Friday, May 9, 2008
It’s called MarieBelle Mayan Chocolate Bar 70% single origin Colombian cacao - unsweetened. That’s the extent of the description given. What I found interesting reading the back of the package is that this bar is made in Colombia. And it’s made by Eneh Compania Nacional de Chocolates, and only distributed by MarieBelle (in their bar format, of course). It’s certified Kosher.
Now, besides its origin, it has other tricks up its sleeve. Unlike the 99% & 100% cacao stuff that I’ve been eating for the past two days, this is more like Michel Cluizel’s Cacao Forte 99% truffle. While there’s no added sugar here, there is a lot of milk ... probably more milk than some chocolate bars have chocolate.
The bar may be 70% cacao, but the second ingredient is milk. The whole list of ingredients goes like this: Cocoa mass, skim milk powder, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, soy lecithin, PGPR-90 polyglicerol polyricinoleate (emulsifier) and natural vanilla.
From what I understand from reading the label, what MarieBelle (or Eneh) has done is take some intense, unsweetened chocolate and diluted it with some milk & emulsifiers. Much like coffee becomes much more drinkable to the majority of folks with a bit of milk to temper the bitterness but still allow the flavors to come through, that’s how this bar operates. Milk adds a bit of sweetness with its natural sugars (lactose) as well as simple bulk with its fats & protein. (This bar has about 20% more protein per ounce than straight chocolate but also has 16 grams of carb per ounce though none of them straight sugars.)
Yes, it has PGPR in it too, which I was a little concerned about, as I associate it with cheap chocolate ... it’s a simple filler in most cases, it maintains the texture & mouthfeel of chocolate but of course is far cheaper than actually have chocolate content. In this case, I’m guessing with such high milk content the extra emulsifiers are handy to keep the bar properly integrated.
But all that technical stuff aside, it’s a nice looking bar. It reminds me of a rye crisp, with the little divets in it or maybe a game board that should have little pegs.
The thick plank of chocolate has a nice stiff snap to it. I was concerned with all the extra milk & emulsifiers it’d be fudgy or soft, but it has a texture consistent with a 70% dark bar.
On the tongue it has a very slow and viscous melt. It reminds me of peanut butter. It actually tastes a bit like dark roasted peanuts. It also has those toasted burnt sugar notes, like the crust of a creme brullee.
It’s quite sticky in the mouth, but that makes it feel substantial and long-lasting if savored. The other way to go is to chew it up, but I have to say that makes a big mess in the mouth. Once it melts, it’s clingy. Chocolate with sugar in it wants to fall apart, kind of like fudge. Instead, this is almost like a caramel, it wants to stay together.
I have to say that even though this bar is jarringly different than many chocolate bars, the way they’ve solved the problem of leaving out sugar without being chalky or blazingly bitter is quite pleasing. (Kudos for not going to the sugar alcohols that mess with the texture and of course have those unwanted side effects.) If you’re a fan of peanut butter flavors and textures, this bar won’t feel too unfamiliar.
I don’t know if I’d buy it again for myself, but if you’re on a low carb or no sugar diet (but have no problem with the immense amount of fat) this could be the indulgence you’re looking for. I don’t think this bar is that easy to find. I got mine at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco, you can also order online directly from MarieBelle.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Before I took on this challenge of the all-chocolate chocolate bars, I did take a test to find out if I’m a “supertaster”. People are divided into three categories: nontasters, regular tasters and supertasters.
Our tongues can detect five tastes: sweet, salt, bitter, sour & umami (savory). Nontasters (about 25% of the population) tend to enjoy more intensely flavor things such as super sours and liberally salted products, enjoy fatty & sweet foods while regular tasters (50%) shy away from intensity but sample liberally from all the major tastes & textures equally. Supertasters (25%) dislike stronger bitter & sour things and even high fat content foods. There are all sorts of scientific studies about evolution and how each of these types can be beneficial or detrimental to your ultimate longevity ... or enjoyment of that long life.
Although I have a very keen sense of smell, I am a regular taster. (I like coffee, super sours, broccoli & used to drink pickle juice - though I really like chocolate & cheese, I’m not that keen on other types of fatty foods.) So I figured I might be a good candidate for appreciating the more authentic tastes of the purest chocolate.
Dagoba makes one of the few 100% chocolate bars and the only one that I could find that was organic. It’s called Prima Materia which means, literally, prime matter. It’s usually used to refer to alchemical ideas about the base matter that makes up the universe, that all matter can be changed back into and then reformed. Kind of like stem cells are for living creatures.
In this case, this is the essential chocolate - just beans from Madagascar, ground up and made into a bar.
At only $2.75 retail, it was about the same price as a baking bar (though smaller of course). I got this one as a sample at the Fancy Food Show in January.
The Prima Materia is a dark looking bar, nicely glossy with a solid snap.
The melt on this was a little sticky, I can’t really explain it. Whatever it is, it’s not terribly dry. The melt lets the flavors come out slowly. I taste a bit of cherries and raspberry at the very start, but once it melts a bit more it’s all about the dark mulch of the forest floor.
There’s a light yeasty note in there that reminds me of dark beer. The bitterness is noticeable, but not enough to keep me from eating more pieces. By far this is the most edible of the bars I tried. I wouldn’t say that I’ll be eating a lot of it, but with some almonds or cashews nearby, it’s an acceptable form of entertainment for a while.
It really doesn’t take much to satisfy my chocolate craving either. (Of course then I start craving something else, like a glass of water & some sweet caramels.)
2 ounces - 185 calories per ounce - Kosher
After Christmas this bar, Ghirardelli 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate, was on sale for only $1.25, and found in with the baking products, I thought I’d throw it into the mix as a way to see if I was just being overly picky about what eating chocolate is in the first place (besides a fancy way to charge two or three times as much as chocolate chips).
The wrapper is very simple, but still quite compelling. The bar is large and flat, a little larger than the regular bars in the candy aisle, in this case it’s 4 ounces instead of 3.17 of the current Intense Dark line.
To their credit, Ghirardelli is clear that this is a baking bar. So this is an off-label application of the confection.
As lovely as it was, and it is a lovely bar, nicely tempered, perhaps a bit stiff but a deep red-brown, they are correct in not promoting this as an eating bar.
The smell was quite woodsy, like cedar and a bit grassy. It tastes like olives and asparagus. Bitter, moisture-sucking, mulchy and green.
Looking at the nutrition label it’s easy to see why this is so chalky, it has less fat than the Prima Materia, a whopping 40 calories per ounce less fat. (Have i mentioned lately that I love cacao fat ... sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if donuts were made by frying them in cocoa butter.)
4 ounces - 145 calories per ounce - Kosher
Meiji is a good consumer brand in Japan. They make all sorts of candy, not just chocolate products. (My favorites are their Gummy Choco and Chelsea.)
It’s a pretty bar with 15 nicely shaped scored pieces. The package is also good, an easy to open paperboard box that fits back together pretty well to hold the leftovers (and there’s gonna be leftovers, who eats the whole thing?). I was encouraged that it had a pretty high fat content, too.
The bar wasn’t expensive ($1.99), which is probably a pretty good indication of what I should expect for a chocolate without any sugar. The scent is of the dark roasted cocoa flavors, a bit of charcoal. There’s a very abrupt high-note of the vanilla flavoring in there as well.
On the tongue it melts pretty nicely, but it’s quite bitter and dry. Keeping it further back on the tongue seems to help to recognize the other flavors that included a bit of a yeasty note of baking bread, wood smoke and burnt sugar.
I should note, in case you haven’t noticed so far, these are not low-calorie bars. In fact, this “sugarless chocolate” is some of the highest caloric density reviews I’ve ever done. (It’s the cocoa butter.)
But note that chocolate has a good amount of iron (10%), and about 3 grams of protein per ounce and 4 grams of fiber per ounce. That doesn’t even go into the positive effects that all those antioxidants have for your heart and circulatory system.
1.58 ounces - 161 calories per ounce (contains soy lecithin & artificial flavors)
I was so excited when I bought the Chocolat Bonnat 100% Cacao. I’ve never had Bonnat before, the only experience I have with it is reading this exhaustive series at DallasFood.org about Noka and seeing the bars at several upscale stores. At $8 a bar (granted it is a big bar at 100 grams), I was hoping for some sort of miracle. I’ve come to realize there’s a reason that chocolate with sugar is so widely available ... it’s just better that way.
The wrapper, I admit, is lovely. The regular Bonnat bars have white wrappers with similar lettering, but the 100% gets the special brick red treatment, which should be a good indication that you should stop and think about it. 100% Cacao. No sugar, not even lecithin or vanilla. Stop. Hazard. Danger.
The bar was wonderfully tempered. (As wonderfully tempered as I was ill tempered when I was done.)
When I first unwrapped it, it smelled strongly of green olives. Later when I tasted it, I kept getting the strong, puckering flavor of green olives, grassy matcha and artichokes. These are all good things as far as vegetables go, but I don’t like them together and I don’t like them as the primary notes in my chocolate.
Here’s the thing, I hear my flavors. Well, not quite hear ... they have wavelengths in my head (and kind of colors that go along with them). Flavors create vibrations. And different kinds of flavor combinations create different combinations of these vibrations & wavelengths. It’s called synesthesia and many people have it to some degree.
So when I talk about things being harmonious, it’s not just a metaphor, it’s an actual description of my experience. In this case the bar was screechy. It was unripe, unrehearsed, stuttery, weak and tinny.
I’ve had the bar for a couple of months and have unwrapped it a few times to see if it was just that I’d had the flu, the lights in the house were at the wrong level, the moon was in the wrong phase or was in a bad mood. No, this is like Phillip Glass & Stephen Sondheim collaborating on some sort of atonal opera about database programmers performed by deaf alley cats in a poorly ventilated auditorium with squeaky chairs that pinch. It’s probably a wonderful intellectual experiment, but it’s not an enjoyable physical one. (But again, this may be an experience colored by the way that my brain processed certain things and might be just glorious to folks who don’t get the cacophony of wavelengths.)
3.53 ounces - unknown calories
The best news is that I have a deeper appreciation of my blended chocolates now and single origins even more so. As far as pure chocolate as being a “sugarless” alternative to regular sweetened chocolate, I think a very small quantity of sweetened chocolate will be more satisfying than a larger portion of one of these. But your mileage may vary. I definitely recommend the Dagoba if you’re itching to try just one. (The fact that it has a reasonable price is also a selling point.)
All of the remaining bits of these bars will be taken next door to the neighbors this evening where I will donate them to Amy in the hopes that she’ll create some awesome and rich brownies out of them so that I may love this chocolate again.
Casey at Chocolate Note has far more appreciation for the most concentrated chocolate bars. For other deeper appreciations for these bars try the Seventy Percent for: Michel Cluizel Noir Infini & forum discussion about Bonnat & Cluizel.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
For about six months I’ve been looking for the Michel Cluizel Noir Infini 99% bar. It’s not that it’s new, it just happened that the usual stores where I find Cluizel products were sold out of the bar.
I like the responsible size of it, it’s only 30 grams (1.05 ounces) instead of the usual 100 gram size for Cluizel’s large tablets.
Even though I declared this sugar free week, it wasn’t until I was prepping this post that I found out that there is sugar in this bar. The ingredients are: cacao (99%), cane sugar, spices, cocoa butter & Bourbon vanilla. Honestly, with a list like that, I can’t imagine it’s more than a pinch per pound. The wrapper also explains the bar further: This chocolate with its long kneading process and extremely high content of cocoas, reveals deep and dense strains for connoisseurs’ palate.
It is a lovely little bar, with a rich and deep scent of chocolate.
On the tongue the thin bar melts pretty quickly. Overall it feels a bit like a clay slurry ... not quite chalky enough to call it, well, chalky or dry. The vanilla notes are pretty strong, as is a bit of a green wood and black tea note. By the end I was getting mulch, vanilla grass, pecans, burnt hazelnuts ... all wrapped up in smoke and charcoal.
Though it was bitter, there was very little puckeringly acrid acidity that I get with other high cacao bars (I’ll have a rundown of some of those tomorrow).
But not really a lot of fun. I was grateful that it was a small bar.
The other chocolate on my list of pursuits lately has been the Michel Cluizel Cacao Forte bonbon.
It’s amazing what a difference it makes when the intensity of the cacao is reduced by just a bit. While this truffle has no added sugar, it is a ganche and contains butter and/or heavy cream. So while the chocolate is 99%, the truffle itself is not.
The ganache is soft and melts quickly. The lighter berry & fruit notes come out much better, the bitterness is nearly gone and the finish, though dry is not acrid or acidic. But it feels thin in flavor, and I’ve tried quite a few Cluizel chocolates, so I know I can do better.
After eating the straight chocolate, the bonbon is a relief and seems almost sweet by comparison. But if you have this in a box and have been eating Champignon Caramel or Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache it will be jarring.
These pieces feel like exercises, like some single origin bars that give us the sense that it’s great that so many chocolate makers blend beans to give us a consistent and appealing flavor profile. I appreciate them, I grant that they have the right to exist, but I don’t care to eat them again.
As for the aspect that they’re free of added sugar (effectively), they’re not a low calorie food. Chocolate has oodles of fat in it and the bar comes in at 151 calories per ounce and less than a gram of carbs. (I don’t know what the bonbon is, but I’ll guess it’s even higher in fat.) However, if you’re looking for a chocolate punch that won’t raise your blood sugar level (and dark chocolate has been shown to lower insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol levels, blah blah) this is an interesting “theraputic” option that’s probably cheaper than many other medical alternatives. It’s also just an interesting excercise all chocophiles should experience. The Noir Infini tasting square can be found in Cluizel assortments, so that’s probably the best way to experience this ... as part of an entire trip, not as the destination.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Enter XLear with their SparX candies, all sweetened with xylitol. Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol with the same sweetening power as sucrose but one third fewer calories. It’s made from birch bark, corn cobs and occurs naturally in plenty of other places and is even metabolized by the body in everyday fruits & vegetables.
They come in three different flavor varieties:
Each little flip top plastic tube holds 30 grams (about 1.06 ounces).
The little pastel bits are naturally colored and about the size and shape of the old Tart n’ Tinys.
They have a light little shell on them, it’s a bit soft on the tongue at first and a little slippery. The little pellet inside has a cooling effect, a little tart boost and a sweet finish. The flavors are very light, not really that noticeable - not as powerful as SweeTarts.
Citrus has a distinct flavors, a little more tart than the others. Berry is all about the floral flavors of strawberry & raspberry, I couldn’t tell them apart that well, they weren’t at all tangy, but felt very fresh. The Fruit blend had the banana, which I thought was fun (especially for someone who likes Runts), grape was like concord grape (with a slight chewable vitamin aftertaste) and apple was similarly similar to apple juice. Peach was, well, peachy enough (not my favorite, but not too powerful so I didn’t pick them out of the mix).
I thought they could have been a bit more flavorful, but that’s because I wanted some super-duper cavity fighting replacement for SweeTarts, but that’s not what these are. They’re not really candy for popping mindlessly, I don’t think. Just a little freshening, mouth cooling treat.
Each little candy has about .6 calories each, meaning the whole package has about 68 calories total.
Xylitol, like other sugar alcohols, can cause intestinal distress and I did notice a bit of gassiness after eating these (probably the equivalent of a whole tube over two days). I’m told that if you slowly ramp up, your body acclimates. Brian reviewed them a couple of years ago and didn’t get along at all well with the xylitol and neither did many of the commenters, so start slow with these before you go eating a whole package.
The ingredients are natural enough, though I’m not sure what the source of the natural colors are (so I can’t say if it’s vegan or not, but there’s also beeswax in there, so it may not meet all vegan standards). They also contain some other mineral items like calcium glycerophosphate (which is a source of calcium and phosphorous) and magnesium sterate.
Xlear products can be ordered directly from their website and found in many vitamin, health foods and stores like Whole Foods. The price isn’t bad for one of these fringe products, they usually retail for $1.50 or so per tube. It’d be cool if they offered these in bulk, so you could refill the tubes.
Note: do not allow dogs to consume products with xylitol (well, really don’t let your dogs eat any people food) as it can be toxic.
I got a few samples at ExpoWest of their different flavors, but ended up opting for a full package of the Cinnamon XyliChew for this review.
The package is a nice paperboard box with a blisterpack that holds 12 pieces inside. Two pieces are normal serving size (though sometimes I go for three pieces).
XyliChew boasts 70% of its content is xylitol, which is supposed to have many health benefits. Studies link lower incidences of dental caries (cavities) to consistent use of xylitol (either in gum or mouthwash) and others have said that it keeps teeth & bones strong as we age. But the amount needed for those more substantial positive effects are probably greater than would be consumed normally. A pair of pieces gives the chewer only 1.6 grams per serving. (Studies were using dosages of 20-40 grams per day.) You can read more of the features at their website.
But that aside, this is gum and most often we’re chewing it for other reasons, such as to freshen the breath, a boost of flavor, keep us from munching and just plain old enjoyment of chewing.
These are cool on the tongue immediately, which is one of the big appeals of xylitol as a confectionery sweetener. The cinnamon flavor is much more like the powdered spice or chewing on an actual stick of the bark than those “cinnamon flavors”, so it’s a bit deeper. It’s not at all spicy though, there’s no burning feeling to it. The chew lacks much grain to it like sugared gums have (well, there’s a little from the shell, but that dissipates quickly). The flavor remains for quite a while, I tracked it as still having a satisfactory amount of cinnamon flavor after 30 minutes, though the sweetness had abated.
It didn’t stick to my teeth, which is also a nice feature (yes, I have fillings - those old fashioned amalgam & those new fangled white composite ones).
As a sugar free product, I don’t feel like I’m missing a thing. Some folks may not like that cooling sensation and of course you have to get used to xylitol. I still prefer my good old Peppermint Chiclets, but I could get used to this, too.
XyliChew is all natural, even the gum base is from the sapodilla tree. It uses beeswax though, so may not be appropriate for all vegans.
Many stores like Whole Foods, Nature Mart and health food shops carry XyliChew, you can also order online through Nature Mart or Amazon. They retail for about $2 a package. It also comes in other flavors like: spearmint, peppermint, tropical fruit, licorice and chocolate.
UPDATE: Also, be aware that xylitol is dangerous to dogs, so be very careful to keep xylitol sweetened products away from pets.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Hershey’s has a line of sugar free candies, while they’re not a low calorie snack, they do have a lower glycemic index because they’ve substitute sugar for sugar alcohols. I gave their version of the Hershey’s Chocolate, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and York Peppermint Pattie a try.
As is always the case, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. While sugar alcohols may lower the calorie count, they’re also not as sweet as sugar and sometimes have unwanted side effects. Here’s what the packages say:
Sugar alcohols have another benefit, they do not promote tooth decay, as they cannot be metabolized by oral bacteria.
Say what? Polyglycitol? That’s a new one on me, so I looked it up:
I’m well aware the many of these sugar alcohols can cause intestinal upset (and other euphemisms to erupt). For this reason I was exceptionally careful not to eat too much. I only ate two a day, even though a serving as determined by the package was 3-5 pieces.
Hershey’s Sugar Free Chocolates
Well, they look really good. Each one was a pristine little chocolatey block.
But there was something amiss. It has the same slightly fudgy, slightly grainy texture. But it’s cool on the tongue and the chocolate flavors are a little too much on the high range, lacking depth. The milkyness was missing completely.
It doesn’t taste like Hershey’s chocolate. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t really taste like chocolate ... it’s too sweet.
Here’s what I know about sugar alcohols: they don’t have as many calories as sugar, but they also don’t taste as sweet. In the case of maltitol it’s 90% as sweet as sucrose, which basically means that when they add it to something and they want an equivalent delivery of sweetness, they put more in. Putting in more sweetener means something else has to be reduced by proportion. My guess in this case is that they reduced the cocoa solids ... which are already pretty low in Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. (Or they reduced the milk, which may also reduce the flavor profile.)
As a low calorie treat, these do definitely have a lower caloric density:
139 calories per ounce for regular Hershey’s Chocolate
If you like R.M. Palmer chocolate, you might find this acceptable.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Sugar Free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Like the Hershey’s bars, these were lovely little cups of perfection at first glance. They’re wrapped in orange foil, not gold, so it’s easy for trained candy eaters to tell them apart. They seem a little smaller than regular Reese’s Minis (just shorter) but otherwise are glossy and pretty.
They smell of sweet peanut butter.
The chocolate shell is similar to the Hershey’s bar ... the same cooling effect on the tongue, decent melt but lack of chocolate kick. No matter, the peanut butter center seems to overwhelm that in a satisfactory manner. The peanut butter is crumbly and sweet and creamy all at the same time. A little salty kick seals the simulation as being pretty close to the original.
145 calories per ounce for regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
I didn’t realize until after eating two of these that there was Sucralose in there too (this is the only one of the three that uses an artificial sweetener - though I could hear arguments that polyglycitol is also not natural at this point). I didn’t notice any of the ill effects that I get from Aspartame (headache, shakes & nausea) but there was a light lingering sweet and ever so slight aluminum-like metallic aftertaste.
Rating: 4 out of 10 (if it didn’t have the aftertaste, it’d be a 7).
Sugar Free York Peppermint Patties
They look exactly like the full-sugar York Peppermint Patties, smell a little chocolatey and very minty. The mini size is my favorite, so this was an easy one for me to wrap my head around.
The chocolate shell is only slightly sweet, which is pretty much the way the regular York is. If anything, this one had a better, less chalky melt to it.
The fondant center is a little different. First, it’s rather cool on the tongue. It’s a little grainy, which is fine with me, but then there were some other lighter grainy bits in there . But they weren’t sweet little grains, I’m wondering if the sugar alcohols create a different crystalline matrix. Even so, they’re tasty. Fresh, a bit chocolatey and of course melty and smooth.
102 calories per ounce for regular York Peppermint Patties
As a lower calorie alternative, these are real winners. There are 30 calories in each piece.
Rating: 7 out of 10
In general Hershey’s has done a nice job of approximating the experience of their full-sugar candies. They look great, which is part of the appeal of candy. The packaging doesn’t even feel like a compromise (though the price does).
But these are only good if you can tolerate the sweeteners. If you’re one of the unlucky majority (it seems to be a majority) of the public who experiences the side effects, it’s pointless to eat this stuff. (I had a full box of each of these from a photo shoot and passed some along to a friend of a friend who is diabetic ... who did not react well to them.)
If you want to know if you can eat them, please, start slow unless you have no plans for the next day or so. I seemed to tolerate it pretty well, but again, only two pieces a day, not really the way you want to eat candy you can otherwise eat because of dietary restrictions.
(Package images at top compiled from Hershey’s website.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.