Saturday, January 19, 2013

Trader Joe's Takes Flight: A Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey, Part II


Corporate Info: (Altered from 10/6/12) Quirky-gourmet grocery store Trader Joe's tends to be hit or miss, with some products being regular purchases for years, some becoming favorites and then disappearing from shelves, and some straight up disappointing. I've had similarly mixed results with their chocolate, but there's constant turnover, they contract with a whole assortment of manufacturers, and they aim for reasonable price points, so it's worth it to keep trying. There isn't much else to say aside from a fun fact: The US's beloved Trader Joe's is owned by Germany's ALDI, which operates discount supermarkets all over Europe—and that explains why we saw packages of dried fruit and nuts labeled Trader Joe's in an ALDI in Osnabrück.

Today's Bar: An assortment! This “Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey” is in the same line as the bar with toffee, walnuts, and pecans and the caramel-filled bar with black sea salt, but it includes seven separate and interesting bars! Two are 2oz versions of full-sized products, the salted caramel bar I've already reviewed and a coconut caramel one I still intend to review, so I won't cover them here. Further, you can buy each of those separately, and I've seen both in stores off-and-on for the last year, so you can probably find them if you want them. In contrast, I've only seen this assortment once, so I'm going to cover it in a two-part mega review rather than stretching it out over five posts.

So what, then, are today's bars? Every bar in the assortment is in 70% cacao, and aside from the two caramel-filled ones discussed above, all are regular chocolate with inclusions. Last week I looked at coffee & cocoa nibs and chili & cinnamon; today is even more interesting, with Almond Ginger, Orange Hibiscus, and Salt & Pepper Potato Chip!

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Almond Ginger


2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, almonds, ginger, cane sugar, salt
18g sugar/57g serving (31.6% by wt.)

Appearance: Again, plain, slightly purply chocolate, with raised almond pieces on the back and flecks of white almond in cross-section.

Smell: I get the ginger, actually, in the form of something spicy and fragrant within the light, nutty chocolate.

Taste: Saltier than I expected, with crunchy almond slivers and tiny bursts of bright crystallized ginger. All three come in separately, so each bite varies in terms of texture and flavor. The chocolate is still reasonably bland, a little chalky, and sweet, but this bar is more about the inclusions so it works out.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Almond Ginger has varied flavor and texture within okay chocolate.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Orange Hibiscus


2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, hibiscus powder, orange oil, tea: elderberry, apples, hibiscus, rosehip, kiwi, strawberry, sunflower petals, rose, corn flower, raspberry, passionfruit, natural flavors
18g sugar/57g serving (31.6% by wt.)

Appearance: Again, plain, slightly purply chocolate.

Smell: Cohesive but complex fruit, ranging from fragrant and perfumey to sweet-tart.

Taste: Hm. The chalkiness of the chocolate base doesn't work here, as it contrasts poorly with the fruit flavor. Aside from that, very fruity and sweet-tart, leaning toward sweet, with tiny crunches, probably the hibiscus powder. I think I can taste the exotic spice of the orange oil, and aside from that it very much reminds me of the sorts of fruit teas that use hibiscus as a foundation, bright and tart and layered. It also works well with the mild chocolate, though I do think it could stand up to a darker, more sour-bitter-beany variety. Unfortunately, the contrast with the texture is awfully weird, and that's what gets to me in the end.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Orange Hibiscus is complexly fruity, with a chalkiness that contrasts oddly with the flavoring.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Salt & Pepper Potato Chip


2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, organic clarified butter, sea salt, potatoes, safflower and/or sunflower oil, rice flour, black pepper, white pepper, yeast extract, garlic powder, onion powder, citric acid, black pepper oil, jalapeño powder
18g sugar/57g serving (31.6% by wt.)

Appearance: Again, plain, slightly purply chocolate.

Smell: Salty and savory on top of light, nutty chocolate.

Taste: Neat! There's the crispy crunch of the potato chips, along with their light, savory flavor (these are “salt and pepper” potato chips, which also means other flavor punchers like yeast extract and garlic and onion powders), a nice amount of salt and pepper...it actually works really well. Again, this chocolate has some unpleasant chalkiness, but it can be overlooked with this inclusion and the mild flavor works much better than would something more “chocolatey,” whose bitter and sour notes would probably contrast poorly and/or overwhelm the savory notes.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Salt & Pepper Potato Chip is surprisingly full of potato chips, and their texture and savory flavor works well with the mild chocolate.

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