Friday, March 26, 2010

Use your 'Bean' to buy Chocolate

With Easter around the corner I have to pause and reflect on chocolate. That ultra smooth and milky choco-confection has consumed one or two of my synapses over the years. As a rule I am not an indiscriminate consumer of the stuff and Easter tends to bring out the worst examples of cacao beanery. It goes without saying, if I am going to invest the calories in a choco-licious treat it has to taste good first and look good second.

I do enjoy Hershey’s products but they tend to be a sweeter chocolate overall. Their Reese’s brand peanut butter cups, chocolate kisses, and of course the Hershey bar are their mainstay top chocolates. Hershey’s even has a theme park in the best smelling town in America – Hershey, Pennsylvania (of course). My chocolate does not have to be a thrill ride, but rarely would I consume a plain chocolate bar. Usually I like my chocolate with some kind of surprise inside. That means, cookies, nougat, nuts, rice, coconut – just about anything dunked in a healthy coat of chocolate will be instantly edible.

When my wife and I traveled overseas, our first stop was to acquire a pound of delectable Swiss chocolate minis, individually fancy wrapped. Our role as interloping guests in foreign lands was easily overcome with an opening gesture of friendship and a tasty chocolate gratuity. It seems that EVERYONE appreciates an unexpected chocolate treat regardless of border or national currency. In England, I grew a fondness for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk especially as a stick with a scoop of ice cream. Their chocolate tends to be creamier and a tad more bitter due to higher cacao solids. I prefer still darker chocolates (up to 50% cacao solids), which counteract some of the sweetness and make them a far richer, satisfying and yes, healthier eating experience.

The Mars company has seemed to embrace this fact as they have introduced Dark Snickers, M&M’s and what else – the MARS bar. If you are ever in Las Vegas, make sure you visit Mars’s Ethel M’s factory and store. Not only do you get a free sample at the end of a no-cost self-guided tour, they have a lovely cactus garden fully decorated for the holidays between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.

If I am in a cheap mood and want to abuse my palate, I will buy low temperature melting chocolate from the grocery. Now mind you, this stuff is fairly waxy overall and not as delectible as the luxurious name brands. But it is magically smooth when melted and is great for strawberries, pineapple, marshmallows, or left over party peanuts. I have not tried it yet, but I even noticed the store has begun selling choco-dipped RITZ crackers; once again proving that anything topped in chocolate is ultimately MORE delicious.

I love the Russell Stovers marshmallow eggs and who can forget their famous Whitman’s yellow box? To this day I always remember that little ‘delivery guy’ chocolate rectangle in the middle of that distinctive box. My mother still prefers See’s candies which is primarily a West Coast chocolatier with an excellent product. Also in California who can forget the spelling bee contestant’s favorite brand – "Ghirardelli", San Francisco’s most famous chocolate.

So another Easter will bring out the heavy artillery in novelty chocolate confections. Yeah you’ll be tempted by the nasty chocolate eggs with the sickening sweet yellow and white gooey center. You’ll think your kids need those giant choco-wax bunnies as a centerpiece to their Easter baskets. It is so easy to over-indulge on Easter with endless attractively packed, yet tasteless, brittle, and sugary off-brand treats. But do yourself and your family a favor, consider ‘quality’ chocolate over quantity this Easter. You’ll not only save the calories and cash, but your taste buds and dentist will thank you too. Now that’s called using your ol’ BEAN – the CACAO BEAN that is!

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