Saturday, December 31, 2011

Whole Foods Organic 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate Tanzania Schoolhouse Project

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Organic chocolate liquor, o. cane sugar, o. cocoa butter
10g sugar/38g serving (26.3% by wt.)

Corporate Info: See last week, both this section and the introduction. This week's bar is both organic and connected to a particular charity: The back of the box says “all proceeds are donated to help meet educational needs of schoolchildren in the district of Kyela, Mbeya region of Tanzania,” and, by the way, “the organic cacao used to make each bar is purchased from farmers in this region and is certified by the Fair for Life Social & Fair Trade Certification Program. Enjoy and feel good about it!” So that's nice, if annoyingly self-congratulatory.

Appearance: Very similar to last week's bar, though I'd say it's maybe half a shade lighter in color.

Smell: Again, like the Costa Rican chocolate, this doesn't smell challenging—round and warm, not sour or anything. It might be little nuttier and less fruity, but the similarities (despite the fact that the beans come from different continents) are challenging my sense of smell!

Taste: Again, creamy, waxy, and rich, with a rounded dark flavor, but not as fruity as the other bar, lighter in a way, reminding me of milk, cream, and nuts.

Conclusion: Whole Foods Organic 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate Tanzania Schoolhouse Project is dark but not heavy, light-bodied with a rounded flavor and creamy texture.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Whole Foods 71% Cacao Costa Rica Dark Chocolate

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla flavor
10g sugar/38g serving (26.3% by wt.)

The other day I stopped by Whole Foods for vegetables and discovered that the chain had changed its entire line of store brand chocolate bars. The new line presumably aims at the same demographic—people who will spend extra for local/organic/fair trade/sustainable and are leery of unpronounceable ingredients, i.e. Whole Foods shoppers—but the change seems to be an attempt to stay within current trends in both sustainability and chocolate consumption. The old chocolate was your basic “Milk chocolate” or “Dark chocolate with almonds” in bright, simple packaging, sometimes using the words “organic” or the classic, evocative “Swiss.” The new line includes more dark varieties, single-origin bars, and upscale flavoring combinations in Vosges-shaped thin boxes bearing lots of words, sustainability-certification-type stamps, earthy colors, and photos of people and sights in tropical locales. They're also marketing it under their Whole Foods brand rather than under their 365 “value” brand.

I bought three of the new bars to review over the next weeks, among them today's 71% single-origin Costa Rican bar (but made in Belgium, so there's still some Euro-cachet). Incidentally, this bar's carries Whole Foods' self-defined Whole Trade Guarantee and is made with Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao. These distinctions are, like organic, fair trade, direct trade, and all those others, complicated and varying degrees of meaningful to the well-intentioned consumer. I won't pretend to fully understand them (I suspect very few people really do), and one of these days I'd like to write a post on whatever I can learn about the real-world significance of each. Compared to eating chocolate, that's frustrating and boring, so it's on the back burner.

Corporate Info: After all the above, let's keep this one short. Whole Foods Market is a major American supermarket chain focusing on upscale and health food. People have all sorts of opinions on it because of its relatively high prices (at least in part because of the nature of the products, maybe also because its customers are willing to pay more), penchant for taking over regional health food chains, and outspoken co-founder/one-time CEO, but it also gives health-food devotees supermarket-style access to their preferred products, including many of the chocolate bars I review here.

Appearance: Surface is semi-glossy and finely textured, with a red-orange undertone.

Smell: Big, warm, round—that is, there's a lot of aroma but nothing pungent. Like ripe cherries or berries or something.

Taste: Texture is creamy, waxy, rich, mouth-coating. Flavor is full, not too sweet, not at all sour or bitter. This is the crowd-pleaser of very dark chocolates, fruity and winey without any challenging or unpleasant edges.

Conclusion: Whole Foods 71% Cacao Costa Rica Dark Chocolate is exactly what an upscale store brand would do when attempting to make a good-quality but not off-putting fairly dark chocolate.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

B.T. McElrath Salty Dog Chocolate Bar

3oz (85g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar (in the chocolate), cane sugar (in the toffee), cocoa butter, soy lecithin, butter, bicarbonate of soda, natural flavor, salt (in the toffee), sea salt (on the back of the bar)
17g sugar/43g serving (39.5% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Minneapolis's B.T. McElrath was founded by a chef, and accordingly seems to focus on creating unusual flavored bars and confections like Sweet Potato Pavé and Buttered Toast. B.T. McElrath's Chile Limón Bar is one of my favorites, and now that I'm eating a little more sugar, I can venture into the other 70% bars, including today's Salty Dog.

Appearance: Very glossy, richly hued reddish-brown with pale flecks under the surface and sea salt evenly sprinkled on the back.

Smell: Not strong, but with a hint of roasted beans and nuts.

Taste: Creamy chocolate, a lot of salt, toffee is more subtle in very small bits of crunch and low-key caramel flavor. The chocolate is mild, so even though it's 70% cacao the sweetness of the chocolate (not the toffee) stands out. Additionally, the salt doesn't seem to have a good counterpoint, which makes me wonder about the whole salt-sweet concept. I'm thinking that it's not just sugar and salt that work against each other, it's burnt sugar/caramel specifically that's so wonderfully enlivened by salt. Thus, I'd say there's too much sugar in chocolate form and not enough in toffee form to really play off the salt here. I've seen this bar many times and have the impression that it's pretty popular, but to my taste there's a balance issue that the Chile Limón bar didn't have. It's all very interesting, and I'd love to try more B.T. McElrath products.

Conclusion: For me, B.T. McElrath Salty Dog Chocolate Bar has too much sugar and not enough toffee to balance well with the mild chocolate and abundant salt.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Justin's organic 2 dark chocolate peanut butter cups

1.4oz in two peanut butter cups
Ingredients: Organic cane sugar, o. chocolate liquor, o. cocoa butter, o. soy lecithin, o. vanilla, o. peanuts, o. palm oil, sea salt
14g sugar/40g serving (35% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Justin's—a.k.a. Justin's Nut Butter—is a nut butter company, not a chocolatier, but I like peanut butter cups and Justin's makes a dark chocolate peanut butter cup, so there you go. Justin's products are mostly organic, and they claim to be trying for sustainability in a whole assortment of ways. Good for them. Also, with a hometown of Boulder, Colorado, Justin's is neighbor to Chocolove and SunSpire.

Appearance: Pretty nice. The wide, flat cups, glossy chocolate, and (in cross-section) good amount of crumbly-looking peanut butter make these comparable to Reese's ultra-popular version. I have as much Reese's nostalgia as anyone, so a decision to emulate the big boys seems like a good one to me.

Smell: As you'd expect, but with a somewhat greater emphasis on the chocolate than most. That chocolate has a red-berry tartness to the smell rather than being the usual super-mild and sweet type.

Taste: On first bite, I think: sweet...very smooth and creamy chocolate...yes the peanut butter has some crumbly-crunchy going on...lingering sugar and red fruit tartness. I wish the peanut butter stood out more; I'm thinking that, compared to milk chocolate cups, dark chocolate ones need a higher ratio of peanut butter to stand up to the chocolate, even if the chocolate isn't crazy intense (and this isn't). Not bad, though.

Conclusion: Justin's organic 2 dark chocolate peanut butter cups are a fine organic, small-company Reese's substitute, but the peanut butter flavor tends to get overwhelmed by the flavorful chocolate.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Madécasse 75% Cocoa Single Origin Madagascar

2.64oz (75g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla
10g sugar/37.5g serving (26.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Madécasse has one of those interesting progressive-chocolate-company stories: The American founders met as Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar and decided to not only grow their cacao there (not unusual) but also process and package the chocolate there to benefit the local community. The company claims to be paying good wages and using sustainable farming practices, and has impressed The New York Times and Fast Company (among others) with its commitment and innovation. The bars are not officially labeled fair trade or organic, but from what I read, the process is essentially a variation on both of those complicated labels. Madécasse produces a relatively small selection of plain and flavored bars. In the past I've tried and liked the 63% cacao barwith sea salt and nibs, and today I'm trying a basic 75% bar the wrapper describes as “dark & bold.”

Appearance: Basic semi-glossy, medium brown, not especially red or grey or anything.

Smell: Warm and sweet, caramelly dried fruit.

Taste: Texture is crunchy melting into creamy. Intense, tannic—that is, bitter in a drying, astringent way. It's pretty hardcore when it first hits, but as the chocolate melts, the thick, rich creaminess mellows the flavor so it's still intense but not like a punch in the mouth. Indeed dark and bold!

Conclusion: Madécasse 75% Cocoa Single Origin Madagascar is intense and thickly creamy, good for those who like their chocolate assertively dark.