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Are you on a quest for some satisfying chocolate – something delicious, fairly traded and organic while also keeping sustainability in mind?
For the past year of my life, I estimate that I have spent at least 2 hours per day thinking about chocolate – where I can get something good and then just plain old daydreaming about eating it. After a year of searching the Central Coast of NSW, I have finally found some chocolate that I love to eat:
Alter Eco chocolate. Let me share it with you – what I like about it and even the flavours I don’t (after all, we may have differing taste!)
I know a minimum of 2 hours per day thinking about chocolate probably seems obsessive. The truth is, prior to last year, I spent some time as a chocolatier. After finding some chocolate to work with that I adored then having to say goodbye once I decided to close up shop, I realised I took my supply greatly for granted! I already spent much time thinking about chocolate in relation to my own business and creations, but now that I was without a steady supply, all that thinking time went into the quest of a new supply.
All the hours spent mentally, physically and “Google-y” scanning my local area for a suitable chocolate offering finally led to this: Alter Eco chocolate. So I am pleased to share it with you before Easter when our chocolate consumption and general chocolate-longing increases.
The Alter Eco chocolate range consists of a number of chocolate bars as well as a small range of shelf-friendly chocolate truffles. They are all fair trade, made with organic ingredients and the bars are simply packaged in foil and a beautiful FSC Mix Board with the story of the chocolate printed inside. You might also notice on the packaging that it is a carbon neutral product.
For starters - hooray! The chocolate bars are thin! Why am I excited about this, you may ask? I generally only bother with chocolate that is served thin. This is because it snaps beautifully (like good tempered chocolate should1) and takes just the right amount of time to melt in your mouth, so you can really taste it. So only good quality chocolate would bother being thin, because no one wants to really taste mediocre chocolate.
The chocolate has an earthy, flavoursome taste. Not licking-dirt-earthy, but deep-in-nature-earthy! So if you’re used to a bland supermarket chocolate, give yourself a little extra time to appreciate the flavour. The chocolate is rich and sweetly fruity with a smooth texture and, for the dark chocolate especially, it’s not blindingly sweet. It’s the amount of sugar required to really enjoy the taste of the chocolate, but not to be gritty or feel sickly after eating. (Personally, I always find milk chocolate too sweet, so I go for dark, but if you like it sweeter, go for milk…or read on!)
Speaking of sweetness levels, we should also discuss the cocoa solids. A good chocolate bar balances a smooth composition of cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar (plus any other novelties for flavour). Alter Eco chocolate has a fun selection with cocoa solid percentages that vary between flavours from 47% to 85%.
I urge you to choose your favourite bars by checking out the cocoa percentage in the top left corner of the front packaging. In the early days, I found the titles to be somewhat misleading…going home with something with “dark” in the label, only to find that I had milk chocolate. Nevertheless, for any super sweet tooths, it is probably a helpful distinction, since 47% is fairly “dark” for milk chocolate compared to other chocolate bars out there.
HERE ARE MY TOP 3 (Best for the Dark Chocolate Lover):
DARK CACAO (63%) is perfectly yummy. It has a widely satisfying level of cocoa and sweetness, but with extra bits of bitter crunchy goodness (cacoa nibs) for any dark chocolate lover.
BLACKOUT (85%) is the ultimate night-time treat. It’s not for the super sweet-toothed, but great for a dark chocolate enthusiast who wants an experience that will satisfy with just one piece. It’s not very sweet but sweet enough, and can also push you into a more bitter territory where you can taste all the subtleties of the chocolate’s flavour. Don’t share it too freely with friends who love milk chocolate best, but save it for sharing with fellow dark chocolate heralders.
BROWN BUTTER (70%) is a new pleasure of mine! Before trying this, I thought I would be disappointed with the lack of crispness (which can’t be avoided when adding butter to chocolate)…but oh my, the flavour of the buttery goodness makes up for it. Imagine all the good taste of buttered popcorn combined with the deliciousness of dark chocolate. Well that’s the Dark Salted BROWN BUTTER. (If you like salted chocolate, I would choose this over the SEA SALT bar, which I find to be too salty. If you don’t love salted chocolate, you might actually be pleasantly surprised with the taste of butter in the mix.)
Unfortunately, there is no plain old easy pleasing dark 80g bar, however you can get this in a 20g mini bar – it’s called NOIR. However, this absence did lead me to enjoy the BLACKOUT, for which I am very grateful.
So, those are my favourites, but if you’re looking for something safe that will keep everyone happy, I would recommend:
Dark ALMOND (60%) is an old-fashioned and eager-to-please favourite. Provided you like nuts, you can’t go wrong here. You get a little crunch and variation of flavour with the almonds, but without added sweetness or saltiness.
Dark QUINOA (60%) is a happy balance of having something crunchy in there that is neither salty nor sweet. It’s a plain dark bar with a little texture added. I enjoy this but do find it hard to eat slowly, as the crunchy quinoa can be a bit scratchy in your mouth if you’re not a teethy chocolate muncher, but prefer to eat it slowly. For someone looking for that extra punch to a dark chocolate bar, try this one.
Dark MINT (60%) is Alter Eco’s sweeter answer to Dark CACOA – I feel it better appeals to both a dark and milk chocolate crowd. It still has a high enough cocoa solid content to keep the dark chocolate lovers happy, but with little crunchy bursts of sweet mint. I still prefer the Dark CACOA because I have a mild aversion to anything sugary caught in my teeth, but it is delicious nevertheless with the natural peppermint toffee bits. The best mint chocolate bar I've had in quite a while!
Yes, I’ve been a little biased. But rest assured, the milk chocolate is also very delicious, even though there are less milk chocolate bars from which to choose. But fear not, they are both winners and you can’t go wrong:
Mini Dark VELVET (47%) will please a milk chocolate favourer, but will also keep the dark chocolate snobs quietly content with its relatively high cocoa solid content.
Dark Coconut TOFFEE (47%), again with the “dark” in its name, is not to be confused for dark chocolate. Again, it is a slightly darker milk chocolate, but with everything in it to satisfy a sweet-tooth. The coconut toffee adds some extra sugar (which, beware: will get stuck in your teeth), but the flavour of the chocolate itself still holds its own to please everyone.
With so many great options to choose from in the Alter Eco chocolate range, I don’t bother going back for the Dark TWIST or the Deep Dark SEA SALT.
Not loving the Dark TWIST (60%) was a surprise to me because I love a good orange and chocolate combination. But I found that the orange flavour was too consistent throughout the bar for me, so much so that I couldn’t enjoy the chocolate. I believe dark chocolate with orange should be just that, rather than orange chocolate. I prefer the orange flavour to surprise me in bursts, rather than an evenly spread flavour that unveils its mystery too quickly.
With the Deep Dark SEA SALT (70%), there’s no fancy way to say it…I found it too salty. I couldn’t run from the salt and felt it overpowered the chocolate. If you’ve tasted salted chocolate before and wanted more salt, perhaps this is for you. But if you have previously enjoyed salted chocolate, I think you’ll find this too salty and suggest you try the Salted BROWN BUTTER bar instead.
I say shelf-friendly because I am used to eating fresh cream truffles, which should be eaten right away to enjoy their full glory. But these ones need to sit on a shop shelf, so as you might imagine, are not made with fresh cream. I’ll admit, I was a bit wary before trying, but was pleasantly surprised and couldn’t be stopped reaching for another!
They get their soft centre from coconut oil, which has a very low setting temperature, so remains soft unlike cocoa butter. I would prefer for the crisp tempered casing to be thinner, but as I said, this didn’t deter me from wanting another. And if you’ve tried other “shelved” (not fresh) truffles, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the small amount of ingredients used to create these treasures. They make a very nice gift
In the truffles, I have only tried the milk chocolate VELVET TRUFFLES, simply due to the limited range at my local shops. I am eager to try the dark chocolate BLACK TRUFFLES (and will update you with a comment after doing so), but will probably skip the SEA SALT TRUFFLES on the assumption that they may be as salty as the bar (but tell us otherwise if you have tried them!) and the SALTED CARAMEL TRUFFLES…simply because I don’t like caramel, so don’t let that stop you if you do!
Speaking from my sweep of the Central Coast NSW, you can buy Alter Eco chocolate in person at Gnostic Organics at Woy Woy, and sometimes you’ll find a small range at Ooomph Foodstore at East Gosford. If you’re not on the Central Coast and have Alter Eco chocolate in your local shop, please share this info with us! (After all, if your fellow readers start buying it too, that will mean a more reliable supply at your local shop for a more reliable customer base…a win-win.)
Alternatively, you can buy Alter Eco chocolate online. Do a simple google search of your own and you’ll find no shortage or suppliers.
1. No, I’m not talking about chocolate that’s not angry, I’m talking about the process of tempering couverture chocolate. If you want to know more, see http://chocomap.com/chocolate-making-tempering.php for a good explanation.
Images: All images have been sourced from the Alter Eco website at http://www.alterecofoods.com/product-category/chocolate/.