Thursday, October 3, 2013
Original Beans is a small chocolate company that starts with carefully selected, direct-purchased beans and makes them into single-origin bars. They take special care with all aspects of the sourcing, manufacturing and packaging, as their name might imply. The bars are not easy to find in the United States, but luckily a very good chocolate source has developed walking distance from my office, so you’ll be seeing more of these interesting finds in the coming months and years.
The selection of bars from Original Beans is very small, but quite specific. I chose to review their Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75% as my first. You can read up on the Peruvian Porcelana beans on the Original Beans website and on other chocolate aficionado sites. The history of chocolate is fascinating and many people have become interested in the generic diversity of the trees and their distribution. The Porcelana beans, as a variety of Criollo, are characterized by their white color and distinctive flavor. They’re quite rare and grown in a few small areas in South America, so single origin bars are not common and often limited editions.
The bar features all organic ingredients and is made only exclusively with white Criollo cacao from the Pirua River Valley in the Peruvian Andes. The cacao is 75% and the package says that it’s a 22 hour conch. The ingredients list is simple and short: Direct-trade cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar. There’s no soy and it’s vegan and gluten free.
The tasting notes for the bar online are: Vibrant, luscious with kumquat, lime, apricot, raspberry flavours and notes of toasted pecan; wonderfully balanced acidity and lingering finish.
Though the beans are white, the chocolate is brown. The fermenting and roasting of the beans makes them indistinguishable at first glance from any other bean.
The bar is simply and beautifully molded. The segments have a great snap and neutral medium-brown color. The scent is mild, it has some smoky vanilla notes
The flavor is an interesting balance of acid like citrus and tannins, for the most part the flavors I got were black tea and roasted nuts. The texture was smooth and has and excellent melt and lack of grit. It still has a bit of a dry finish that’s sharp from the tannins.
I loved this bar, this is the third one I’ve eaten, I bought the first two over the summer but found they weren’t doing well in the heat so I ate them and waited for it to cool off to do a proper review. The flavor is not too intense but still very satisfying after three or four squares. The cocoa butter balanced out the clean but sweet sugar to make it very munchable for a high cacao bar.
The next bar I picked for review is Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk, which is a 42% cacao bar with a touch of fleur de sel. Like the dark bar, it’s made with organic ingredients. From the photo above you can see that it’s a dark looking bar for milk chocolate, but compared to many commercial milk chocolate bars, I’m inclined to call it a dark milk.
Original Beans is in The Netherlands, and the packaging is largely in Dutch (though the website also in English) while the chocolate is made in Switzerland.
The ingredients list is a little longer than the dark bar, but still short: direct trade cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, milk and sea salt. The tasting notes suggest: Exceptionally velvety with salted caramel, hints of summer red fruits and spice.
The Original Beans website has a feature where you input the batch code from your bar into their website that says:
Unfortunately that feature just takes you to the same page you could browse to based on the name of the chocolate bar. For true transparency and education, I kind of wanted specifics about the harvest that made my bar. What was that year like? Were there special issues that would distinguish that vintage from the previous year or the coming year? Or even just things like how many pounds of beans were harvested, how many bars were made in that batch.
The bar has a roasted, caramelized scent that has a bit of a cheese note to it, something a little more savory. The melt is great, it’s soft and fudgy without feeling too sugary or sticky. The flavor has molasses notes, maybe even a little fennel but a lot of milk. The hint of salt does keep it from tasting too much like sugar, but it doesn’t jump out. There’s a sharpness to the bar, again, that powdered milk cheese-ness that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’m not a big fan of the powdered milk flavors in some milk chocolates; it’s a personal preference, not an indication of quality.
I also tried the Bolivian Beni Wild Harvest bar, as I was a big fan of Lillie Belle’s Wild Thing, also from wild beans, but found the 66% far too sweet for me.
Monday, October 15, 2012
As a kid, a Toblerone bar was a special treat reserved for holidays, partly because they were expensive and partly because they were difficult to find year round. The bar was different from anything else on the market from the shape of the box and the exotic name to the interesting combination of flavors and textures.
The Toblerone company was bought from Jacob Suchard in 1990 by Kraft and is still made in Bern, Switzerland. The bars are much easier to find now, and easily located any time of the year. Their newest bar released in the United States is the Toblerone Crunchy Salted Almond and features Swiss milk chocolate with salted caramelized almonds and honey and almond nougat.
Rosa at ZOMG Candy gave the bar pretty high marks, so I was eager to find one in the wild. I spotted them at Walgreen’s over the weekend, though not on sale. It’s $2.99 for the 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar, which is what I’d expect to pay for something from Kraft that’s in their Green & Black’s range of ethically sourced and all natural chocolate.
The serving size is 1/3 of the bar, and it would be nice if they just said how many peaks that is (there are 12 in the bar, so 4 is a serving). But I did like the packaging. The snug triangular box protects the bar, even though it’s just in a thin foil wrapper inside. I liked the color and the bold, simple design. The nutrition panel, otherwise, is really easy to read.
The look of the bar is the same as the classic milk chocolate bar. Inside I expected to see more almonds, as they’re both in the nougat bits and included as the salted pieces as well. The bar smells milky and sweet. The bite is soft and has a lot more crispy bits in it than I was accustomed to. The chocolate is fudgy and has a lot of milky flavors to it, mostly it holds together the inclusions. The nougat pieces are crispy ... unless they’re a little bigger which may mean that they’re a little tacky if chewed. The almonds are a little larger and have a nice, fresh crunch to them. As for the salt promised, I didn’t really taste it. There’s only 55 mg per serving, so it’s not a liberal dose. Though I can’t say that I perceived it, I will say that this bar seemed less sweet than the standard Toblerone. I actually prefer this to the Classic.
Kraft and Toblerone have scant information on the sourcing of their ingredients except to say that the chocolate is not Fair Trade on their website in the FAQ section and the the cocoa is sourced from around the world (well, at least it’s Earth chocolate). The bars contain milk, soy, almonds and eggs plus are manufactured on shared equipment with other tree nuts.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Of interest to Candy Blog readers though is the line of confections made by Wander, the Swiss company that makes Ovomaltine. I picked up this 100 gram (3.5 ounce) Ovomaltine Milk Chocolate Bar, called Schweizer Milkchschokolade mit Ovomaltine in Germany.
The front of the wrapper is bold and uncomplicated, just the familiar logo of the drink and some squares of chocolate.
The bar isn’t really that attractive. The squares all bear the logo for the Ovomaltine, but the inclusion of the actual malted milk powder makes the surface of the chocolate bar itself a bit dusty looking. The segments are nicely sized and scored for easy breaking and sharing.
Ovaltine is not just a flavoring for milk, it’s also supercharged with vitamins and minerals. The chocolate bar is no different, though it’s not exactly the same as swallowing a couple of multivitams there are a few B vitamins and minerals in there.
The bar smells just like a jar or Chocolate Ovaltine. There’s a light milky and malty note to it along with that scent of B Vitamins. I don’t know what that smell is, but it reminds me of baby formula.
The bar is grainy, the flavors are bold, the malt is front and center. The milk chocolate is passable, it’s smooth but barely gives a cocoa kick to the bar. There’s a strange umami quality to the whole thing, it’s not too sweet but still tastes like a treat. I would definitely eat this bar regularly if I could find it.
While in Amsterdam in January 2011, I also picked up this bar called Wander Ovolino, though I don’t recall where (I think it was at Jamin). It was a little on the small side but very light. The center was a creamy, malty nougatine. I would have bought more but I never saw them at the stores again on my trip. It had more of a hazelnut note to it instead of the sort of multivitamin flavor that Ovaltine sometimes has.
If you want to know more about the origin of Ovaltine, here’s a good article from Slate shortly after Nestle scooped up the rights to the powdered mix in the US. Also, Wikipedia explains why it’s called Ovaltine in English speaking regions instead of Ovomaltine ... there was a typo on the trademark registration. More importantly, in France they have a version that’s spreadable like Nutella or Speculoos. Please, someone send this to me!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I saw the Organic Moo Chocolate bars from Organic Children’s Chocolate, LLC at Whole Foods. It’s a line of chocolate just for kids with fun cereal inclusions like crisped rice, corn flakes, granola and graham crackers.
It’s great to see some organic candy products that are formulated just for kids, because most of them seem to be just for adults, with mature palates. The packaging here is easy to read and appeals to youngsters with cartoon cows and simple formulations. It’s really about time someone came up with an organic version of the Nestle Crunch bar.
But the big question becomes, why organic chocolate? Is it better than traditionally grown chocolate? Well, yes and no. Traditionally grown cocoa is fraught with pests, so most of the cacao grown is treated with a variety of inorganic pesticides. Because of the way the cacao beans are situation with a hard pod, and the fact that most treatments are on the canopy of the tree (not in the soil) means that very is absorbed or becomes a residue in finished chocolate. (For example spot tests in the UK have found very low levels of Lindane at less than .02 mg per kilogram in about 45% of chocolate tested.)
Chocolate is a very small part of our diet (about 12 pounds per person per year in the US), so that’s a very small, very slowly ingested amount. But children are smaller and more susceptible to toxins, so it’s understandable that many parents want to limit their exposure. There’s also the fact that the farm workers who apply the stuff are exposed to it at much higher levels and are for more likely to suffer from side effects than we would be. So you have a choice now, organic chocolate is available. But how does it taste?
The Organic Moo Milk Chocolate with Rice Crisps bar is made with all organic ingredients, including organic crisped brown rice. Even the packaging is made from recycled paper.
The bars are big, 2.1 ounces for this one, and a lot of crisped rice there when I flipped it over.
The bar smells milky and sweet, but has a toasted sugar and malty cereal scent to it ... along with a kind of musty odor, a bit like hot cocoa but also slightly reminiscent of wet paper.
The texture is quite smooth, much smoother than Hershey’s or Nestle. The milk flavors are strong and a little earthier, but that could be the malt of the crisped rice. It’s sweet, much sweeter than other organic chocolates, as this is a chocolate for kids so it’s a little less intense. The flavor reminds me of the Thompson’s Organic I’ve had before. When I contacted Moo Chocolate to ask about the source of their organic chocolate, they wouldn’t say except that it is Swiss.
The crisped rice are crunchy, but also not quite airy and light, as I think many of us might be accustomed to with Rice Krispies. It’s quite satisfying to eat just half the bar (a little over one ounce). The sections (whimsically alternating between a cow and the Moo logo) are easy to break off and small hand friendly.
Overall, it’s a great combination of textures, but the kind of goaty flavor of the chocolate is not to my liking, so I’d probably skip this entire brand line. However, kids are often less discriminating and the packaging here doesn’t make this feel like it’s “special”, just that it’s fun and tasty.
The Organic Moo Chocolate Milk Chocolate with Corn Flakes is also made with the same milk chocolate, though the bar weighs a little more at 2.7 ounces (I guess corn flakes are denser than crisped rice).
The ingredients are all organic, except for the sea salt. The package has a pleasing yellow color coding, which actually helped me make the natural assumption for corn.
This bar was not as amusing to look at as the Rice Crisps. The mold is generic, and only breaks into fourths instead of eighths. The breaks were messy, as the corn flakes were big and would keep the cleavage irregular. I didn’t get as much of the musty taste in this bar as the Rice Crisps one, but it tasted much sweeter.
The corn flakes are thick and a little rustic. I didn’t find them as light and crispy as the commercial brands though I’d probably love them in actual milk. I wanted to like this bar, because of my deep devotion to the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes (milk chocolate and corn flake bar), but the textures, chocolate flavor notes and ratios just weren’t there. Plus it cost more than twice as much.
I did a little research about organic chocolate versus traditionally grown for this post. It’s hard to find independent information on the subject, as most publishers of information freely available are biased one way or the other (usually in favor of selling their own product). This article was well researched with plenty of citations, if you want to read more on the subject. As far as my opinion, it would be good to reduce pesticide use through sustainable methods that both preserve the ecology of the plantations, are safe for the workers and the final consumers. For the latter folks though, chocolate is such a small part of our diets, there are far better places to spend your money to reduce pesticide residue exposures. I would advise prioritizing the “dirty dozen” and working from there.
If you’re a parent looking for something a little more wholesome for your kid, the Moo Chocolate brand is well rounded and a good bet. Of course with all things organic you’re going to pay more. Ultimately, I’d like to see Fair Trade go with that and maybe some diversity of package sizes (little one ounce bars are more appropriate for kids). A great stocking stuffer, they’re available at Whole Foods and other stores that sell natural products.
They’re Kosher and contain milk and soy. Also made in a facility that processes wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Friday, October 28, 2011
I regularly watch the eBay candy auctions. And when I say regularly, I actually check the pages several times a day during the week. Partly to spy new candy products, partly to find international candies that are hard to get in the US, partly to find deals and partly to squash folks who like to use Candy Blog photos for their auctions without asking.
About a month ago I saw a new auction pop up for someone selling 13.2 pounds of Felchlin Swiss Couverture chocolate coins of Grand Cru Arriba 72% Cocoa (conched 72 hours).
The auction was priced at $95 and included local Los Angeles delivery. I bid. I won.
Because it’s for use as an ingredient, it’s packaged modestly. The mini case holds three bags. Each bag is 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). I pulled out one bag for immediate enjoyment and put the other two, inside the box, into the bottom of my wine fridge. (Okay, I’d probably call it a chocolate fridge, which keeps everything at 58 degrees.)
Each little coin is about 3/4 of an inch around and has a set of embossed cacao pods on it. They’re kind of scuffed up, as they come in a bag like chocolate chips. They work as extra large baking chips but function better as eating chocolate. At this writing I am finishing up the first bag. I’ve made one batch of chocolate pudding, one small batch of Chocolate Hazelnut Rocher (meringues from a recipe from Tartine) and the rest has simply been eaten.
The disks fit in the mouth wonderfully, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to let their chocolate melt. (Put two together to create an oblate spheroid and they’re doubly good.) The flavor is exceptionally well rounded, there is no dominant flavor though I get notes of molasses, honey, coffee and raspberry jam sometimes.
As noted above, this is a 72 hour conch. Conching is the process of both mixing and grinding chocolate over low heat. The longer the processing the smaller the grain size of the cacao bits and the more emulsified the chocolate becomes. This process varies in time depending on what the cacao is like and the necessities of the final product. It can be anywhere from 24 hours to 100 hours. The grinding part is done with either stones or metal rollers.
This long conch also allows Felchlin to make an uncompromising chocolate without emulsifiers. So all that’s in there is cacao mass, sugar and vanilla. (So if you must avoid soy, try this.) It’s also creamy without cream. (So if you’re a vegan, try this.) It’s made from Criollo beans from the Los Rios area of Ecuador.
Earlier this year I got to try a great example of how important conching is. When I was in Germany at ISM Cologne, one of my favorite chocolate companies, Coppeneur gave me this box of two chocolate bars. They were both made from highly prized Chuao beans (review of those bars here) but inside this box were two versions - one that was conched 70 hours and one that was conched 100 hours. The difference is quite remarkable. The longer a bar is conched, the silkier it becomes.
What I’ve learned is that I love long conched chocolate. It’s so smooth that the texture itself becomes like a flavor because it’s simply so forward in the experience.
I’m not sure why the local gal was auctioning the bulk lots of chocolate, but I did find out that she runs a local chocolate catering company called Chocolate by M. She was kind enough to leave me with these huge nonpareils along with the delivery. The photo might make them look small, but they’re huge 3 inch platters of dark chocolate (I don’t know if it’s the same as the Felchlin 72%) with a dense sprinkling of nonpareils on the bottom.
It’s just one easy idea of what I could do with my bevvy of chocolate.
Mostly what I think I’m going to do with my chocolate stash though is eat it. It’s incredibly munchable but also exceptionally intense. I’ve found that I can’t make it an evening snack as there are too many caffeine-like compounds in there that keep me up at night. But I’ve found that it’s a great treat during the day while I work, I’ve been keeping a little dish of them on my desk and probably eat about an ounce of them a day. They’re filling and sustaining.
But maybe the last bag will make it to December and I’ll end up making chocolate truffles for Christmas.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I mentioned this bar a couple of months ago in a candy tease. It’s called Frey Chocobloc AIR and as you might guess from the name, it’s an aerated chocolate bar. Frey is a large Swiss chocolate company (I used to see their bars at Target and often at airport duty free shops) but they’re not as well known in North America as some others.
Now that I’ve had the Hershey’s Air Delight Kisses, I thought it was a good time to compare it to another newly introduced product.
Frey makes a line of bars called Chocobloc which have a similar format to the Kraft Toblerone bar. They’re a long, chunky block that has little divided, angular sections. The regular Chocobloc bars are 100 grams, the aerated AIR bar is only 70 grams. But what’s really different about this bar from all the other aerated chocolate out there right now is that this is a milk chocolate bar with honey nougat and almonds. The milk chocolate does have a lot of cocoa content, 34% according to the label.
I know it seems odd to note it, but there are a lot of bubbles in the bar. I’m not calling your attention in this case to the ones in the center, but the edges of the bar, the peaks and corners have a lot of voids. A well molded bar, even one with inclusions will have an even surface.
The bar does feel light and the color is also on the creamy milky side of things. The pieces cleave off easily, much better than some other blocky bars (like the Toblerone). It smells quite milky and a little like malt and honey. There are little hard nougat bits in there, just tiny chips.
The bar melts quickly and has a very strong, sweet flavor to it. There are caramel and honey notes and quite a bit of the powdered dairy taste that Swiss chocolate often has. It’s not very chocolatey but still the melt is velvety enough.
As far as its performance as an aerated bar, it was light and did have a bit of a foamy melt with all the air included. About 30% of the mass of an ordinary bar was missing because of the air bubbles. But it also tasted a lot sweeter. Perhaps a dark chocolate version of this would be more to my liking.
The comparison to the other bars I’ve tried to so far is similar. The texture of this one in particular felt a bit smoother and I liked the notes of honey. But aerated still isn’t a trend I’m hopping on. There’s really nothing here that’s perceptibly better than solid chocolate. If you’re looking for something that gives the appearance of more to trick yourself that you’re eating lots, well, maybe this will do the trick for you but be warned that ounce for ounce, this is some pretty high calorie stuff. But the sugary flavor couldn’t match the satisfaction of slightly bitter, very dark chocolate for me.
(I used a photo from Frey for the package image. In the case of the review bar I received, it was in the Swiss packaging, which is sold there as Mahony Sweet Air - photo.)
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
It’s hard to find a good gum these days. I was looking for sugarless gum, something to clean my mouth between meals. But I also didn’t want something filled with artificial sweeteners. I detest things like aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium (AceK) and saccharine. The other option for sugarless is Xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol which has a light, and very sweet flavor profile and a cooling effect which is ideal for gum. Xylitol is also show to be helpful in reducing plaque build up in the mouth between brushing that can lead to tooth decay.
PUR Gum is made with xylitol and is gluten free, nut free, dairy free, vegan and free of GMO ingredients. The gum comes in three flavors: Peppermint, Spearmint and Pomegranate Mint. It’s sold by Action Candy Company, based in Canada. I picked up these samples from the Frey company at the candy fair ISM Cologne earlier this year. It’s available in Canada and via online stores from Canada, though I expect it to be more widely available in the US soon.
The Peppermint pieces are nicely sized. They’re 3/4” long and 1/2” wide. They’re smooth and softly shiny. Two pieces are a good portion as suggested by the package. The mint is strong and quite cool as a result of the xylitol sweetener. As I’ll mention here quite a bit, the chew at first is a little tough, but it does mellow out.
The peppermint is clear and strong, there’s a light burn to it that continues for at least fifteen minutes into the chew. The sweetness doesn’t last long, but I’m fine with that.
Spearmint (in green) is racy. The chew is cool and fresh, but really strong. It’s Altoids strong. I find it burns a bit. The chew is soft at first but gets a bit stiffer as the coolness fades.
Even towards the later part of the chew, the minty flavor stays strong and the texture of the gum does loosen up quite a bit. The mint is green and penetrating without that grassy flavor that fresh muddled spearmint laves have.
The blister packs are nicely made. I understand the necessity for certain kinds of candy being sealed up like this, even though it takes up a lot of space. The pieces were easy to get out and the little paperboard sleeve was light and spare (and recyclable).
Pomegranate Mint in the pink accented package is different. The first note is a woodsy tangy thing that’s a bit floral and a bit minty. Then it’s very cool on the tongue, which is the xylitol. It’s all very busy. It’s not that the flavors or textures or temperatures are incompatible, it’s that they’re just not integrated. So it’s noisy, like three radio stations bleeding through on the stereo at once. But after a while with the chew it calms down and things start working a little better. The coolness fades and it’s just a mellow sweetness, the woodsy notes of the pomegranate and a light dryness comes out and then a fresh mint flavor. The texture of the gum base varies. At first it’s soft and mushy, then it seizes up and is quite tough for a while ... then towards the end (as in, maybe ten minutes, which is about the limit for a piece of gum for me) it softens up again. At the very end it still retains its minty notes but all the sweetness is gone.
Xylitol is an excellent substitute for sugar in specific applications like gum or mints and is good for folks who can’t have sugar, like diabetics. It’s not a calorie-free food though, two pieces of gum have 10 calories. There are also some white tea extracts in there, which may be added for flavor or perhaps for antioxidants. They don’t seem to make it worse but probably make it more expensive.
Some people are sensitive to the effects of xylitol. Such effects include abdominal gas and diarrhea. These effects are reported with larger portions than are found in chewing gum though, there is one gram of xylitol in each piece of gum and tests were showing effects when consuming over 65 grams per day. Also note that dogs are especially sensitive to xylitol which can cause seizures and liver damage, so please don’t let your dog have gum or mints made with any sugar alcohol - in fact, just don’t give you dog any candy at all.
I know that chewing gum with xylitol is probably really good for me as a between meal pick me up and substitute for candy snacking, and this version is already tops on my list. I didn’t care for the pomegranate at all, but the other two mint flavors are great. Now if I could just find someplace to actually buy it.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Inside this tiny little box are nine pastilles. They’re called Grether’s Blackcurrant Pastilles and they’re world famous. They’re made in Switzerland, in a process that must be incredibly expensive and labor intensive because this little box cost $2.99. Remember, I said there are nine little lozenges in there. That’s 33 cents each. Per ounce, this is far more than I pay for some really incredible chocolate.
Let me just say, the packaging is lovely. The tin is nicely made, with smooth edges and rounded corners. The printing on it is excellent and the design work fits the candy so well. I love this little tin and considering the fact that I paid $3 for it, I’m definitely going to find a use for it. (I think I’m going to put my earphones for my MP3 player in it.)
The pieces are soft but stiff, the shape fits easily in the mouth. They all bear the GP initials on them but aren’t distinctively attractive really. They’re translucent but quite a deep shade of purple.
They melt slowly, and though I can chew them, mostly I just squish them a bit. The melt or dissolve is smooth and has a dark blackcurrant flavor to it, it’s a mix of blackberry, pomegranate and boiled jam flavors. It’s a little tangy but mostly floral and berry.
They do soothe in a way that hard candies simply can’t, but without being sticky. Blackcurrant isn’t one of my favorite berry flavors, there’s a weird note to it, like the vine called Lantana that’s prevalent here in Southern California. It’s just a little gamey to me. I think the texture is spectacular, but the flavor and price is just too much for me. I wish they did a raspberry, honey or licorice though.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.