Monday, April 7, 2014
They’re 3.5 ounces and priced competitively with other premium chocolate bars. Equal Exchange (I reviewed some Easter items on Friday) is a cooperative using fair trade standards to create a whole store filled with chocolate, coffee, tea and other goods.
This bar features organic freeze dried raspberries in organic and fair trade dark chocolate. The cacao is sourced from fair trade cooperatives in The Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Peru with sugar from Paraguay and vanilla from Madagascar. There’s no soy lecithin and it’s considered gluten free though it may contain traces of milk, hazelnuts, cashews and coconut. Equal Exchange makes their chocolate in Switzerland.
The bar is wrapped simply, in thin foil and then a thicker paper overwrap (the inside had all the sourcing details about the bar).
The bar is glossy and attractive, with some bumps on the bottom from the raspberry bits. The molding is good as is the temper, it’s very consistent and I noticed no voids or swirling in any of the bars (which can happen with inclusions). It smells rich, though barely sweet. Like cherries, coffee and honey. Once snapped in half though, the raspberry scent, with its floral notes becomes much more noticeable. The chocolate is sweet on the tongue and has a good, cool melt with a creamy texture. The raspberry bits are crunchy and tangy, though the seeds in the center can be a bit tougher.
It’s a very easy to eat bar, with a lot more acidic tang than most other 60% bars. I don’t care much for the grassy, woody note of the seeds, but that’s berries for you.
The Equal Exchange Organic Lemon Ginger Chocolate with Black Pepper is 55% cacao, so it’s the lightest chocolate intensity of the bunch. The package gives the identical sourcing info for the major ingredients but doesn’t say where the lemon, ginger and black pepper is from, though they’re all organic.
It’s nice to see lemon used with chocolate, it’s not as common as orange, but can still combine well, especially with dark chocolate. The addition of ginger and black pepper makes this the most unconventional flavor in the Equal Exchange line. This package looked the same on the outside as the other bars, but instead of a foil inner liner, it’s in some sort of compostable mylar. I also noticed that the nutritional panel listed this one at only 200 calories a portion, not 230 ...which actually sounds more plausible. (But calorie calculations are fraught with error, as the basis for it is over 100 years old, so really they’re just a guide.)
Though the bar contains no milk, it doesn’t look like a particularly dark chocolate bar. It smells woodsy and fresh, with a little note of rosemary and cedar.
The melt of the dark chocolate is very smooth, but I did start to detect a bit of sugar grain ... this was from the crystallized ginger in the bar. The lemon is a bit strong, rather astringent at first, but it dissipates. The chocolate is mild, woodsy and of course creamy. The ginger and black pepper hit come in slowly as a hint of warmth in the throat. The sugar from the crystallized ginger rather disguised the ginger kick at first, then it came forward.
It’s a satisfying bar.
The final bar is the Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate with Coconut 60%. Like the Raspberry bar, this one has a thin silver foil wrapping.
It is also 60% cacao content and contains only one additional ingredient to the chocolate, the organic coconut flakes.
This bar reminded me most of Passover, which I’ve often thought of as Macaroon Season, as coconut macaroons (often dipped in chocolate) are a typical treat since they can be made without only coconut, chocolate, egg whites and sugar to follow the Kosher for Passover rules.
The bar has a lot of coconut in it, and the silky chocolate goes well with it. There are cherry and raisin notes to go with the more tropical scent of the coconut and hints of the Madagascar vanilla bean.
The exciting development this year for Equal Exchange is their new designation of their dark chocolates as Kosher for Passover. Equal Exchange chocolates that are marked pareve (the 3.5 oz or 100 g line and dark chocolate minis) may be purchased before Passover and consumed on Passover according to Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. The specific bars from Equal Exchange that qualify for this designation are: Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean Bar, Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds Bar, Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Mint with a Delicate Crunch Bar, Organic Orange Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Very Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper, Organic Dark Chocolate Minis.
It’s interesting that before this, there were no certified fair trade chocolates that were designated Kosher for Passover. Which is odd, because Passover is all about the commemoration of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. The best news is that these are tasty and come in a pretty wide variety of flavor options.
CNN has been covering modern day slavery, including in the cocoa trade in a series of articles, segments and documentaries.
Friday, April 4, 2014
Equal Exchange is cooperative that sells products with fair trade ingredients and/or labor. Many of these are products where the farmers that grow them live in poverty, lack educational opportunities. Things like coffee, tea, bananas and of course, cocoa. These are all grown in tropical regions and depend on a high degree of manual labor. With the chocolate industry, there’s the added issue of slavery of hundreds of thousands of children on farms, mostly in Western Africa.
Equal Exchange also makes its own chocolate, which uses fair trade certified ingredients, not just ethically sourced cocoa. The result isn’t charity, these are real, sustainable products that you can buy at a fair price that are actually good quality as well.
They’ve been making chocolate for a while, but only more recently has it become more mainstream ... and now they have holiday packaged foil-wrapped eggs.
Equal Exchange Milk Chocolate Foil Eggs are 41% cacao, which is as dark as some semisweet chocolate sold these days. The ingredients sound delicious: cacao butter, whole milk powder, cane sugar, chocolate liquor, unrefined white cane sugar, ground hazelnuts and vanilla. The ingredients are also fair trade (except for the hazelnuts and milk) and all organic. There’s no soy, no lecithin, no other fillers.
The melt is smooth and creamy. It’s not at all grainy but very fatty and thick on the tongue. The flavor is interesting and not something I initially liked. It’s deep and not terribly sweet. The milk flavors are definitely more on the powdered milk, flirting with the cheesy side. But the roasted flavors of the hazelnuts balances that. The chocolate itself is woodsy with a sort of green banana note to it. It sounds weird.
I can’t stop eating these. I actually did stop, when I ran out. Then I realized they also sent this to me:
Yes, that’s over a pound and a half of mini milk chocolate bars. In a handy dispenser box. I have it on my desk, like it’s dispensing tissues during allergy season.
The Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Foil Eggs are also quite rich. They feature the same high fat, though in this case there are no nuts and no dairy at all. The 55% cacao content is rounded out only with sugar and vanilla beans. Like the Milk Chocolate, it’s all organic, but in this case it’s also all fair trade certified. There’s no soy in there, no GMOs though there may be traces of milk, peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and/or pecans. Though it doesn’t say on the ingredients, they should be gluten free. Finally, they’re vegan. While there’s not a lot in there, there are a lot of folks these could satisfy. ]
The 55% cacao content makes these quite mild. They smell woodsy, with a light cherry note. The chocolate has a good, silky melt with a light dry finish to it. The flavor profile is all over the map. I taste coffee, cherries, figs and bananas and sometimes even a hint of malt ... though that could have been its storage adjacent to my milk chocolate pieces. There’s a light bitterness in there, nothing too difficult to conquer, but might be enough to keep children away.
You could put these in front of anyone without any information about the origins or disposition and they’d never know that this is more transparently source, ethically accountable stuff. It’s just tasty. As you can tell, I preferred the milk chocolate version, but the dark is a wonderful middle of the road chocolate that’s not too dark for wide appeal.
The only hesitations for most folks will be where to find them and how much you pay. Equal Exchange has them on their website for $6.99 per package, which is pretty steep compared to their very competitively priced bars. (For some reason foil wrapping just amps up the price of any chocolate, good quality or bad.) Some Whole Foods Markets and other natural product stores may carry them as well. The fall back is always the little mini-bars, which are also extremely cute and a bit better deal per ounce, but come in this 23.8 ounce box (yes, a pound a half) for $35.00 plus shipping. It’s hard to compare that to R.M. Palmer (which isn’t even real chocolate, let alone sustainably sourced), but Godiva or Lindt may be a good comparison on both price and ingredients.
On Monday I’ll have a review of Kosher for Passover chocolates, also from Equal Exchange.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
There’s a shop by my office that has very wide inventory of them, so I’ve been able to try a few Chuao varieties. The Chuao Orange A Go Go Chocopod is a rather standard combination of flavors, orange and dark chocolate.
The little choco pods are shaped like a cocoa pod. It’s about 2.75 inches long and only .39 ounces. Not even a full portion of chocolate, but at 50 calories and one dollar, it’s a good way to control your portions.
The texture is very smooth, the chocolate is not particularly dark at only 60%, but nicely rich. Even though it’s not very dark, Chuao does not use milk fillers in its dark chocolate, so this is considered a vegan bar (though is made in a facility that processes milk, nuts and wheat). The ingredients list orange peel and orange extract along with bergamot extract. There were a few pieces of orange peel that I detected in my portion, but not large pieces. More like tiny coconut flakes would be. The orange flavor, though, was very well moderated. Not so strong as to create an oily or bitter note, but not too subtle to be overpowered by the woodsy and rather coffee notes of the chocolate.
It’s pricey if you’re picking this up for anything other than a sample before committing to a large bar. The large bars are 2.8 ounces and about $5 retail ($1.79 per ounce) and these work out to about $2.56 per ounce, even when you buy a box of 36 on the Chuao website. However, they’re a fun favor, if you’re considering something for a shower or wedding, especially since they’re rather gender neutral.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Lindt Gold Bunny Hazelnut is a new introduction that’s sadly not available in the United States. I saw an announcement about it a couple of months ago and put it on my London shopping list. Not only did I find it, they were on sale, two for £5 ... which is still pretty pricey at $4.25 with the exchange rate at the time.
Honestly, I never read past the name of the product and I was sold. So, I didn’t know quite what to expect, I simply assumed that this was going to be an giandiua product, a sort of milk chocolate with hazelnut paste blended in for an extra rich texture.
The bottom label on the foil covered rabbit explained that it was milk chocolate with hazelnut pieces. It’s actually 20% hazelnuts while the chocolate is 30% cocoa solids and then another 14% milk solids. In addition, there’s a touch of malt extract (I don’t know what that means when it comes to gluten status). There’s no actual allergen statement, just bolded items on the ingredients which include dairy, soy, hazelnuts, and barley plus traces of almonds.
The bunny looks a little odd, with the variations in the color, but oh, my goodness it smells great. It’s a roasted hazelnut scent that just makes my mouth water. The ears are nearly solid, so the first bite was quite a treat. The chocolate is a bit softer than the Lindt Dark, though their regular Milk Bunny is also on the soft side and also has a touch of malt.
The note of malt is not completely overshadowed by the hazelnut either. It just moderates the sticky sweetness of the Lindt milk chocolate, as do the generous hazelnuts. The hazelnuts are crisp and crunchy with a macadamia or coconut crispness. They’re quite small bits (as they’d need to be for a molded item like this).
This is amazingly good. Easy to eat, filling but not too sweet. It’s expensive ...but really cute and very well executed. I would love to see these introduced in the United States next year. I was poking around online and saw that they may be available in Canada and there’s always a few eBay sellers that do European confectionery imports.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Alongside the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Eggs on shelves this year are the new Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs.
They’re not something particularly Easter-themed, as chocolate covered almonds are already rather egg shaped. But they’re still a welcome item, since some chocolate covered nuts sound less sweet than the many other marshmallowy, sugar-crusted and white chocolate items that typify the holiday fare.
They were expensive, as real nut items often are. I picked up this 7.1 ounce bag for $3.29, which is on par with what I’d usually pay for an item from Whole Foods ... yet I bought this at Target.
They look great. Dark and glossy. They varied in size quite a bit, from a peanut all the way up to an almond in the shell. I expected this, because almonds themselves vary.
The chocolate itself is Hershey’s tangy, cheesy, fudgy chocolate ... it’s odd. But it goes well with the almonds, which are well chosen, nicely crunchy and good quality. I ate the whole bag in about two days, so I must have liked them, but I didn’t feel satisfied by any particular element. The chocolate is gritty and has that Hershey’s burp note ... the almonds are good, but the fact that I spent over $3 on less than half a pound of a Hershey’s chocolate product was a little odd.
Hershey’s had a version of these in their Pieces line that had a candy shell which added to the texture experience, but I haven’t see those in stores for a while.
If you’re a lover of the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almond bar and wanted an Easter version, I think these ratios are good.
The allergen warning only says that these may contain traces of peanuts. They are made with soy, dairy and almonds as well. There’s no note on gluten or wheat at all.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Pariya is an Australian company that imports Iranian confections and distributes them around the world. Since I live in Los Angeles, a lot of Persian favorites are actually made locally, such as Turkish Delight, confetti and Persian-style Nougats. The confections often use pistachios, rosewater, cardamom, saffron and orange blossom as ingredients. However, I have never found Pasmak before.
Pashmak is a form of cotton candy, but made in a different way. Traditional fairy floss or cotton candy is made by spinning melted sugar to create long threads. In Persian (and Asian) confectionery traditions, they made the impossibly thin threads through pulling. This tutorial of how to make it with sugar beautifully illustrates the mathematics of it all ... just pull, double over your coil of melted sugar and repeat until the strands are as thin as an angel’s hair.
The big difference with this Pashmak, though, is that it’s made with sesame paste. So it’s not just spun sugar, it’s a lighter-than-air halvah. The ingredients list is very short: sugar, sesame, flour, vegetable oil, orange blossom extract and natural colors. It’s triple packaged, inside the thick, frosted zipper bag is a sealed cellophane and then another bag inside there. Moisture is the enemy of this candy.
So, what is this impossibly light halva actually like? It’s impossibly light, but strangely dense and heavy.
The fibers pour out of the bag in clumps, it’s as if an edible pashmina shawl has been shredded and pulled into packets of strands. It’s not sticky in the slightest, and has a light orange blossom scent to it, mixed with a note of nigella seeds.
The texture is like cashmere, soft but heavy. The strands stay together, though don’t stick. It dissolves quickly with a light floral flavor, a slight bergamot note towards the end. The sesame flavors are light and clean; it all feels a lot more substantial than pure sugar cotton candy. Late in the dissolve, there’s a little creamy but grainy residue, which I’m guessing is the sesame. It leaves it a little more filling than just a plain sugar candy.
One of the drawbacks of this is how difficult it is to eat and how messy it is. I loved the flavor, but there’s no real way to portion it easily. My method for consumption was to pull out a bit with a fork and put it in a little bowl (as shown) and eat it with my fingers or that fork. I shouldn’t end up with dirty dishes when I’m done eating my candy. I can see this is being used as an ingredient with other confections more than a confection on its own. The package suggests layering it with berries in a martini glass. I could see using it on top of a teacake as well.
It was very expensive, so not something I’m likely to buy again, even though I was curious about the other flavors. It comes in chocolate, pistachio, saffron and vanilla.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
While most hard candy is considered “old people candy”, Jolly Rancher really sets itself apart as an intense sweet for all ages.
Most of us encounter Jolly Rancher candies as little twist wrapped pieces in a bowl. So when I saw this little rectangular pack at Target, I thought it was an interesting way to format the iconic candy. Jolly Rancher Strawberry and Green Apple Hard Candy has 1.2 ounces and 9 pieces inside. Each is wrapped in a piece of clear cellophane, easy to carry, easy to share and with just two flavors.
The pieces are different from what I’m accustomed to with Jolly Rancher candies. They’re not little rods, they’re squares. The ingredients are also slightly different. The original Jolly Rancher hard candies are not aerated, there are no bubbles in them and they’re ever so slightly soft, like some sort of viscous solid. The ingredients list corn syrup first, then sugar. In these little squares, it’s sugar first, then corn syrup. Looking at the candies, they’re not glassy transparent either, so it appears they’ve been aerated slightly.
I started with Green Apple, because that’s the iconic flavor that Jolly Rancher is known for. It’s a tough flavor, because part of its profile is its artificiality. It was definitely tangy and caustic at first, like some sort of chemical peel for my tongue. That faded quickly into the familiar acidic green apple flavor. What was most surprising was the crunch ... I could crunch it. Because the pieces are small, you can crunch away immediately and there’s not tooth-cement issue. Still, the artificial flavor has a sort of of “sour but maybe bitter and salty at the same time” flavor going that was not as good as I recall the truly authentic version having.
Strawberry is quite tart at the beginning and reminded me immediately of sorbet (which often has an extra little pop of lemon juice in it). The flavor is bold and pretty well rounded and only has a slight note of metallic artificiality to it. It’s fresh tasting, overall. I like the crunchy, it’s not too much candy.
My roll had three Green Apple pieces and the rest were Strawberry, so the flavors are not evenly distributed. (Lifesavers always had an order to them, though you might not get a roll that started with the same flavor, they always went in the same progression once you started.) The way the package is made, you have to tear the outer wrapper to get to the inner pieces ... they seem to be glued in there.
I felt these were missing one of the key attributes of Jolly Rancher hard candies, the smooth, syrupy dissolve. Without that, the flavor was just passable, nothing terribly exciting. I might feel differently if they had the Fire Stix in this format, as there really is no other cinnamon hard candy roll out there (since Reed’s disappeared), even if they don’t have the same texture as regular Jolly Rancher. But they’re not a great value and difficult to unwrap.
These are made in Mexico. There’s no nutritional information on the wrapper and nothing, at this time, on the Hershey’s webpage for Jolly Rancher that lists it for this particular version of the product. There is also no statement about allergens, but does contain soy.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Tappsy is a line of cute candies from the Germany sugar-candy company Katjes. Katjes is know best for their licorice, but also do a great job with jelly and gummi candies, often mixed with a marshmallow texture.
The Tappsy line features a simple Panda face with contrasting ears and often nose. Sometimes they’re done in fruity flavors and sometimes in licorice. This particular version. the Katjes Tappsy mit Schoko-Geschmack are chocolate flavored.
They’re not available in the United States, or at least not easily. I got these from a candy swap with Kristian at CandyBrain.de, but I did notice that Sugarfina (more on them here) posted about them after our small quake last week.
They smell like cocoa, like I just opened a can of Nestle Quik. The shapes alternate. Some faces are cocoa with licorice ears and noses, some are licorice faces with cocoa ears. The marshmallow faces are very easy to bite and chew. It’s soft and mild but ultimately bland. The cocoa keeps it from getting too sweet, but also gives it a sort of cardboard flavor as well. The licorice as ears is so mild, all I could tell was that it wasn’t cocoa.
When it came to the licorice faces, the chew was a little more like a Swedish Fish than the dense cross between a marshmallow and a gummi. The flavor is more intense but not great. There are anise notes and a little deep earthy flavor of molasses and licorice. The ears are good here, just a little light texture and the flavor is completely overpowered.
I found them passable, not great. They weren’t strong enough in their licorice flavor and for the cocoa part, I think I would have preferred a true licorice flavor there too, like Griotten. I’ll probably finish the package, and I’ve come to find I rather like them when they’re stale and a little more stiff and chewy.
(If you’d like a review via video and stronger language, check out CandyGurus review of the chocolate and licorice varieties.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.