Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hotel Chocolat

I write this post on Mothers Day, a celebration of all our mothers. It is also Mothering Sunday, not the same thing at all. In bygone days this was the Sunday when Christians returned to their mother church – usually the cathedral of their diocese – for a special religious celebration.

But, as with most festivals now, Mother’s Day is another great excuse to eat chocolate, the first steps in the build up to the chocolate crescendo that is Easter. And as I didn’t give up chocolate for Lent – it never really crossed my mind actually – I am able to bring you advance news from the chocolate front. A company called Hotel Chocolat very kindly sent me one of their eggs and it’s only fair that I eat it and tell you all about it.

It comes very beautifully and elegantly packaged in black and silver and this one is thick milk chocolate, filled with little praline eggs. As I usually look for the big numbers on dark chocolate it was interesting to read up on milk chocolate. Good quality dark chocolate usually contains a minimum of 50 % cocoa mass, but can go as high as 85 %. Because milk chocolate has more added sugar than dark, as well as dried milk solids, it has a lower percentage of cocoa mass, usually about 30 - 40 %. Hotel Chocolat’s egg is made with 40% cocoa mass, at the very top end of the scale. I checked out the milk chocolate available locally and found that many of the familiar labels have no more than 27% cocoa mass. I couldn’t find anything with 40%, but Green & Blacks has 34%, as does a milk chocolate called Bellarom, bought in Lidl, and Tesco’s own brand Belgian milk chocolate has 32%.

Growing up with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (20% cocoa mass but not a word against it, not a word!) has anaesthetised my taste buds when it comes to milk chocolate. Some courageous souls have done good work in this area, for example Wayne Schmidt’s Milk Chocolate Comparison page. Says Wayne “I like a pure chocolate flavor that isn't masked by fruity, smokey, or mocha flavors. The after taste should be strong, long lasting and not turn sour.”

So, to June’s Concise Milk Chocolate Comparison Test:

Tesco Belgian Milk Chocolate

Cocoa Solids 32% minimum
A good full rounded taste, strong on caramel. Coats the mouth. Short after taste

Bellarom Deluxe Finest Alpine Chocolate

Cocoa solids 34% minimum
Very pure chocolate taste, light, very little caramel. Pleasant after taste.

Green & Black’s Organic Milk

Cocoa Solids 34% minimum
This has a strong, not altogether pleasant taste, rather sour in the mouth. Burnt caramel.

Hotel Chocolat Egg

40% cocoa solids
An immediate hit of that dairy texture that reminds me of Dairy Milk, followed by a good strong chocolate flavour, sweet in the middle of the palate with a caramel aftertaste.

Hotel Chocolat’s website gives a lot of information about its products and their provenance. Chocolate from the Americas usually comes from one of two varieties – Forestier and Criollo. A third variety, Trinitario, is not found in the wild, but is a hybrid of the other two. Hotel Chocolat buys some of its beans from FairTrade sources, but is involved with a new estate, Rabot, in St Lucia. According to the website “With the construction of a chocolate making facility on the cocoa estate, within two years Hotel Chocolat will be employing local labour and using local sugar to make the chocolate from their plantation, as well as buying cocoa from neighbouring farmers at a rate that enables them to make a profit and re-invest in their cocoa farm.
This approach will be radically different from the industry norm, where the cheap commodity crop is usually exported to Europe for the value to be added there.”

The website also offers a host of other products and options, including treats for vegetarians and vegans.

Hotel Chocolat is also running an Online Easter Egg Hunt, to win one of 20 of these luxury hampers.

The competition is open to everyone (UK and abroad) and closes 2 April. To enter, here is the link:

And, just in time to make us all feel a whole lot better about eating chocolate, comes a claim from science that a compound in unrefined cocoa has enormous health benefits.

Epicatechin is derived from unrefined natural cocoa and Professor Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School believes it could have a revolutionary effect on stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Epicatechin is a flavanol with a bitter taste and for this reason is usually removed from commercial cocoa. Research shows that drinking epicatechin-rich cocoa boosts blood flow for two to three hours after consumption, raising the possibility of enhancing brain function among elderly or sleep deprived people.

Britons eat 10kg of chocolate each every year, spending an annual total of £4.3bn. Makes you wonder... who's eating my other 9kg??


Susan in Italy said...

I'm glad they're selling chocolate by the cocoa-mass percentage. It helps to know what you're getting. Some British friends of mine also seem to have this inexplicable attachment to Cadbury's. Not having grown up with it, I don't see the charm. (and for fairness' sake, nor do I see the charm of U.S. Hershey's milk chocolate) Life's too short for that kind of stuff.

Betul said...

Definitely not my children, but possibly me, June :) I hate milk chocolate. Also there is fair trade factor in this issue, don't you think? In my culture people believe if you cause someone to suffer, whatever you get them make them ill. Some kind of hidden curse thing..

lindy said...

I am so glad to hear about the various health benefits of chocolate. Having recently discovered that pine nuts may make me slim, I'm predicting a distinct upswing in healthy eating.
I too have a strong attachment to Cadbury's milk and its palate-coating creaminess. Hershey's leaves me pretty cold, except that it do like their little silver "kisses". The size and shape is just perfect, and now you can get some with a little piece of almond in each.
My favorite chocolate bar is the Vosages Barcelona bar- very nice milk chocolate, almonds and sea salt. Too bad they cost $7 per bar. But a person can eat one square for dessert. It's that good.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic blog ! Clearly your diet must be working as you are looking fantastic on it. I have put in a request for my mum to make her 'Welsh Cakes' using chocolate chips instead of currants next time round, so this was rather prescient given your article. I will drop by and let you know how they taste...

I know what you are thinking..'Why doesn't that lazy boy cook his own Welsh Cakes...but my culinary skills are almost completely lacking - a great void in my life which I keep meaning to rectify but is always on the back burner..

The only time I made chocolate was in the labs at Bristol University, working as a sighted guide on a course for Visually Impaired people - Gosh that was an experience. But the payoff was going on a visit to watch Crunchie bars being made.. Wow - molten 'lava' a yard wide with that fab honeycomb centre...

How come I never got to be like Willie Wonka, finding the choccy factory while in childhood..

Heigh ho...

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