Saturday, March 21, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--European Chocolate Bars

     Fortune recently smiled upon me again, and I was able to revisit a Wegman’s supermarket.  For those that haven’t already heard me rhapsodize about this grocery store, Wegman’s is easily the best supermarket I’ve ever been to.  And that’s compared to quite a few supermarket chains, given that travel for my job has taken me to most of the states East of the Mississippi River.
     Anyway, this particular Wegman’s had a slightly larger than usual selection of candies in their International Foods aisle, so I took advantage.  Specifically, of their chocolate bars.  I ended up buying nine different kinds, which I think is a fairly nice representative sample.
     I almost used quotation marks on “European” in the post title, because the situation is a little complicated.  For example, one of the candy bars is made by an Irish company, but actually manufactured in Trinidad and Tobago.  And one of the German companies is owned by the U.S. megagiant Kraft.  Finally, several of the bars I found were from Cadbury, which is considered one of the quintessential British chocolate makers.  But, in 2009 Cadbury was bought out by Kraft, and then a few years later Kraft changed its global foods division’s name to Mondelez International.  All of these company ownerships probably don’t factor in much with the actual composition of the candy itself—as far as I can tell they’re still made in the same places as before, and using the same recipes.  I just let you know to give you the complete story.
     Moving on, I was only dimly aware of how seriously some folks take their chocolate.  It seems to go beyond the more normal, sort of innocent “food nationalism” most people exhibit.  To sum up, quite a lot of chocolate fanciers think that American chocolate is vastly inferior to European.  I checked into the possible reasons for this a bit, and came across a few websites.  One claimed that U.S. chocolate uses less cacao (10% minimum vs. 20% for European), use less butter and cream (resulting in lower fat content), utilize more sugar (causing a lighter, sweeter taste) and buy their chocolate beans from South America rather than from West Africa, as most of Europe does (some say that different beans have different flavors).  Others accuse American companies of using more chemicals, artificial ingredients, and controversial additives like emulsifiers, corn syrup, and vegetable oils.  And still others sources (probably American!) claim that the chemical additives, corn syrup, etc. charges aren’t true, and it’s just a conscious, or subconscious anti-American backlash.
     Well, I like a good brouhaha about trivial nonsense as much as the next person, and I’d love to fan the flames of an intercontinental candy war, but in my case my taste buds are preventing me from being either a traitor or a patriot.  I simply don’t notice much of a significant difference between the two.  As I mentioned in some of my earlier chocolate post (See August 20, 2012 and November 22, 2012 posts), I do have a marked preference for milk chocolate vs. dark chocolate (somewhat ironically, in that I like other bitter tastes, such as very hoppy beers), but whether the milk chocolate is American or European (or probably from other continents, but I haven’t been able to test this) doesn’t really matter much to me.  So in this quasi-battle I’m pretty neutral, like Sweden, or the active chocolate manufacturing Switzerland.
     As always, I’ll use the U.S. scholastic method for ratings, A through F, with A being excellent, B good, C average, D unsatisfactory but passing, and F for failing, with plusses and minuses as necessary.  Listed from worst to first.

1)      Cadbury (Irish made, for a British company, American owned) Flake.  Billed as “The Crumbliest Flakiest Mild Chocolate”:  B-.  Dry, and flaky as advertized.  Thin, narrow bar.  Okay, not great.  Very messy to eat, with all the flaking.
2)      Cadbury (also Irish made, for a British company ultimately owned by Americans) Wispa.  An “Aerated Milk Chocolate Bar”:  B-.  Aerated refers to a few air pockets scattered throughout bar.  Solid, and okay.  Flavor is similar to Flake.
3)      Cadbury (this time it appears to have been manufactured in Portugal, but company and owners same as above) Crunchie.  “Milk Chocolate with Golden Honeycombed Centre”:  B.  Again, tasty but unspectacular.  Has a crisp yellow core.
4)      Horst Schluckwerder Marzipan.  German company, as can probably be deduced from the name.  Marzipan is almond meal mixed with sugar or honey, that appears to be a polarizing taste.  B.  Large bar—like 7 inches long by 2 inches wide.  Marzipan covered in chocolate.  As it happens, I’m pro-marzipan, so I enjoyed this.  Not awesome, but decent.
5)      Nestle (Made in U.K. for a Swiss owned company) Aero Milk Chocolate.  “Feel the Bubbles”:  B+.  Like Wispa, with air pockets but more so.  Good, a touch bland, maybe.
6)      Catch (product of Trinidad/Tobago for an Irish company).  “Soft Caramel and Crisped Rice in Milk Chocolate”:  A-.  I rather like the rice base with the chocolate covering.  Very good—just shy of great.
7)      Nestle (same as #5) Aero Peppermint flavor:  A.  The honeycombed interior for this one is green, for the mint.  Really enjoyed, as I like mint flavors.  Better than the plain variant.
8)      Milka (German made, for American Kraft) White Chocolate Confection:  A.  I like white chocolate, too, so found it excellent.  Also, noticed later that “Best By” expiration date was 8 months overdue!  But didn’t taste stale or bad to me.
9)      Nestle (U.K. made, for Swiss company) Lion:  Is a cookie base, covered with caramel and then chocolate:  A.  Delightful.  Reminded me of one of my favorite American bars, Twix.  Like the mix of sweet flavors over the cookie crunch.

     Unlike every other food/beverage types I’ve rated before, you’ll notice my scores were very high.  The “worst” bars were still B-, which is still better than average.  It appears when it comes to chocolate bars, I’m hard to disappoint.  I guess, kind of like the line about pizza, or sex, even bad chocolate bars are still pretty good, to me.  (And just to quash some ugly rumors, I NEVER had sex with a pizza.  Second base once when I was drunk, but that’s as far as it ever went.)  But seriously, I obviously like some chocolate bars better than others, but it seems making one that’s truly terrible is too much of a challenge.  At least from all the ones I’ve tried.
     Finally, years ago a female friend ironically (I think) gave me a Nestle (U.K. made, Swiss owned) Yorkie bar, which had a wrapper that said, “It’s not for girls!” along with a circle with a line going through a woman’s picture, etc.  I didn’t include it in the ratings because I remember liking it, but it was some time ago, and I’m vague on the details.  I recall being sort of darkly amused by its gall in advertizing—I was sort of puzzled that they didn’t include the tagline, “Misogyny never tasted so good!” or the like.  Well, they’ve removed that bit of humorous(?) sexism and now it looks like a regular bar.  Maybe that new kind of Diet Dr. Pepper will soon follow.

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