Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Theobroma cacao, the cocoa plant, is a rather strange thing. The pods that produce cocoa beans grow on strange trees in the tropical and sub-tropical jungles of North and South America and have been successfully cultivated all over the middle of the planet since the discovery of the New World.
Like coffee, cocoa wants to grow in the shade. The cocoa trees are rather squat and unassuming looking and need the tall canopy of the larger trees. What this means to the jungle ecosystem is that a cocoa plantation looks suspiciously like a jungle ... tall trees, a good deal of leaf litter on the ground and of course a good variety of critters to keep the cocoa plants pollinated. Plant cocoa trees too close together and you’re asking for diseases and of course it exhausts the already weak soils of the rain forest so you’d be obliged to fertilize.
A properly balanced cocoa plantation can be relatively manageable with a good hands-off approach. Maintain the trees, control disease quickly by removing infested trees and you can have a sustainable crop that keeps the rain forest intact for generations to come. The tall hardwood trees of the canopy can be sustainably harvested as well and other fruit trees can be planted as well. Birds and beasts can thrive along with the jungle as a whole and the humans merely as caretakers. It’s a Utopian ideal, and with the help of Fair Trade and other small scale cooperative initiatives that support the future of the forests means we can have our chocolate cake and eat it, too.
There’s no reason that reasonably priced chocolate can’t be produced from cacao grown in a sustainable fashion that preserves the local ecosystem and the local people’s autonomy. In fact, the future of the tropical regions may depend on global demand for agricultural products like coffee and cocoa that can be grown this way. At the moment the solution is not to buy more chocolate but to make an effort to support those chocolate products that work with farmer co-ops, operate under Fair Trade policies and of course support sustainable agriculture.
You can read more about these projects and the theories behind sustainable cocoa plantations here:
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Sometimes I wish that candies were made in different flavors. Like, I used to wish that Starbursts came in cinnamon, mint and licorice flavors.
It turns out that product already exists. BlackJack is a licorice (actually anise) flavored chew that’s made in the shape of little square pieces that are sold in a roll.
What was dissapointing about them is that they’re slightly tart. I’d expected a smooth, sweet and spicy chew filled with licorice goodness. Instead it’s slightly lemony (citric acid is in the ingredients), with a tart bite and not much of a licorice flavor to it. It smells a lot like anise, but doesn’t really deliver. I like the combination of licorice and lemon, which is done really well in the Lemon Lakritsi from Finland.
Bassett’s, now owned by UK candy giant Cadbury, is well known for their Allsorts, and I was hoping this was a pocket version of them. They may just take some getting used to, but I’ve had this pack for quite a while and after eating about three of them, I have no desire to continue trying to like them. I’m sure they have their fans, but I don’t think I’ll ever be among them.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:42 am
Monday, January 16, 2006
I love Pocky. I’ve tried regular Chocolate Pocky and even Green Tea Pocky, but I hadn’t tried this one, called Men’s Pocky. I’m not sure why it’s called Men’s Pocky, but I’ve heard that it’s because it’s not as sweet as regular chocolate Pocky.
What is Pocky? It’s an unsalted pretzel/biscuit stick covered with chocolate. Simple, crunchy, sweet and smooth.
It’s really a simple candy, or perhaps it’s a snack. I don’t care what you call it, it’s good. The pretzel base is crunchy and actually rather bland with has a wonderful consistent crisp to it that stands up to the chocolate. The chocolate is smooth and sweet with a hint of dry bitterness. Unlike the regular Pocky that I tried, this one has far less trans fatty acids (.5 grams for half the box). Of course there’s also 5 grams of protein in each serving.
The snack is a pretty good value as imported candy goes - it’s a 100 gram box and I picked it up at regular price at Mitsuwa for $1.59. In fact, I found it hard to eat a full serving of it. The box has two pouches in it and the box protects the long sticks from getting broken. In fact, this is my fourth box of Pocky and I’ve never had a broken one.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:50 am
Friday, January 13, 2006
By request I’d done some adjustments and I think I’ve solved the problem with Bloglines (an aggregator for RSS feeds) readers not seeing the ratings for the review posts.
Now when you read a post you’ll see all of the categories assigned to a candy at the top of the post:
The first category is the rating, which I’ve added the number to (so you don’t have to memorize my funky scale).
Of course you still have to come to the site to comment.
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
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.