Saturday, October 9, 2010

Venchi Assenzio Pure Extra Bitter Chocolate with Absinth

45g (1.58oz) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa powder (22-24% cocoa butter), cocoa butter, cocoa mass, sugar, dill, Artemisia absinthium extract, soy lecithin, vanilla.

Venchi's absinthe-flavored 75% cacao bar is unlike anything else I've tried. It looks like any old small bar with fancy wrapping, but the licorice-like scent is powerful, unmistakeable even when the bar was wrapped. I bought this chocolate because it was novel and exotic, but to be honest I'm not a huge fan of licorice and its cousins (cousins in odor only—anise and fennel are barely related to licorice), so it took a few weeks of daring myself to review The Absinthe Bar before I finally bit the bullet.

So what's absinthe? I won't go into detail here because I think most of us have already heard that there's this the green, anise-flavored, slightly illegal liquor that maybe makes you crazy but actually probably doesn't. Regardless, it's worth noting that the cult-favorite spirit with the sexy history experienced a bit of a resurgence in the last decade or so, which makes Venchi's formidably herbaceous chocolate somewhat trendy in a bold and interesting way. Venchi approximates absinthe by using the liquor's characteristic Artemesia absinthium, aka wormwood, as well as dill in the place of fennel, though it leaves out the usual anise. [3/30/11: See the end of the post for an update on The Dill Situation.]

The look: angular, matte, and grayish. The smell: Like absinthe. Fennel, anise, licorice, you know what I'm talking about. As I've mentioned there is no fennel or anise here as in absinthe, so what provides the aura of licorice? I can't find a description of the flavor of Artemesia absinthium itself other than “bitter,” but I've discovered that licorice-haters can buy modern absinthe without the traditional flavor, so it probably isn't coming from the wormwood. Dill, on the other hand, is fairly closely related to fennel, and while they don't taste identical, I'd wager that flavor and odor are what dill brings to the table in this chocolate (perhaps in some high concentration or using a non-leaf part of the plant). Let's give it a taste.

This pairing actually works surprisingly well. The texture of the bar is very smooth (if just a touch chalky) and the chocolate is dark and slightly bitter but mostly sweet and not too intense, which jibes with the oddly sweet undertone particular to licorice and similar plants. While the anise-y quality melds nicely with the chocolate, it also predominates and lingers...and lingers. This bar is for licorice lovers and absinthe fetishists only.

Conclusion: Venchi Assenzio Pure Extra Bitter Chocolate with Absinth is a great bar for a niche market.

[Note: I couldn't find this bar on Venchi's website, though I did see it for sale on a couple other random sites. I bought it in a brick-and-mortar specialty chocolate shop.]

Update 3/30/11: In light of the comment left below, I looked into the ingredient in question as it was listed in Italian, anetolo. The only translation I could find was "anethole," which turns out to be the aromatic compound largely responsible for the flavor of licorice, anise, and fennel. (Fennel as a vegetable is finnochio.) So there you go!

1 comment:

  1. I think it's fennel but lost in translation from Italian.