Monday, April 10, 2006
Last year my favorite discovery was Scharffen Berger’s Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs. I think I might be in love all over again with the nibs from sweetriot. For those of you who haven’t been following along, cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans that are ready to be made into chocolate. Everything that makes chocolate chocolate is inside the bean, the cocoa butter and what becomes cocoa powder. A plain cacao nib is rather sour, kind of grainy and has very little of the buttery crunch we associate with most nuts. It’s more like eating a coffee bean than a peanut. As a solo snack, they’re an acquired taste, but they make a great addition to salads or thrown into muffins or cookies.
Sweetriot sent me this fun little “spring fling” pack, which holds three different little upright tins of chocolate covered cacao nibs - each covered with a different blend of chocolate. 50% cocoa solids, 65% cocoa solids and the masterful 70% cocoa solids (with a hint of coffee).
The little tins are rather small, and to be honest when I first read about these on CandyAddict early this year I thought they were extremely expensive. At $6 each for a tin (regular price), it’s about five times the price of the Scharffen Berger nibs (which I already thought were pricey).
What is especially compelling is the mission of the company and that they’re fair trade (though not certified yet). They’re also Kosher, gluten-free and made with non-genetically modified soy lecithin (also called GMO-free).
What’s also different about these and the Scharffen Berger is that the coating on the nibs is quite a bit thicker. Where the Scharffen Berger nibs were bumpy and craggy, the Sweetriot “peaces” are smooth like little nuggets of tumbled chocolate.
I started with the Flavor 50, and I’m not sure you can make it out in the photo, but they’re more milk-chocolate looking than the rest. They’re actually very sweet and mellow and had a very clean taste to them, that seemed to have more vanilla coming through than most chocolate. Each little tin includes a “fortune” which has a piece of trivia about where the cacao comes from. In this tin it said: “Cacao Country Brazil shares boundaries with every South American country but Chile & Ecuador.”
Next was Flavor 65, which has a very strong acidity and bitterness to it, with notes of cherry and apricot but a very strong scent of rum and cedar shavings. Like a complex wine, these make you want to keep shoveling them into your mouth so you can try to pin down the notes. The trivia snippet here: “The first inhabitants of Cacao Country Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in Peruvian caves.”
The last was Flavor 70, a deep rich experience whole. I was expecting them to be as bitter and astringent as Flavor 65, but they were actually more mellow, but equally dark and complex. The coffee note was not overwhelming and this tin was sweeter smelling. There’s a dry finish and the fruity notes blend together without an overpowering single flavor coming through. The chocolate is smooth and of course the nibs provide an interesting nutty crunch. The geography trivia here: “Together, Cacao Countries Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.”
By far the balance of chocolate to nibs is better in the Sweetriot over the Scharffen Berger nibs. The only thing I have trouble getting over here is the price. While I support Fair Trade, I also don’t care for overpackaging of items. Yes, they’re cute and the artwork on the tins is certainly original. The only option for purchase here is in the tiny tin, and maybe I just want to buy a pound of them and keep refilling my individual tin. But the company is young and I’m willing to be patient for more options on purchasing. For now they’re fantastic-tasting and hard to beat on that score, but they cost a pretty penny (and when I say penny, I mean that each little morsel is more than a penny!).
If you’re a true chocoholic, now might be the time to give these a try. They’re on sale through April 14th at 25% off on the website. They are sold at a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations, but check their website for the latest updates.
UPDATE: I found them in the wild! I saw them at a health food store in Greenwich Village - and the going price is only $4.99 ... much better than the expected $6.00 (based on their web price). If you think about how much you’re willing to spend for a latte or ice blended whatever (or hot chocolate), it’s really a comparable treat and of course it’s small enough to tuck in a pocket or your bag.
UPDATED UPDATE (12/28/2006): The prices on the website have come down quite a bit, buying a box of 12 means that tins are only $4 each now. The 3 pack flavor set also has a price reduction (the packaging varies by season).
Today marks one year since Candy Blog was born!
If you look back through the archives, you’ll notice quite a few things have evolved in only a year. The rating system and of course the entire site design changeover back in November. Since then I’ve reviewed well over 300 candies (I don’t know the precise number) from more than 25 countries.
Of course my obsession with candy has not waivered. In fact, this week I am in New York City and have completely immersed myself in a quest for candy and candy stores. I’ve already visited Economy Candy (everything under the sun), Russ & Daughters (halvah) and Jacques Torres (chocolate). Today I’ll probably head over to Maison du Chocolat and perhaps later this week Dylan’s Candy Bar, Marie Belle, Aji Ichiban and Vosges. If you have suggestions for Manhattan candy stores, leave a comment!
One of the most exciting things about the blog for me has been connecting with so many people and hearing your thoughts and experiences on candy. Each day, each post and each comment just cements my belief that the love of candy is a celebration of community and all the great things that we have in common. I’m so honored that I have so many faithful readers and I hope you all enjoy yourselves and of course it’s great to see the traffic on the site grow and grow each month.
In celebration of the anniversary of Candy Blog, I’m planning a special drawing for some candy next week (when I get home), so everyone gets to share in the fun! (Image swiped from CandyBaskets.com)
Friday, April 7, 2006
The Original “Flowing Center” Candy Cups!
I’ve come to realize that about half of how we experience things we eat has to do with experience that we bring to it. A piece of the most amazing cake or the best chocolate during a horrible dinner or at a traumatic time in your life may, actually, leave a bad taste in your mouth. The most mundane sugar morsel might be elevated to ambrosia based on other fantastic associations. Things like candied apples, candy corn and cotton candy all seem to benefit from this phenomenon.
Candy is most often associated with good experiences, as it’s often a reward or an indulgence in the first place. So Valomilks were getting high marks before I even ate them because of my pursuit of them and the lore associated with them.
But really, 2,400 words and four posts later, you’re wondering, what’s all the fuss about? Are they that good?
The chocolate is smooth, a little sugary and has a slight cool feeling when melting on the tongue. The cream is impossibly sticky, though I never had the “run down your chin” experience with them. The flattened marshmallow is sweet, without being cloying or sappy, but it lacks a vanilla kick I was hoping it would have. I was hoping for real vanilla bean essence here, and perhaps it’s my fault for making the candy into something in my head that it would never be. It was smooth, and it’s true that the chocolate and filling go together well, the proportions are just right, but to be honest ... I wasn’t that keen on them.
I’ve given them at least a half a dozen chances now. I’m not a neat freak, but I really don’t like being sticky. It’s just too hard to eat. As I sit here and eat another package of them, I have a moistened washcloth with me to keep wiping my hands and face. I end up taking bigger bites than I want, and instead of thinking about what I’m eating, I’m thinking about what a mess it is. Really, if there were a candy I could advocate for the nude, this would be it (as long as they’re not sitting near an ant hill).
I know there was a lot of build up in this series, but most of that is immaterial to the candy itself. I may end up doing the same for some other coveted bar in the future, though I hope it’s one that’s more transportable. I hope you’ve enjoyed the Saga of the Valomilk and hopefully the actual Valomilks should you get a chance to try them.
While I’m partial to Pocky, I’m trying to open up and try a few of the other dipped cookie sticks from Japan. Last week it was Yan Yan, this week I bring you Lucky Mini Almond Black.
These petite little sticks of chocolate flavored biscuit stucks are covered with a mix of dark chocolate and crushed almonds. Like Pocky, there’s a little bit of uncovered stick so you can grab it and not worry about melting the chocolate as you nibble.
The package holds a brown plastic tray with two sections filled with the sticks. Each stick is about 2.5” long. There are plenty of almonds and it’s got a good mellow crunch to the biscuit without being too sweet.
The ingredients have some oddities, including things like “cheese powder” and “cream powder” but these definitely have no hint of the cheesiness of the Yan Yan.
Overall, as a nuttier version of Pocky, this is pretty good. I actually like the high ratio of chocolate and nuts and the slightly flavored biscuit. It’s no Men’s Pocky, but it’s a great afternoon snack that doesn’t feel too decadent.
Thursday, April 6, 2006
So here I was with 20 packages of Valomilks (come on, I ate four of them while still in Pennsylvania) - ten packed into their original box and inside my suitcase, seven inside my carry on bag in a sealed plastic box and three of my precioussess inside a vacuum-sealed flask. I can only imagine what happened to my suitcase because when it arrived at LAX at baggage claim as it was soaking wet (well, it was raining). The contents were thankfully dry. My laptop bag was bumped around quite a bit as I had trouble finding space for it and then it got moved around by the flight crew.
Now, part of this experiment was not scientific (all right, none of it was). I have no clue if they were intact when they left the Sifer factory, when they arrived or left Candy Favorites or if they were affected by the drive across the state and back, nor when I put them into my luggage. Further, I didn’t open them all that the same time here at home (because I had the intention of eating them, and I do have other candy commitments that I had to keep). So any of them could have ruptured before they got on the plane or sometime after I brought them home. However, I can say that the ones in the thermos did the best ... but that may have less to do with the vacuum seal than the less bumpy treatment.
The box that was in my checked luggage has leaky cups. The packages from my carry-on “tupperware box” has leaky cups. It’s true, the cups leak, some more than others.
I can’t say that the smaller outflows don’t affect the flavor, they do tend to give it a gummy, flaky, sticky spot but they don’t bother me. However, there were some substantial losses in the filling department. Some cups were nearly void of filling (well, there was filling, but it wasn’t filling the cups, it was filling the package and tray). The longer I’ve had them, the less coherent they seem to be. In truth, I am troubled that there is such a high proportion of loss ... I don’t put up with that sort of thing with a Godiva truffle, why would I put up with it with a Valomilk? Are they really that good?
Tomorrow’s Episode: The Valomilk Review
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.