Thursday, May 8, 2008
Four 99%-100% Chocolate
Before I took on this challenge of the all-chocolate chocolate bars, I did take a test to find out if I’m a “supertaster”. People are divided into three categories: nontasters, regular tasters and supertasters.
Our tongues can detect five tastes: sweet, salt, bitter, sour & umami (savory). Nontasters (about 25% of the population) tend to enjoy more intensely flavor things such as super sours and liberally salted products, enjoy fatty & sweet foods while regular tasters (50%) shy away from intensity but sample liberally from all the major tastes & textures equally. Supertasters (25%) dislike stronger bitter & sour things and even high fat content foods. There are all sorts of scientific studies about evolution and how each of these types can be beneficial or detrimental to your ultimate longevity ... or enjoyment of that long life.
Although I have a very keen sense of smell, I am a regular taster. (I like coffee, super sours, broccoli & used to drink pickle juice - though I really like chocolate & cheese, I’m not that keen on other types of fatty foods.) So I figured I might be a good candidate for appreciating the more authentic tastes of the purest chocolate.
Dagoba makes one of the few 100% chocolate bars and the only one that I could find that was organic. It’s called Prima Materia which means, literally, prime matter. It’s usually used to refer to alchemical ideas about the base matter that makes up the universe, that all matter can be changed back into and then reformed. Kind of like stem cells are for living creatures.
In this case, this is the essential chocolate - just beans from Madagascar, ground up and made into a bar.
At only $2.75 retail, it was about the same price as a baking bar (though smaller of course). I got this one as a sample at the Fancy Food Show in January.
The Prima Materia is a dark looking bar, nicely glossy with a solid snap.
The melt on this was a little sticky, I can’t really explain it. Whatever it is, it’s not terribly dry. The melt lets the flavors come out slowly. I taste a bit of cherries and raspberry at the very start, but once it melts a bit more it’s all about the dark mulch of the forest floor.
There’s a light yeasty note in there that reminds me of dark beer. The bitterness is noticeable, but not enough to keep me from eating more pieces. By far this is the most edible of the bars I tried. I wouldn’t say that I’ll be eating a lot of it, but with some almonds or cashews nearby, it’s an acceptable form of entertainment for a while.
It really doesn’t take much to satisfy my chocolate craving either. (Of course then I start craving something else, like a glass of water & some sweet caramels.)
2 ounces - 185 calories per ounce - Kosher
After Christmas this bar, Ghirardelli 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate, was on sale for only $1.25, and found in with the baking products, I thought I’d throw it into the mix as a way to see if I was just being overly picky about what eating chocolate is in the first place (besides a fancy way to charge two or three times as much as chocolate chips).
The wrapper is very simple, but still quite compelling. The bar is large and flat, a little larger than the regular bars in the candy aisle, in this case it’s 4 ounces instead of 3.17 of the current Intense Dark line.
To their credit, Ghirardelli is clear that this is a baking bar. So this is an off-label application of the confection.
As lovely as it was, and it is a lovely bar, nicely tempered, perhaps a bit stiff but a deep red-brown, they are correct in not promoting this as an eating bar.
The smell was quite woodsy, like cedar and a bit grassy. It tastes like olives and asparagus. Bitter, moisture-sucking, mulchy and green.
Looking at the nutrition label it’s easy to see why this is so chalky, it has less fat than the Prima Materia, a whopping 40 calories per ounce less fat. (Have i mentioned lately that I love cacao fat ... sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if donuts were made by frying them in cocoa butter.)
4 ounces - 145 calories per ounce - Kosher
Meiji is a good consumer brand in Japan. They make all sorts of candy, not just chocolate products. (My favorites are their Gummy Choco and Chelsea.)
It’s a pretty bar with 15 nicely shaped scored pieces. The package is also good, an easy to open paperboard box that fits back together pretty well to hold the leftovers (and there’s gonna be leftovers, who eats the whole thing?). I was encouraged that it had a pretty high fat content, too.
The bar wasn’t expensive ($1.99), which is probably a pretty good indication of what I should expect for a chocolate without any sugar. The scent is of the dark roasted cocoa flavors, a bit of charcoal. There’s a very abrupt high-note of the vanilla flavoring in there as well.
On the tongue it melts pretty nicely, but it’s quite bitter and dry. Keeping it further back on the tongue seems to help to recognize the other flavors that included a bit of a yeasty note of baking bread, wood smoke and burnt sugar.
I should note, in case you haven’t noticed so far, these are not low-calorie bars. In fact, this “sugarless chocolate” is some of the highest caloric density reviews I’ve ever done. (It’s the cocoa butter.)
But note that chocolate has a good amount of iron (10%), and about 3 grams of protein per ounce and 4 grams of fiber per ounce. That doesn’t even go into the positive effects that all those antioxidants have for your heart and circulatory system.
1.58 ounces - 161 calories per ounce (contains soy lecithin & artificial flavors)
I was so excited when I bought the Chocolat Bonnat 100% Cacao. I’ve never had Bonnat before, the only experience I have with it is reading this exhaustive series at DallasFood.org about Noka and seeing the bars at several upscale stores. At $8 a bar (granted it is a big bar at 100 grams), I was hoping for some sort of miracle. I’ve come to realize there’s a reason that chocolate with sugar is so widely available ... it’s just better that way.
The wrapper, I admit, is lovely. The regular Bonnat bars have white wrappers with similar lettering, but the 100% gets the special brick red treatment, which should be a good indication that you should stop and think about it. 100% Cacao. No sugar, not even lecithin or vanilla. Stop. Hazard. Danger.
The bar was wonderfully tempered. (As wonderfully tempered as I was ill tempered when I was done.)
When I first unwrapped it, it smelled strongly of green olives. Later when I tasted it, I kept getting the strong, puckering flavor of green olives, grassy matcha and artichokes. These are all good things as far as vegetables go, but I don’t like them together and I don’t like them as the primary notes in my chocolate.
Here’s the thing, I hear my flavors. Well, not quite hear ... they have wavelengths in my head (and kind of colors that go along with them). Flavors create vibrations. And different kinds of flavor combinations create different combinations of these vibrations & wavelengths. It’s called synesthesia and many people have it to some degree.
So when I talk about things being harmonious, it’s not just a metaphor, it’s an actual description of my experience. In this case the bar was screechy. It was unripe, unrehearsed, stuttery, weak and tinny.
I’ve had the bar for a couple of months and have unwrapped it a few times to see if it was just that I’d had the flu, the lights in the house were at the wrong level, the moon was in the wrong phase or was in a bad mood. No, this is like Phillip Glass & Stephen Sondheim collaborating on some sort of atonal opera about database programmers performed by deaf alley cats in a poorly ventilated auditorium with squeaky chairs that pinch. It’s probably a wonderful intellectual experiment, but it’s not an enjoyable physical one. (But again, this may be an experience colored by the way that my brain processed certain things and might be just glorious to folks who don’t get the cacophony of wavelengths.)
3.53 ounces - unknown calories
The best news is that I have a deeper appreciation of my blended chocolates now and single origins even more so. As far as pure chocolate as being a “sugarless” alternative to regular sweetened chocolate, I think a very small quantity of sweetened chocolate will be more satisfying than a larger portion of one of these. But your mileage may vary. I definitely recommend the Dagoba if you’re itching to try just one. (The fact that it has a reasonable price is also a selling point.)
All of the remaining bits of these bars will be taken next door to the neighbors this evening where I will donate them to Amy in the hopes that she’ll create some awesome and rich brownies out of them so that I may love this chocolate again.
Casey at Chocolate Note has far more appreciation for the most concentrated chocolate bars. For other deeper appreciations for these bars try the Seventy Percent for: Michel Cluizel Noir Infini & forum discussion about Bonnat & Cluizel.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.