Category Archives: Fair Trade Chocolate

Barefoot & Chocolate

Is there really anyone who doesn’t like Nutella? I must admit I don’t usually indulge my cravings because it’s like chocolate crack and all too easy to overdo. But, my real reason for not eating it is the hydrogenated oils. Barefoot & Chocolate, whose name derives from the Sasha and Trent’s images of “jumping in the lake on a hot summer day, bliss inducing yoga, and sharing laughs with dear friends over good food and chocolate,” makes a Hazelnut Chocolate spread that is even more delicious with no hydrogenated oils.

The texture is dreamily creamy, the flavor a great juxtaposition of chocolate, nuts, and sweetness. (Over twice the amount of nuts in other spreads.) I can’t imagine a child who wouldn’t be just crazy about this. As an adult, it appealed to my inner kid. I don’t know about you, but when I get a new toy I like to experiment. I started imagining well-toasted English muffins with some gorgonzola and hazelnut chocolate spread, crepes with fruit and hazelnut chocolate spread, filling little chocolate liqueur cups garnished with a caramelized hazelnut, as the center of mini chocolate meringues topped with raspberries, or swirled into Greek yogurt. This jar is just brimming with possibilities. Trent, one of the founders, has some incredibly delectable recipes on their website, like: Chocolate Quesadillas, Chocolate Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie, and Banana Coconut Chocolate Almond Bread.

I also tried their Almond Coconut Chocolate spread, which was completely different. The consistency is still creamy, but thicker, and the coconut has been completely amalgamated into its luxuriously velvety texture. I found the chocolate almond flavors predominated with the coconut adding a subtle undertones. It’s a tiny bit less sweet and would be fabulous on whole grain toast with thin slices of crisp apple or barely ripe banana, sprinkled with a few grains of sea salt.

Desiderio Chocolates

Artisan, gluten free, organic, local, fair-traded, and vegan chocolates from a great new chocolatier in Grand Rapids, Michigan: Vanessa Metalli Dionne.

Vanessa grew up in Rome, studied Industrial Design, and apprenticed at her parent’s Italian restaurant making desserts and breads. That’s the kind of credibility I find appealing: the interplay between modern with ancient, and discipline with creativity. All of which allows Vanessa to explore every aspect of the chocolate kingdom that piques her interest.

Her sleek looking chocolates, pure little rectangular bars or square caramels presented in the simplest wrappings, beguile you with their unadorned clean lines. Vanessa wants the focus on her delicious treats, not their trappings.

I sampled four small bars from her collection and the Salted Caramels. All are enrobed in a well-balanced dark couverture, and sport two layers: an infused ganache with a topping of gooey caramel. There is no discernible olive oil or coconut milk flavor, though their richness is easily detected.

Whiskey & Smoked Caramel Bar has a marked whiskey taste offset beautifully with textural interest from both the ganache and caramel. Of the four bars, this one has the most pronounced alcohol flavor.

Stout Caramel Ganache is simply divine, as its beery presence mixes with a hint of whiskey. Little bursts of Celtic Grey Sea Salt sprinkled on top provide a perfect gustatory counterpoint to the velvety interior.

Gourmellow :: Vegan Marshmallow Bar has a heaping layer of home made super-fluffy marshmallow on top of that incredibly chocolatey ganache.

Pumpkin Pie Caramel Truffle is a real gem. Redolent of pumpkin, spices, caramel, with a taste that bursts out of its chocolate confines, a truly memorable treat.

Salted Caramels :: Vegan Caramella with Himalayan pink sea salt is a rich dessert in two bites. Fabulous with tea or espresso, they come in a box of six and would make a great stocking stuffer.

Alter Eco Truffles

Alter Eco, the company that insists on organically grown Fair Trade beans and sustainable farming practices, has two new truffles for you to enjoy. Both are infused with coconut oil, which makes them healthy and delicious. (If you are unfamiliar with the health benefits of coconut oil, please see this link: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/surprising-health-benefits-coconut-oil.)

I adored the Black Truffles. Enrobed in a dark couverture, their lighter colored creamy interior is not too sweet, yet deeply satisfying. They make a great two-bite dessert with some herbal tea or a cappuccino. If you are a fan of milk chocolate the dark milk Velvet Truffles are even richer and a tad sweeter. They sport a more traditional milk chocolate color and their flavor is super milky. Both varieties have that irresistible silky texture.

If you love Lindt truffle balls but crave something healthier, these two options fit the bill. In addition, they are packaged prettily and would make a great gift.

Dante Confections: 98% Organic Stevia sweetened bars, Turtles, and Truffles

It is unusual to find both traditional and organic high intensity chocolates under one roof, but Dante Confections straddles these two often disparate areas. Their handmade truffles are lovely little domes of shiny, well-tempered white, milk or dark chocolate encasing ultra rich, smooth ganache centers infused with 25 different flavors. From liquors, to fruits, to eggnog, to peanut butter, and mint, there is something for everyone. They come in petite and large sizes. I found the petite version offered up a few bites of snappily textured chocolate against velvety centers. The flavors are on the mild side, so if you are someone who loves a hint of Grand Marnier, for example, and doesn’t want an alcohol wallop, these would be perfect.

In addition, I sampled their milk and dark chocolate Turtles, also available in white chocolate. Every chocolatier seems to have their own rendition of these classic treats. Dante’s are huge 2″ rounds with thick layers of chocolate encasing a super chewy caramel. The very fresh and crunchy nuts, either pecans, cashews, or almonds, are embedded at the edges. The whole experience is quite decadent: über-chocolatey, with a very satisfyingly caramel presence, and enough whole, roasted nuts to keep you coming back for another bite.

On the other end of the spectrum are Dante’s 98% chocolate bars sweetened with stevia. There is the traditional bar, and a Fair Trade, organic variety. Both would surely sate anyone’s craving for the densest chocolate experience this side of a roasted cacao bean. While not for the faint of heart, their flavor profile is almost hard to discern because the intensity just blows your taste buds away. A friend of mine was crazy about them. He loved the thick texture, super slow melt, and lack of sugar. Stevia adds some sweetness, but it definitely doesn’t make these bars sweet. To my surprise, I actually found the original rendition a bit gentler on my palate. It is interesting to note that one bar, 45 grams, gives you 70% of your daily requirement for iron, 7 grams of fiber, and 7 grams of protein. Both of these 98% extreme chocolate bars provide one of the strongest, most concentrated chocolate experiences out there. If you are looking for a wild gustatory ride, this is it.

You can buy the bars from Dante’s website, on the right side of this page, or on Amazon.

Ethereal Confections

The dictionary lists celestial, heavenly, and spiritual as synonyms for ethereal. Delighting in chocolate’s gifts can bring spiritual joy, and a heavenly sense of bliss; so, I can see how sisters-in-law Sara and Mary Ervin chose Ethereal for their chocolate’s brand name. At the same time, chocolate is a very grounding substance. As a matter of fact, I would actually suggest eating a piece can root you in the moment as well as a Zen koan. All that notwithstanding, Ethereal’s chocolates are divine.

The packaging is just as appetizing as the chocolate. Whether it is the cellophane windowed sleeve that shows off strawberries, rose petals, and pink peppercorns in one of their Artisan Dark Chocolate Bars, or the beautifully painted cardboard wrapping of their Meltaway bars, the attention to detail and aesthetics is obvious before your first bite.

I sampled three of their offerings, starting with a French Vanilla & Salted Almond Meltaway bar. This looks like a flat, scored 66% dark chocolate bar, but it is far from your typical experience. Inside is a celestial, silky firm mousse of roasted almond olive oil, vanilla balsamic vinegar, organic coconut oil, sea salt, and organic chocolate. While that combination may sound more spacey than the Wrath of Khan, it works incredibly well. The beautifully tempered dark chocolate shell melts into the velvety center as all the flavors coalesce, each working seamlessly with its partner for a riveting effect.

Their 66% Artisan Dark Bar with Strawberries, Rose Petals, and Pink Peppercorns is a joy to behold, and a completely different experience from the Meltaway bar. Here, each ingredient holds its own, yet overlaps with the others like a gustatory Venn diagram. I loved the punch from the peppercorns, the tart sweetness of organic freeze dried–yet still soft–strawberries, amped up with floral notes from the rose petals.

After tasting these bars I immediately went to their website and ordered a variety of other treats.

My last Ethereal exploration was their Peanut Butter Nom Noms (1.25 ounces), which provided an intense hit of peanut butter, dark chocolate, and sea salt. Think of a bon bon with a fairly firm center enrobed in glossy, crisp chocolate, with a sprinkle of sassy, crunchy salt crystals on top.

If you derive joy from perusing chocolate websites that cater to people with somewhat jaded palates, I would strongly suggest you meander around Ethereal’s. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though, Sara and Mary’s creative combinations may have you reaching for your Visa card.

Nicobella Munch

Just as the ecotone, that transitional zone between two ecological communities, is not exact, so, too, the area where chocolate and food overlap. Nicobella’s line of Munch chocolates is both food and confection. Perhaps, because they are so good for you, and not too sweet, it is easy to think of them as a food; yet, their delicious crunch and deep, satisfying chocolate flavor makes them taste like a treat. That is not surprising, as Nichole Dandrea is both a registered dietician and chocolatier.

I sampled all three varieties, made with 75% organic, Fair Trade Kallari dark chocolate, and sold in 2 ounce bags. Each type is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, protein, fiber, and antioxidants.

Maple-nut munch are clusters of maple coated roasted pecans and just a touch of sea salt. The combination of sweet and salty, with a abundance of textural interest makes these a fantastic mid-afternoon snack.

Omega munch is chock full of candied walnut and toasted flax seeds. This one’s texture is a little different, as the small toasted flax seeds add a second type of crunch, and the walnuts feel robust and filling. Another great choice when you need some energy, protein, and fat to keep your motor running.

Coco-nut munch is texturally different since it is saturated with unsweetened toasted coconut, giving it a much chewier texture. This variation offered yet a third riff on crunchiness, as the whole roasted almonds punctuated a softer textural profile with their super crunchy presence.

Since each is different from its sibling, I would suggest trying all three. If you sign up for Nicobella’s e-newlsetter she will send you a 20% off coupon for your first order, just in case you want some extra incentive.

Lily’s Sweets: Stevia Sweetened 55% Dark Chocolate Bars

Sugar is sugar and stevia is stevia. Stevia sweetens with a slightly different taste from sugar; but, unlike other sugar substitutes, it has been used for centuries.

The leaves of the stevia plant produce a very sweet non-caloric glycoside-containing substance that is approved in the United States as a dietary supplement.

If you want to avoid sugar, Lily’s offers up a quartet of bars: Plain, Almond, Coconut, and Crispy Rice. Each serving, about half a bar, or 40 grams, has 160-170 calories, 11-12 grams of fiber (they add Inulin), 25% of your RDA for iron, and 2-3 grams of protein.

My first sample was Coconut. Crammed with an abundance of tiny shards of dried organic fruit, it had a very appealing chewy texture. Crispy Rice was my favorite as its super crunchy texture played off the stevia-sweetened chocolate to the advantage of both. Almond was studded with small pieces of dry roasted nuts and delivered both flavor and texture, while the Plain is for all you purists. Personally, since stevia is different from sugar I preferred the bars with inclusions as they added complexity by introducing other flavors and textures. However, if you are already a fan of this sweetener, the plain rendition might be your favorite.

These 3 ounce bars are scored into 30 little rectangles, each with an imprint of the word chocolate, just in case you forgot what you were eating. I found this very sweet and amusing. The paper wrappers come in four different designs, all evocative of a tropical garden with stylized trees, flowers, and a hummingbird in a lovely color palette. You can even download a monthly screen saver from their website under “free stuff.”

In addition to noting Lily’s uses organic brown rice for their Crispy bar, I was delighted to see they buy non-GMO and fairly traded chocolate.

Endangered Species 48% Milk, 72% Dark with Sea Salt and Almonds, and 72% Dark with Cherries

As much as I adore dark chocolate, I am always on the lookout for great high cacao content milk bars. Endangered Species has a 48% rendition that offers up the same velvety texture you would expect from a high end milk chocolate with an edginess that makes it far more interesting than your typical bar. I only sampled the plain, but you will be happy to know it also comes with almonds or cherries. If you love milk chocolate, but want more dark chocolate health benefits, this is the answer. I must confess, I immediately went out and bought a few more of these, they were so delicious and desserty.

I also tried their other two new bars. The Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Sea Salt is infused with tiny bits of nut and crunchy salt crystals. The shiny, well tempered dark chocolate has an audible snap, while the tiny crunchy pieces of salt and almonds almost popped with texture. 72% Dark with Cherries was an excellent conflation of dried fruit, with its tangy sweetness and appealing chewy texture, in the same very adult dark base. Here, the coffee undertones in the chocolate danced a lovely pas de deux with the cherries, each enhancing its partner.

Though all three bars are worth trying, the 48% plain milk is truly a stand-out.

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolate, a Vietnamese artisanal chocolate company founded by two Frenchmen, creates exquisite bars in the 70-78% range. What makes them so marvelous? Everything. Their single-origin beans are grown and sourced locally by farmers who are paid a fair wage, with no middlemen. Even the cane sugar is from small Vietnamese farms.

There is a wonderful piece on their website detailing their philosophy on organic and fair trade that I heartily agree with. (Here’s the link: http://www.marouchocolate.com/?page_id=46 )

Let’s start with the packaging. The background color of each wrapper is inspired by the color of the cocoa pod the chocolate comes from. A silk-screened gold overlay, reminiscent of fin de siècle design, is just beautiful. No matter how great the chocolate, I find my anticipation is heightened with captivating packaging.

Upon opening the outer paper you find a gold foil inner liner sealed with an attractive “M” logo. Just one more example of their attention to detail I find noteworthy as it’s a harbinger of the Marou chocolate gestalt. In every aspect of manufacture, from sourcing the beans to final presentation, Samuel and Vincent share their vision for what a wonderful chocolate experience can be.

The glossy dark bars are scored into irregular funky shapes with that “M” set off in a square in the middle. The bar itself snaps to attention when broken as its perfect temper gives off a heady chocolate scent. All five varieties in their current range possess a deeply satisfying texture that has a chewiness I always find quite fetching.

The 100 gram bars range in cacao content by 2% increments from 70-78%.

Tien Giang starts this flight at 70%. Immensely complex, yet with gentle undertones, this bar, made with Trinitario beans, has a slightly spicy character and a bit of a dry finish.

Dong Nai, 72%, seemed creamier, had a subtler profile, and just a smidgeon of dryness to its finish.

Lam Dong, 74%, a rare chocolate made in mico-batches, was a little less complex with more memory of soil.

Ba Ria, 76%, is also made with Trinitario beans and tasted woodsy.

Ben Tre, 78%, seemed to incorporate many of the qualities of the previous four bars at once, though it was a bit more fruity, and had an earthier presence.

All five bars tasted different from other single-origin offerings I have sampled, and would make an exciting addition to a chocolate tasting.

Though the company is based in Ho Chi Minh City you can buy Marou from Dark Chocolate Imports: http://darkchocolateimports.com.

Stirs The Soul: Fairly Traded, Raw, Organic Chocolate

If you love raw chocolate you will want to check out Portland Oregon’s Stirs the Soul. Their 82% and 84% chocolates are intensely nutritious and surprisingly gentle on the palate. I even like their motto: Bean to bliss.

Daren Hayes, a culinary school graduate, is the talent behind these treats. His passion for fairly traded, organic, sustainable, and wild-crafted cacao, combined with his choice of in house stone-ground 100% un-roasted Criollo & Trinitario beans infuses his creations with quality. In addition, Daren works in a facility that is nut, tree-nut(except coconut), soy, gluten, egg and dairy free, which makes their chocolate suitable for vegans and people with allergies. If that’s not tempting enough, their lines are gluten free, and offer a low glycemic index.

I sampled three of their products. A sweet little two ounce muslin bag full of chewy, fresh 84% coated dried bananas, figs and currants. I liked this combination of flavors and textures. Raw chocolate always feels super healthy, and a bit more like food than confection; so, I ate these with abandon knowing I was saturating myself with antioxidants.

Their Goji-orange bar, sweetened with raw dates offers up both dark 82% chocolate with chewy goji berries and an undertone of orange that beautifully enhances the whole experience. Gogi berries are known for their high levels of antioxidants, 21 trace minerals, 18 amino acids, and are believed to curb your appetite, promote restful sleep, and create a sense of well being.

Just one rectangle from the 84% plain bar sweetened with coconut palm sugar really satisfied my chocolate craving and offered a great pick-me-up before lunch.

These two bars weigh in at one ounce each, which helps with portion control, and makes them fit a pocket perfectly.

There are a plethora of creative options on their website. The bars are divided into four categories based on which sweetener is used: raw agave, coconut palm sugar, raw honey, and raw dates. I can’t think of any other company offering such an incredible diversity of sweeteners.

In addition to being able to buy these online, you can also find them at a number of co-ops and markets.