Thursday, March 31, 2005

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Warding off the dark lords of dark chocolate

Fifteen minutes ago I felt a rare craving for a candy bar, and went to buy one. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Twix has introduced a dark chocolate version of their candy bar.

Apparently, the dark chocolate Twix is part of a larger trend. Julie Scelfo explains in Newsweek:

All his life, Jason Judkins was seeking something, but he was looking in all the wrong places, like vending machines. "Usually between 2 and 3 o'clock I'd eat a Snickers, a Three Musketeers or a Twix," he recalls. "Then after dinner I'd have chocolate cake, or Hershey's Nuggets, or ice cream with Hershey's syrup." But that was before his first taste of a dark-chocolate truffle from The Cocoa Tree, an artisanal candy store in his town of Franklin, Tenn. Made fresh on the premises from dark chocolate and organic cream and butter, it made his mouth "explode" with tastes he'd never gotten from an M&M. Of course, he could have bought a lot of M&Ms for the price of a single truffle, $1.80 plus tax. But these days he is satisfied with chocolate only a couple of times a week instead of twice a day, and since each piece is 10 times as good, he's way ahead.

Long after iceberg gave way to arugula, candy remained defiantly retro: cheap, garishly wrapped and tasting just like it did when you were a kid. But eventually, connoisseurship touches everything. The symbol of this revolution is dark chocolate, intensely flavored with cocoa, fragrant and complex. Comparing it with milk chocolate—also made from cocoa, but diluted with milk powder, lecithin and much more sugar—is like comparing wine with grape soda. Once dark chocolate was an obscure and furtive passion that involved haunting drugstores for a stray Lindt bar. Now grocery stores carry Dagoba Organic Chocolate at up to $4.40 for a two-ounce bar, or the Chocovic Ocumare, which caters to the obsessive chocolate snob by listing its cocoa content (71 percent) and the type of bean (Venezuelan Criollo) on the wrapper. Sales of high-end chocolates have risen 20 percent each year since 2001, says Clay Gordon, who runs the Web site. And the revolution has reached even the mass marketers. Hershey's introduced dark-chocolate Kisses in 2003; this year Mars is rolling out dark versions of Twix and, yes, even M&Ms. "Americans have spent the last 10 years educating themselves about wine, olive oil and cheese," says Gordon. "Attention is finally turning to chocolate. The surprise is it's taken this long."

....Indeed, anyone with a dollar or two can taste the artisanal truffles of Legacy Chocolates in Menomonie, Wis., or Moonstruck Chocolate Co. in Portland, Ore., or any number of other local chocolatiers now dotting the mallscape. ("Truffle" typically means a soft chocolate confection dusted in cocoa powder; filled chocolates are better described, simply, as "bonbons.") Biting into one, you immediately understand why chocolate has been associated with sex at least since 1519, when the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, became renowned for the vast quantities of hot "xoco latl" he drank before visiting his harem. The rich taste and intoxicating aroma arouse the senses, immediately bestowing pleasure upon the eater. This experience has given rise to a new type of customer, capable of integrating chocolate consumption into a normal, healthy lifestyle, like those French women who don't get fat. (emphasis added)

As a lifelong dark chocolate afficionado, I fear this to be a bad, bad, bad, bad, delicious trend. The dearth of dark chocolate opportunities has to date been an effective constraint on excessive chocolate consumption. The proliferation of dark chocolate "microbrews" could overwhelm my feeble abstinence instinct -- this is the candy equivalent of Salma Hayek showing up on my doorstep wearing nothing but a terrycloth robe and asking for a foot massage.

My only viable strategy might be to insist on consuming only very gourmet chocolates. [You could just exercise more and eat less. Or you could be like Virginia Postrel and eat more spinach--ed. No one likes it when you act like a rational editor.]

posted by Dan on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM


Ah, chocolate.

The connoisseur has many excellent choices today. Even the milk chocolate lover can finally break free of the Hershey-influenced horrors of the mass market. It's an unhappy accident of history that many Americans' chocolate tastes were forged on the anvil of sour-milk Hershey's.

Oh, man. That Dagoba stuff...and Lake Champlain Chocolates. L. A. Burdick. Ya hadda go and get me started...

posted by: Elisson on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

I know the Clay Gordon referenced in the Newsweek article. He introduced me to the world of artisanal chocolate. Once you've crossed to the gourmet side, IMHO, it's impossible to appreciate Hershey's.

You can see his web site here.

posted by: Dave on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

BTW, there's also an article in the most recent Forbes about gourmet chocolates.

posted by: Dave on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Call me lowbrow, but I've always liked Hershey's Special Dark.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Ahh, I love dark chocolate and its brother bittersweet chocolate. In the cheap candy arena there is dark chocolate Milky Way bars which aren't too bad. But my favorite is Kinderchocolate--a mix of dark, milk and a touch of white chocolate.

posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

If you want to curb your intake, you can -- like me -- develop a wistful attachment to varieties you either can't afford or can't find in your state. Michel Cluizel's Los Ancones is my favorite dark chocolate. I think there's an undertone of cherry in it, which makes me very happy. But it's strictly a Christmas and birthday chocolate.

posted by: Rachel on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

One saving grace (though I'm not sure how much grace you'll save) is that high cocoa content dark chocolate has less sugar, ie, less carbs (ooh, evil carbs). You might even get someone (perhaps not a dietician, though) to agree the gems are Adkins or South Beach friendly.

posted by: Kenneth Greenlee on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

M&Ms just went over to the dark side, too.

posted by: Clark on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

like comparing wine with grape soda

Ugh, what a choice. Gimme the Welch's.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

They should have came out with white chocolate M&M's to go with the new dark ones.

posted by: Hei Lun Chan on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

For those of you west of the Rockies looking for a middle of the road dark chocolate delight try the lemon truffle from See's Candy - dark chocolate shell with a firm, zesty lemon interior.

posted by: mmmmm on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Living in Switzerland, the disparity of the quality in Chocolate is one thing I've always had to conceed to my Swiss hosts (and wife!), but hopefully that will be no more. I'm looking forward to the day when American "micro-chocolates" outstrip their European counterparts in lovely cocco-goodness by as much as the best microbrews do European beers (the measure being barley-goodness for beers, however).

posted by: TW. Andrews on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Let me also put in a good word for chocolate processed in facilities with no nuts, of which Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate is but one fine example.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

If you haven't tried chicago's own vosges, you are depriving yourself of what is now one of my basic needs.

The best chocolate


posted by: mickslam on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Speaking of dark chocolate, I've noticed that there seems to me a much smaller variety of premium root beers in the Atlanta area than I was used to enjoying in Wisconsin. If anyone has any suggestions they would be appreciated.

posted by: Zathras on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

I'm all for quality over quantity, especially where chocolate's concerned. Back when I was a younger thing, my French mom (the lady I was an au pair for) encouraged me to have just a little piece of dark chocolate pour ma sante every day. It wasn't artisanal stuff, just regular blocks she'd pick up at Carrefour - but, boy was it good. I also found that that extra bit of magnesium actually helped ease the *ahem* monthly malaise. Quite a concept for a girl with weight issues to pick up on - that chocolate wasn't necessarily a "bad" food and that small quantities could actually be beneficial.

I really don't care for a lot of the junk stuff that is usually found lying around my office - the M&Ms, the miniature Snickers bars, so can very easily stay away. For the sake of my health, however, I do head over here:

for a couple of their dark chocolate bars every now and again. They're expensive as all getout, but a little goes a long way, and it complements my daily antioxidant delivery system well (currently a nice Australian Shiraz).

posted by: Be on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

My opening bid to you for Selma is twice her weight in Chocolate.
In keeping with today's theme watch Chocolat w/ Juliet Brinoche.

posted by: Robert M on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

That thing about putting the percentage of cocoa solids on the wrapper is partially the result of an EU directive. All chocolates (to use the label "chocolate") must specify the percentage. This is always on the back label listing ingredients, but makes its way onto the front label for marketing purposes.

I don't recall the brand name (it's a European boutique chocolatier), but there's somebody out there selling 98% cocoa solid bars. The bars themselves are quite small, probably about one ounce. As you can imagine, the taste is intense, as is the bitterness. These are suitable for tiny little nibbles or for cooking. I'll try to dig up a source because this is something that should be experienced.

posted by: John on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Dark chocolate better for you than milk, hmm. That would explain its medicinal taste. Ick. Dark's fine, in limited quantities, for baking and not much else.

posted by: Achillea on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

In my opinion, you have all missed the great question of the age:

Why isn't there are dark chocolate Almond Joy? Is this, or is this not, the world's most obvious brand extension?

posted by: TigerHawk on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

You can get white chocolate Twix's in the UK... let me know if you want to do a taste test :-)

posted by: Dave on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Strong agreement on Vosges. Got some as a gift this Christmas and was blown away. The most amazing was the "Naga" truffles, flavored with curry powder. Really.

For those suggesting variations of old favorites using white chocolate, I will note that you you can acheive the same flavor effect as white chocolate by mixing corn syrup and floor wax, 1:2.

posted by: dave on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

You may want to look at this place...

posted by: Aram on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

"this is the candy equivalent of Salma Hayek showing up on my doorstep wearing nothing but a terrycloth robe and asking for a foot massage."

Wouldn't this be more like Ms. Hayek offering to blow you? I mean, asking for a foot massage? Well, you are a professor and I'm just a homeless guy at the library's internet room, so forgive me if my fantasies tend to indulge in more base desires.

- J. Duke

posted by: J. Duke on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Click here at your own risk . . .

posted by: David Nishimura on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Hi, I got directed here from Oxblog, I love dark chocolate and concur that the health benefits of the antioxidants are a great excuse for enjoying it! The best dark chocolate I had was a private label from Karstadt's Department Store in Germany, they label their chocolate by percentage of cocoa, and this was a 75%. Absolutely sublime. Health reasons compelled me to give up alcohol 15 years ago, so chocolate and shoes are among my remaining indulgences. Also, on the Rue Fauborg in Paris on the corner near Hermes, there is a shop that sells bricks of dark chocolate with cashews--believe I paid 9 euros for a couple of ounces but it was worth it. I've tried some Guatamelan chocolate from Whole Foods near here but it wasn't as good as the European chocolate. Happy tasting everyone!

posted by: beckysharp on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

Wait, can you get the dark chocolate Twix in Chicago? Like, in Ex Libris? If so, how have I missed this?

posted by: Phoebe on 03.31.05 at 04:14 PM [permalink]

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