Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't be swindled by low prices!

It would make sense for chocolate to contain cocoa butter, right? Well, some companies have been exploring other options.

In America, there has been a pattern of using less and less cocoa butter because, rather than using it in the chocolate, many chocolate companies are selling their cocoa butter to cosmetics companies. Instead cheaper, lower quality fats (such as sunflower oil, palm oil, and coconut oil, among others) are added to the “chocolate” we tend to see in the supermarket. But wait…can you call a product “chocolate” if it doesn’t contain cocoa butter, or at least some percentage of the fats come from cocoa butter? Some companies are trying to see to it that the definition of chocolate is changed!

How is this even possible? During the process of making chocolate, they press the cocoa beans to extract the cocoa butter, leaving behind cocoa powder or cocoa mass. (For those that are curious after my detailed report on how chocolate is made, this scandalous extraction is done by the companies in question after the beans are roasted but before they are put through the stone mill.)

American chocolate is known for its waxy, sour taste. Now you know why. By certain definitions it isn’t chocolate. So when you see an expensive chocolate bar, it probably is expensive for a reason: namely, that it contains more chocolate. Makes sense why it tastes better, huh? When you see a percentage written on a chocolate bar it accounts for the percentage of actual cocoa solids, cacao or cocoa mass.

In short: If it’s chocolate you want, don’t accept anything that doesn’t have some form of cocoa, cacao or chocolate as the first ingredient. Stay safe. Stay informed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Obama ice cream? Yes, Pecan!

We interrupt chocolate month to announce some breaking news:

Thanks to Ben & Jerry's, eating ice cream is now patriotic, my friends.

Step 1 to Becoming a Chocolate Connoisseur

Theo Chocolate bars (and their 3400 Phinney bars) are available nationwide at all Whole Foods locations. They are the only chocolate company in the U.S. whose ingredients are certified Fair Trade; they also are the only chocolate company in the U.S. whose ingredients are certified organic. And did I mention that they are one of only 12 US chocolate companies that, bean-to-bar, does the entire chocolate-making process themselves. Where better place to learn how chocolate is made? They give daily tours, 7 days a week in their factory, located in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood.

Cacao (or the Americanized term cocoa) is the seed of a fruit—not technically a bean, though it is referred to as one—that grows from the trunk and lowest branches of the tree known as Theobroma Cacao. This tree can be seen in countries within 20º of the Equator. To get to the seeds, the fruit innards—seeds and all—are pulled out to ferment for 7 days. (This is the stage that most affects the flavor of the bean.) The seeds are then dried on slats. The dried seeds are then bagged up and sent to a plant. At the plant, the beans are cleaned, roasted, and split with a “bean guillotine,” removing the shell and leaving only the brittle innards (pictured), or what is called the “nib.” (It takes about 70-80 beans to make one 3 oz. dark chocolate bar.) Then the magic happens.

The nibs are roasted, developing their flavor, before they are crushed into a paste with a consistency not unlike freshly ground peanut butter. It is then reduced into a more liquefied form, technically called “chocolate liquor.” Next the sugar is added, as well as the milk for milk chocolate. Next, more complicated things: the sugar particle size is reduced, the acid is reduced, until finally the cocoa solids that have been created are reunited with the cocoa butter (which was previously extracted from the bean). Next all that needs to happen is molding the chocolate, getting the temperature down and packaging it…or if you happen to own a chocolate factory for strictly personal use, forgo the packaging and eat right off the assembly line.

Another option is to add cream to the chocolate. The chocolate is completely processed and formed into a block. Next, remelt the block and mix in hot cream (possibly already fused with other flavors, such as mint. Then, use a marble countertop to temper the ganache—the name for chocolate with cream in it—so the cocoa butter doesn’t separate. Then you can use it for making truffles or other confections.

As I've said before, Theo’s products are incredible. Visit the factory and sample nearly all of it in their factory store, or take the tour and try a little more!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

In lieu of moose jerky…

In a recent jaunt to Canada, I decided to take in the local color, by which I mean the snacks. Nestlé ice cream was readily available, featuring some flavors I’d never seen. The most exciting of these was Rolo ice cream. Imagine Rolos in all their caramel-y goodness sitting deliciously in chocolate ice cream—the way God intended ice cream flavors inspired by chocolate-covered candy. Mmmm. While the nature of my trip did not allow me to try Canadian ice cream, I did walk away with a LOT of foreign candy.

A couple simple observations can be made: (a) Nestlé and Cadbury take over most of the candy section and many American Hershey products are nowhere to be seen. (b) They have many, MANY varieties of Kit Kat bars, including cinnamon. (c) Canadians have a strange fascination with air bubbles in their candy. (d) Coffee chocolate is quite popular, which I had no interest in trying. (e) Their candy bars are significantly larger in size. (f) Everything was in both English and French, so they had Original Skittles and Skittles Originaux!

Worth Trying
  • Mars Malteasers – Wonderful malted milk, covered in chocolate. I cannot stomach
    Whoppers, but these are great!

  • Cool Dark Zero – Also available in milk and white, the wrapper says this treat is “Cool filled dark chocolate.” It is my policy to purchase any product that is “cool filled.” Taste-wise it was like a Moritz Ice Square, only with dark chocolate. Another comparison would be a dark Lindt truffle.

  • Cadbury Wunderbar – The name and Viking-themed packaging made this product stick out as the most awesome. (Yes, even more awesome than the semi-holographic Cool Dark Zero.) It also was my favorite: caramel, peanut butter and a few crispy rice puffs enrobed in chocolate.

  • Cadbury Crunchie – Sponge toffee, which is not unlike honeycomb candy. It had a nice aftertaste similar to a golden brown marshmallow.
The Rest
  • Bounty – Chocolate covered coconut bar, not unlike Mounds, but with a delightful tropical-themed package!

  • Cadbury Sweet Marie – More or less a Baby Ruth.

  • Cadbury Mr. Big – Imagine a Baby Ruth—or a Sweet Marie—but with a wafer in the place of nougat, and less peanuts.

  • Nestlé Aero Peppermint – In addition to being a good source of bubbles, the package also advertises in bright red that it is a source of calcium! “Have you felt the bubbles melt? Laissez fonder les bulles…” Basically, it’s less chocolate in the same volume candy bar.

  • Nestlé Big Turk – To me, this was the funniest of the bunch. The front of the package is covered with words, but has no explanation of the contents except it has “60% less fat that the average chocolate bar,” which doesn’t exactly promise that the consumer will find chocolate within. Really this tagline should be used by more products (i.e. zucchini, kumquats, bottled water). It ended up being gummy candy with a thin chocolate coating, a treat known as Turkish Delight. A weird combo to me, not one I could delight in.

  • Nielsen’s Jersey MilkBeing an American, I associate the word "Jersey" with the city of Newark, not with cows. Thus, the humor of a company settling on the word “Jersey” for selling a candy is endless. This plain milk chocolate bar tastes like what I used to get from advent calendars leading up to Christmas.

  • Eat-More – This product of Hershey’s Canada wins the prize for most generic-looking wrapper design. It is a “Dark Toffee Peanut Chew,” which means it is bendable—perhaps even pose-able!—with the consistency of a Power Bar.
There was also something called Bridge Mixture which, like Big Turk, was less than clear on the package’s contents. It picture looked like chunky chocolate-covered peanuts, which is fine and good, until I saw no peanuts listed in the ingredients. I put the package down and walked away.