I took a bite of the famed whole-wheat Ak-Mak cracker and sips of orange juice in between chocolate nibbles.
Vital learning in the name of science, with an aim to provide thoughtful, unbiased info to my fellow dark chocolate lovers.
– Villars – Swiss chocolate: Sharpest (along with Trader Joes)
– Valrhona – French chocolate: creamest, sweetest, with a noticeable but mild afterbite, fruity
– Guaranda – Equadorian chocolate (strangely labeled “European chocolate”): smokey
– Trader Joe’s Pound Plus (“TJ”) – Belgian chocolate: thickest of all, tied for sharpest with Villars, faintly fruity, hardest, least creamy initially
- All the chocolate bars boasted a chocolate percentage ranging from 70-72%, and contained the following ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, and soy lecithin (as an emulsifier). Additionally, the Villars contained “flavours” and the Valrhona was “flavored with natural vanilla.”
- I conducted three ‘rounds’ of testing. In one of the rounds, I simply ate a small piece of chocolate from each bar one after another. In the other two rounds (with differing sampling orders), I ate a piece of Ak-Mak wheat cracker and sipped some orange juice in between chocolate pieces to cleanse my palate.
- Since the TJ was at least twice as thick as the others, it was hard to compare the mouth-feel. Since, for instance, thinner chocolate will naturally melt more quickly in the mouth, this significantly alters the perception of creaminess.
- Sampling 12 small pieces of chocolate wasn’t as enjoyable as I imagined. I felt somewhat unpleasantly full, even after eating less than one bar total. Note that the testing was done after a sizeable lunch, however.
- The Villars and TJ tied for sharpest / most-bitter… but not unpleasantly bitter. All the chocolates, at least by my tastes, were amply sweet.
- The Valrhona was the creamiest and sweetest, perhaps due to the added vanilla.
- The Valrhona and, to a slightly lesser extent, the TJ had a mildly fruity aftertaste. Though Scharffenberger chocolate was not included in this test round, I distinctly remember that particular brand having a comparatively much more powerful—almost overpowering—fruitiness to it.
- The Guaranda had the most unique flavor, both initially and lingering. The wrapper describes it as “…exotic wood nuances”… but, before reading this, the first word that came to my mind was “smokey.” Not in a bad way, and it was very subtle, but still noticeable. This wasn’t surprising to me, since I had eaten roasted (unsweetened) cacao beans… and they do taste woodsy/smokey to me.
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The bottom line
All of these chocolates are delicious, and—sans the “Pound Plus” TJ wrapper—I’d be proud to serve any of them to guests. I do wish the TJ was less thick (sliced horizontally down the middle in the pack would be perfect!), but overall, it’s an extremely good buy given the price! (around $4.50 as of August, 2006). In particular, I’ve found that combining a handful of mixed nuts with a single thick piece of the TJ chocolate makes for a wonderfully delicious snack… and—given the mix of fats, proteins and antioxidants—a rather filling and healthy one, too, in moderation.
For pure sampling / eating right out of the wrapper, I’d probably go with one of the non-TJ chocolates, but couldn’t state a preference amongst them at present.
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Hope this has been helpful, or at least blissfully insightful. Any other chocolate lovers out there? 😀