Category Archives: chocolate covered fruit

SmartBARK!

I love chocolate bark so much I regularly temper my own, but when I don’t have the time there’s SmartBARK! They use the same great ingredients I would use at home: organic, Fair Trade, 70% chocolate, real vanilla, with high quality nuts, grains, seeds, and dried fruit.

Each bag of SmartBARK! is 4 ounces and contains three generous servings of 40grams each. They’re fairly low in sugar, ranging from 10-14 grams per serving, contain 15% of your daily requirement for iron, 3-4 grams of fiber, and have between 3-4 grams of protein.

A tiny pet peeve of mine has been the dearth of fruit juice sweetened cranberries. SmartBARK! uses apple juice sweetened cranberries in their Cranberry Bark and it makes a big difference. The plump, fresh, chewy fruit is still a bit tart, with just enough sweetness to take the edge off. This bark is thicker than the others I sampled which initially surprised me until I saw how the fruit really benefited from a higher ratio of chocolate.

Their thinnest bark is Quinoa, chock full of crispy puffed quinoa. I loved it. The way the well-tempered chocolate riffed off the tiny grains of quinoa was like a gustatory celebration.

Almond bark had both thinner and thicker pieces of chocolate and crunchy whole roasted almonds.

Trail Mix was crammed with currants, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and sunflower seeds. Their recipe had just the right balance between the slightly chewy-sweet currants, crunchy seeds, and delicious dark chocolate. Like the Quinoa variety, it was slightly thinner. Of course, as SmartBARK! feels, looks, and tastes like an artisanal product the thickness of each batch might vary.

Everything was fresh and conveniently packaged for tucking into a briefcase or bag. All four options would make great travel companions without taking up too much space.

If you check out their website: http://www.sweetdesigns.com, you can find other interesting bars, like the one with ginger and walnut, and specialty items like Chocolate Truffle Filled Figs.

I have always loved sci-fi, science, and space exploration, so I have to share this fun fact: NASA astronauts ate Sweet Designs Chocolates on the Space Shuttle.

K’UL Chocolate Bean-to-Bar

I love innovation. Not for innovation’s sake, but when it truly improves something. K’UL (pronounced cool) Chocolate is definitely innovative. Founder, Peter Kelsey, calls his bars Superfood and I can see why. Chock full of nuts, seeds, anti-oxidants, and supplements each bar is its own little powerhouse of nutrition. It’s food, not candy. Vegan and gluten free.

K’UL Chocolate travels to the cacao farms, selects the beans and imports them. Then they roast, winnow and grind the beans. They make it their mission to improve the lives and environment of the farmers. Luckily, this kind of ethical agenda drives more and more chocolate companies.

The bars are designed by athletes for athletes. If you are into endurance sports or big adventures, K’UL Chocolate has a bar for you. The packaging itself is water proof and pocket sized. This means that even if you are hiking the Amazon and your chocolate melts, you can still neatly squeeze out its soft goodness.

I sampled a few and found them brimming with add-ins. My favorite was the Maca & Fruit bar. Maca is an ancient root that is used for energy, but it does not contain caffeine. (Here’s a link to more information on its benefits: http://draxe.com/top-5-maca-root-benefits-and-nutrition/) The combination of cherries, cranberries, raspberries and pomegranate is divinely chewy, and plays beautifully with the 70% chocolate.

All the chocolate they use is 70%. The pure bar has an earthy profile with a slightly dry finish and undertones of dark fruits, like raisins and plums. While I liked it, I was a bigger fan of the bars with add-ins, and not just for their added nutritional punch, but for their visual appeal. The fruits and nuts are mixed in so you can still see them peeking though the chocolate, quite beautiful.

Saltsensation, with sea salt flakes, was delicious. That little bit of sodium really amped up the chocolate’s flavor giving it a multi-layered, nuanced taste.

Peanuts & Currants was very satisfying, and a perfect choice for a hike or a briefcase.

Endurance, enhanced with Pumpkin seeds, Guarana and cranberries had a marvelous combination of crunchy and chewy textures. Guarana is like caffeine on steroids, so be warned if you are sensitive to its effects. On the other hand, if your body thrives on that extra burst of energy, this bar’s for you.

The folks at K’UL are always creating new combinations, so keep checking out their website for new temptations.

NOTE: They have a special introductory offer on their website where you can buy a variety pack of four bars for $11.99, including shipping.

Pacari Chocolate Covered Cacao Beans, Tropical Fruits and Nibs, and Drinking Cacao

The older I get the more alluring a new chocolate taste, texture, or even packaging, can be. So I was delighted to sample some of Pacari’s offerings.

Before I tell you about the chocolate, let’s talk about the visuals. The black sleeve encasing five mini boxes of dark chocolate covered fruits, espresso beans, and nibs is so appealing, any jaded chocophile would be thrilled to tuck into its contents. Whole, dark chocolate covered cacao beans, three larger boxes to a pack, also come in their own black cardboard box. Somehow, all that black makes them alluring.

Pacari uses Ecuadorian organic beans from small farms, cared for by 2500 families. They are committed to biodynamic techniques and have won many awards. Clearly, this chocolate has good karma.

Though there are five boxes (two ounces each) in the Tropical Fruits gift pack, there are four flavors: two dark chocolate covered banana, one dark chocolate covered nibs, one dark chocolate covered golden berries, and one dark chocolate covered espresso beans. The first thing I noticed after tasting all four varieties was the perfect amount of chocolate covering. Just enough to let the intensity of their centers come through. You might think banana is not intense, but these little dried pieces pack a ton of flavor, along with a satisfying chewy texture, and a hit of tropical fruit aroma. The espresso beans are super crunchy and full of caffeine. What a wonderful way to get a bit of a pick-me-up in the afternoon; especially, if you need something easily portable. The nibs, because they are small, sport a mini-crunch that’s addictive. The golden berries were my favorite for their burst of chewy, slightly acidic flavor complemented by that perfect layer of chocolate. Apparently, I am not the only one to think they’re divine, as they received the 2012 gold medal from The International Chocolate Awards.

Pacari’s Chocolate Covered Cocoa Beans come in three flavors: Natural, Banana, and Ginger. Each box is 3.17 ounces and there is one of each in a package. Frankly, I think this is a very gutsy, even visionary, product to produce. It shows an incredible respect for chocolate lovers everywhere who have embraced whole foods, and have cultivated an adult palate for deeper, less sweet chocolate. These are not to be scarfed down, but savored. If you love the crunch in life, each chocolate covered roasted bean will more than sate your craving. I would eat a few with some Jasmine Green or Silver Needle tea. Amazingly, for all their punch, there is no bitterness. The natural flavor beans were the essence of cacao, but refined. The ginger flavor had been done with a gentle touch, so the spice didn’t overwhelm. As for the banana, as you would imagine, it added a bit of extra sweetness, and a whiff of banana flavor. An interesting trio, and a fantastic choice for a chocolate tasting. Each chocolate coated bean was dusted with cocoa powder which made them look like truffles.

Pacari’s drinking chocolate is another visual and gustatory winner. The cocoa itself is Arriba Nacional, one of the world’s best if you like fruity, floral flavors. It’s a subtle, yet compelling, flavor profile that is full of nuance. I used some of this 100% cocoa in a simple brownie recipe. Once they cooled, I crumbled them and stirred the chunks into tempered dark milk chocolate to make brownie bites. Delicious. Far simpler is to mix some into a cup of steaming milk with your favorite sweetener for an almost instant treat.

Pacari likes to promote the work of local artists. Paula Barragan’s work adorns this box. You can see more of it here: http://www.paulabarragan.com. I checked out her art and it is beautifully energetic, open, colorful, and inviting.

Pacari offers free shipping on all orders over $25. That’s a rarity and an extra incentive to get tempted…as if you needed one.

ChoN’anga Chocolate Barks

Johannes Busch, Nelson Schwab IV, and Brando Tijerina are the triumvirate behind ChoN’anga Chocolate with benefits. Together, they have created a line of barks and truffles infused with herbs, nuts, and fruits. Each one has a different focus from energizing to relaxing.

I sampled six of their seven barks. They come in two sizes: single serving 40 gram pouches and 114 gram bags, both of which are resealable. The barks are made with 70% couverture from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

Unlike other bark type chocolates, these are already cut into small rectangles that make them neater to eat.

ENERGY is enhanced with sprouted almonds, matcha green tea, dried blueberries and bee pollen, all of which pack a rejuvenating and nutritional punch. I liked the crunchy nuts, chewy berries, and uplifting qualities of the tea and bee pollen.

BREATHE is refreshing with its addition of mint, blueberries, hemp seeds, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, cocoa nibs, and osha root. That last one was new to me so I looked it up. Here is what I found on a site by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP: “Osha root has long been used by Native Americans for cold, cough, and other respiratory ailments. The root contains oils, including camphor, saponins, ferulic acid, terpenes, and phytosterols. One of the most notable benefits is its numbing effect, used to help soothe the irritated tissue of a sore throat. It has been an ingredient in cough drops and lozenges and can even be made into a cough syrup that is more effective than echinacea and goldenseal.” I did feel as if I was breathing more freely after eating just one piece. (Other research has shown that chocolate itself is very effective at relieving coughs. See one of the many articles here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4032585.stm)

SUPER ANTI-OXIDANT has organic almonds, pecans, blueberries, cherries, golden berries, ginger, sesame seeds., matcha green tea, and turmeric. That might sound like a gustatory free-for-all, but each ingredient was used judiciously making the final product still very choco-centric.

VIBRANCY has a very lovely aroma of lavender and rose petals along with its add-ins of sunflower seeds, blueberries, nettle leaf, and damiana. Historically, damiana has been used as an aphrodisiac and sexual potency booster by the native peoples of Mexico, including the Mayan Indians. It also increases energy, and helps asthma, depression, and menstrual problems.

RECOVERY has a chewier texture as it is full of organic cherries, ginger, and banana. There’s also a crunchy undertone from organic pecans, sesame seeds, and hemp seeds. A very yummy combo.

VITALITY was another bar chockfull of fruits and nuts including sunflower seeds, figs, dates, hemp seeds, maca root, Siberian ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and horny goat weed. (Here’s a link to more information on horny goat weed: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-699-horny%20goat%20weed.aspx?activeingredientid=699&activeingredientname=horny%20goat%20weed)

Clearly, it might not be wise to scarf down bags and bags of these nutritionally enhanced chocolates at one sitting. I sampled some of each one at the same time and felt no adverse effects. Of course, chocolate itself has 300+ phytochemicals, so anytime you’re eating a 70% or higher bar you are already getting myriad health benefits. The additional ingredients in ChoN’anga are wonderful if you are looking for specific enhancements.

The company is also happy to create custom blends and bulk orders if you have specific dietary goals or requirements.

Chocolate Naive: Peanut, Tahini, Spices, Dark with Berries, Dark with Hops, Dark Milk with Porcini, and Nicaragua Nicaliso

Lithuanians love their beer; especially, unfiltered, raw beers. Hence, this pairing of dark (67%) chocolate and hops, a very different experience from any other I have ever tasted. The initial leathery flavor reminded me of a stout or porter with their characteristic bitterness and lingering dry aftertaste. A definite roasted flavor of hops and malt predominate. Very interesting. The bar, based on Trinitario beans, is thin, beautifully tempered, and sports that lovely Chocolate Naive logo of a man on a huge unicycle.

Dark Chocolate with Berries (65%) is almost a polar opposite to the one with hops. It is based on a Madagascar Criollo, the perfect choice with blueberries, strawberries, and black currants (all freeze-dried, powdered, and fully amalgamated into the chocolate). This thin, snappy bar with the sweetness of fruit and the fetching tartness of berries delivers a series of exciting berry fireworks in each bite. A real jewel.

Another bar in this range is their Nicaragua Nicaliso (70%), a predominantly Criollo bean. Unlike other Criollos, this has a bit of an acidic edge, nothing harsh, just there to add another dimension to this typically gentle chocolate. The addition of clarified butter is ingenious as it enhances all the inherent flavors of this Central American cacao while adding an extra-velvety texture. Immensely satisfying and more complex than most Criollos.

I sampled three bars in their new organic range: Mulate. Tahini is a dark milk (45%) with tahini and a stage whisper of sesame seeds. A great marriage of super creamy chocolate and slightly chewy-crunchy, roasted sesame seeds, it won the Northwest Chocolate Festival’s Bronze Medal. Unique and delicious.

Their Mulate Peanut with Sea Salt (45%) combines smooth peanut butter with clarified butter to produce a subtle, but still noticeable, peanut taste in a velvety chocolate.

Spices is the name of the third bar in this trinity. On reading the ingredients: dark chocolate (65%) with cinnamon, vanilla, and cayenne, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that cayenne steals the show. Not so, it was the vanilla that hit me first, then a bit of cinnamon, with the cayenne’s heat and spice finishing everything off and lingering. Since all bars with hot spices have varying intensities, I would rank this heat level as medium. Not so in-your-face that your mouth is burning, and not so mild you don’t notice it. A perfect amount to allow the other flavors, and the creaminess of their dark chocolate (enhanced with clarified butter), to shine.

Design has always been important to Chocolate Naive and they have gone in a completely different direction with this range. Typically, their bar packaging is a clean-looking cardboard envelope with a re-closable plastic sleeve inside. The Mulate bars come in a glossy, stiffer cardboard adorned with fantastical images in a rich palette of colors, with a foil inner wrapper.

In its own category is their Dark Milk (67%) “Back to the Origins” bar with Porcini. Wow. What a surprise. The approachable earthiness of freeze-dried wild porcini mushrooms with clarified butter in this luxuriously silky dark milk chocolate is far from what I would have expected. Not only do the flavors mesh perfectly, they complement each other. Here, 2 + 2 = 10. The woodsy porcini and complex chocolate flavors blend seamlessly to produce something unpredictably lush. You just have to experience it for yourself.

jcoco

Many years ago, there was an ice cream store in Boston that had huge marble slabs where they mixed in all sorts of various candies, cookies, fruits, nuts, etc. into your choice of ice cream. It was such a great idea that it has since been copied in a big way by Cold Stone Creamery and others. The real skill with adding ingredients to a base, whether ice cream or chocolate, is knowing what works with what and when to leave well enough alone.

Jean Thompson, the owner of jcoco, knows her chocolate; especially, when it comes to add-ins. She has a knack for discerning which textures and flavors enhance each other, all of which is evident in her new line: jcoco.

Before we get to the chocolate, let me say I love a business with a mission statement; especially, one that has a humanitarian bent. Here’s a quote from Jean herself:

“We love tasting chocolate and inventing unique flavors, but what’s most important to us at jcoco is the way that food connects us. Giving back to our community is at the heart of jcoco’s mission. To that end, every time you purchase a jcoco product, we will give a fresh, healthy serving of food to someone who would otherwise go hungry. Your everyday indulgence makes a vital difference to someone in your community! Our current partners are Northwest Harvest, the Food Bank of New York, SF-Marin Food Bank, and The Greater Boston Food Bank. We are looking to establish partnerships wherever our products are sold, from Seattle to Los Angeles, and Chicago to New York.”

Of course, no amount of generosity makes a product good. Luckily, jcoco’s chocolates are really delicious. But, even before you tuck into them, there’s the packaging. They offer two different ways of indulging: the jcoco mini gift set with all their flavors, or larger envelopes housing three one ounce separately wrapped bars. The chocolate is wrapped in a shiny, copper colored foil and then in a glossy cheerful paper. Either would make a great gift.

Here’s a run-down on the flavors:

Peanut strawberry baobab in dark chocolate. This luscious bar has only 10 grams of sugar yet feels very indulgent as your palate goes from crunchy peanuts to little chewy jewels of baobab, strawberry, apple, plum, and black carrot juice. It may sound exotic, but the flavors and textures come together in a crave-worthy way.

Black fig pistachio is loaded with nuts and organic fig pieces in dark chocolate.

Vanuatu coconut pecan offers another lower sugar choice, though this time in milk chocolate. Shaved coconut flakes party with toasted pecans for an indulgent ride. Jean’s milk chocolate hails from the tiny island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific and is terrific.

Edamame sea salt in milk chocolate allows the crunch of roasted edamame to languish in a super creamy chocolate.

Agave quinoa sesame really pops with glazed quinoa and sesame in milk chocolate. I loved the two different textures riding shotgun with that lovely, desserty chocolate.

Cayenne veracruz orange really stopped me in my tracks, as white chocolate is not my go-to choice. Here, though, the orange oil and chili really spice up the chocolate, leaving you with a creamy, citrus, slightly heat-filled experience.

Noble Dark is a 72% Belgian chocolate studded with chocolate covered nibs. Once again, the texture is marvelous.

Mystery Chocolate Box

Mystery Chocolate Box is the brainchild of Peter Messmer. When Peter was growing up, his family had a tradition where one of them would buy a bunch of chocolate bars, remove the outer label, and try to guess what was in each bar. Then, they read out their guesses and the person who brought the chocolates revealed the answers. They found the guessing and the eating a ton of fun, not to mention having a great time together as a family.

Peter and his family found out how different it was to taste what was in a chocolate bar once they already knew the ingredients, from trying to blindly figure out add-ins without any clues. As someone who eats chocolate daily, I can attest to his assertion.

If you aren’t already intrigued and need a bit more incentive, you can win a prize if you guess correctly on their website within a specified amount of time.

The three large bars (each monthly delivery including shipping is $30) arrived in perfect condition with ice packs. Each was labeled Mystery Bar A, B, or C. There was a guessing card, and information on allergies. I have decided not to post my guesses, just in case you are interested in procuring your own Mystery Chocolate Box. Suffice it to say, I am not even 100% sure I guessed correctly, and that’s even after visiting the three websites the bars came from (two of the names were printed on the bars themselves, while for the third nameless one, I did a little sleuthing).

Peter focuses on this as a family activity, which is a great way to do something different and fun with the kids. I can think of plenty of teens, and adults who would love it, too. It could also be a great fund-raiser for your favorite charity if done in small groups.