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.
Friday, January 13, 2006
I’ve always loved cinnamon. It breaks my rule about not liking “red candy” which I made for myself at the worldly age of nine, so it may just be a rule about not liking cherry candy. My dislike for red goes back to the Red Dye #2 scare in the 70s where all red candies seemed to be called “poison” by concerned parents. To this day I can’t stand red sweetarts.
As a kid I would get the box of SweeTarts at the movie theater and before eating any of them during the show I would touch my tongue to it to see what flavor it was. Reds were dismissed. Now as an adult I carefully dump out the box and remove the reds, usually giving them to The Man, who doesn’t mind me poisoning him at all.
Hot Tamales are like super cinnamony jelly beans. They used to come in a box, which meant that they were more likely to get either cloudy and sticky from dampness or extra hard from drying out. But the boxes were fun because they would make noise. You could shake it to find out how much you had left and it presented a satisfying sound while you were popping them at the movies, not that annoying plastic wrap sound.
This particular bag I picked up seemed rather odd, it had a hint of watermelon flavor to it. I can’t figure why, as I don’t think Mike and Ike’s come in watermelon flavor. But Just Born also makes mini-jelly beans called Teenie Beenies so maybe there was some cross contamination there. The real reason I picked them up was because I saw the new Hot Tamales Fire candies and wanted to compare because the regular Hot Tamales said ““Now with More Kick!” on the package.
I think Hot Tamales have been introduced in extra-zested versions before, in fact, I recall buying something in a box last September in San Francisco in a box and being rather disappointed that they were neither as hot as I wished nor as fresh. (They were cloudy looking and very grainy ... I ate them anyway.)
Happily the Hot Tamales Fire did not have a watermelon taste to it. They were wonderfully sizzling, with a good burn that actually hit my throat a little hard a few times. If I have a choice in the future between the two, I’ll definitely go for the Fire ones.
I think I could tell the difference between the two if placed side by side. The Fire ones are a little more clear, a little darker red. The originals are a good red color but perhaps more opaque. After eating about half of each bag, I mixed the two. Now I’ll just take what I get.
I’ve always found spicy candies to be very good driving candy. When I’m going long distances I like a candy with feedback, something that keeps my glands salivating (so I need less water) and keeps me awake. I usually opt for hard candies as they’re easy to travel with, but when I think of it, I usually grab some Hot Tamales.
As a side note, I checked out the Hot Tamales website, and it’s pretty cool. I mean hot. Whatever. ... I was expecting something tired and circa 1998 like you get at the Annabelle’s website, instead it’s really nicely designed flash site (loads quickly anyway, not terribly informative). I also saw on the Just Born site that Mike and Ikes come in a few different flavor combos since I last tried some, so I’ll see if someone carries those.
While cinammon isn’t eligible for the Scoville Hotness Scale (which measures capsaicin, not Cinnamaldehyde), I’d rate regular Hot Tamales as the equivalent of a Poblano Chili Pepper - a good bit of spice, but little burn. I’d give the Hot Tamales Fire a rating on par with Seranno Pepper, which means that you get a good burn going in your throat and if it catches you wrong, you might tear up.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:34 pm
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.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
It looks like a bar of the future. Something that robots would eat. Or maybe robots would bring them to us. They’d enter the room through the shooshing automatic door with a tray full of snacks that we munch on while watching TV beamed directly into our optic nerve.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a Zero bar before, but I know I’ve seen them. They haven’t been a Hershey’s product for very long and if you go to the page on Hershey’s site you’ll see a long and detail history of who’s made the bar over the years.
It’s a fascinating bar, billed as “Caramel, Peanut and Almond Nougat covered with White Fudge.” But that really doesn’t describe it properly. The nougat is malted and there are peanuts and almonds and possibly soy nuts in there. But it was the malted part that surprised me. If you want me to buy this bar, you might want to mention that!
So, you’ve got this nougat that has an assortment of crunchy nuts in it with a dash of malt. On top of that is a caramel stripe and the whole bar is enrobed in “white fudge” which I’m guessing is like “white chocolate.”
It’s a very pretty bar.
And I was surprised to like it as much as I did. There must be a reason that it’s survived to this day and I’m guessing it’s partly its originality. I’m guessing the other reason might be its packaging and name. If you were to alphabetize your candy display, the Zero would be there with the Zagnut. The malt really stands out because there isn’t any chocolate to overpower it. I think I can taste the soy nuts in the nougat, which doesn’t upset me or anything, but it is a little odd for a “candy bar” (but expected in a nutrition bar).
If Hershey’s has a mind to improve the bar, I’d say a real “white chocolate” that has cocoa butter on it instead of the slightly chalky “white fudge” would make this one a real winner. (I just can’t get into all those hydrogenated oils.)
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
As I reviewed last week, Nestle is creating some limited edition bars. This tactic seems to encompass adding peanuts to current candy bars.
The Nestle Crunch with Peanuts is simply a Nestle Crunch bar with peanuts mixed in. Think of it as Mr. Goodbar meets Krackel (well, if you were in the Hershey’s universe). It’s a really nice bar and I like how the peanuts moderate the sweetness of the Nestle chocolate. I actually prefer it over the regular Crunch bar which I’ve always found a little too sweet and bland.
The crunches come from both the crisped rice and the roasted peanuts - so there’s variation in texture and taste. I certainly prefer it to the Crunch with Caramel they did a while back. It also seems to be more innovative than the White Chocolate and Dark Chocolate versions from last year. I’m not likely to buy these, but if there were an assortment of Nestle miniatures with them in it, they’d certainly be one of the first I’d pick out.
The other thing I like about adding nuts to chocolate and other sweets is that it gives a little protein/fat punch to the sugar. I know it sounds odd to be talking about things like glycemic load when talking about candy, but I like to feel good while eating candy and an hour later, instead of having a severe sugar crash and getting the shakes.
NOTE: I’m not going to make a habit of revisiting previous reviews, but I was contacted by Jason Barba, the inventor of CraniYUMS! He pointed out the product that I tasted was probably not at its best:
I have to admit that I got my sample last summer and hung onto it for many months (and perhaps didn’t store it properly, as I opened the package, took the photo and didn’t eat it for several days). The new samples seemed “plumper” which leads me to believe that mine dried out a bit. Combine that with the candy center which was opaque instead of transparent and it seems like I had an over-ripe sample.
So, here’s an updated review.
What is it? It’s a hard candy lolly in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull then covered in a gummi “flesh”. The fleshy part is transparent, so you can see the skull shape at the center. It’s actually a pretty fun idea.
The skin is soft and pliable, like a very soft gummi (not the more firm ones like Haribo). The mellow, uncolored cherry flesh tears easily from the skeleton and reveals a transparent green skull in the shape of a T-Rex. The skin is pretty mild, not tart but not terribly sweet either. The center candy is dense and smooth in a very pretty shade of emerald green. The other flavor is lemon flesh with a cherry hard lolly center. The gummi on this one is actually really good - it’s very zesty with an intense burst of lemon essence. Again, not very tart, but really fragrant.
I’m obviously not the target market for this candy, but I can see it being a fun thing to pick up at a museum gift shop for my nephew should we go look at a dinosaur exhibit. It’s a good combination of taste, interactivity and design. I’m upgrading my review from a 5 out of 10 to an 8 out of 10. Still a little pricey, but a nice treat. If they made a giant ape one, they could sell them as a set for fans of King Kong! Maybe something to think about if you’re planning a DVD viewing party.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:16 pm
Monday, January 9, 2006
I heard about these last October. When you think about it, it’s a natural idea - combine figs and chocolate to create a candy. I’m all for wholesome candy, there’s no reason that healthy ingredients can’t be combined to create something tasty. And don’t worry, they’ve done it here.
Chocolate Covered Fig Bar: Before you try these you might want to ask yourself if you like figs. The first ingredients in the two bars is figs, then sugar, then chocolate. The fig center isn’t at all like a Fig Newton, there are no identifiable seeds even. Instead it’s a moist, soft and chewy center with a good fresh, figgy taste. There’s also a hint of raspberry to it. If the seeds of a Fig Newton always bothered you, this might be a good way to get the fig taste without the fig texture.
Chocolate Covered Fig Bar with Almonds: This one was actually my favorite. It’s the same fig bar as above with almonds mixed into the center. The combination of fig and almonds is a natural and the texture added by the nuts gives it a little crunch and nutty taste. Almonds also add their own nutritional benefits, a dash of protein and a little fiber in their own right. I don’t know how much attention you pay to calories, but as a chocolate candy this bar has the lowest calorie/ounce rating that I think I’ve profiled yet. That means you feel like you’re eating a lot (that’s what fiber does for you), so there’s the munching satisfaction, but not actually whole lot of calories. The bars feel substantial, but they are smaller than your typical 1.75 ounce candy bar that we’re accustomed to with Hershey’s, Nestle & Mars.
Figamajigs are billed as healthy candy as they provide both high fiber (4 grams per bar), small amounts of calcium and iron in addition to the antioxidants inherent to both figs and chocolate. The Figamajig website provides more info about these health benefits and the full story of Mel Lefer, the creator of Figamajigs, who invented the bars in a search for a healthy snack that would satisfy.
Candy Pieces: These are really pretty candies. I saw them on the website and I thought, there’s no way they’re that cute. But they are. They’re large dollops of fig centers from the bar, covered in chocolate and then covered in a candy shell. The shell is crunchy and sweet and the center has a good balance of chocolate and figs (more chocolate in this ratio, it seems). They’re actually quite a bit sweeter than the fig bars, and I don’t know if I could eat a lot of them in one sitting for that reason. But, if I were making a trail mix for snacking in the car, out whalewatching or on a hike, this is the perfect format. In fact, if I were going to make a trail mix, it would be a combination of mini pretzels, chocolate covered raisins, chocolate covered nuts (I prefer cashews, but I know almonds are better for me) and some plain almonds. It gives you a good mix of sweet, salt and of course the creaminess of the chocolates. It also has a good balance of sugars to proteins so you don’t get a sugar high and crash ... the proteins moderate the processed carbs and give you lasting and satisfying energy. I can’t wait for them to be sold in bulk at Whole Foods or maybe in tubs at Trader Joe’s. If I have one complaint it’s really that the little colored candies have no name. Really, what am I supposed to call them?
When the time comes for me to choose between a Luna Bar and a Figamajig, I’m totally going for the Figamajig. (Sorry, I’m not going to pick a Figamajig over a KitKat though.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:30 am
Friday, January 6, 2006
This candy bar irritated me from the moment I picked it up. First was the rich mustard color of the wrapper. A compelling “look at me!” color, but not one that makes me think of peanuts in a fond way. (In fact, it makes me think of a peanut butter and mustard sandwich, which probably has some fans out there, but I can’t count myself as one of them.) The second thing that rubbed me that wrong way when I read the package was the description, “pretzels, caramel, peanuts, peanut butter & peanut butter candy.” What the heck is “peanut butter candy” and how is that different than the whole thing being considered a “peanut butter candy?”
What I thought the peanut butter candy part meant was something like the inside of a Butterfinger bar (or a 5th Avenue if we’re sticking to Hershey’s products). And that actually sounds kind of interesting, have a layer of peanut crisp in there somewhere. What I didn’t realize is that this bar has no chocolate (poor reading comprehension on my part) ... and that’s what the peanut butter candy replaces. It’s basically a peanut butter-white chocolate. Like the insides of Reese’s Pieces! Of course this means partially hydrogenated oils. Bah! I don’t want partially hydrogenated oils in my candy!
Anyway, you get two bars in each package (which has a nice cardboard tray to keep them from getting crushed). The outside is a little odd looking as you can see the grains of peanut butter, but I got over that. It smells peanutty and is smooth, crunchy and has a nice hit of salt in it. I got no sense of the caramel at all. There was no chewiness to this bar at all, in the caramel sense. I suspect that the fats from the various peanut incarnations invaded the caramel and de-chewified it. If you’re a big peanut fan and are not satisfied with the bazillion other Reese’s branded bars, you can pick this up and argue with me about the glory that is a Peanut Butter Take 5.
Instead of mucking around with adding more peanuts to the Take 5 line, they need to start making my version with extra dark chocolate and pecans!
Interesting things: Take 5 bars are called Max 5 in Canada. The peanut butter version of the bar contains 2 more grams of saturated fat over the regular chocolate one, but twice the fiber. This is not a limited edition bar. Other Take 5 versions: Take 5 Chocolate (9/10) & White Chocolate Take 5 (6/10).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.