Saturday, February 25, 2012

Anthon Berg Salmiak (salty licorice)

100g (3.53oz) bar
Ingredients: Fair trade cocoa mass, f.t. sugar, cocoa butter, licorice powder, ammonium chloride, glucose syrup, canola lecithin
39% sugar (labeled)

Today's licorice bar is the third and final item I brought home from New York's Sockerbit. As I mentioned, I'm slowly acquiring a taste for licorice, especially the more challenging “salty” licorice made with ammonium chloride (not the sodium chloride salt we usually use in cooking) and popular in Scandinavia. This bar includes licorice in the chocolate as well as licorice “chips” made of sugars, cocoa butter, licorice, and ammonium chloride—which is to say that both bar and chips are licorice flavored, and only the chips are salty. Huh! 

Corporate Info: (copied from 2/18/12) Denmark's Anthon Berg was founded in 1884 and is now owned by Toms International, a chocolate and candy company operating in Scandinavia and the UK (though the subsidiary site avoids mentioning Toms). Anthon Berg produces assorted chocolate items including flavored fair trade bars, chocolate-covered marzipan, and those little foil-wrapped chocolate bottles filled with branded liquor. 

Appearance: Thin, flat, semi-glossy, reddish-orangish-brown, with the lighter-colored “chips” visible under the surface. When you break it, it turns out that those “chips” are tiny, clear candy crystals. 

Smell: I don't smell licorice, which is a vastly different experience from the last and only other licorice-related chocolate I've tasted, Venchi's high-powered absinth bar. There is a faint whiff of something unusual, though, dark and rich like prunes and blackberries, but as I've said it's faint, just a slight variation on the chocolate norm. 

Taste: Weird. After having eating some intense licorice candies (other purchases from Sockerbit), I find this surprisingly subtle, if mouth-filling; I definitely know I'm eating something other than chocolate, but it's not obvious to me what that is. If you hate the flavor, maybe this would scream licorice and gross you out, but to me it just tastes kind of savory, with an only flavor-boosting saltiness that balances out the sweet of this 57% cacao bar. In the past I haven't liked bars flavored with tiny crystal candies, which never seem to give me what I want (whether that's mint or fruit or whatever), but here it's...intriguing. The licorice flavor itself is complex and not what I'm used to, not exactly sweet, salty, bitter, or sour, and for what it's worth it lingers long after the chocolate is gone. It's certainly unusual. 

Conclusion: Anthon Berg Salmiak (salty licorice) isn't at all intense, but it is really different.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Anthon Berg Lingonberry

100g (3.53oz) bar
Ingredients: Fair trade sugar, ft. cocoa mass, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, dried lingonberries, canola lecithin
47% sugar (labeled)

Today's lingonberry bar is another item I brought home from my trip to New York's Sockerbit. I've had sour, juicy lingonberries in other Northern European products (mostly jams) and thought they would be fun in a chocolate bar.

Corporate Info: Denmark's Anthon Berg was founded in 1884 and is now owned by TomsInternational, a chocolate and candy company operating in Scandinavia and the UK (though the subsidiary site avoids mentioning Toms). Anthon Berg produces assorted chocolate items including flavored fairtrade bars, chocolate-covered marzipan, and those little foil-wrapped chocolate bottles filled with branded liquor.

Appearance: Euro-style thin and flat, slightly orangey brown, semi-glossy, and stamped with Anthon Berg's A logo.

Smell: Much more chocolate than berry, light and tart.

Taste: While this is sweeter than most chocolate I eat, it actually works pretty well even for my taste buds. The chocolate is light but has sour and slightly bitter notes, so it's not super duper mild, and the lingonberries provide tiny little centers of brief sour flavor that interrupt the sweet chocolate for just a moment. Texture is firm, with good chew and those little crunchy-chewy berries to break it up. None of it is intense or challenging, but this bar is way more interesting than it might have been.

Conclusion: Anthon Berg Lingonberry is sweeter than my usual, but the decent-quality chocolate and tiny, sour lingonberries make it all work.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Marabou Premium Filled Passion Fruit

150g bar
Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa mass, vegetable oil, cocoa butter, butterfat, milk powder, passion fruit juice, banana puree, cocoa powder, whey powder, soy lecithin, flavoring
45.5g sugar/100g serving (45.5% by wt.)

During last fall's East Coast trip I traveled as light as possible, which meant I didn't have much reading material other than what presented itself along the way. In New York City that was The Village Voice, and lucky me! That particular issue was the annual Best of New York, perfect for a visitor looking to sight-see. Thus I found myself in a young, bright white, minimally-decorated Scandinavian candy store called Sockerbit. I was mostly looking for licorice, a taste I've been slowly acquiring, but while I was there I also bought three unusually-flavored chocolate bars. Admittedly, all are pretty sweet—i.e. not super-dark chocolate—but they were novel and a compact, cheap souvenir from a big, expensive city. I know they won't be dark enough for my taste, so the question here is about their flavorings. Today's is passion fruit, from a filled bar by Marabou.

Corporate Info: Marabou is indeed a Swedish brand, dating back to 1916 and started by a Norwegian who had already started a successful, identical brand in Norway called Freia. At some point the two merged, and in the early '90s they were bought by Kraft, the second largest food and drink company in the world. You're not going to find much organic, fair trade, small business, or anything else like that with this bar. Oh, well. The chocolate is still packaged under the Marabou name and the ingredients are given in Swedish, Danish, and Finnish, so hopefully I translated them correctly here!

Appearance: Big, matte, medium-light brown. The filling is a truffley sort, basically the same color as the outside and with little chunks in it.

Smell: Sweet and jelly-ish. I think I get more of the banana than the passion fruit.

Taste: Texture is soft—the outside is a little firmer than the inside, but not much—and with scattered small crispies. Flavor is sweet with low-key banana flavor, real bananas rather than banana candy flavoring. The banana lingers, though not in a bad way, rather like almost imperceptible pieces of dried banana are stuck to my teeth, so I get random bursts of banana flavor. If there's passion fruit, it just contributes to the tropical vibe rather than standing out in any way.

Conclusion: Marabou Premium Filled Passion Fruit is a big, soft, mass-market, filled bar with an interesting banana flavor.

P.S. From the next day: This makes incredibly sweet, insipid hot chocolate. Seriously, don't do it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mast Brothers Chocolate Hazelnuts

2.5oz bar
Ingredients: Cacao, cane sugar, hazelnuts, olive oil  

Last week I reviewed The Brooklyn Blend from Mast Brothers Chocolate, which I learned about during a visit to New York City. This week I'm tasting the other bar I brought back with me, Hazelnuts. Why did I select this one? Since I didn't have a chance to visit the company and taste its wares, I was choosing from among several flavors at a nearby store. I'd just reviewed a bunch of bars involving salt and/or almonds, I'm tired of chocolate that's spicy with no other flavor, and I'm not a huge coffee fan, but I don't get a lot of hazelnuts unless they're in European bars, and then they're usually in some sort of fancy filling. Plain old crushed hazelnuts are surprisingly novel. So there you go.

Corporate Info: (copied from 1/28/12) Mast Brothers is based in hipster-soaked Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the eponymous brothers do fit the description. The company's website doesn't go into many details about the operation itself, but it does link to articles that describe the process as bean-to-bar and at least partially organic and direct trade. (If you're really interested, follow through on those links to see photos and much more on Mast Brothers.) Reviews seem to be love-it-or-hate-it regarding the taste, prices, and aesthetic of the chocolate, and indeed a lot of the press seems to be related to its uniquely patterned packaging. Mast Brothers' products are available mostly in New York, but also in select high-end food stores around the country.

Appearance: This non-Brooklyn Blend looks different too, a little less ashy and more glossy, less orange and more purple. Neat. Oh, and the back is very prettily covered with crushed hazelnuts.

Smell: Side by side with the Brooklyn Blend, the chocolate in Hazelnuts has less of that earthy (a.k.a. dirt) and green smell and more of a subtle, straightforward fruit thing going on, in the sweet berry direction.

Taste: Fruity, bitter, and tannic—very winey, with all the flavors balanced well. Seriously, it's like drinking a full-bodied red wine here, but with more sugar, and as a total afterthought, I can't taste the hazelnuts under all that. Texture is initially crunchy, then thick and rich, so the hazelnuts don't stand out there either. You'll get no complaints from me since it's nice chocolate and the hazelnuts look lovely on the back, but otherwise I'm not sure why they're there.

Conclusion: Mast Brothers Chocolate Hazelnuts is like eating fruity red wine in quite a nice way, but after you've looked at the pretty hazelnuts on the back, you'll forget about them entirely. Oh, well.

[Update 2/4/12: Since I wrote this, Mast Brothers' website has changed and now I can't find a "where to buy" list that covers brick-and-mortar stores. I'm leaving the link in case they change it back.]