Saturday, January 21, 2017

Raaka - Yacon Belize 79% Cacao bar - Jan. 21, 2017

Chocolate of the Day: 

Raaka Chocolate
Yacon Belize 79% Cacao bar
Good +
Weight: .88 oz. (25 g.) / 1.8 oz. (50.9 g.) in total bar
Calories: 146 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $7.95 (estimate) for 1 bar
Purchased from: missing information

Welcome to Day #6 of Chocolate and Alternative Sweetener Theme Week.

Another company creating alternatives to conventional chocolate bars made with cane sugar is bean-to-bar maker Raaka Chocolate (Brooklyn, NY).

Today's cane sugar free Yacon Belize 79% Cacao bar from Raaka was a slightly bitter, creamy, and well-tempered (broke with a hard snap) bar with very smooth and even, dark and slightly earthy flavor. The tasting notes: "beet, oat, raisin" may not attract everyone, but I liked it and would buy this bar again.

Sometimes you just don't want a sugar bomb. And the organic yacon* in this dark bar added a hint of sweetness.

Raaka makes their "virgin" bean-to-bar (kosher, vegan, Non GMO, gluten free) chocolate with un-roasted cacao beans and adds a bit of extra cocoa butter for extra smoothness.

Like many successful chocolate makers, they've also developed close relationships with suppliers in cacao-growing countries. Cacao from this bar came from Belize (likely from Maya Mountain Cacao).

Note: The latest (Jan. 2017) version of the Raaka Yacon 79% Cacao bar (available on the Raaka website) is made with cacao from a different source—from the Oko Caribe Cooperative in the Dominican Republic—so the flavor notes are slightly different: "oats, raisin, honey."

*Yacon is a tuberous root (from Peru and other countries) in South America, that is related to the very large sunflower family of plants.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Lakanto - Sugar Free 55% Cacao Chocolate with Almonds bar - Jan. 20, 2017

Chocolate of the Day: 

Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetened
Sugar Free 55% Cacao Chocolate with Almonds bar
Good
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 3 oz. (85 g.) in total bar
Calories: 87 calories (per label) in 1/3 bar
Cost: $5.95 (estimate) for 1 bar
Purchased from: missing information

Welcome to Day #5 of Chocolate and Alternative Sweetener Theme Week.

Today's Lakanto Sugar Free 55% Cacao Chocolate with Almonds bar (made in the U.S. and distributed by Saraya Canada Co., LTD) was very sweet, and it was sugar free.

For those avoiding sugar, watching glycemic index numbers, or cutting calories, this Lakanto chocolate was sweetened with a blend of monk fruit extract and erythritol (alcohol sugar)—a zero calorie sugar substitute. The company claims their 55 percent bars have 40% fewer calories than other chocolate bars.

The recommended 1/2 bar serving (43 g.) is only 120 calories. I tend to think of calories per oz. and this translates to just 87 calories per 1 oz. (28.3 g.) of chocolate—a low number. Conventional, sugar-sweetened chocolates range from 145 to 175 calories per 1 oz. (This bar also contained some vegetable fiber.)

The Lakanto sweetened chocolate had a very sweet cocoa aroma. Stoneground Arriba Nacional Cacao beans from Ecuador added authentic chocolate flavor to this vegan, dairy free and gluten free bar; but some of the deeper chocolate notes seemed to be muted by the sweetener. The chocolate had a light, lingering sweet finish. And small bits of almonds added some crunchy texture.

Ideally I'd prefer not to give up any of the natural chocolate flavor spectrum so carefully developed in a well-made bar if I didn't have to. However, the Lakanto monk fruit blend represents progress and was a relatively pleasant sweetener and worth trying if you need to be sugar free.

Thoughts on Cane Sugar, Sweeteners and Chocolate
Why do chocolate makers prefer cane sugar for fine chocolate? Cane sugar has been described as a "blank slate" in terms of flavor (or the lack thereof).

Developing a great, unique flavor profile for a bean-to-bar chocolate is a very complex, time-consuming process. And, after all that hard work, sweetener(s) used to make great chocolate need to support the best cacao flavor profile possible and allow the best/most desired features of a given cacao to shine.

Flavor considerations aren't the only reason for sweetener choices. I do get a bit of a rush from the sugar and the theobromine/caffeine in chocolate. I find this is OK in moderation. However, this rocket ride might be undesirable for others; and it's great to know many people are working hard on better tasting, more natural sugar substitutes.*

I notice differences when I eat sugar-free, lower glycemic sweetened, and traditional chocolates. After sampling thousands of different chocolates, I've observed the differences first hand. I feel calmer after eating certain chocolates than others. And sweeteners are part of the reason why.*

*Percentage and type/composition of cacao as well as quantity of chocolate eaten most certainly matter at least as much for most people as the sweetener choice—as do other factors (ranging from how much sleep I've gotten, what my mood is, what other food and drink I've just consumed, etc.) I wouldn't recommend eating an entire high percentage dark chocolate bar with cane sugar before bed-time. I eat my chocolate of the day in the morning, in part for this reason.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lakanto Sugar Free 55% Cacao Chocolate bar - Jan. 19, 2017

Chocolate of the Day: 

Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetened
Sugar Free 55% Cacao Chocolate bar
Good
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 3 oz. (85 g. ) in total bar
Calories: 87 calories (per label) in 1/3 bar
Cost: $5.95 (estimate) for 1 bar
Purchased from: missing information

Welcome to Day #4 of Chocolate and Alternative Sweetener Week.

Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener (distributed by Saraya Canada Co. LTD, Vancouver, BC) is a blend of monk fruit extract and erythritol (sugar alcohol).

Monk fruit (Luohan Guo) is a small green melon containing a natural sweetener that seems to block bitter and sour flavors. For example, after consuming monk fruit, a lemon will taste quite sweet for several minutes.

Sweetening chocolate with monk fruit acts as both a sugar replacement and a gentle counteracting force to any bitter or sour flavors.

This Lakanto bar, made with 55% Arriba Nacional Cacao beans from Ecuador, had a sweet fruity, cocoa aroma, and a mild sweet dark chocolate flavor. The melt and texture were fairly smooth.

It reminded me of the first time I tried fresh monk fruit, and then drank coffee afterwards. Smoothest, sweetest coffee I remember tasting. Somewhere in my brain I could tell that there was some sweet veil, but it's hard to detect what's really happening unless you really pay attention.

As with any food or chocolate containing a sweetener or substance that you're not used to, try a little bit first before over-indulging.




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Pascha - Organic Dark Chocolate Maca bar - Jan. 18, 2017

Chocolate of the Day: 

Pascha Chocolate Company
Organic Dark Chocolate Maca bar
Good
Weight: 1.17 oz. (33.3 g.) / 3.5 oz. (100 g.) in total bar
Calories: 190? calories in 1/3 bar
Cost: $4.29 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Whole Foods Market, Los Altos, CA

Welcome to Day #3 of Chocolate and Alternative Sweetener Theme Week.

This bar was made in Peru for Pascha Chocolate Company (Toronto, Ontario, Canada). Pascha uses Organic Cane Sugar in their bars, but also uses alternative, plant-based sweeteners and inclusions.

The packaging on this bar described maca as "a nutrient dense root vegetable from the Andes. It adds a slightly (non dairy) creamy texture and is blended with a 60% dark chocolate."

Unlike yesterday's Pascha bar with lucuma (a naturally sweet plant from South America with a caramel flavor note), this bar was less about replacing cane sugar and more about adding a slightly sweet and creamy flavor and texture to the chocolate.

The aroma of this Pascha bar was a little different with a hint of a sweet vegetable smell. The taste was sweet, smooth and pleasant.

The sweeter taste to today's bar base was likely also due to 60% Cacao. Yesterday's Pascha dark chocolate bar with lucuma was made with 70% Cacao.

Both Pascha bars were organic, vegan, Non GMO Project verified, and free from major allergens: peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, eggs, wheat and gluten.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pascha - Organic Dark Chocolate Lacuma bar - Jan. 17, 2017

Chocolate of the Day: 

Pascha Chocolate Company
Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate Lacuma bar
Good +
Weight: 1.17 oz. (33.3 g.) / 3.5 oz. (100 g.) in total bar
Calories: 190 calories (estimate per label) in 1/3 bar
Cost: $4.29 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Whole Foods Market, Los Altos, CA

Welcome to Day #2 of Chocolate and Alternative Sweetener Theme Week.

Sometimes alternative or other natural sweeteners are combined with some cane sugar to enhance or add sweetness or flavor. Such was the case with today's bar.

The 70% Cacao Organic Dark Chocolate with Lacuma bar was made in Peru for Pascha Chocolate Company (Toronto, Ontario, Canada).

Pascha packaging described Lacuma as a "Latin American superfruit that is sweet but low glycemic and gives a rich caramel note."

The company replaced half of the cane sugar (they would normally use for a conventional 70% dark chocolate bar) and replaced it with lacuma powder.

How did it taste? First, this bar felt much "lighter" (in weight) when I removed it from the packaging than chocolate I'm used to handling. Lacuma powder was the second ingredient listed (after cocoa mass), and this powder might be less dense or have a lighter/different "feel" than cocoa mass, cocoa butter or even cane sugar (the third ingredient listed).

The bar broke with a very hard snap, a sign of a good temper. (It was also a cold day outside.) This chocolate tasted a bit lighter too -- not as dense, bitter or acidic as many 70% cacao chocolates.

It did have a light fruitiness (think apples, pears and peaches with a slight, pleasant carrot note, as opposed to dark berries)—and, as advertised, it had a light caramel note too. Overall a satisfying bar.

This Pascha bar was free of several common allergens: there was no peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, eggs, wheat or gluten.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lily's Candy Cane 70% Dark Chocolate bar - Jan. 16, 2017

Chocolate of the Day: 

Lily's Sweets, LLC
Candy Cane Dark 70% Dark Chocolate bar
Good +
Weight: 1.4 oz. (40 g.); 2.8 oz. (80 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 170 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $4.19 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Whole Foods Market, Los Altos, CA

Welcome to the last day (Day #9) of Chocolate and Peppermint Theme Week, and Day #1 of Chocolate and Alternative Sweeteners Week.

Cane sugar is the expected sweetener for most bean-to-bar chocolates. However, one sees brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey and a variety of other sweeteners in chocolate bars and confections.

Today's Candy Cane 70% Dark Chocolate bar from Lily's Sweets, LLC* (King of Prussia, PA) was made with unsweetened chocolate (no sugar added). Instead of sugar, it was sweetened with Non-GMO Erythritol (a sugar alcohol) and Stevia Extract (from a plant).**

This gluten free and vegan dark bar broke with a hard snap (a sign of a good temper), and had a fairly creamy texture and melt—although it was slightly gritty in one or two bites. "Natural peppermint flavor" provided the authentic candy cane zing.

Thank you to Toni and Margaret for tasting help!

*The company is named after Lily, a cancer survivor. And a portion of proceeds from Lily's bars go to cancer research each year.

**"Ingredients: Unsweetened chocolate, Erythritol, Inulin, Cocoa Butter, Natural Peppermint Flavor, Stevia Extract, Organic Soy Lecithin, Vanilla."  

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a naturally sweet plant from South America that has been used for centuries to sweeten teas, medicines and other items, particularly in Brazil and Paraguay, and has been processed and marketed as an alternative sweetener around the globe in more recent times.

Junior Mints - Peppermint Crunch - Jan. 15, 2017

Chocolate of the Day: 

Tootsie Roll Industries, LLC
Junior Mints - Peppermint Crunch
Good
Weight: .93 oz. (26.4 g.) / 3.5 oz. (99 g.) total package/box
Calories: 113 calories in 10 pieces
Cost: $0.99 (sale) for 1 package/box
Purchased from: Jo-Ann (Fabric and Craft Stores), Mountain View, CA

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

Today's handful of Peppermint Crunch Junior Mints from Tootsie Roll Industries, LLC (Chicago, IL) provided a sweet peppermint rocket ride with a hint of semi-sweet chocolate.


I think the milky, creamy white center might have been liquid peppermint sugar. It's a candy after all, and sweeter than most chocolates I've been eating. (It's been several years since I've featured the original Junior Mints on this site.)

How were these different than regular Junior Mints? Red flecks and peppermint flavor mostly. I also remember Junior Mints center being soft, but slightly more solid than these, but I could be wrong.

The box and the pieces themselves looked fairly generously sized, but, again, I didn't have any original Junior Mints to compare them with. (What kind of chocolate mad scientist am I? For shame.)

These Junior Mints were made in a facility that "does not use peanuts, tree nuts, or gluten."


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