Saturday, November 26, 2011

SunSpire Fair Trade Organic Baking Bar Unsweetened Chocolate

4oz (113g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade unsweetened chocolate

I haven't bought a lot of SunSpire products, as they have that old-school health-food look about them that doesn't inspire (heh) tasty chocolate confidence. I'm finally trying this baking bar because it was on sale, I use a decent amount of chocolate, and I'd like to support organic and fair trade production when I can. That said, it's 100% cacao, so unless it's François Pralus it probably won't be a joy to eat as is.

Today I'm trying SunSpire's chocolate plain and in hot chocolate, which for me consists of chocolate, sugar, vanilla, and soy milk. You may make your cocoa differently, but since I drink it nearly daily using various chocolate bars and cocoa powders, I do have some basis for comparison.

Corporate Info: SunSpire's parent company is The Hain Celestial Group, owners of a huge range of health food brands, among them Greek Gods; Arrowhead Mills; Spectrum; Celestial Seasonings; Rice Dream, Soy Dream and WestSoy (milk replacers); Alba and Avalon Organics and Jāson (personal care products); and of course Hain Pure Foods. It's really big. Hain is headquartered in a town in Long Island, New York; customer service is in Celestial Seasonings' hometown of Boulder, Colorado; and Hain Celestial also operates in Canada and Europe.

Appearance: Very matte, washed-out brown.

Smell: Vivid, beany, tart, raw.

Taste: Bitter and chalky, leaving a chalky residue. It doesn't make much of an impression other than that texture and the bitterness hovering around it.

In Hot Chocolate: My cocoa with SunSpire unsweetened wasn't great, less because of flavor than because of the same chalky texture I tasted in the bar. It was like regular hot chocolate with additional chalk dust, which thickened the cocoa slightly and then, after I swallowed, lingered dryly on the inside of my mouth. Too bad.

Conclusion: SunSpire Fair Trade Organic Baking Bar Unsweetened Chocolate is more memorable for its weirdly chalky texture than its flavor.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Vivani Dark Chocolate with Orange

3.5oz (100g)
Ingredients: Organic cocoa liquor, o. raw cane sugar, o. cocoa butter, o. orange oil
11g sugar/42g serving (26.2% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Vivani is a young subsidiary of Germany's Weinrich (a.k.a. corporate-sounding Ludwig Weinrich GmbH & Co. KG), and I've seen a selection of its bars all around Seattle, including today's Dark Chocolate with Orange. Vivani's focus is on being organic, so much so that the company's unveiling was at an organic trade fair. They also make claims about the positive effect of their farming practices on local communities as well as avoiding genetically modified ingredients (like common emulsifier soy lecithin), a widespread concern in Europe.

Appearance: Slightly reddish and fairly matte.

Smell: Rich with a little spice.

Taste: Texture is fatty-creamy and mouth-filling, the kind that coats your tongue and teeth and makes you want to sip some water. That's not good or bad, just a matter of preference. The flavor reminds me of what perfumers call “Orientals”—”exotic” woods and spices like nutmeg and cedar that make the whole bar taste rich, with the bitter edge of citrus peel. (To be clear though, this is relatively subtle, not like, say, Leysieffer's cardamom bar.) All in all, orange oil doesn't really do it for me as a chocolate additive, but from a more objective standpoint I think the unexpected complexity it contributes is pretty neat.

Conclusion: Vivani Dark Chocolate with Orange offers that complex orange oil spiciness that may or may not be right up your alley.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vosges Blood Orange Caramel Bar

3oz (85g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, organic cream, corn syrup, Campari, hibiscus powder, orange zest, blood orange puree, water, sea salt

Vosges' blood orange caramel-filled bar was suggested to me by reader Emma after she read my post praising the similar Black Salt Caramel Bar. Vosges seems to do well with subtle complexity; will this bar fit that mold?

Corporate Info: (mostly copied from 9/24/11): Vosges is based in Chicago and produces a pretty wide variety of adventurously flavored bars and confections, among them the famous bacon chocolate. In the past I have been annoyed by the pretentious copy on the back of the box, and it's silly here too, but the website keeps the flowery text off the front page, and of course it's not as important as the chocolate!

Appearance: Subtle gloss, uniform deep brown color, cleanly stamped. Breaking a corner off reveals a gooey, somewhat liquidy caramel that makes this bar messier than the salt caramel one. (Yes, I know it looks like there's a slug sandwiched in my chocolate there on the left. Not particularly appetizing.)

Smell: Rich, a little dried fruit and nuts, but very cohesive: no smells stand out or seem removed from the central scent. I don't get any particular blood orange or caramel here, though the box claims some “bright citrus.”

Taste: The chocolate is super smooth, creamy, and nutty, and the caramel has, yes, a complex and subtle perfumey sweet-sour flavor. I can't tease out the blood orange vs. hibiscus vs. orange zest vs. Campari, but as with the smell I think that's where Vosges excels, combining ingredients in such a balanced way that they create something new, and that's pretty great. Unfortunately, though, there are downsides to this bar, mostly relating to the consistency of the caramel. First, it does indeed make for sloppy eating. Second, Vosges recommends breaking off “a small piece” and holding it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue until “within thirty seconds the chocolate square will begin to melt”; this is impossible with a bar that consistently breaks in the middle of each delicate square, smashing the caramel between shards of chocolate and leaving you with sticky pieces of the solid chocolate between squares. Third, the problem with this (aside from the mess) is that when you eat those pieces, the caramel melts away before the chocolate does, the equivalent of eating an outstanding sandwich inside-out rather than being able to fully enjoy the magical combination of bread and filling. I suspect the whole experience of this bar would be made better just by thickening the caramel.

Conclusion: Vosges Blood Orange Caramel Bar demonstrates Vosges' skill with subtlety and depth of flavor, but the too-thin caramel detracts from the experience.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sahagún Palomitapapá

25g/0.9oz bar (self-weighed)
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, corn, soy oil, fleur de sel, chile (cocoa is Ecuadorian)

Corporate Info: Sahagún (or, judging by the website, Sahagun) is a tiny little company that currently makes a few barks, a couple filled confections, and one coffee flavored bar. I must have bought funky little Palomitapapá at Cacao in Portland, drawn in by the “exploded corn” in the ingredients list. (Note: I can only find this bar as part of a bark three-pack, which I'm guessing means the company switches up its flavors from time to time.) If you're interested in Sahagún's South American names and ingredients, philosophy, or future plans, you can read an interview with owner Elizabeth Montes here.

Appearance: Nubbly and barky, with exposed salt crystals on top.

Smell: Not too much, actually.

Taste: First chile, more than I was expecting but not to a give-me-a-glass-of-water extent. Then salt, then the relatively subtle flavor and not at all subtle texture of the corn kernels, which are more chewy-crunchy than puffy like popcorn. The spiciness lingers, and the kernels get stuck in my teeth, and all in all the chocolate is just a flavor element rather than the headliner here. Hm, there's not a lot to say except that this is a fun experience if you're into the ingredients.

Conclusion: Sahagún Palomitapapá is fun if you want chile, crunchy corn, and salt with your chocolate.