Tag Archives: fair trade chocolate

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.

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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.

Cocoa Loco Organic, Fair Trade, Single Origin chocolates

Just as some dishes become classics, along with tried and true presentations (think of Coquilles St. Jacques served in half a large scallop shell), some chocolate shapes have stood the test of time. Take the 100 gram bar, for example. It is ubiquitous worldwide because it allows for portion control, fairly neat division of pieces, and great portability. As fond as I am of that design, especially when it is scored into many small rectangles, something alchemical happens when that same chocolate is formed into discs. Whether paper thin flat spheres, or thicker, smaller rounds, each shape changes the chocolate’s melting time, thereby altering your experience.

I was recently reminded of this as I tucked into Cocoa Loco’s organic dark chocolate buttons made with luscious 73% fairly traded beans from the Dominican Republic. Each one inch disc delivers an immensely satisfying earthy, yet sophisticated experience. Rich, dense, slow to melt, with a creamy lingering finish, these are simply divine. The user-friendly shape makes them easy to share, eat at a movie, stash in your briefcase, or savor piece by delicious piece as you meander through a great book.

Christmas Pudding Truffles come in a clear, long rectangular box that shows off their lovely design: dark chocolate orbs capped with white chocolate and a piece of dried cranberry. Inside you will find a yuletide blend of citrus, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Each is double dipped in the aforementioned 73% single origin chocolate.

I also sampled two of their 100 gram bars. One, a 37% milk, is topped with honeyed sesame seed crunch. The combination of flavors and textures (chewy, crunchy, creamy) is memorable. Their 73% Sunflower Seeds and Sea Salt bar is a mini-revelation of intense sunflower flavor enhanced with sea salt and vanilla. The lovely crunch against snapppily tempered Dominican chocolate is positively addictive.

As always, I am delighted when bars are wrapped in resealable sleeves. It may seem like a small thing, but it keeps the chocolate fresh and neat. On the subject of packaging, I was smitten with the pure design and retro color palette of their logo.

A last little treat was a whimsical offering of a milk chocolate mustache on a stick. What a perfect gift for little boys eager to grow up, as well as new fathers seeking an amusing non-cigar post-baby celebratory token.

There are a plethora of other treats on their website; and, if you are lucky enough to live in the U.K., you can enjoy their bakery offerings.

Alter Eco Dark Coconut Toffee 47% & 20 gram Mini-bars

There is something rich and delicious about a dark milk bar, especially when you amp up the flavors with coconut and sea salt infused buttery toffee. If that’s not enough to spark your interest, just recall how the folks at Alter Eco make a mission of treating their farmers fairly and you will have all the incentive you need to try this incredibly satisfying chocolate.

Perhaps, you already love their Dark Velvet bar, this uses the same Ecuadorian Nacional beans as a base. If you have never had Nacional cacao expect to discover a delightful fruity flavor profile with malty undertones. The creamy texture is an excellent counterpoint to crunchy bits of toffee, and the salt perks up all the flavors.

Always trying to innovate, whether it’s creating new recipes, re-designing their wrappers, or educating the public about sustainable farming, Alter Eco just introduced their Dark Noir 60%, and Dark Velvet 47% in mini 20 gram bars, that are divided into two square sections. I love these little gems as they are great for movies, handbags, lunch boxes, desks drawers, briefcases, and helping with portion control.

I was happy to see they are now making their 200 gram bars thinner, which helps the chocolate reach body temperature more quickly and delivers the fullest flavor in record time.

Zazubean Organic Fair Trade Functional Chocolate

Zazubean’s design, amusing online photos, and funky niche market called to me all the way from British Columbia. Currently, six very different bars comprise their collection of functional chocolates. Both of the ones I sampled, the “Flirt” with raspberry, cherry, and acaí­, and the “Nutbar” with coconut, almonds, and camu camu were irresistible. The super rich, organic 70% chocolate was equally at home with fruits as it was with almonds and coconut, though it had a decidedly different texture. With the freeze dried raspberry bits it was snappier and crisper; whereas, with the nuts and coconut it was chewier. Both were eminently easy to scarf down.

Functional foods are also known as neutraceuticals or superfoods. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “Canada has emerged as a leading world supplier in this growing market. The country boasts more than 300 companies – from small start-ups to multinational enterprises.” In the U.S., we are well aware of the plethora of enhanced foodstuffs, as they fill almost every aisle of the market. When it comes to chocolate, a natural for pairing with everything from fiber to probiotics, the potential nutritional benefits are an exciting development, but take second place to the taste, texture, and aroma of the final product; especially, since dark chocolate already contains over 300 phytochemicals.

For those who are wondering, acaí­ (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), is a berry-like fruit that grows on palm trees in the Brazilian Amazon. According to recent research, it has amazing disease-fighting antioxidant properties. “With a score of 6.58 on the oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) test, acaí­ pulp has more antioxidant activity than blueberries, strawberries, and red wine combined,” says David Grotto, RD, LDN, author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. Acaí­ is particularly high in anthocyanins, potent pigments that give it its deep purple color and battle cancer, heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, obesity, and other age-related illnesses.

Camu camu, a sour berry that grows from a bush in swampy and flooded areas of the Amazon, has the highest levels of vitamin C. Studies show camu camu to have strong anti-oxidant effects and contain minerals, amino acids, beta carotene, calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin and thiamine.

Unfortunately for Americans, Zazubean’s products are only available in Canada. I hope that changes soon, as I would love to try their Cheeky bar with banana, salted toffee, and maca (another superfood).

Madécasse Sea Salt & Nibs, Cinnamon & Sakay Pepper, Arabica Coffee Nibs

I am smitten with these new bars from Madécasse, where creativity and awakened taste buds go hand in hand. Not to mention a humanitarian mission that truly helps cacao farmers by paying them a fair price and keeping the manufacturing in Madagascar which generates 4x more income than fair trade practices alone.

Their Sea Salt & Nibs bar won the Best in Show award at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, and I can easily see why. Crunchy nibs and salt crystals vie for your attention in a 63% dark chocolate whose complexity can stand up to the intense flavors of nibs and salt.

The heat of the Cinnamon and Sakay pepper bar is perfectly balanced with that same 63% chocolate. Sakay pepper is not bitingly hot, but lends some extra oomph to the cinnamon. This is definitely a new favorite, as that cinnamon and chocolate combo is quite addictive.

If you love coffee and chocolate you will swoon over their 44% dark milk bar with Arabica nibs. The creamy rich chocolate is a perfect backdrop for crunchy nibs.

As for the packaging, it is user friendly with a foil liner and an appealingly artistic envelope.

Equal Exchange Organic Chocolate Caramel Crunch (55%) & Ecuador (65%)

Once upon a time very few people knew what Fair Trade was. Now that companies like Equal Exchange are more ubiquitous, the concept is gaining traction. More people want to know their food dollars are being fairly distributed to the folks who actually grow things. Founded in 1986, Equal Exchange’s worker-owned company is one of the leaders in this movement.

These two chocolate bars are very different. The 65% Ecuadorian is crisply tempered, incredibly rich, dark, and satisfying. Even though it is only 65%, its leathery undertones, hint of soil, and plummy notes make it a complex experience. I love their use of ground vanilla beans as it rounds out the flavor beautifully.

The 55% Chocolate Caramel Crunch With Sea Salt is wildly crispy. There’s the temper of the chocolate, the little bits of caramel crunchies generously scattered about, and a hint of sea salt to cut the sweetness. If you’re one of those people who lives for texture, this is the bar for you.