Wednesday, August 14, 2013
If I were to dream big and come up with attributes of an ideal candy bar, I’d probably start with real ingredients. Each ingredient should contribute flavor or texture. It should have real chocolate. It should be organic and fair trade, as ethical as possible. (And if this is a dream, it would be one dollar and sold everywhere.)
Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate has been doing just that, with their new line called Eli’s Earth Bars. They’re organic, fair trade and some are vegan as well as being made right here in California. The bar is a nice size, the portion is 1.5 ounces, which is what I prefer for a snack. I picked up all of their bars when they first came out, diligently took their photos, ate them and then tried to find more for the review. It took me 2 years to find them in a store again.
I finally found my Eli’s Earth Bars Dream Big Bar at Erewhon, walking distance from my office. The packaging design is good, it’s attractive but not too weird looking. It looks like there’s a candy bar in there, not some mush of seed hulls and dates.
Caramel and peanut butter topped with whole peanuts and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
The bar looks great. The milk chocolate coating is actually made with rice milk, so it’s not technically milk chocolate since there’s no dairy in it. But the chocolate is still made with real cocoa butter (none of those palm oil fillers). I was thinking the bar was going to be kind of like a Snickers, but it’s actually a bit more like a Baby Ruth.
It’s about 3.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. The appearance of the outside looks like chocolate, but it tastes a little, well, odd.It’s smooth, but has a bit of a milky note without thinning out the flavor. Mostly I get a rice, or cereal flavor from it. The caramel center is stiff and a little tough to bite at first, which tears the bar apart. The peanut butter is the right balance of smooth and salty, the peanuts are fresh and crunchy. Aside from the tougher than normal chew of the caramel, the textures go well together. There’s the right amount of sweet, salt and fat going on.
The bar most certainly doesn’t taste like disappointment or shame. It tastes like a candy bar. It’s not healthier, it’s still a candy bar, but it doesn’t compromise on the core beliefs - it’s vegan and organic and ethically sourced.
Gluten free but made on shared equipment with dairy.
Friday, March 29, 2013
The world of candy bars has changed a lot in the past 100 years, since the first mass-produced combination bars appeared in stores. At first local candy companies made bars that were distributed regionally. Eventually, after World War II, candy bars became national brands. You could find a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Snickers bar or a Butterfinger at most candy stores though there were still plenty of local brands.
Today the candy landscape is dominated by just a few international brands, and the new upstarts that are found on the fringes fit into a different niche now. They’re special interest bars. These are the bars that incorporate local ingredients, fit into special manufacturing concerns like allergens, or in the case of the Eli’s Earth Bars from Sjaak’s Chocolates, they’re vegan (made without any animal-derived ingredients).
The new line of bars is interesting, because they’re not quite versions of already-popular candy bars. The Celebrate Bar is A delicious coconut caramel topped with whole almonds surrounded by chocolate. That doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on shelves today.
How did they make it vegan? Well, here’s the pretty short list of ingredients:
I’ve had two of these bars now. The first one I photographed and ate. Then I searched months and months to find them in stores again. Both bars looked the same, a long chewy plank of coconut caramel topped with whole almonds and then covered in a vegan milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is made without any dairy ingredients (but in a shared facility, so not appropriate for those with allergies) but uses real cocoa butter.
The chocolate itself is chalky and has a soft cereal note to it. The cocoa flavor is lacking, but overall it’s a pleasant coating. It’s kind of like how I feel about hot cocoa made with water instead of milk; I’ll drink it but I wouldn’t choose it. The chewy center is quite good, a very dense coconut and caramel combination. The caramelized sugar notes are missing, but the texture is great.
It’s an interesting bar and I had to throw my expectations about the milk chocolate out the window. This is not really a vegan milk chocolate, it’s just a very mild chocolate - the rice milk makes it something different in both intensity (which is what milk does to chocolate) and texture (which is kind of sad). I would probably prefer this bar with a true dark chocolate coating, but I understand the goal here was to make it with a milder chocolate. It still doesn’t match up to the expectations I have for milk chocolate, but if I toss those out and just experience this, I was surprised at how much I liked it. (It’s similar to how much I like Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, even though they don’t use a real chocolate coating.)
Thursday, December 20, 2012
While I was shopping at Whole Foods outside of Philadelphia back in September, I spotted these Nectar Nuggets Peanut Butter Cups. I’d never seen the before, but there was a little tag next to them that said “They’re Back!” so I figured they must be a local favorite.
There were three varieties on the shelf, and I picked up one of each: Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and Almond Butter Cup.
The name Nectar Nugget didn’t ring any bells for me, but with the little picture of a bee in the corner of the wrapper and the word nectar in the name, I thought perhaps these were honey sweetened. That would definitely be interesting!
The cups are of the same proportions that we’re all accustomed to, two inches wide at the top and only one half an inch high.
The chocolate used for Nectar Nugget is Rainforest Alliance certified, so it’s sustainably grown and audited to assure that no child labor or slaves are used.
It smells a bit grassy, like real peanuts but not dark roasted ones. The chocolate has a nice sheen. There’s a little bit of a cloudy spot on top of the center, but I forgive that with real peanut butter, as the natural oils tend to migrate.
The peanut butter in the Nectar Nuggets is extremely smooth but also quite thick. It has a nice melt, like chocolate or fudge. The salt is light and gives the peanut butter a sort of warm feel as it melts. The milk chocolate is quite sweet but has a much quicker melt than the peanut butter and creates a good backdrop. It’s not particularly milky, but also not very chocolately, just a nice sweet texture.
The package says that it’s Giant Size, which is 1.2 ounces ... a bit bigger than a standard Reese’s, but not what I’d call a King Size. The thick texture of the peanut butter makes it quite filling for me, so much so that I had to space out my review of this set of cups over several days (and I’ve been known to eat a lot of candy in one day).
The ingredients include milk, so it’s not a true dark chocolate (nor vegan) item. Like the other cups, the package says that there are 5 grams of protein in each cup. This makes them rather filling without that too-much-sugar crash later.
The dark chocolate cup is tough, but in a way it’s worth it. The dark chocolate is smooth and buttery, though it starts a little waxy and stiff if it’s cold. The peanut butter feels drier than the milk chocolate version. The melt of the dark chocolate is quick and really fatty, it rolls around on the tongue quite a bit. The cocoa flavors are very deep, nutty and on the bitter side. It brings a whole smoky flavor to the cup.
I was wondering if this actually was a nut butter or a marzipan, but it’s definitely nut butter.
The Almond Butter cup is interesting. Most notably, the nut butter interior is quite salty, especially compared to the sweet and smooth chocolate. It’s 80 mg of sodium (same as the peanut butter ones) which is actually less than a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Like the peanut butter varieties here, the nut butter is a little on the dry side, but not crumbly, quite smooth and fresh. Instead of the roasted and grassy flavors of peanuts, the almond butter is a bit less vivid. Instead, the textures were the focus and the milk chocolate was more noticeable.
It still lacked a pizazz for me, but that’s probably because I was indoctrinated as a child into the peanut butter culture of North America. Even so, since they’re made in a facility with peanut butter, they’re not suitable for those with allergies to peanuts.
They were good and I appreciate the attention to details with the ingredients and the portioning. The ratios are good. They’re not my ideal cup but the fact that they’re ethically sourced and have no artificial preservatives tip my opinion in their favor. So I think I might pick them up again even though they were pricey (I think they were $2.00 each or something close to that) but probably wouldn’t seek them out at a special store. (They contain soy, milk and peanuts or almonds but there’s no statement about gluten.)
Friday, March 23, 2012
Divine Chocolate makes Fair Trade certified chocolate using cocoa from the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana. For the most part in the United States we just get their bars, but for the past two or three years, I’ve seen some of their holiday items at stores like Whole Foods.
The Divine Milk Chocolate Praline Mini Eggs are described as milk chocolate eggs with hazelnut praline filling. The upright box comes in the palest pearl blue color with some very light icons in the background in the same style as their bars. The box only holds 3.5 ounces, which is about 8 foil wrapped praline filled eggs. At Whole Foods they cost $4.49 per package.
These remind me an awful lot of the fair trade Tony’s Chocolonely Easter Eggs available in Europe. So much that I’m wondering if there’s a common production facility in common.
The eggs are 1.5 inches long and about an inch at the widest. They come in two different foil colors: gold and pale blue. Inside the foil the eggs have an interesting shell pattern that reminds me of crocodile.
Each egg is about 13 grams or .46 ounces, so they’re quite a little morsel. The suggested serving is three eggs and I calculated that they’re about 70 calories each, which means 153 calories per ounce ... a rather fatty little chocolate egg. But there is one gram of protein per egg. The ingredients say that the chocolate is 27% cocoa solids and 20% milk solids. Also, the entire candy is 19% hazelnuts. The chocolate is fair trade certified, but that only makes up 67% of the ingredients.
The milk chocolate shell is filled with a thick and dense milk chocolately hazelnut cream. They smell deeply toasty and nutty. The milk chocolate is sweet and sticky and tastes pretty much the same as the filling. It’s soft and rib-sticking with a good mouthfeel and melt. It’s a little on the fudgy side, but barely grainy (the particles from the hazelnut). They’re really filling and though very sweet, it’s not to the point that it burns my throat.
Many fair trade sweets are more for adults, this one would definitely please children. It’s attractive, filling and well made. The price is a bit dear, but that’s what happens when you pay everyone involved a decent wage.
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, December 16, 2011
The package for the Spicy Apple Ginger Chews features The Ginger People‘s mascot, an anthropomorphic gingerman sitting on a pile of apples, eating a ginger chew. Kind of weird looking as well as creepy when you think of him being cannibalistic.
Soft and spicy apple-ginger candy. Natural, stimulating and delicious.
The candy comes in a small stand up pouch. It has a zipper seal, so it can be closed up. Reclosing is hardly necessary to keep it fresh though, as each piece is maddeningly sealed in un-tearable plastic that says “tear here” with an arrow at one end.
The pieces are about an inch and a half long, rather flat and kind of sticky. There’s a powdered starch coating on the outside to keep it from sticking too much.
The chew is smooth, the ingredients have no dairy in them, so I can’t call it a caramel. It’s made of cane sugar, ginger, tapioca starch, apple flavor, cinnamon oil and allspice oil.
The flavor is first, and foremost ginger. The woodsy and earthy flavors come out loud and clear then create a warming sensation that last for quite a while, some pieces were hotter than others and created a little soft burn. The apple flavor was vague but present only by comparison to their classic Ginger Chews. The cinnamon and allspice did add a bit more dimension to it, like a spiced cider drink.
They’re messy and difficult to get out of their wrappers, but they’re also simple, vegan and refreshing.
I like them for traveling, as I sometimes get motion sickness. Folks who are prone to upset tummies (especially for morning sickness) may find them both a fun candy and soothing. They’re a little expensive for a sugar candy at $2 for 3 ounces but the pieces are small and there are a lot in the package.
Gluten free and vegan but they’re processed in a facility that also handles peanuts.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Seth Ellis Chocolatier of Boulder, CO makes an interesting line of candy cups called Sun Cups. They’re nut free, gluten free, use all organic ingredients plus ethically source chocolate, no soy, no peanuts and is Kosher. They do contain dairy.
The first set of products they introduced were sunflower butter cups (hence the name Sun Cups) in milk chocolate and dark chocolate. This cup is accurately described by the name, they’re chocolate cups with a peppermint cream filling. They package is the same size and weight as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups - 1.5 ounces (so 3/4 of an ounce per cup).
Their most recent addition to the line is their Sun Cups Dark Chocolate Mint Cups.
The packaging is dark and honestly looks a little more foreboding than most mint and chocolate candies I sample. The package is also compostable.
The cups are nicely made, perfectly level and with no cracks, scuffs, blemishes or oozing. The proportions inside the chocolate cups are very nicely done. Unlike some other cups I’ve had where there’s a strange chocolate hump on the bottom of the cup or too much top crust, these are consistent throughout.
The chocolate is crisp and nicely tempered. It’s deep and rich and only barely sweet, in fact, it’s downright bitter compared to the sweet center. The fondant filling is kind of strange. It’s not a smooth gooey sauce like the center of a Junior Mint or the crumbly slightly airy center of a York Peppermint Pattie. It’s soft, though stiff enough that it doesn’t flow. It’s grainy, but in a smooth and consistent way that frosting can be. The color is like turbinado sugar, natural but still clean looking. The filling is made from cream, sugar, peppermint oil and white chocolate. So there’s a light, creamy butter flavor to it along with a clean flavor of peppermint.
The mint doesn’t overpower the dark chocolate. Nothing can overpower the darkness of this chocolate, it has a slight dry bite to it that’s hard to overcome even with what feels like a pure sugar center.
I want to love these and I had no trouble eating both for the review, but I don’t feel like I’ll find myself in the right mood for something so intense again. I’m sure that there are some folks out there who have been longing for a really bitter peppermint pattie experience, so hopefully they’ll find these and keep the product line in business.
Monday, October 17, 2011
The Lemon Ginger Yuzu Gummy Pandas are described on the little gusseted stand up bag as exotic yuzu paired with invigorating ginger and lemon rich in vitamin C.
Like many other Bissinger’s candies, these are quite expensive. Some American made gummis sell for as little as $2.00 a pound (the Albanese World’s Best Gummis at dollar stores) where these are about $16.00 a pound, however, Bissinger’s does offer a bit more in the way of unique flavors and premium ingredients. As part of their naturals line, the Lemon Ginger Yuzu Gummy Pandas are made from organic sweetners. They also use all natural ingredients including natural colors and flavors. They’re also advertised as gluten free. The only weird thing in the list was fractionated coconut oil, which is the second to the last item, which means it’s probably the coating that keeps the gummis from sticking together.
They smell quite citrusy, like a combination of key limes and grapefruit. The Yuzu is related to grapefruits and has a definite pomelo note to it, bitter and a little bit on the pine side. The ginger provides a wonderful woodsy and warming note to the cold bitterness of the oily citrus. Lemon kind of mellows it all out.
The gummi texture is soft and bouncy, moist and overall rather sweet and smooth.
I love yuzu, citrus in general and ginger. Plus, these are nicely made gummis. But I’m still not able to love them. Partly because of the price and partly because of the brand. So as a candy taken in a vacuum without any other information, they’re an 8 out of 10, with all the other baggage, they’re barely more than a 6. (Continue reading if you like for more support for that, or just move along to the specs box at the bottom.)
On the whole, my confidence level in Bissinger’s is rather low. I’ve tried contacting them multiple times over the years and got conflicting answers about the gelatin origin and kosher status previously, and in the past month I’ve only gotten a reply to a tweet, neither of my emails with simple questions have been answered.
One of my concerns is with accurate labeling. They sell a variety of foil wrapped hollow “chocolates” around the holidays, including Halloween. They have them on their website and at Whole Food stores, so I’ve seen them in person. I believe that these are not actually made by Bissinger’s, but by Confiserie Riegelein of Germany. (Previous review of their Halloween Chocolate.) Bissinger’s affirms on their website that they use fair trade cocoa. Riegelein will not be fair trade until 2012 and there is no fair trade markings on the package in stores (just mentioned on the website). The biggest issue is that they’re calling this confection chocolate. By US FDA standards, it does not meet the definition because it contains whey, considered a filler ingredient. So it is labeled inaccurately. I’m really surprised that Whole Foods permits this sort of liberal misuse of the word chocolate and the addition of fillers in a product like chocolate. Also, if this is made by Riegelein, it’s made in Germany and there’s no indication of that on the packaging - again other violation of Whole Food’s policies and standard labeling in the United States. Finally, back to the product at hand, the package says Gluten Free and then says it’s packed in a facility that also handles wheat (and eggs, soy, milk, peanuts and tree nuts). So is it gluten free or not?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.