like white plastic wrapper that seals out odors and keeps the chocolate fresh. The chocolate is made it Switzerland.
Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds: a wonderful aroma arose when I opened this package. The chocolate is shiny and smooth and has a great snap and smelled chocolately, a little sweet and perfumy. Inside are lightly crushed (chopped?) almonds. The chocolate itself is 55% cocoa mass and has some wonderful fruity notes like you’d find in a good red wine. Not overly smoky or dry, it has a nice smooth finish was the cocoa mass is exceptionally smooth. For me, this bar rivals the Chocovic Ocumare.
Organic Very Dark Chocolate: incredibly dense, with immediate earthy tones, this is a very dark bar with 71% cocoa mass. The bar has a good snap and an incredibly smooth melt. There’s a noticeable acid note as it yields on the tongue and gives up more fruity flavors like apricot and cherry. The finish is dry and not at all sticky or sweet. But like I experienced with the Chocovic Guaranda, there are no middle notes to round out the flavor.
Organic Milk Chocolate: for fans of dairy milk chocolates, such as Cadbury, you’ll be very happy with this bar. It’s very much in keeping with the traditional Swiss milk chocolate. The first ingredient is not chocolate (that’s 38% though), it’s Whole Milk Powder. So, this is milky stuff, kind of sticky and though not overly sweet, it’s not a good association for me. That aside, this chocolate is exceptionally smooth and has nice cocoa undertones give the whole bar a toasty feeling. I think what does that is that one of the ingredients is ground hazelnuts ... not a lot of it, but it’s a nice nutty complement.
Ratings: Milk & Very Dark - 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.