Saturday, April 14, 2007
I’ve been madly typing away on an editorial for the LA Times for the past week. Honing it, submitting it, editing it.
And I’m feeling pretty good. I’m taking a stand, getting the word out. Because I was feeling like this topic was neglected in the mass media.
So I ran into my neighbor this morning, who happens to work at the LA Times (no, she’s not the one who spits things out) and she said, “Did you see the LATimes this morning?”
She said I should read it because there is an article on the front page about the cocoa butter substitution proposal.
(Sigh. So my editorial is a no-go at the moment. Maybe some retooling.)
Here are some highlights of the article with my commentary:
Think about that for a moment. So a quarter of what we’re eating when we consume chocolate is actually cocoa butter. And replacing that huge proportion with an ingredient that doesn’t make it taste better also isn’t going to improve the nutritional profile of chocolate. It’s going to make it worse. Sure, chocolate is high in fat (hello? it’s 25% fat) but it has been found to be neutral when it comes to our cholesterol profile (that’s just plain cocoa butter, chocolate itself as a combination of both cocoa solids high in antioxidants and the neutral butter lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol). The fats they want to put in place of cocoa butter are nasty. They contain higher levels of saturated fats and can even contain trans fatty acids.
That flexibility already exists. Hershey is free to make products without cocoa butter in them right now. In fact, they do. They put a vegetable oil based coating on the current version of the 5th Avenue Bar. I’ve had it. And as a consumer with taste, I prefer the old version. I resent the fact that if this proposal goes through they can take the current mockolate formulation and put a big banner across the front of the package that says “Now with Real Chocolate” without changing a thing in the actual ingredients. Tell me they’re doing it becuaseof my preference and I will laugh in your face.
Oh, and it could be years? Yes, but the open comment period for the public to respond is now, so that sort of mollifying comment is like saying, “don’t worry your pretty little head about it. We’ll do what’s right for you. Look at how much we have your interests at heart, because we’ve already publicly stated that customers may actually prefer a version of chocolate that don’t have cocoa butter in it.”
Honestly, this sums it up so well. Industry is overthinking this. It’s a simple thing that we want, we just want chocolate. Keep it real, guys. Don’t mess with out chocolate.
Note: Jerry Hirsch’s article also appeared in the Seattle Times.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Koakuma from UHA are a curious little candy. They’ve taken their wildly popular Puccho and combined them with the flavors and colors of the Gothic Lolita style popular in Japan. Koakuma means “little devil” and the package sports the little character all over it. With a heart shaped face, little bat wings and on the bottom of the pleated bag, she rides a trident like a broom.
These little candies come individually wrapped inside larger pouches. The taffy base is black with rich colored stripes and then studded with gummis.
Koakuma Peach Rose
I’m not usually fond of peach flavored candies. Don’t misunderstand, I’m a huge fan of fresh peaches, canned peaches and even dried peaches. There’s just something about many peach flavored candies I’m just not fond of.
No matter, because these don’t taste like peaches. It smells like peaches, but it tastes like mildly tart floral berries.
The little gummy bits provide and interesting texture to the bouncy chew. It was very fresh and soft and pretty darn good. I was really surprised I ate most of the bag.
Koakuma Blueberry Rose
I’ve never really been that impressed with blueberry as a flavor. I often get it confused with raspberry in candies, and this one is no exception. It tastes like raspberry and a little floral note thrown in there with the rose. But I have to say that I’m impressed that the color actually looks like blueberries instead of like something pharmaceutical.
Again, bouncy and chewy and fresh and thoroughly enjoyable.
Both of them were nice, but the specific flavors just weren’t my favorites. I think I’d like a strawberry with rose or maybe a grape and violet. I bet they’d make a fun gift for someone who’s intro Goth though. (Who doesn’t like candies that match their nail polish?) There is another flavor called Cassis & Grape that I saw on JList for $1.80 (which has lots of other Gothic Lolita cosplay stuff to complete the look).
After my pleasant first experience with CocoaVia last year I was happy to find that CocoaVia was at the ExpoWest trade show back in January. It meant that I could try more of their products without shoveling out oodles of dough. They were sampling their milk chocolate covered raisins, which I thought tasted like milk chocolate raisins. They also had a large assortment of their bars out there. It was hard to talk to the folks at the booth for all the attendees grabbing the free samples by the handful, but I stood my ground in the crush and had a nice conversation with the CocoaVia people.
I like the idea of portion control. I had a little problem with those big tubs at Trader Joe’s sometimes, because I will just keep eating from it. I learned a long time ago to take a handful and put it in a little dish, close up the tub and put it away and then enjoy my treat.
I think CocoaVia’s idea for a portion controlled sweet is two-fold - small individually wrapped packages sold only five at a time. And charge $20 a pound.
Chocolate Snack Bar - the package on this one is a bit deceptive. It just shows some chunks of chocolate but it’s really a bar of crispy/chewy grains with a chocolate base. It feels much more filling than the 80 calories might ordinarily seem.
The crisped rice and grain crunch is mellow and malty while the chocolate gives it a creamy and tasty component. Yeah, it could be bigger, but it’s a supplement bar, not dessert. (The ingredients on this bar list Almonds and Peanuts.)
80 calories and 25% of our daily RDA of Calcium, 15% of your Vitamin E and 10% of your B6, B12, Folic Acid and Vitamin C.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Crispy Chocolate Bar - seemed to be more accurate on the picture front, little chunks of chocolate with itty-bitty crispies mixed in. The bar is dark and has a very green and smoky taste to it. And a bitter aftertaste. This was a seriously strong bar with a dry finish. Not really an indulgence, I felt like I was working to find the pleasant flavors instead of just enjoying it.
I waited a couple of days and tried again and I’m gonna have to pass on this one, it’s just too bitter. It’s like eating a spoonful of cocoa.
90 calories and 10% of your RDA of Folic Acid, Vitamin C & B12, 15% of your Vitamin E & B6 and 30% of your Calcium.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Milk Chocolate Bar - was very nice. Super creamy and smooth with great chocolate notes and some caramelized milk flavors. This bar was softer than the other ones (you can see it even melted a little bit under my hot studio light when I was taking the picture).
It reminds me a lot of the Dove milk chocolate, which shouldn’t be surprising since they’re both made by Mars. However, there is an odd bitter (and only slight) aftertaste for me. It’s a little metallic and it could just be the fortifications, but it makes it less like candy for me.
110 calories and 20% of your RDA of Calcium, 15% of your Vitamin E & B6, 10% of your Vitamin C, Folic Acid & B12.
Rating: 5 out of 10
These are all okay, but I still have to say that their best innovation so far is the Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. I even found them locally at Shim’s Produce (it’s kind of like the 99 Cent store of grocers). They had stacks of boxes for only 99 Cents. I thought there must be something wrong with them and only bought one, but it was just fine (expiration date of July).
That brings me back to the huge drawback of the CocoaVia line. The price. At about $5 a box of five, it’s pretty harsh for the pocket book and not terribly satisfying to the sweet tooth. If anything I’d feel obligated to finish something I don’t like because I paid so much for it.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
I’ve been a big admirer of Chuao since I found it last year. They use all El Rey chocolate and combine classic and contemporary ingredients for tantalizing and fresh flavor combinations. While you can only get their best items at their shops or online (such as their bon bons) they did introduce their quaint little ChocoPod (review here), which are great little nibbles of chocolate perfect for an accompaniment for your coffee-house fare.
This year they’re expanding their ChocoPod line with their new collection of filled ChocoPod.
Chuao gave me a sampler box (sorry, not available to the public) so I could try all the flavors.
Picante - spicy Cabernet caramel. This one had a lovely tangy and fruity flavor that gave my throat quite a burn. (Dark Chocolate)
Passion - passion fruit and caramel. I’m not usually a big fan of passion fruit (or guava or papaya for that matter), but this was fab. It was sweet and grapey and mellow. It makes we want to give passion fruits another try. (Dark Chocolate)
Modena - strawberry & balsamic caramel. I’ve had this one as a bonbon, it has a great fruity flavor with a very noticeable dark tang to it from the balsamic. What it’s missing, for me, is the caramelized/burnt sugar notes that would bring out the deeper flavors. (Dark Chocolate)
Candela - spicy macadmia praline. Ugh, I did not like this one at all. The texture was great, the praline was a little crunchy from the caramelized sugar, but macadamia are just not a good flavor to me. Since this was a macadamia paste, there wasn’t even the macadamia texture as a reprieve. Again, totally a personal thing. (Dark Chocolate)
Banana - banana brown sugar caramel. This is the flat version of the Cambur bonbon I love so much. Sweet and salty with a wonderful fresh banana flavor. A little on the sweet side, but this one had more in the chocolate department than the bonbon does. (Milk Chocolate)
Dulce de Leche - milk caramel. Wonderfully milky, rather sticky on the tongue but with a good complex cooked milk and sugar taste. (Milk Chocolate)
Since I was a big fan of the Cambur (the bonbon version of the Banana), I’m enthusiastic about the idea of being able to pick these up at a coffee house. (Might I suggest Chuao’s sales staff contact my favorite coffee house, Sabor y Cultura in Hollywood and see about getting them into that cafe?) I know they’re a bit more expensive than some treats, but the size and proportion are just right for me.
YumSugar also gave these a try. She didn’t like the Banana as much as I did, but gave the set a thumbs up. I haven’t seen these in stores yet, but you can order online right now. Banana and Dulce de Leche aren’t available yet. (So if you have to order, just get them in the BonBon version!)
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
There’s been some news on the FDA Chocolate Standards change since my last post.
First, Guittard Chocolate Company has issued a press release. Below is a quote from Gary Guittard, the fourth generation chocolatemaker:
But what I thought was especially interesting was this point that the release also brought up:
Go read the whole thing.
There are a few things to remember. The new standards will expand the definition of chocolate, which will still include the current standards. This means that the chocolate that we know and love may continue to exist by those manufacturers that have customers who value their quality product. However, because of the new latitude, the cocoa butter which we know and revere for its unique mouthfeel may be replaced in part or total by other vegetable fats in products on the market that you already purchase.
I know, an oil is an oil right? You use them interchangeably all the time! Making a salad dressing? Olive oil is the same as partially hydrogenated coconut oil, isn’t it? Of course not! If you wouldn’t do it to your salad, why on earth would you do it to your chocolate?
The permission to substitute is a degradation of the already liberal standards for chocolate. It provides no benefit to the consumer. I’ve said this before, it’s perfectly legal for a confectioner to make a coconut oil based mockolate product and sell it right now. Why do they want to call it chocolate? For you? No, it’s for them to be able to sell you a cheaper product under the same name as a well-respected and high quality product. Sure, you’ll know it just by reading the ingredients, but when I buy something called orange juice, I expect the juice of oranges. When I buy chocolate, I expect the whole bean elements to be present.
In the mean time, I’ve also been doing my darndest to get a hold of the actual FDA document that we’re supposed to be commenting on. I know it seems silly, but don’t you think that the FDA has an obligation to post the document for public review within the window for public comment? Keep an eye on this page, perhaps it will be posted soon.
I’ve also contacted the Chocolate Manufacturers Association for their comment on this and I’ll have more to report on that. (I got a response, I just need to go through it completely.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.