Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nirvana Belgian Chocolates TRUFFLES...turning chocoholics into alcoholics

One of the chocolates that I ordered from chocolatesource.com last week was a box of Nirvana Truffles.  I had really liked their organic chocolate bars when I tried them, so I thought I would fall instantly in love with their truffles too.

When I received the box, I thought it was gorgeous - beautifully wrapped with a pink ribbon on a dark brown box. There were eight truffle flavours listed in the insert and also on the back of the box, with photos.  However when I opened the box, most of the chocolates looked completely different than the pictures on the inserts.  The eight that are advertised are, in fact, inside the box, but there are many more kinds and no description of these.  I call these the “mystery” truffles. I have no issue with there being more chocolate flavours than what was promised, but most of the mystery truffles have a little too much alcohol in them.  The ingredients on the back of the box include “aromas of liquers”, however, the company has used a lot more than just an “aroma”.  There is a scary amount of alcohol in the liqueur-filled chocolates.  One tasted just like straight vodka mixed with chocolate.  Another was Goldschlager, which I knew because of the strong alcohol and cinnamon that burned my tongue, making it nearly inedible.  The “Amaretto Cream” was also too strong, as was the “Champagne Truffle”. Although the Champagne Truffle had an unbelievably smooth centre, it tasted like straight alcohol, and did not really have a white wine or champagne flavour.
There was also more confusion to the “mystery” truffles.  On the first level of the box, there was a truffle enrobed in dark chocolate and inside tasted like a really good dark chocolate praline, as there seemed to be a hint of hazelnut, and a buttery smoothness to the centre.  I loved it so much that I went looking for it in the bottom layer and found one that looked just like it.  It had the same shape and same markings on the top.  So I bit into it and nearly broke a tooth!  Unexpectedly, it was filled with a sold 70% dark chocolate.   Although it was good, it was completely unexpected.  My issue with this is that the name on the box is “Truffles”, so why was there a solid dark chocolate shaped like a truffle in the box?  Also, why did it look exactly the same as the dark chocolate praline truffle?
So now that all my concerns about the Nirvana Truffles are on the table, I will say that I did have favourites too.  They were:
  • The dark chocolate praline,  one of the “mystery”  truffles
  • The Classic Pralin√©
  • The soft mocha
  • Praline Chocolat√©
  • Smooth Caramel
  • A milk chocolate truffle rolled in sugar, otherwise known as "nameless"
  • A light buttery mousse-filled truffle enrobed in dark chocolate truffle & cocoa powder - also "nameless" - nice balance of dark and light, bitter and lightly sweet all at once.
So I'm not sure if I should call this box of truffles a success.  Overall, it was a disappointment to me.  However, if you really like a lot of alcohol flavour in your truffles, then you will like the Nirvana Truffles. I just don't like being surprised - the label named eight truffle flavours and the box had about 12 to 15 flavours, and most of the unknown "mystery" chocolates were yucky. 
All that said, I do LOVE some of NIRVANA's organic chocolate bars (http://www.nirvanachocolates.com/ourshop/organic/index.asp).  I have tasted a few of them in the past,  and believe I have one sitting in my cabinet right now, so perhaps I will get to a tasting of it this week.
If you are curious about NIRVANA and their truffle collection, here are the details:
NIRVANA Belgian Chocolates
Made in Belgium for Belgium's Best Chocolates, Inc.
Wellesley, MA, U.S.A.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chocolate on the brain...

I woke up thinking about chocolate. I wonder what chocolate I should try today and what chocolate to save for tomorrow.  I battle with myself over finishing chocolate bars that I've already opened versus opening something new to try. Something 'new' usually wins and I am left with a cabinet full of unfinished chocolate bars.

I know this has something to do with the large order of chocolate that I ordered from chocolatesource.com.  It's just sitting on the counter, staring at me.  I just want to taste all of it at once, but I need to force myself to make it last.  After all, it may be a few days before the next shipment comes in!

I know I am not normal; I am definitely not just another person who causally indulges in a little chocolate treat each and every day. But I have convinced myself that there are other people in this world who are just like me. I know I am not alone in my quest to try every chocolate bar flavour and brand that has ever been made. And I am sure that I am not the only one who has chocolate on the brain, 24/7.

No matter what I try today, tonight I will go to sleep thinking about the chocolate that I will try tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Langues de Chat (Cat's Tongues) dark chocolate that meows

I ordered some fun chocolate to try from chocolatesource.com.  Langues de Chat or Cat's Tongues described on the Galler web site as "cartoon cats moulded from chocolate" are individually wrapped 70% dark chocolate pieces that have a fun and kid-friendly appeal to their shape.

In tasting the Cat's Tongues, they seem like a sweet-tasting 70% chocolate, but the sweetness is clearly coming from the vanilla flavouring.  Thankfully, the vanilla used is natural, so there is no sickeningly sweet flavour to the chocolate, just a sweet vanilla dark chocolate flavour.  Overall, it's pretty standard and generic tasting stuff.  The taste of the chocolate is masked by the vanilla flavour, but the vanilla is still subtle enough to not be overbearing.  The aftertaste in your mouth, once the chocolate is melted away, has a nice cocoa finish that is reminiscent of a good hot chocolate.

I'm not quite sure why they chose to shape their chocolate like a cat with its tongue sticking out, but I like the concept; it is filled with fun and happiness and I think that this chocolate would make it easy to introduce kids to 70% dark chocolate to keep them away from the sugary commercial stuff. My daughter, who is two-and-a-half, saw the cat and wanted it right away. And she loved it!

I checked out the Galler website (http://www.galler.com/chocolate-cats-tongue.php), and I would like to also try the dark praline and the milk praline in the Langues de Chat line of chocolates. They both look yummy. In fact, many of Galler's chocolate bars look great and I can't wait until I can get my hands on some, particularly their single-origin line of "Blended" chocolate.

Here are the details from the package of the Langues de Chat:
Langues de Chat Chocolat NOIR 70%, 190 g (6.65 oz)
Galler Chocolatiers S.A., Belgium
Made in Belgium
http://www.galler.com/
Ingredients: Chocolate:  cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, emulsifier: soya lecithin, natural vanilla. Min. 70% cocoa.  May contain traces of nuts, milk, eggs or gluten.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Looking for healthy chocolate? Mars, Incorporated says they have the answer in CocoaVia (but only a beverage, they don't make the chocolate anymore!)

As most of us chocolate addicts know, we feel best when we find a good reason to justify our chocolate indulgences. In recent years, the news reports that dark chocolate is actually good for our health because the antioxidants in cocoa could help prevent heart disease and cancer only helped us justify our addiction. It also caused more of us to switch to dark chocolate, and likely caused some non-chocolate eaters to start snacking on the dark stuff on occasion.

In recent years, some manufacturers have gone beyond the simple claim that dark chocolate is healthy for us. They are actually adding healthy ingredients directly to the chocolate during the manufacturing process. More and more, I see chocolate bars with such additives as active bacterial cultures, echinacea, ginseng, vitamins, calcium, and other additives which are supposed to be good for our health.
The CocoaVia brand, owned by Mars, Incorporated and its entrepreneurial, scientific division called Mars Botanical(TM) that was established in 2007, is one of those manufacturers that focuses on increasing the healthiness of chocolate. Their goal is to deliver "...the natural power of cocoa flavanols found in in their Cocoapro(R) cocoa extract." In other words, they claim to harvest cocoa in a healthier way.  On their website, this is how they describe their process:

While traditional processing, like is commonly done in making chocolate, the most popular product from cocoa often destroys many of these beneficial phytonutrients, the Mars, Incorporated patented and proprietary process called Cocoapro™ helps retain the efficacy of the flavanols. Building off of years of manufacturing experience, Mars scientists have perfected this process to reduce the cocoa bean’s exposure to high temperatures, helping protect the flavanols inside. This process ensures delivery of cocoa extract and powder ingredients that are guaranteed to have consistently high levels of cocoa flavanols.

I have tasted the results of their research first hand when relatives, who had travelled to the U.S.A., brought me some of the CocoaVia branded chocolate products last year. CocoaVia was a wonderful selection of small, portion-controlled chocolate snack bars and packets of chocolate-covered almonds, as well as a beverage that used their specialty health-promoting cocoa.

I had kept just one of those dark chocolate snack bars in my chocolate cabinet, and just the other day, I decided to re-taste it and blog about CocoaVia. I recall that I hadn't really liked the taste of it when I first tried it,  but I had liked the concept so much that I was still willing to try any of the other chocolate bars in the their product line. So giving CocoaVia dark chocolate the benefit of doubt, my plan was to re-taste it and write a nice blog post about what Mars is doing to create a healthier chocolate.

After I wrote most of my post, I went to the Mars website and soon discovered that my efforts were in vain.  It appears that there is no longer a chocolate product line under the CocoaVia brand.  The website now only shows one product, which is a cocoa powder supplement that enables you to get the maximum flavanols from a powdered drink supplement, even more than from a chocolate bar.  So it looks like CocoaVia no longer makes or promotes the chocolate bar line that they introduced only a few years ago. Although this is great for people who prefer to drink their chocolate, it really is too bad for solids chocolate eaters.  I liked what Mars was trying to do with chocolate. I particularly liked the size of their chocolate bars - they were only 0.78 oz (22.1 grams), making it impossible to feel guilty about indulging in a chocolate snack after lunch! I also liked that they had added folic acid and calcium - great for pregnant women like me!

Of course, I'm not saying that you should only eat chocolate to get your vitamins, but if you travel a lot, you'll know what I mean about days when it is hard to get the right nutrition from foods purchased at airports, hotels or train stations.  A chocolate snack with added vitamins and minerals would help a lot on those days!

In checking around on the Internet, I found that the chocolate covered almonds and bars were discontinued in 2008 or 2009, according to Wikipedia.  I am very sad about this development, since I thought that Mars had introduced such a great chocolate concept to us. Perhaps the flavour wasn't there yet, or the market wasn't quite ready for such a healthy chocolate. But hopefully, with more research, they can introduce something similar in the future.  For now, if you want to get the maximum benefit from the flavanols in cocoa, you have to settle for the dietary supplement beverage called CocoaVia, only available online.

In case you are interested, here were the details that had been on the CocoaVia-branded chocolate bar package, now discontinued:

CocoaVia(TM) Original Chocolate Bar, 22.1 g (0.78 oz)
Distributed by Masterfoods USA
A Division of Mars, Incorporated
Hackettstown, NJ
http://www.cocoapro.com/
Ingredients: Semisweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, soy lecithin, natural flavor), soy sterol esters, vitamins and minerals (calcium carbonate, asorbic acid, vitamin E acetate, cyanocobalamin, folic acid, pyridoxine HCL). Allergy information: May contain peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk and wheat.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Madagascar Single Origin Chocolate by Cachet and Lindt

My favourite kind of chocolate, by far, is single origin - chocolate made from cocoa beans sourced from one specific region.  I like it because each brand and type tastes so different from any other chocolate.  And although I am not always very good at identifying specific aromas and flavours, like cherry or citrus, I still think it is fun to try to pick them out. Single origin chocolate makes it possible to play this game, whereas in your average mixed-bean chocolate bar, there is a lack of strong flavour. In fact, in average chocolate bars, most often you can only identify the taste of cocoa or vanilla.

Today I am tasting two single origin chocolate bars: Lindt Madagascar 65% Cacao Dark Chocolate and Cachet Limited Origin Selection Madagascar 32% Milk Chocolate.

The ingredients in the Lindt Madagascar bar are very simple (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla) and that is likely the reason why so much flavour is coming through in the chocolate.  The flavour is very sharp and I'm not sure that the description on the package that it is a chocolate with a "soft and harmonious character" is quite accurate in my view, but I like it regardless. The smell is of fruit, woods and real vanilla. 

The description on the Lindt package says that the cocoa beans are grown in the Sambirano region of Madagascar.  If you are looking for more chocolate made from cocoa beans of the same region, apparently Patric Chocolate of Missouri makes chocolate from beans of that region.  Another producer of chocolate made from cacao beans of the Sambirano region is Amano chocolate, http://www.amanochocolate.com/retail/bars/madagascar.  If and when I can get my hands on chocolate from either producer, I will compare and contrast these to the Lindt Madagascar bar in a future post.

The Cachet Madagascar 32% Milk Chocolate bar does not have the same flavour elements as the Lindt, from what I can tell.  To me, it just tastes like really good milk chocolate with a nice high percentage of cocoa butter and milk solids.  It is creamy and smooth, and with no logo etched in the bar, the chocolate itself looks shiny and beautiful. I do not taste any strong flavours, but of course with milk chocolate - as compared to dark chocolate - it is a little more difficult to identify any specific flavour elements because of the additional milk and sugar. Since the flavour is not too strong, I would give a piece or two to my child as a treat, rather than grocery store milk chocolate, because I know the quality is high and there are no artificial flavours. 

What I also like about Cachet, by Kim's Chocolates is that they focus on using renewable energy. They claim that 20% of their energy use was from their own solar panels.  Want to read more blog posts about Cachet?  Click here!

Details from the packages of the two chocolate bars that I tasted today:

Lindt Excellence Madagascar Dark Chocolate, 65% cacao, 100 g (3.5 oz)
Manufactured by:  Lindt & Sprungli AG (Switzerland), imported to Canada by Lindt & Sprungli (Toronto, Canada)
www.lindt.com
Ingredients:  cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla.  May contain traces of peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, milk and soya lecithin.

Cachet Madagascar 32% Milk Chocolate, 100 g (3.5 oz)
Made in Belgium by Kim's Chocolates (Imported to Canada by Premier Brands, Toronto, ON)
http://www.kimchoc.be/pages/default.asp?langue=3
Ingredients: sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, skimmed milk powder, cocoa mass, vanilla (nat. flavour).  Milk chocolate: cocoa solids min. 32%, milk solids min. 26%. Contains: milk. May contain traces of nuts, peanuts, soybeans, eggs and gluten.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Double Truffle is Double the Taste at Manitoulin Chocolate Works

I call Saturdays "Anything Goes" days, because I allow myself to taste and write about chocolate treats that are not solid chocolate bars (I usually taste solid chocolate during the weekdays). So last Saturday, I indulged in a little double chocolate truffle. It's called the Manitoulin Chocolate Double Truffle Bar. Immediately by the taste, you can tell that the makers of this little delicacy used real cream and that there are no additive or artificial flavours.  The truffle is smooth, and has a layer of milk chocolate truffle on top of a layer of dark chocolate truffle.  Both layers are wrapped in a dark/semi-sweet chocolate coating. The price was reasonable given it's good quality, at $2.49 for 0.06kg. And it was just the right size for portion control, and just the right taste for a Saturday indulgence.
 
I also decided to try the Manitoulin Chocolate Works Dark Belgian Chocolate Bar.  It is 110 grams of solid dark chocolate.  I am not sure of the chocolate brand they use (I know they do not manufacture from bean-to-bar), but it is quite good - very smooth and not too sweet.  Although the % of cacao solids is not listed on the package, I would guess that it is somewhere between 60% and 70%. The tempering was well done, with a nice shine on the chocolate. The price was a little steep, at $4.95 for 110 grams.  That price usually indicates that is a single origin chocolate or organic. However, the experience of the chocolate taste was worth the price.

For more information on Manitoulin Chocolate Works Double Truffle Bar or Dark Belgian Chocolate Bar, check out their website.  The store is in a tourist area, so it does not open again until Spring 2011, but I'm sure their website will provide you with valuable information on their hours and location.

If you are visiting Manitoulin Island, go and check out Manitoulin Chocolate Works, and afterwards be sure to tack on another chocolate experience from Ultimately Chocolate, for the very best chocolate cakes and pastries, as well as a confection called the chocolate TOFFLE (I couldn`t resist throwing in just a bit of self-promotion!).

Here are the details on the two chocolates that I tried today:

Manitoulin Chocolate Double Truffle Bar, 0.060 kg
Kagawong, Ontario, Canada
http://www.manitoulinchocolate.ca/
Igredients: chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, millk solids, vanilla, lecithin, glucose, whipping cream (may contain peanuts).

Manitoulin Chocolate Works Dark Belgian Chocolate Bar, 110 grams
 Kagawong, Ontario, Canada
http://www.manitoulinchocolate.ca/
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin, natural vanilla.  May contain milk solids and nuts.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pregnancy and Chocolate

I've been cutting back on blogging the last week or two, and I fully blame my pregnancy. Lately I've been sluggish and tired, and I was told last week by my doctor to stop jogging and to get off my feet as much as possible.  Since my business is attached to my home, I have chosen to venture into the living room as often as possible and watch television during my resting time, even though I know I can rest just as well at the computer while blogging. 

I'm not sure why I've been so lazy. I think I am just a little depressed about being told to stop jogging and to even stop going for long walks - and I still have four months to go in this pregnancy! During my last pregnancy, I jogged right up until I was in the seventh month, and then I walked for at least an hour every day after that until I delivered my daughter. I am a very active person, and my business does require me to be on my feet all day long most days, so this is just as mentally difficult for me as it is physical, which seems to have caused me to just shut right down.  However, I have energy today, and I am finally sick of the television, so here I am, back to blogging.

Despite not blogging much these last two weeks, I have been tasting a lot of chocolate.  In fact, I've been tasting a lot of things, and eating way too much food altogether, which means that with no physical activity, I will soon be the size of my house!  So I need to go back to my usual method of chocolate tasting and just stick to some darker chocolates, 70% and up, which should help me to get over my current sugar cravings.

I know that some people may argue that I should not be eating chocolate at all while pregnant.  I recall getting that advice over and over again during my first pregnancy.  The reason?  Caffeine.  Everyone always likes to talk about how much caffeine there is in chocolate. Well, being in the habit of researching and writing about chocolate, I happen to know just how much caffeine is in chocolate. So I know that I would have to eat a ridiculously high amount of chocolate to even reach the one-to-two cup of coffee limit that my doctor had recommended to me.

During the last pregnancy, I completely switched to decaf coffee, and decided to still eat dark chocolate every day.  However, during this pregnancy, I decided I could not be quite so diligent and decided to still have one cup of regular dark roast coffee in the morning.  My decision was based on many things.  I now work for myself, so I need, more than ever, to be able to get through the day reasonably well. I recall falling asleep at my desk in an office full of people all day long during the last pregnancy.  But I need to be on my toes and working hard this time around, so a little caffeine in the morning can help with that.  Secondly, it is very difficult to find a decaf coffee that tastes as good as the regular stuff.  I hadn't believed that to be the case until I tried so many different kinds during the last pregnancy and never quite found one that I liked. Also, I have given up so many things that I like (wine, unpasteurized cheese, honey, peanut butter, chocolate mousse because of the raw eggs, etc. etc. etc.), that I thought the pregnancy might be more fun if I let go of my need to obsessively follow the 'rules' this time around.  After all, many friends and family members who have had babies recently did not give up their cup or two of coffee a day and they all have perfectly healthy children now, so why torture myself? 

So now I just have one cup of coffee in the morning, which I usually stop drinking half way through, and then I monitor my chocolate intake for the rest of the day so I don't overdo it. And in fact, I just read an article which said that a study by scientists in Finland showed that chocolate "makes for happy babies".  They interviewed 300 women who just had babies, and those who ate chocolate daily were more likely to say they had happy and active babies (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3604275.stm). The researchers think that the mood-altering chemicals in chocolate may possibly be the reason for the results.  Of course, this is not a real scientific study and only 300 women were interviewed, but I am choosing to believe it!

So all that said, hopefully chocolate will help my mood and get me out of this little slump.  As long as I don't overdo it, for the sake of the baby and for the sake of my waistline (since I can't exercise very much these days).  So with this in mind, stay tuned, more chocolate reviews and tastings coming soon!

In case you are interested, here are some stats on caffeine:
1 tsp of cocoa powder = 6 mg of caffeine
1.5 oz of dark chocolate (just over 1/3 of a 100 gram chocolate bar) = 28 mg of caffeine
Regular coffee (8.5 oz) = 65-150 mg of caffeine

So I'm not saying that you should eat a bunch of chocolate if you are pregnant, but I certainly don't feel guilty about a cup of hot chocolate made with cocoa powder or indulging in one-third of a dark chocolate bar!