OK guys, this one has been a long time coming. I collected about 14 different dark chocolate bars from a wide variety of brands and in a bunch of different flavours and I ate them all. I ATE SO MUCH CHOCOLATE. Seriously, I suffer so you don’t have to. (Also this was the most expensive experiment to date, I’m pretty sure I spent like $70 on cacao. Money well spent? Obviously.)
Was there a clear winner? For me, yes definitely. And a clear loser? OMG yes. There was one chocolate in this bunch that was so inedible some of the people I tested it on even spat it out and made faces of pure torture. YES I even involved other judges; this was a big ordeal! CHOCOLATE YOU GUYS. It’s serious business. My lovely sister and I ate chocolate one night until we were sick to our stomachs. You know, for “research”.
There are a bunch of ways to break this list down, so here we go.
ZIMT artisan chocolates – raw chocolate Salt of the Earth, Himalayan salt sprinkles smooth dark chocolate. (Vegan, raw, organic, ethical, LOCAL to Vancouver, BC): This one has a lot going for it on the hipster scale. Even the packaging is made using vegetable based inks on sustainably harvested and recycled content, monitored by the Forest Stewardship Council. The inner wrapper is plant based and compostable, for goodness sake. HIPSTER RATING 10/10! As for taste: Sara and I both really liked it. Sara remarked that is was salty but not too salty, very creamy, and that the coconut sugar was a nice touch (She’s a holistic nutritionist so she pointed out that coconut sugar is lower on the glycemic index, which makes it more suitable for diabetics in small amounts.) I liked the creamy texture as well as the size and shape of the bar itself. I also noticed that it contains a huge 24% of my daily iron intake, so that means I can eat this chocolate for medical reasons, right?? TWO THUMBS UP.
Ingredients: raw/organic cacao nibs, coconut sugar, cacao butter, Himalayan salt.
Alter Eco – Dark Organic Chocolate Sea Salt. 70% cacao. (Vegan, soy free, gluten free, non-GMO, no artificial flavours, no emulsifiers, organic, fair trade, carbon neutral. Made in Switzerland.) The thing I like most about this brand is their design; the packaging is really nice and the website is pretty. Pretty websites matter to me a surprising amount (I am judging your website design, trust me.) It’s also way up there on the hipster scale, they have a photo of a cacao farmer on the back, but that’s not all; open the packaging and the inside is printed with information about rain forest restoration and farmers in Acopagro. Wow. Sara and I both thought this one was good, more salty than expected but in a pleasant way. The texture was nice, not gritty.
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, raw organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, sea salt.
Also from Alter Eco: Dark Organic Chocolate Toasted Quinoa. 60% Cacao. (Vegan, soy free, gluten free, non-GMO, no artificial flavours, no emulsifiers, organic, fair trade, carbon neutral. Made in Switzerland.) Of the three Alter Eco bars I had, I liked this one the best. I liked the crunchy puffed quinoa and the level of sweetness was good.
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, raw organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, quinoa rice crisps (organic quinoa, organic rice, organic raw cane sugar), organic vanilla beans.
One more: Dark Organic Chocolate Slow Roasted Almond. 60% Cacao. (Vegan, soy free, gluten free, non-GMO, no artificial flavours, no emulsifiers, organic, fair trade, carbon neutral. Made in Switzerland.) This one got a mixed reception, Sara noted that it had a weird taste, almost plasticy, with a good level of sweetness but an almost chalky texture. I noted that it wasn’t as creamy as some of the others, and that the flavour was mild and not overly nutty.
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, organic raw cane sugar, organic almonds, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla beans.
Zazubean – “Sassy” Coconut Milk Pomegranate and Hazelnut with coconut sugar. 55% cacao. (Vegan, gluten free, soy free, no cane sugar, organic, fair trade. Local to Vancouver, BC. Chocolates made in Switzerland.) This is a brand I just discovered at London Drugs, of all places. I like that the chocolate says Vegan right on the package, and it has some really neat flavours. Pomegranate?? Yes please. This bar was by far my favourite of all of them, the coconut milk made it creamy like a milk chocolate bar (which to be honest I totally prefer over bitter dark chocolate) and the hazelnut, being my favourite nut, was great.
Ingredients: Fair trade organic coconut blossom sugar, fair trade organic cocoa mass, organic fair trade cocoa butter, organic coconut milk powder, organic pomegranate blend (pomegranate, apple juice concentrate, rice flour, pectin), organic hazelnuts, fair trade organic vanilla, sea salt.
Also from Zazubean: “Saltry” Seas Salt and Almonds with Coconut Sugar. 65% cacao. (Vegan, gluten free, fair trade, organic, soy free, no cane sugar, Local to Vancouver, BC. Chocolates made in Switzerland.) When in doubt, add salt. This bar could have been similar to the other chocolate/almond bars we sampled, but this one had some nicely sized salt crystals to add just a bit more interest. J remarked that vegan chocolate had certainly “come a long way” and thought this one was great (I think he still assumes that Vegan=tastes gross, ha). I loved the level of the saltiness and the crunch of the almonds paired with the slightly bitter and not-too-sweet chocolate. I think this brand is quickly becoming my favourite!
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cocoa mass, organic fair trade coconut blossom sugar, organic almonds, organic fair trade cocoa butter, sea salt, organic fair trade vanilla.
Theo Chocolate – Orange flavour dark chocolate. 70% cacao. (Organic, fair trade, non-GMO, Kosher dairy*, no animal ingredients. Made in Seattle, WA) This is another chocolate I just discovered (was side by side with the Zazubean at London Drugs) that has no dairy. It does not say Vegan on the packaging specifically, but reading the ingredients list it contains the same things as the other chocolates labelled Vegan. The orange flavour is really nice and the texture is good. It reminds me of the holiday season, for some reason. Good creaminess, not too bitter (I’ve learned that anything over 70% cacao is too bitter for me).
Ingredients: Organic and fair trade cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic and fair trade cocoa butter, organic and fair trade ground vanilla bean, organic orange essential oil.
Whistler Chocolate – Dark Chocolate with Chili. 72% Cacao. (Organic, no animal ingredients, LOCAL from Whistler, BC) This is a neat brand. I’m not 100% sold on the packaging, the font looks a little juvenile and I’m not sure why there is a golfing bear on the front; it’s made in Whistler and that seems fairly “Whistler” to me, though not chocolate or chili related. It’s organic, made in Canada, and has a recyclable box with a compostable inner wrapper (impressive, considering it looks a lot like metallic foil!) I really enjoyed the sweet/spicy chili flavour, the spicy comes on after the initial sweet cinnamon has dissipated which is nice. Sara noted that she liked the chocolate as well as the spicy aftertaste, but my lovely fellow vegan Darien said the texture was too waxy for him. I liked that the spice was subtle while the chocolate itself was still very sweet.
Ingredients: Organic dark chocolate (organic cocoa mass, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla powder), organic cinnamon and organic cayenne pepper.
Kaoka Organic Cocoa – Dark Chocolate Organic Fair Trade Fleur de Sel. 70% cacao. (Organic, fair trade, no animal ingredients. Made in France.) I like the branding of this chocolate as well. The package is a nice turquoise colour and, because it’s French, is completely bilingual with the French first, English following (All Canadian products are required to have both English and French on the labels, though it’s usually English first, then French. I don’t know why I notice this kind of stuff.) Both Sara and I liked that the chunks of salt in this bar were large, so you could eat a bite of smooth chocolate but then get a sudden hit of salty. I was going to sample this again as a refresher while I wrote this review but that particular bar is all gone, so that must mean I liked it. I also liked that they printed the source of the cocoa being the Dominican Republic, then had more information printed on the inside of the box regarding the origins of organic cocoa and about the cocoa farmers. Transparency in where the cocoa is coming from is nice, especially since it’s been in the news lately that corporations like Nestle have been exploiting child labour to harvest their cocoa. Certainly sucks all the enjoyment out of that Kit Kat bar.
Ingredients: Organic Dominican Republic cocoa mass, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, sea salt, sunflower lecithin, organic vanilla extract.
Camino: Dark Chocolate with Almonds. 55% cacao. (Organic, fair trade, no animal ingredients, Kosher, Canadian company, chocolate made in Switzerland.) This brand is pretty readily available around here because it is a Canadian company and fairly big. Like several of the other brands, Camino is big on supporting small scale farmers and being transparent about where their cacao comes from. It also has biodegradable paper wrapping and a biodegradable foil inner wrapper produced with renewable materials made from sustainably harvested wood. Sara and I both thought this bar was really, really sweet. It’s super tasty, but honestly after trying all the other different tastes this plain almond bar was almost… boring? That seems crazy. It was very tasty, good texture and nice fine bits of almond. The 55% meant it was not bitter either. Definitely very sweet though, probably because it has two different kinds of sugar in it, haha.
Ingredients: Fair trade cacao mass, fair trade golden cane sugar, fair trade cacao butter, crushes almonds (10%), fair trade whole cane sugar, fair trade ground vanilla beans.
Denman Island Chocolate: Rosemary Baby. 72% cacao. (Fair trade, organic, gluten free, no animal ingredients, LOCAL to Denman Island, BC) Chocolate with ROSEMARY made on a small island, and a horror movie reference in the name? So much win. Does it work? Sort of. I liked it, though it’s definitely not for everyone. A couple of the tasters at my Book Club really did not care for it (we had just read Gulp by Mary Roach, a book about the digestive tract beginning with the mouth and ending with the bum, and we had both an olive oil tasting and a dark chocolate tasting as our “activity”). Sara thought it was good, but would have been better if it was a salted rosemary. I thought it was a touch too bitter, but I, surprisingly, liked the bizzarro rosemary flavour. I do like the packaging too, which the website tells me features photos of the flora and fauna of Denman island. They also donate at least 1% of their gross sales to “protect life on this fragile planet”, which sounds great, though I wish they’d explain where the money goes and how it helps. The packaging is fairly minimal so I suppose it would explain it in more detail on the website. Does anyone even read all the info on these chocolate wrappers if they aren’t fanatical chocolate tasters and evaluaters like me?? Seriously, I feel like some of these products have enough writing on them to be considered chocolate-themed novellas.
Ingredients: Fair trade chocolate (organic cocoa mass, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter), organic rosemary essence.
Coconut Secret: Peruvian Crunch dark chocolate and toasted coconut, sweetened with coconut crystals. 70% cacao. (Organic, no cane sugar, low glycemic, soy free, fair trade, non-GMO, Kosher dairy, no animal ingredients, Product of USA) Chocolate without the sugar rush?! This one surprised me. I was about to say it’s sugar-free, but that isn’t true, it has 18% of your daily sugar intake, but it isn’t sweetened with cane or refined sugar. Sara and I both thought this had a great crunchy texture and excellent flavour. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and the texture is fairly good, though a little less creamy than some of the others. Overall it was really good. This chocolate is also low on the glycemic index, and the back of the package notes “Inspired by our dream to create healthy snacks for our diabetic parents.” Neato.
Ingredients: Organic dark chocolate (organic fair trade cocoa liquor, organic coconut crystals, organic fair trade cocoa butter) organic coconut.
Organicfair: Midnight Super Dark Chocolate. 90% Cacao. (Organic, fair trade, no animal ingredients. LOCAL to Cobble Hill, BC) Soooo I thought it would be cool to try out a chocolate that was super super dark. The woman at Nature Spirit Earth Market described it as “medicinal chocolate”, which sort of explains why people eat it, because it sure isn’t because of the taste. I thought I liked chocolate, but in it’s pure form cacao is actually sooooo intense and unpleasant haha. This chocolate shocked both my sister and I, and the whole book club, with it’s incredibly bitter flavour and chalky texture. Sara kindly noted that it’s good for people who don’t like sweet, but also that it leaves an “after film” and is powdery. I didn’t like it either, and I noted that I certainly wouldn’t reach for it if I had a chocolate craving. This is the chocolate that was spat out during the book club tasting… it didn’t go down well with us chocolate lovers. Despite all that it contains 50% of your daily iron intake, so that is a thing! Maybe it would be ok chopped up and put into a smoothie or some cookies? Or shovelled back with nose plugged simply to gain the iron? No one was a fan of this particular flavour, but I look forward to trying the other flavours available from this brand. The packaging is printed with soy-based inks on recycled paper, and 1% of sales go to support direct fair trade.
Ingredients: Cacao mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, ground vanilla bean. Minimum 90% cacao.
Green & Black’s Organic: Dark chocolate with the sweet warmth of crystallized ginger. 60% cacao. (Fair trade, organic, no animal ingredients, made in the UK) THIS. This was in my top two. Sara and I both really enjoyed the ginger pieces and the texture. I wanted to try this one again but it’s all gone and I accidentally threw out the wrapper… I guess that means I need to buy another one!
Ingredients: Organic bittersweet chocolate (organic chocolate, organic raw cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, soy lecithin (emulsifier), organic vanilla extract), organic crystallized ginger pieces (organic ginger, organic cane sugar)
Lily’s: Dark Chocolatey Bar with Stevia Extract. 55% Cacao. (Fair trade, gluten free, non-GMO, product of USA) OOPS you guys, I accidentally bought a non-vegan bar. After all that ingredient reading I started to glaze over, I think. This bar includes milk fat, but the rest of the ingredients are animal free. I tried it anyways, and liked it well enough. The crunchy rice reminded Sara of a crunch bar, though we both thought the actual rice was not as crunchy as we wanted it to be. Sara reported a strange aftertaste, and that the chicory flavour was prominent. We both liked the stevia sweetener, and overall thought this bar was ok. It definitely had the longest ingredients list of all the bars, and the milk fat inclusion is also a no no so I won’t be buying this again. But if you aren’t worried about milk fat then by all means, it’s an alright bar. After typing up the ingredients list I had some questions about what the heck dextrin and erythritol were, and was pleasantly surprised to find that when I googled those ingredients the Lily’s FAQ page came up and they answer all of those questions! Nice.
Ingredients: Unsweetened chocolate liquor, inulin (chicory root), dextrin, erythritol, cocoa butter, organic crispy brown rice (organic brown rice, organic brown rice syrup, sea salt), milk fat, organic soy lecithin, stevia extract, vanilla, natural flavours.
It’s too hard to pick a winner directly, though I did have a top 3:
- Zazubean “Sassy” Coconut Milk Pomegranate and Hazelnut with coconut sugar
- Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate with the sweet warmth of crystallized ginger
- Zimt raw chocolate Salt of the Earth, Himalayan salt sprinkles smooth dark chocolate.
The least favourite? Very clearly the 90% cacao bar. Ahhhh you guys it was traumatizing to my pallet.
AND because I just wrote the word CACAO more times than I have ever said or written it in my entire life, there’s this:
* Kosher symbols are relatively new to me, though they are often on the packaging of foods that I purchase. The D symbol, or Kosher Dairy symbol, is in place to show that the product either contains dairy or is made on machinery that is also used to produce food with dairy ingredients. Because dairy is not on the list of ingredients of these chocolates I am considering them vegan, though many of the packages note that the product is manufactured in a facility that also produces dairy. This is why there is a D symbol on the packages. I suppose if you want to be really hard line vegan the D/Dairy symbol will indicate that you shouldn’t eat those particular products, but I am not that stringent. There seems to be some debate on whether Kosher symbols can be relied on fully to indicate dairy content; here is another good explanation of Kosher symbols on food products.