Saturday, April 30, 2016

Santosha Chocolate - Coconut and Hawaiian Pink Salt bar - Apr. 30, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Santosha Chocolate
(Produced by Raw Shakti Chocolate LLC)
Coconut and Hawaiian Pink Salt Raw 70% Cacao bar
Good - Good +
Weight: 1 oz. (29 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 130 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $3.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Piazza's Fine Foods, Palo Alto, CA

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

Chocolate bars with salt are no longer difficult to find.

One can be further selective and specify a Vegan, Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Low Glycemic, Nut Free and Soy Free, 70% cacao, raw dark chocolate bar with pink salt. Even with this criteria, there are at least a handful of different bars that might be a match.

If you add coconut to the mix, and specify Hawaiian pink salt, that would further narrow down the field; and there's a good chance a search for this bar might yield today's Santosha Chocolate Coconut and Hawaiian Pink Salt Raw 70% Cacao bar (produced by Raw Shakti Chocolate LLC, based in Asheville, NC).

This bar had a natural coconut and dark chocolate aroma, and was carpeted on the back with an even layer of finely grated coconut. The coconut wasn't too sweet, and I appreciated that. The grated coconut bits on one side gave the bar a mild chewiness.

Organic, raw Peruvian (heirloom) cacao beans were used to the craft the 70% cacao dark chocolate–that had a slight tang of fruit acidity.

Vanilla and a slight caramel/brown sugar taste (from the coconut palm sugar) gave the bar a touch of warm comfort flavor; and the bar had a pleasant clean finish. The Hawaiian sea salt contributed to a nicely balanced bar.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Baron Chocolatier - Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt bar - Apr. 29, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Excellent Baron Chocolatier
(Imported by European Chocolate, Ltd., Milano Group)
Premium Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt 50% cocoa bar
Weight: 1.4 oz. (40 g.) / 3.5 oz. (100 g.) in total bar
Calories: 200 calories in 2/5 bar
Cost: $1.49 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Palo Alto, CA

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

Today's Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt bar, a product of Poland, originated from The Milano Group's North American division, European Chocolate, Ltd. (Vernon Hills, IL), that produces Baron Chocolatier bars. Hard to follow? Yes, it is. But supply chains sometimes are.

This 50% cocoa bar broke with a hard snap, and had smooth dark flavor. Tiny embedded crystals of sea salt were embedded (inside) this sweet, dark bar, and yielded an occasional saline sparkle.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Endorfin Foods - Dark Mylk Pink Salt and Heirloom Nibs bar - Apr. 28, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Endorfin Foods
Dark Mylk Pink Salt and Heirloom Nibs bar
Good + - Good ++
Weight: 1.4 oz. (40 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 210 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $ N/A - part of a larger box of bars
Purchased from: Endorfin Foods

Welcome to Day #4 of Chocolate and Salt Theme Week.

Today's 72% cacao Dark Mylk Heirloom Nibs and Salt bar from Endorfin Foods (Oakland, CA) contained a more subtle hint of pink salt than yesterday's 55% cacao "Mr. Pink" savory Dark Mylk Chocolate with Pink Salt and Pink Peppercorn bar from the same company.

A generous sprinkling of cacao nibs (pieces of Heirloom Arriba Nacional* cacao beans) on the back side of today's bar added some crunchy texture and balanced, slightly earthy flavor.

Endorfin's "Mylk" chocolate contains no dairy milk (or soy), but rather this line of bars (some single origin, and some with flavor inclusions) are crafted using cacao, coconut sugar, coconut and cocoa butter. In the spirit of "minimally processed whole food ingredients" Endorfin bars are made with fermented but unroasted cacao beans giving them a clean, smooth flavor, and without some of the roasted notes found in other dark chocolate bars.

*Heirloom Arriba Nacional cacao is often associated with fine cacao coming from Ecuador after around 1890 (when strains (possibly Criollo) from Venezuela were bred with Forestero cacao in Ecuador). The aroma of these beans is sometimes described as having floral notes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Endorfin Foods - Mr. Pink Dark Mylk Pink Salt + Pink Peppercorn bar - Apr. 27, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Endorfin Foods
Mr. Pink - Dark Mylk Chocolate with Pink Salt and Pink Peppercorn bar
Good +
Weight: 1.4 oz. (40 g.) in total bar
Calories: 210 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $ N/A - part of a larger box of bars
Purchased from: Endorfin Foods

Welcome to Day #3 of Chocolate and Salt Theme Week.

The pink ("Mr. Pink" to you) Dark Mylk Chocolate with Pink Salt and Pink Peppercorn 55% cacao bar from Endorfin Foods (Oakland, CA) was a tasty, sophisticated treat made with unroasted cacao.

Endorfin Foods' Founder/Maker/Alchemist, Brian Wallace, decided not to roast cacao beans, "to deliver the maximum range of flavor and anti-oxidants possible."

What is Mylk? Endorfin bars are made without dairy, gluten, soy, GMO or refined sugar. Coconut "milk" and a touch of cocoa butter added creaminess to this dark mylk bar instead of traditional dairy milk.

This attractively designed and packaged, six-ingredient bar contained: cacao, coconut sugar, coconut, cocoa butter, pink peppercorn, Himalayan pink salt.

My favorite part about this bar was the artful melding of crushed pink peppercorns* (actually berries) and pink salt with the chocolate. Wallace noted that the resulting blend highlighted the citrus blossom and grapefruit zest flavor notes of the pink berries. Well done maestro.

*Pink peppercorns aren't a member of the peppercorn (Piper nigrum) family. Instead, while they resemble peppercorns in size and shape, these tiny berries with pink husks are sweeter and more fragrant than most peppercorns, with a milder citrus peppery zing.  Related to the mango and the cashew, these pink berries grow on Brazilian (Schinus terebinthifolius) and Peruvian (Schinus molle) pink pepper trees. Another great food that originated in the Americas.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Not Your Sugar Mamas - Lavender Sea Salt bar - Apr. 26, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Not Your Sugar Mamas
Lavender Sea Salt Bar
Good+ - Good ++
Weight: 1.1 oz. (31.13 g.) / 2.2 oz. (62.26 g.) in total bar
Calories: 210* calories (per label) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $7.59 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Country Sun Natural Foods, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #2 of Chocolate and Salt Theme Week.

Today's Lavender Sea Salt 75% cacao chocolate bar was from Not Your Sugar Mamas (Vineyard Haven, MA). The organic and raw bar was free of gluten, dairy and refined sugar.

This dark chocolate broke with a soft snap and was suffused with the natural aroma and flavor of lavender. Instead of sugar, the organic bar was sweetened with a hint of maple. As the chocolate melted in my mouth, I tasted no off or sharp flavors in the chocolate. The cacao had been minimally processed (as close to raw as possible). Lavender was the dominant flavor.

I liked the fact that the two founders, Bennett and Ky, chose to use local sea salt** from the Martha's Vineyard area.

*210 calories for 1/2 bar (per label). This sounds high, unless there's lots of cocoa butter.

**I have wanted to make some chocolates with local San Francisco Bay salt, but it's hard to find a good source. (The San Francisco Bay Area was once home to dozens of salt-making companies.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Rau - Cacao Superfood Drink - Apr. 25, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Rau Chocolate Original Cacao Superfood Drink
Weight: 1 fl. oz. (29.5 mL) / 12 fl. oz. (354 mL) in total container
Calories: 7.5 calories in 1 fl. oz.
Cost: $4.59 for 1 container/bottle
Purchased from: Country Sun Natural Foods, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #1 of Chocolate and Salt Theme Week. And we're starting the week with a salt-subtle item, made possible with the absence of sugar.

Today's Organic, Cacao Drink contained: "filtered water, raw cacao powder, raw cacao butter, Himalayan pink salt, raw vanilla bean, spice, monk fruit."

No sugar, and no artificial sweetener. It's unusual to find anything like that in the chocolate world, short of baking chocolate or a 100% cacao bar.

The company added monk fruit (luo han guo) as a sweetener to this cold processed cacao beverage instead. So, it was not too sweet, and subtle hints of vanilla and pink salt have a chance to come through a bit.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dick Taylor - Los Bagels Slug Slime bar - Apr. 24, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate
Humboldt State University - Special Edition Bar
Los Bagels Slug Slime (with sesame and poppy seeds)
Good +
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 2 oz. (57 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 150 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $9.00 for 1 bar (plus any applicable shipping)
Purchased from: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate (online order)

Welcome to the last day (Day #10) of Chocolate and Seeds Theme Week.

Today's Humboldt State University Special Edition Bar - Los Bagels Slug Slime 72% Belize bar was crafted by the founders and team at Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate (Eureka, CA).

Los Bagels Co. (Arcata, CA) is a popular bagel bakery and cafe in Humboldt County, founded by an owner with Jewish and Latino roots who opened the business in 1984. With locations in Arcata and Eureka—and a third location at Humboldt State University (Arcata, CA)—the company's Slug Slime, La Granola, and other bagels and baked goods have developed a local following.

The Los Bagels Slug* Slime is available as an a la carte Roasted Seasoning Blend that can be sprinkled on bagels or other baked goods (...or, today, a chocolate bar). I'm assuming this "Slime" seasoning mix includes the same ingredients in today's Dick Taylor bar: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion, garlic and salt.

From its description alone, this Dick Taylor Slug Slime bar would make my list of interesting chocolate breakfast candidates.

And an experimental collaboration like this bar says something about bean-to-bar makers and Dick Taylor founders (Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor)—i.e., their skill and confidence to take on a daring blend of fine dark chocolate with onion and garlic. (The sesame and poppy seeds and salt are a snap compared to onion and garlic.)

While the Los Bagels bar will likely charm the students and citizens surrounding Humboldt State**, did this combination of sweet and savory flavors work?

The Slug Slime bar, swathed carefully in shiny gold foil, had a mild sweet chocolate and savory aroma.

The first bite delivered a hearty, yet surprisingly balanced blend of slightly salty bagel fairy dust and chocolate. And, within seconds, rather than being overwhelmed by the savory spices, the acidic, rich 72% Belize dark chocolate flavor bloomed and refused to be dominated by garlic or onion. Ole.

Alas, when I checked the Dick Taylor website this morning, this bar was already sold out.

*Slug slime is a reference to banana slugs and other slugs that live in the moist Redwood Forests of Northern California. (Also there are a variety of sea slugs who reside in the nearby Pacific Ocean.) At least one other institution of higher learning in Northern California claims the banana slug as a school and/or team mascot: the University of California at Santa Cruz, south of San Francisco.

**A portion of the proceeds from sales of this bar go to Humboldt State University.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Alli and Rose - Dark Chocolate Acai and Blueberry with Chia - Apr. 23, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Alli and Rose
Dark Chocolate Acai and Blueberry with Chia
Weight: 1.20 oz. (34 g.) / 6 oz. (170 g.) in total package
Calories: 170 calories in 1 serving (1/5 package, or about 10 pieces)
Cost: $3.49 for 1 package
Purchased from: Ross, Mountain View, CA

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

It's another chia day...Today's Dark Chocolate Acai and Blueberry with Chia pieces—distributed by Alli and Rose Inc. (Lincolnton, NC)—were, according to the packaging, "fruity bite size bliss."

Glossy, chocolate coated spheres were filled with a sweet and chewy berry fruit-flavored center. I did pick up a slight chia seed crunch, but it was very subtle. If you prefer chocolates or confections that are more sweet and smooth, and less "seedy" or textural, these might be for you.

Two Degrees - Chocolate Peanut bar - Apr. 22, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Two Degrees, Inc.
Chocolate Peanut All Natural Snack Bar with Quinoa, Millet and Chia
Good - Good +
Weight: 1.66 oz. (44 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 190 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $2.19 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Piazza's Fine Foods, Palo Alto, CA

The next time I have a craving for chocolate and peanut butter, I'll have one of these Chocolate Peanut bars from Two Degrees, Inc. (San Francisco, CA) instead.

This chewy, almost crunchy, complex and interesting Chocolate Peanut bar did contain, as expected, both chocolate and peanuts (and peanut butter).

However, the chocolate and peanuts were were incorporated into a satisfying and filling mix of seeds: sunflower, sesame, quinoa*, millet and chia seeds, and other ingredients (rice crisps, raisins, plum puree). The bar was sweet, but without being overly so.

This bar was Vegan and GMO-free Certified. (It was not labeled as Gluten Free, although it contained no gluten ingredients that I could see on the label.)

*Yes, quinoa is a seed too. The plant is related to spinach and beets (rather than grains); and the part we eat is considered a seed.

Kutoa - Chocolate Banana bar - Apr. 21, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Kutoa Health Company, LLC
Chocolate Banana bar
Weight: 1.7 oz. (48 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 174 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $1.89 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Piazza's Fine Foods, Palo Alto, CA

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

Today's Chocolate Banana bar (whole fruits and chocolate) with chia and flax seeds was produced by Kutoa Health Company, LLC (Austin, TX).

The company, a Certified B Corporation*, developed a "Buy a bar, feed a child" initiative as part of their mission. If you buy one bar, part of the proceeds go toward feeding a hungry child in need.

This vegan, gluten and soy free, Non-GMO Project Certified bar had an intriguing green forest, banana, date and chocolate aroma and flavor, and soft, mildly chewy texture. It tasted naturally sweet without being too sweet. Gluten free oats and pea protein helped to mellow the acidic tang that some fruit and date bars have, but without the odd starchy quality that bars with these ingredients sometimes have.

Plant and Seed Identity Issues
So, below are some fun facts about chocolate, seeds and "nuts" concerning posts this past month:
  • Chocolate is made from cacao beans—and these "beans" are really seeds.
  • Banana is technically an herb and fruit-bearing plant. And the edible fruits are, botanically speaking, giant berries.
  • Dates are fruits, but the pits or seeds are sometimes used to feed livestock.
  • Peanuts are not nuts or seeds; they are legumes.
  • Cashew nuts, pine nuts, almonds are seeds. (Almonds are considered "stone-like seeds.")
  • And, bonus points for those of you that remember this one: Unlike Brazil nuts, cashews really do come from Brazil. And, Brazil nuts are large seeds and not nuts.

*B Corporations are for-profit companies that are certified by a nonprofit (B Lab). Companies are evaluated on their social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Himalania - Dark Chocolate Hemp Seeds - Apr. 20, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Dark Chocolate Hemp Seeds
Weight: 2 Tablespoons - 1.06 oz. (30 g.) / 6 oz. (170 g.) in total package
Calories: 160 calories in 1 (2 TB) serving
Cost: $5.99 for 1 package
Purchased from: Safeway, Palo Alto, CA

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

Today's Himalania Dark Chocolate Hemp Seeds were distributed by BrandStorm, Inc. (Van Nuys, CA).

Seeds are great. Fiber, Omegas*, Magnesium. Let's hear it for seeds. However, when it comes to hemp seeds, we've needed to import ours from Canada, as there have been restrictions on growing hemp for food, fiber and oil in the U.S.

The Himalania Non-GMO Verified hemp seeds were sustainably grown, toasted, and enrobed in dark chocolate.

These seeds looked a bit like dark chocolate caviar. They had a slightly malty aroma and flavor, and a somewhat fibrous, seedy crunch.

Hemp Seed History
Hemp originated in Central Asia but over time was cultivated in other countries.

Himalania packaging points out that hemp was "once a staple ingredient amongst ancient civilizations," and that the seeds "have achieved great longevity due to their ability to nourish and fuel in their natural state. Each serving provides...vitamins and minerals, including proteins, fibers, omegas and essential amino seeds."

Unfortunately, the history of hemp is conflated with marijuana use, although the seed's nutritional profile is quite compelling on its own.

*Himalania Dark Chocolate Hemp Seeds contain: 0.5g Omega-3 and 1.5 g. Omega-6 per serving. One serving is 2 TB or 1.06 oz. (30 g.). 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Nature's Path - Qi'a Mocha Cocoa bar - Apr. 19, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Nature's Path Foods Inc
Qi'a Superfood bar - Mocha Cocoa Hazelnut bar
Weight: 1.3 oz. (38 g.) / 16.1 oz. (456 g.) in box of 12 bars
Calories: 190 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $5.99 in 1 box of 12 bars
Purchased from: Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Palo Alto, CA

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

Today's Qi'a Mocha Cocoa Hazelnut Superfood Snack Bar was from Nature's Path Foods Inc (Blaine, WA). The family-run company offers other Qi'a snack bars, but most don't have cocoa in them.

And in case you're wondering, chia, hemp and coconut are the three superfoods in this bar.

This Certified Gluten Free, Organic and Non-GMO Verified bar had a fruity aroma, and a pleasant, soft chew with texture from finely shredded coconut, tiny crunchy chia seeds and (visible) chunks of hazelnut.

It held together nicely without the sugary glue sometimes used to bind and fuse snack bar ingredients. Extra points for that in my book. And much more likely to go into my hike backpack.

The mocha flavor was subtle but satisfying. And the bar had a very slightly, but not unpleasant, oily aftertaste. (Probably all those healthy Omega fatty acids.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mamma Chia - Peanut and Dark Chocolate with Chia bar - April 18, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Mamma Chia
Peanut and Dark Chocolate with Chia bar
Weight: 1.4 oz. (40 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 190 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $1.79 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Safeway, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #4 of Chocolate and Seeds Theme Week.

Today's Peanut and Dark Chocolate with Chia bar from Mamma Chia (Carlsbad, CA) had a sweet, chewy, nutty and seedy texture—and a dark chocolate base and icing.

You could say this was a snack bar with a mission—one of a line of Mamma Chia beverages and bars with organic chia seeds. The company promotes the "Magic of Chia," i.e., its Omega-3s, dietary fiber and complete protein.

"BPA-free, Non-GMO, Gluten Free and Kosher," this hearty yet light bar contained a healthy dose of Omega fatty acids: Omega-3: 1,000 mg; Omega-6: 300 mg; Omega-9: 4,800 mg; and protein (6 grams).

The team at Mamma Chia also participates in 1% for the Planet program(s), and the company was a founding member of the Slow Money organization.

Chia origins
Like other seeds highlighted in this Chocolate and Seed week, chia seeds (from Salvia hispanica—a plant in the mint family) originated in the Americas. More specifically, chia is native to Central and Southern Mexico and Guatemala, and was eaten by the Aztecs and Maya people.

Sunflower seeds, pine nuts (seeds), chia seeds, squash and pumpkin seeds, and other seeds, were all eaten by native peoples in the Americas before European settlers arrived.

As I pondered yesterday (with sunflower seeds), might chia seeds have been combined with cacao seeds (beans) or drinking chocolate a thousand years ago? Another research project to be added to the list.

*Pine nuts (or seeds from pine cones) came/come from pine (or pinon/pinyon) trees from at least three continents. Popular source trees include the Italian Stone Pine, the Mexican Pine and Colorado Pine, and Siberian Pine.

Patric Chocolate - Salty Sunflower Seed Bar - April 17, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Patric Chocolate
Salty Sunflower Seed Bar
Good ++
Weight: 2.3 oz. (65 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 345 calories (estimate) in 1 bar
Cost: $15.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #3 of Chocolate and Seeds Theme Week.

Today we focus on sunflower seeds in combination with chocolate. It's hard not to think of these bold yellow flowers as the spring weather edges toward summer.

I've seen dill pickle flavored sunflower seeds and bacon-flavored sunflower seeds in stores. But, the best use of sunflower seeds (or any seeds) may be when they're shelled, lightly roasted and salted, and then blended with high-quality chocolate.

Today's limited edition Salty Sunflower Seed Bar—from bean-to-bar maker* Patric Chocolate (Columbia, MO)—was a great example of such a bar. Organic sunflower seeds were very lightly salted, added some crunchy texture, and blended nicely with an expertly crafted milk chocolate base.

Sunflower history
The sunflower that yields most of our edible seeds (Helianthus Annuus) originated in North America. There is evidence that American Indians domesticated and ate sunflower seeds as far back as 3,000 B.C. (likely in Arizona and Mexico). So, technically speaking, some of these Indians might have sprinkled some ground sunflower seeds into their drinking chocolate. One never knows.

*Patric Chocolate is winner of 15 Good Food Awards for chocolate bars. Congratulations to Alan "Patric" McClure and team.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

SOMA chocolatemaker - Cacao Crunch - Apr. 16, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

SOMA chocolatemaker
Cacao Crunch - Chocolate twig
Very Good
Weight: 3.5 oz. (100 g.) (estimate) in total package
Calories: 525 calories (estimate) in 1 package
Cost: $18.00 (estimate) for 1 package (member price)
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #2 of Chocolate and Seeds Theme Week.

What's a "Cacao Crunch?" It could be the crunchy sound being made as a happy, satisfied person consumes today's "Chocolate twig with roasted pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs and hemp seeds."

This sliceable confection from SOMA chocolatemaker (Toronto, ON, Canada) was substantially greater in size and substance than what I imagine when I think of a twig. It was both soft and crunchy, a delicious branch growing off a growing SOMA chocolate tree.

It was also delicious. The sweetness of high-quality milk chocolate was layered and made more complex with crunchy seeds and nibs. I thought I picked up a hint of hazelnut flavor, although it likely came from almonds and butter instead.

Woodblock Chocolate Manufactory - Toasted Sesame bar - April 15, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Woodblock Chocolate Manufactory
Toasted Sesame bar (Batch 17)
Good +
Weight: .88 oz. (25 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 132 calories (estimate)
Cost: $4.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: French Broad Chocolates, Asheville, NC

Welcome to Day #1 of Chocolate and Seeds Theme Week.

And Happy April 15 -- the big annual tax due date in the U.S. (Canadians have until April 30). May all your financial affairs go smoothly and may you always have some pocket money for good chocolate.

Technically, any theme week on could be a chocolate and seeds theme week, as chocolate is made from cacao seeds. We call them cacao or cocoa beans, but they're really seeds that, for the most part, are fermented, roasted and processed into chocolate.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to these seeds, the farmers who grow cacao, and all the people who contribute to the making of great chocolate, including smaller craft chocolate makers.

Today's Toasted Sesame bar was crafted by the team at Woodblock Chocolate Manufactory (Portland, OR), a family-run, bean-to-bar chocolate company.

There was a lot of flavor packed into this small, compact bar. The top of this Woodblock bar looked like...well, a wood block, with a stylized woodgrain pattern—a nice, design touch.

The three ingredient (cacao, sugar and sesame seeds) 70% cacao bar had a dark, complex aroma, and a dark, roasted, acidic and almost smoky flavor (think espresso).

The boldness of the flavor made it difficult to detect any lighter fruit, floral or berry notes. And perhaps there were none to speak of to begin with. Different cacao seeds (beans) have different flavor profiles from the start.

The flavor of toasted sesame seeds was very faint, but I'm guessing the seeds did help mellow the dark roasted, acidic flavor profile in some way that I was unable to account for (without having a non-seeded bar as a tasting control group). For all its boldness, it was fairly well balanced. I did not find this bar bitter or astringent.

A very even sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds—which can be surprisingly hard to achieve when sprinkling by hand, so hats off there—were lightly pressed into the underside of this dark bar.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Inspiration - hazelnut chocolates - April 14, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Vdohnovenie (Inspiration) Chocolate
Babaev Confectionery
(Chocolates with hazelnut bits)
Weight: 1.26 oz. (35.8 g.) / 7.59 oz. (215 g.) in total box of 12 pieces
Calories: 197 calories in 2 pieces
Cost: $ N/A - gift from friend
Purchased from: N/A - gift from friend

Today was a special chocolate day—an opportunity to try a chocolate from Russia.

These Vdohnovenie (Inspiration) chocolates from Babayeva/Babaev (Moscow) were (gratefully) hand-carried on a plane from St. Petersburg, Russia to California.

I can occasionally find chocolates from around the world in international markets or specialty shops; but not all brands or flavors are readily available, even online. So this was a welcome gift indeed.

Each dome-shaped "chocolate icing"covered piece contained a rich chocolate praline filling embedded with nut bits (hazelnuts), creating a sweet and satisfying tasting experience.

Chocolate in Russia
Every country has a slightly different food and chocolate landscape. As one might expect, Russia has its own chocolate companies and offerings, particularly in larger cities.

The Russian chocolate makers that turned up in an online search included: Britarev Chocolate Co.; Fresh Cacao; Kudvic (also selling equipment to aspiring makers); Verhoff Chocolatier; Chocolate Manufactory Murtazali; and Museum of Russian Chocolate History, Museum of History of Chocolate Criollo (factory and boutique).

Yes, there are Chocolate Museums in Moscow.* And, in St. Petersburg there is a Chocolate Museum and boutique in the basement of the Stroganov Palace—that offers hand-made chocolates and has chocolate sculptures.

In other signs of chocolate expansion: the annual Salon du Chocolat has been held in Moscow for the last few years, where judges evaluate chocolates from top chocolatiers; and, in recent years, larger European chocolate companies established factories in Russia in hopes of selling more of their chocolates there.

*Note: For those who might be planning a trip to Moscow, in addition to the Red October (Krasny Oktyabr) sweet factory, there is a Museum of Russian Chocolate History that opened in 2014. The museum is located in the former Khanzhonkov's house in Trimphalnaya Square. Visitors can see how chocolate is made, learn more about early chocolate makers (and packaging), and can shop at a chocolate gift shop. The museum also offers chocolate classes for children.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

So Delicious - Cashew Milk Dark Chocolate Truffle Frozen Dessert - Apr. 13, 2016

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

So Delicious Dairy Free
Cashewmilk Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert
Dark Chocolate Truffle
Weight: 1/2 cup (85 g.) / 16 oz. (473 g.) in total container
Calories: 180 calories in 1/2 cup serving
Cost: $4.49 for 1 container
Purchased from: Piazza's Fine Foods, Palo Alto, CA

It was Day #14 of Chocolate and Cashew Theme Week.

Today's Dark Chocolate Truffle Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert, from So Delicious Dairy Free (Springfield, OR), was made with "cashewmilk," chocolate, and a touch of coconut (oil).

The company has been creating and selling dairy-free products for more than twenty-five years. Offerings include beverages, frozen desserts, yogurt alternatives, non-dairy creamers, etc.

Previously, I'd sampled and featured So Delicious coconut milk frozen desserts. Cashews are a very popular nut; so introducing "cashewmilk" beverages—five different frozen dessert flavors—made sense.

I garnered this chocolate dessert with some roasted, salted cashews.

I've certainly enjoyed a double-week's (14 days) worth of chocolate and cashews. And if you're looking for another excuse to indulge in these comma-shaped nuts...Remember, National Chocolate Cashew Day is next week—on April 21st.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Godiva - Milk Chocolate Cashews - April 12, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Godiva Chocolatier, Inc.
Milk Chocolate Cashews
Good + - Good++
Weight: 2 oz. (57 g.) in 1 package
Calories: 314 calories in 1 package
Cost: $3.99 for 1 package
Purchased from: Hudson News, San Francisco International Airport, South San Francisco, CA

Today was Day #13 of Chocolate and Cashew Theme Week.

When I opened this gold bag of Milk Chocolate Cashews—from Godiva Chocolatier, Inc. (New York City, NY)—I thought I smelled the beloved animal crackers (cookies) of my childhood. Odd, because these were milk chocolate covered, salted cashews. But memory triggers like this do happen once in a great while.

These Godiva treats were one of my favorite chocolate-covered cashew items this month. Much as I like dark chocolate, it can overwhelm the subtle, sweet flavor of cashew nuts. I felt like I could taste the (salted) cashews today.

Monday, April 11, 2016

California Sungold Pistachios - Chocolate Caramlized Cashews - Apr. 11, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

California Sungold Pistachios
Chocolate Caramelized Cashews
Weight: 2.66 oz. (75.5 g.) / 8 oz. (226.4 g.) in total bag
Calories: 399 calories for 1/3 bag
Cost: $4.99 for 1 bag
Purchased from: CVS/pharmacy, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #12 of Chocolate and Cashew Theme Week.

Today's cashews—wholes, halves and bits—were encased in a crunchy sweet, toffee-like caramelized coating, and covered in chocolate.

These Chocolate Caramelized Cashews with Sea Salt were from California Sungold Pistachios (Oakhurst, CA).

I couldn't really taste the chocolate or the cashew (a very mild flavored nut to begin with), as the sugar level of the caramelization was quite high—even with a hint of sea salt that helped balance the sugar.

These would be great if you were craving a toffee or sweet snack with slightly layered texture and flavor.

There is a different "Goldilocks" chocolate for each of us. What's too sweet for me as an adult, might be just right for someone else.

Cacao Bisiesto - Nicaragua - March/April 2016

Cacao Bisiesto - From Tree to Bean
A Tour of Nicaragua Cacao Farms with Gifford Laube and Jose Enrique Herrera
March - April 2016

What's better than eating chocolate? OK, that's hard to beat.

But a close second might be a chocolate field trip to Central America, to see how cacao seedlings transform themselves into ripe cacao pods, full of tasty fruit pulp and seeds (cacao beans). The beans are harvested, fermented and eventually turned into chocolate.

Last month, I was part of a guided tour* to a handful of cacao farms outside Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

Our guides were Jose Enrique Herrera and Gifford (Giff) Laube, of Cacao Bisiesto. This knowledgable duo has been working directly with cacao farmers to produce premium cacao from independent farms in the highlands of Nicaragua. Both founders bring valuable experience to the partnership.

Giff was originally from the U.S., and worked for a chocolate company previously. Jose Enrique had in-depth experience with the local area and was trained as an agronomist.

Together they advise farmers on how to prune and cultivate cacao trees for the best output, and help shepherd beans through a careful (and customized) fermentation and drying process—necessary before beans are sold to chocolate makers—such as French Broad Chocolates in Asheville, NC, who was profiled yesterday.

Farming Cacao in Nicaragua

Our first stop on the farm tour was a coffee farm (Finca Mil Flores, Cafe Organico), where cacao trees were also grown; and here we had our first taste of fresh cacao fruit (pulp around the seeds). A few quick expert machete chops and the open pod was passed around for inspection and tasting.**

Also, most farmers in the area were growing cacao as a secondary (or tertiary) crop—after, e.g. coffee, bananas, sugar cane, and/or cattle ranching, Giff explained to us.

Why is proper pruning important? In part to keep diseases in check, which affects output as well. We also stopped at a farm with mature cacao trees that were slightly larger, that had not been so tightly manicured. Walking under the cacao tree canopy was beautiful; but the pod health and harvest apparently was less robust.

Our next to last stop was an operation known as Henry's Farm, that was also a good-sized cattle ranch that lay at the end of a long dirt road.

In addition to diseases there are some natural crop predators. We saw no traces of the "dreaded" native gray and white squirrels (ardillas). Squirrels are known to chew through pods (as are woodpeckers and various rodents). But we did spot other more benign wildlife.

We hiked up a packed dirt track to take a look at their cacao trees and seedlings, being careful not to tread on a line of leaf-cutter ants. The ants were almost too small to see, but we could see a slow-moving tiny parade of green leaf pieces moving underfoot, seemingly under their own steam, across the forest floor. And cicadas sang in the trees in the hot, summer weather.

Trees were in bloom with purple-pink flowers across a mountain valley.

Another cacao pod was picked, opened, and passed around. The pulp was sweet, fruity and wonderful, and the flavor(s) were slightly different at each farm we visited. (What did it taste like? Citrus, floral, watermelon...all of the above.)

We had lunch in a spacious old white barn, and sampled several craft chocolate bars made from Nicaraguan cacao.

Our last stop of the day was Cacao Bisiesto.

Fermenting and Drying Cacao 

Cacao Bisieto takes in beans from farmers and operates fermentation and drying facilities where beans go through initial stages of processing and developing flavor before being shipped to chocolate makers in the U.S. and elsewhere.

We stopped at the fermentation and drying areas. Here is where additional expertise was came into play.

Each batch of farmer's beans were checked and assessed for fermentation profiles. Fermenting beans were carefully monitored and moved from box to box during the process over a period of days. Cut tests were done on selected beans. Near these "vats," the aroma was similar to a winery.

After fermentation, batches of beans were dried on screens in elevated wooden frames, that allowed for just the right amount of air to circulate. Plastic sheeting around the area helped prevent contamination or moisture from wind or rain.

As the sun was setting, our group made our way through carefully planted and tended rows of cacao trees; and Giff explained to us techniques they were using on their own farm. Although it was hard to hear what Giff was saying, as a symphony of cicadas were broadcasting at full blast around us. (The sign of a healthy ecosystem one might say.)

It was a full and educational day, and great to see and hear first-hand the how a few organizations and individuals can add lots of value in the supply chain, as cacao moves from tree to bar.

Thank you to both Giff and Jose Enrique for their time and patience during the tour, when they were peppered with questions from myself and others.

*The group tour was organized by The Chocolate Garage (Palo Alto, CA).

**Yes the seeds/beans are a bit bitter and astringent in their raw state, but you can suck the pulp off them and they're just fine that way. 

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