Saturday, October 17, 2009

Halloween Treats: Equal Exchange

Sisters and Brothers, here is another eco-friendly, fair trade option for you this Halloween from Equal Exchange, which is competing in the "Best Mass Produced Halloween Treat" category of our 2009 Halloween Challenge.  Normally, a smaller company might be competing in the "Gourmet" category, but as you will see, Equal Exchange offers a perfectly formed product you can get in large quantities, so your Chocolate Priestess placed them in this section of the Challenge.

Equal Exchange is part of the "Reverse Trick or Treating" program, which you can learn more about HERE.  Their dark chocolate minis fit perfectly on the cards that you can use in this program.  The card is pictured to the left, and the minis above.  These tiny little candies measure 1.5 × 0.75 × 0.25 inches and are made of 55% dark chocolate.  The cute little thing smells only like dark chocolate and has a very intriguing, almost fruity taste, which probably comes from the cane sugar in it.  The chocolate is firm enough to make a very slight sound when I chew, and each of the three bites I make of it builds a good little buzz.  Now, as I've said before, darker chocolate is an acquired taste that most younger children do not like, but in my neighborhood we get Trick or Treaters who are clearly in junior high or even high school, and of course the younger ones are usually accompanied by adults.  That group would certainly be able to handle 55% cocoa.  If you want to do something environmental and humanitarian for Halloween, check these out.  Right now I notice on the website that they are having a sale on this product until October 23, 2009.

Equal Exchange also sent eight — one of each flavor — of their bigger 3.5oz chocolate bars, so I'm going to reveal those to you as well, Sisters and Brothers.  My grandmother used to give larger bars of candy to her grandchildren on Halloween, or you might be thinking about the various winter holidays that are approaching.  Each bar is shrinkwrapped in plastic underneath the paper wrapper that identifies each one, and the plastic has a guide on it to tell you how to open it; frankly, I found the plastic wrapping a bit obnoxious to open, even following the directions.  The paper wrapper itself has information about Equal Exchange and their mission, along with a portrait of one of their worker-owners, four men and four women, covering one on each bar.  Each bar measures 6 × 2.9 × 0.4 inches and has 24 etched squares in it so you can break it apart easily.  The bars each have 2.5 servings in them and range in nutritional value from 216-230 calories, 8-12 grams saturated fat, 0-12 milligrams cholesterol, 0-40 mg sodium, 1-5 g dietary fiber, 7-17 g sugars, and 2-4 g protein in each serving.  I'm going to reveal them in order from the least percentage of cocoa to the greatest amount.

I'll start with the 38% "Milk Chocolate with a Hint of Hazelnut" flavor.  Primarily the scent is milk chocolate, though at 38% this is a darker one than many Americans will be familiar with.   I break one four-piece line off and then one of the pieces from that.  The chocolate feels a bit rough, not waxy or smooth like most mass produced candy bars do, and it also does not melt in my fingers as I hold it.  It does, however, immediately start melting in my mouth, a slow melt that reveals the cocoa, sugar, hazelnut, and vanilla notes that contribute to this bar's flavor, making it far more complex than I had expected.  Chewing a second piece mixes the flavors together more, but overall the cocoa is not the strongest flavor in this bar, nor do I feel a firm cocoa buzz beginning.

There are two 55% bars, one with almonds and one with espresso beans, so I'll start with the nuts first to help separate the buzz from cocoa from the one you can get from coffee. The "Almond" bar smells like cocoa while the "Espresso" one has a very strong coffee scent that I can smell even when it is across the table from me.  The "Almond" bar has visible slivers of nuts in it when I break off a section, but the scent is still of cocoa.  The nuts add a crunch to the piece as I chew it, and now their flavor is revealed to mix very nicely with the dark chocolate.  Since the "Espresso" bar has such a strong coffee scent, I'm going to store its leftover pieces in a separate container, because scents, like flavors, can cross food items.  The flavor in this very crunchy bar is coffee with only a bare hint of the cocoa, so if you love coffee flavor you want this bar, but if you don't at least like coffee give this one a pass.  Sisters and Brothers, this is intense coffee flavor, and I have to cleanse my palate before I can continue to the next set of bars.

There are three bars which have cocoa in the 60% range, starting with the "Orange Dark" at 65%, going to the "Mint Chocolate with a Delicate Crunch" at 67% and ending with "Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs" at 68%.  The "Orange" bar has a definite orange scent to it, while the "Mint" has a cool, crisp mint essence when I breathe it in, and the "nibs" bar is simply dark chocolate in smell.  The orange flavor is different from any other such bar I've had before; the fruit is more tangy and less sugary, and it adds a sharpness to the cocoa that intensifies its bitterness — a very interesting taste that is good in small quantities, but there is no danger that I'd want to eat this entire bar in one setting, although that's true of darker chocolates in general.  There is a little crunchiness in the "Mint" bar, as well as a wave of coolness that floods my mouth when I chew a bite.  The physical sensations and flavors of the mint threaten to overwhelm the cocoa itself, but I can still taste the chocolate in this bar, so it balances in a fair fashion, though the mint tingle lasts for a few minutes after I've finished eating it.  If you have not had nibs before, I recommend trying them first in some chocolate. This bar has the definite intense crunch and flavor of the nibs along with the high cocoa content, so while I like it a lot, it may be too bitter for many of you, Sisters and Brothers.

The final two bars are the 71% "Very Dark Chocolate" and the 80% "Panama Extra Dark Chocolate" bars.  Note that out of all of these, if you want to say that you are using chocolate for its health benefits, only this last bar I'm going to reveal qualifies, at the 80% level of cacao.  Even just smelling the 71% bar makes my eyes flutter a bit, while very oddly the 80% seems to have very little fragrance.  The 71% is bitter with just a hint of vanilla hidden deep inside, and after just a few chews the rush goes from my mouth into my sinuses and into my mind, making the room seem a bit brighter to my eyesight.  I can only imagine now what the 80% bar will reveal to me, so I break off a piece and place it in my mouth.  It's odd — gone is any hint of vanilla, but the bitterness, which should be more intense, is somehow smoother on my tongue, though there is a definite aftertaste to the 80% bar.  Both of these bars are not for anyone who dislikes darker chocolate even slightly, but they will certainly create that cocoa buzz you hope to get from the Sacred Substance.

I really love the fact that so far two of our Halloween Challengers are committed to fair trade and eco-friendly practices.  Both Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative, and Taraluna, a woman-owned, organic, fair trade retailer, fit well within The Chocolate Cult's statement to use chocolate in moderation and with a purpose.  I am impressed by both companies' offerings.  If the Reverse Trick or Treating program, handing out minis for Halloween, or the 3.5 oz. bars from Equal Exchange sound good to you, Sisters and Brothers, then check them out.  Remember the minis sale only lasts until the 23rd of this month.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

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