Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Hebel & Co. - Double Chocolate Organic Sesame Tahini Halva - April 23, 2024

Chocolate of The Day 

Hebel & Co. 
Double Chocolate - Organic Sesame Tahini Halva
Good ++
Weight: 1.1 oz. (32 g.) / 8 oz. (227 g.) in total container/tub
Calories: 170 calories in 1 serving
Cost: $ (Missing information) for 1 container
Purchased from: The Market at Edgewood, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #11 of Chocolate and Umami* Theme Week. Today 

Today's Organic Double Chocolate Organic Sesame Tahini Halva was from Hebel & Co. (North Hollywood, CA).

Sesame tahini-based halva (derived from the Arabic word halwa (sweet confection)) is a traditional Middle Eastern confection made from ground sesame seeds and honey. Dairy free kosher versions are particularly popular this week when Passover is being celebrated.

Aroma notes for today's relatively modern chocolate and vanilla** version included: sweet, nougat like aroma and appearance; faint sweet sesame seed confection; and subtle chocolate and vanilla.

A slab of halva can look rather humble in appearance. However, the texture and flavors can be divine. The thick slice I tasted had a uniform, softly chewy (micro) crunchy, almost nutty, flaked texture that within 3-4 seconds dissolved into smooth, creamy deliciousness.

Flavor notes included: rich, creamy and sweet, high-end sesame nougat-like flavor infused with chocolate (cocoa) and vanilla. Not too stiff or sticky. Just right.

The sweetness level also felt just right for a confection. It wasn't made with honey; but the tapioca syrup and cane sugar sweeteners didn't obscure more subtle sesame and vanilla flavors.

Ingredients: Organic Sesame Seeds, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Chocolate (Organic Cacao Beans, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Vanilla Beans), Organic Cocoa Powder, Certified Sustainably Sourced Organic Palm Oil, Organic Quillaja Extract, Organic Vanilla Extract, Citric Acid.

Allergen-related information: (Contains sesame.) "Made in a Facility That Processes Tree Nuts, Peanuts, Wheat, Soy, Milk."

* Umami flavors are associated with savory foods with high levels of glutamic acid/glutamate. These amino acids and protein building blocks exist not only in meats and mushrooms, but also in a variety of other foods, including: sea and land vegetables/plants, peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts), cashews and several seeds (sesame, hemp, pumpkin, chesnut, chia). (Sesame seeds contain a whopping 4000 mg. of glutamic acid in a 100 gram (3.53 oz. portion.)

**Halva-style confections (aka halvah, halawa) made with varying ingredients have been enjoyed in countries like Iran/Persia, Greece, Turkey and Egypt long before new world flavors like chocolate and vanilla were added. (A sunflower seed version can be found in Russia.) That said, the more recent additions of chocolate and vanilla seemed a perfect, natural and complementary fit with this historic sweet.

Sabadi - Il Cioccolato di Agrigento (bar) - April 22, 2024

Chocolate of the The Day

Il Cioccolato di Agrigento (bar)
Good ++
Weight: .88 oz. (25 g.) / 1.76 oz. (50 g.) in total bar
Calories: 118 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $8.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Caputo's Market, online order

Welcome to Day #10 of Chocolate and Umami Theme Week.

Today's Il Cioccolato di Agrigento (bar) 60% (Ecuador cacao) chocolate bar with olive oil and bay leaves was from Sabadi srl (Modica, Sicily, Italy). (Agrigento is a town in southwest Sicily.)

Sabadi (Saturday in English) offers a variety of chocolates, including raw chocolates and Italian herb and fruit infused items, as well as other Italian foodstuffs. I recommend a browse of their website. If I'm able to travel to Sicily in the future, I'll definitely look them up.

Aroma notes included: sweet dark chocolate, savory herb and oil (very faint olive oil potato chips).

The texture of this chocolate was slightly crunchy from (I'm assuming) less refined sugar crystals, similar to some stone-ground chocolate where the cacao was minimally ground, adding a slightly crunchy creamy texture. In this case the sugar was the "rougher" ingredient, and not completely incorporated. I was expecting olive oil and cocoa butter creaminess. But I also enjoyed the added textural interest. (The company does some wonderful things with different sugars.) 

Flavor notes included: sweet, dark chocolate (with very faint fruit-floral); herb (light rosemary-mint, faint tarragon, sweet (Turkish) bay leaf). Note: there are different types of bay leaves. Bay* leaves in California are much stronger, and less "sweet" and nuanced than those found in Southern Europe.

This 60% "cold processed" chocolate was relatively sweet because: 1.) in part because the sugar crystals weren't ground down and fully incorporated, so I could taste the sweetness in a more intense way; 2.) the Ecuadorian cacao was inherently smooth (low in bitter/sour notes that can dampen or counter-balance sweetness); and 3.) 60% is a lower percentage of cacao than many dark bars (by definition there is more sugar).

Flavors were well balanced. The dried bay leaf had a lovely, nuanced/layered herbal flavor. The olive oil was very subtle.

I paired this chocolate with a high-umami, Italian-inspired meal with savory tomato and mushroom sauce. (Tomato is a high-umami fruit from the Americas that has become fully embedded into European--and global--cuisine(s).)**

Ingredients: Cocoa mass** -- origin: Ecuador -- variety: Nacional Fino de Aroma; cane sugar*, extra virgin olive oil (min. 5%), dried bay leaves (min. 1%). Cocoa: 60% minimum.

Allergen-related information: May contain traces of nuts, milk and soy.

*California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica)--aka California laurel, Oregon myrtle, Pacific myrtle, Myrtlewood, Spice tree, Pepperwood---is native to California and Oregon in the U.S. It has a strong, almost eucalyptus-like/menthol-like strength. A little goes a long way. 

European bay laurel leaves are much more nuanced and pleasant (and less likely to give some people a headache).

** The Americas, for a variety of reasons, became more densely inhabited later than Africa, Europe and parts of Asia. The indigenous peoples of the Americas cultivated many species of plants and domesticated animals early on. 

Subsequent European explorers sped the spread of cacao, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, peppers, vanilla, allspice, many squashes, Brazil nuts, avocados, tobacco, and many other uniquely American tropical fruits, grains and other foods worldwide in a big way. 

According to the Smithsonian Institution, approximately 60% of the world's diet today is based on foods that originated from the Americas.


Sunday, April 21, 2024

Deux Cranes LLC - Dark Chocolate With Miso Almonds (bar) - April 21, 2024

Chocolate of the Day

Deux Cranes LLC
Dark Chocolate With Miso Almonds (bar) 
Good ++
Weight: 1.23 oz. (35 g.) / 2.47 oz. (70 g.) in total bar
Calories: 190.6 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $15.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Sweet Shop, Los Altos, CA

Welcome to Day #9 of Chocolate and Umami Theme Week.

Today's Dark Chocolate with Miso Almonds (bar) was from Deux Cranes LLC (Los Gatos, CA).

Company tagline read: "Handcrafted Chocolates Rooted in Japan, Inspired by France"

Miso is a traditional Japanese, umami-rich paste made from fermented soybeans and rice malt (sometimes barley)--that's used in soups, sauces and spreads. 

Deux Cranes description: "The almonds in this bar are roasted with white miso paste, emphasizing the roasted flavor of the 70% dark chocolate and almonds in this savory, umami-filled bar." 

Aroma notes included: dark roast (cacao, almonds, coffee), dark chocolate, and umami (miso).

Texture: smooth, almost creamy. (The almond and miso flavors and textures were almost fully incorporated.)

Flavor notes included: dark roast cacao/chocolate with savory and slightly sweet notes, including miso and almonds. The darker roast flavor made this chocolate seem slightly darker than 70%. But, it was also sweet enough to feel balanced. The miso contributed an authentic, slightly tangy, savory soy flavor.

Thank you to Deux Cranes for creating this blend. I like trying new and different flavor combinations, so I appreciated tasting this bar. Chocolate is a tremendously versatile medium -- it can be paired successfully with sweet, bitter, sour, salty, or savory/umami flavor inclusions. Some fermented items, like today's miso, are trickier than others. Including the almonds to the mix helped to mellow and meld the roast-y and bold flavors.

(Deux Cranes) Flavor Notes: "Roasted, Rich Cocoa, Umami"

Ingredients: "Dark Chocolate (cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin (emulsifier), natural vanilla extract), Almonds (glucose syrup, sugar, water, miso (rice, filtered water, soy beans, sea salt, alcohol))"

Allergen-related information: "Contains: Almonds, Soy" "May contain traces of soy, nuts, milk, fish, and gluten. Produced and packaged in the same facility as soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, sesame, and milk products."


Saturday, April 20, 2024

Chocolate Naive - Dry-Aged Beef Steak Chocolate (bar) - April 20, 2024

Chocolate of The Day

Chocolate Naive
Dry-Aged Beef Steak Chocolate (bar)
Good ++
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 2 oz. (57 g.) in total bar
Calories: 162 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $14.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Caputo's Market, online order

Welcome to Day #8 of Chocolate and Umami Theme Week.

I love umami flavors--often described as savory, meaty and/or hearty. What better flavor inclusion then to bring to the chocolate + umami party than beef steak?

Once again, Domantas Uzpalis at Chocolate Naive is keeping us on our toes and inviting us to think outside the box when it comes to creative (and successful) flavor pairings with chocolate. 

Today's Dry-Aged Beef Steak Chocolate (bar) was crafted by Chocolate Naive (Produced by: Mulate UAB, Vilnius, Lithuania). This 62% dark milk chocolate with beef and lingonberries could be a complete meal in a bar. I wondered: would this be the perfect, highest of high-end, chocolate protein bar?

Aroma notes for this bar included: very unique and subtle sweet (fruity) + savory/umami (with very faint black pepper) dark milk chocolate.

Texture: smooth, relatively creamy dark milk chocolate. 

Flavor notes included: dark milk chocolate with a hidden umami quality; clean, bright, semi-tart berry (fruit) and almost undetectable black pepper (no texture/grit, just a slightly aromatic, faint ghost flavor); and an occasional, very fleeting, faint taste of steak (beef) and butter in a few bites. 

I really enjoyed tasting this creatively-conceived, well-executed, and very balanced chocolate. I'm curious what a less-sweet version of this bar (with even more umami) would have tasted like. But, this formulation is probably already a stretch for most people. I often opt for/prefer umami over sweet in chocolates; and I am not most people.

Ingredients: "specialty cacao*, cane sugar*, pure cacao butter*, dried grass-fed beef steak*, butter*, grass-fed milk powder*, lingonberries*, sea salt*, black pepper*." (* = "wild or all-natural farming")

Allergen-related information: Contains milk. "May contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts. Cacao min. 62%."

Friday, April 19, 2024

Venice Organics - Brain Boost - Lion's Mane & Cordyceps 70% Chocolate Bar - April 19, 2024

Chocolate of the Day

Venice Organics
Brain Boost - Lion's Mane & Cordyceps 70% Chocolate Bar
Good ++ - Good +++
Weight: 1.325 oz. (37.5 g.) / 2.65 oz. (75 g.) in total bar
Calories: 200 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $11.99 for 1 bar 
Purchased from: FarmFresh To You (online order)

Welcome to Day #7 of Chocolate and Umami Theme Week. 

Today's "Brain Boost" - Lion's Mane & Cordyceps 70% Chocolate Bar was manufactured in California for Venice Organics (Los Angeles, CA). 

Aroma and flavor notes included: hearty dark chocolate (single origin Dominican Republic cacao) with subtle, rich and balanced earth; sweet green (botanicals and coconut sugar). I really enjoyed this bar. It had a lot of bold, very well-balanced flavor.

The umami flavor(s) from the edible mushrooms were very subtle. (I'm not sure I could have identified the two mushrooms in this chocolate in a blind taste test.) Rather, evidence of these umami-rich fungi showed up as a subtle, hearty savory and very complementary background flavor that I found very appealing.

I also loved the choice of high-quality, organic ingredients in this gluten-free, vegan chocolate; as well as the lack of emulsifiers/lecithins and refined sugar.

Maker's tasting notes: "...This 70% organic chocolate is rich and creamy with an earthy, bright finish."

Ingredients: "*Chocolate (*Cocoa, *Coconut Sugar, *Cocoa Butter), *Lion's Mane, *Cordyceps (* = Organic)"

Allergen-related information: "Processed in shared equipment with products containing nuts. Box made with recycled material and lead-free ink."

Jeremiah's Pick - Chocatal BBQ Spice Rub with Coffee & Cacao - April 18, 2024

Chocolate of The Day

Jeremiah's Pick 
Chocatal BBQ Spice Rub with Coffee & Cacao
Good + - Good ++
Weight: 0.2 oz. (5.6 g.) / 4 oz. (113 g.) in total container
Calories: 11 calories in 1 serving (0.2 oz.)
Cost: $8.99 for 1 container
Purchased from: Country Sun Natural Foods, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #6 of Chocolate and Umami Theme Week.

Today's Chocatal BBQ Spice Rub with Coffee and Cacao (nibs) was from Jeremiah's Pick Coffee Co. (San Francisco, CA). 

This Bay Area based specialty coffee roaster offers a variety of coffees, and a line of spice rubs.

Their Chocatal spice blend included Arabica coffee and cocoa nibs. It would make a nice spice rub for grilled meats; but I incorporated this warm, reddish-hued spiced rub (powder) into a chicken tamale and vegetables and it worked very nicely. I see no reason why you couldn't infuse a little of this into savory brownies or drinking chocolate. (But, then again, I like savory and umami chocolates.)

Aroma and flavor notes included: a rich savory blend of many spices, including: paprika, cumin, chili powder, salt and other spices. The coffee and cacao ingredients were very subtle, and added a bit of pleasing flavor depth/complexity.

I liked the short list of high-quality ingredients, the well-executed and balanced punch of flavor (without being too hot/spicy), and the lack of preservatives. 

Ingredients: "salt, chili powder, chocatal(tm) (coffee and cocoa nibs), spices, hydolyzed soy protein, maltodextrin, dehydrated onion and garlic, oleoresin or paprika, no more than 2% silicon dioxide added as an anticaking agent." 

Allergen-related information: None listed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

J. Street Chocolate - Caramelized Koji Mylk 55% (bar) - April 17, 2024

Chocolate of the Day

J. Street Chocolate 
Caramelized Koji Mylk 55% (bar)
Good ++ 
Weight: .88 oz. (25 g.)/ 1.76 oz. (50 g.) in total bar
Calories: 136.4 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $11.00 (web site price today) for 1 bar
Purchased from: J. Street Chocolate, online order

Welcome to Day #5 of Chocolate and Umami Theme Week. 

Today's Caramelized Koji Mylk 55% (bar) was made by J. Street Chocolate (San Francisco, CA). J. Street founder and chocolate maker (Julia Street) explores chocolate "through the world of fermentation, upcycled food, and single origin bars." 

Fermentation enhances umami and other flavors. (Almost all chocolates are made with fermented and roasted cacao.) Pairing chocolate with other fermented foods--and umami flavors including vegetables, meats, sauces, as well as mushrooms and fungi* is very interesting to me; so please forgive the longer, nerdier, review for this bar.

Today's inclusion was koji, a prized fungus that can be cultivated on rice (mold inoculated grain) and used to ferment sugars and alter proteins. The result: flavor development. Koji is used in fermented products ( miso, sake, soy sauce, meju, shochu, mirin, and other foods and beverages). There was koji in yesterday's featured J. Street Chocolate 72% Shoyu Chocolate bar.) And, like chocolate, koji can go sweet or savory.

Aroma notes for this mylk chocolate bar included: chocolate (chocolate-y/dark milk chocolate ganache, lemony green herb (oxalis), caramel, faint and diffuse fruit(s), very faint aromatic rice, and very light savory.

Texture: uniform, relatively smooth texture and melt. There was a very faint graininess/astringency that developed a few seconds in. But by the end it had a clean, less astringent, almost fresh finish -- almost like the koji cleared and I got a clearer taste of fruit in the cacao. There were some fun microscopic interactions going on in this gentle and tasty game of hide-and-seek.

Flavor notes included: dark milk/mylk chocolate with some very faint tropical fruit (Botan) rice candy notes. After the first bite, there was an interesting (in a good way), very subtle taste shift that happened that was hard to explain. 

There was a whisp of menthol-like coolness (without any strong mint or menthol flavor) that felt like a mellowing/settling in the flavor in the first bite. The slightly lemon-green (oxalis) citrusy note fell off a bit, but a pleasant tangy-ness remained. 

Subsequent bites also had slight shape-shifting quality, including recurring, very light flickers of fruit (cacao fruit, fleeting red berry) and caramel in subsequent bites. 

The sweetness level of this 55% mylk chocolate seemed right; i.e., it was not too sweet. (Thank you!) The flavors were nicely balanced, and subtly complex. 

Like the other J. Street Chocolate bars sampled this week, this Koji 55% bar was thoughtfully conceived, well-executed and fun to try. I really appreciated Julia Street's willingness to explore savory chocolate options, choice of fermented flavor inclusions (expertly matched with specific cacao varieties/origins), and her process.**

Ingredients: "cacao beans from Tanzania*, cocoa butter*, cane sugar*, caramelized rice koji (Koda Hills white rice*, aspergillus oryzae)"  * organic

Allergen-related information: (No allergen information printed on packaging; check with J. Street if you have questions.)

*Umami foods are higher in glutamate, a contributor to the savory "fifth" flavor. It's not the same as salty; umami foods have more "meaty" depth--even if there's no meat. (E.g., miso soups, or tomato sauces with parmesan cheese and mushrooms, etc.)

** The following is Street's description of how she made this bar and some tasting notes: 

"...I dry and caramelize the koji rice slowly to bring out the sugars and the Maillard effect. Then I grind it before adding it to the chocolate as the "milk". It lends a caramel sweetness (and I can use less sugar than most bars!) and makes for a really balanced bar."

"Just as important for this bar are the cocoa beans from Kok(o)a Kamili in Tanzania. This origin's fruitiness is a perfect match for the koji's nutty properties I bring out."

"In this bar I taste notes of strawberry, caramel, biscoff cookie, and rye..."

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