Does this mean there’s a dream job opening?

Apparently you can make 30,000 British pounds a year as “Britain’s chief chocolate taster,” but you’ll also pack on about 28 pounds (weight-wise) in the process. At least, that was the experience of Angus Kennedy. According to Metro News of the UK, Angus Kennedy is stepping down from his chocolate tasting job because he put on too much weight and his cholesterol got too high.

Yikes! No worries, readers. I had my cholesterol checked about a year ago, and the nurse declared that I had the lowest HDL cholesterol levels that she’d seen all day. Also I’m not eating 2 lbs of chocolate a day (thank goodness!).

Sunkist Fruit Gems

Jelly Belly recently sent me several free samples of their new products, including a bag of Sunkist Fruit Gems. Wait a second, you may be thinking – what’s new about Sunkist Fruit Gems? Rosa, you took a picture of some back in 2007!

Turns out Fruit Gems are new again. Since Jelly Belly bought the Sunkist line, they revamped it to make it with all natural ingredients. Consequently, their colors are now far more muted without artificial help.

The all natural Fruit Gems come in orange, lemon, grapefruit, raspberry, and blueberry. My bag of 9 was missing the raspberry flavor. Any mathematicians out there want to report on the probability of that happening?

The Fruit Gems retained their original texture – a soft fruit-pate with a granulated sugar shell. It yielded instantly to my bite, and its exposed surfaces were perfectly smooth, with a glossy feel on my tongue.

Orange was mildly sweet with a mellow candied orange flavor that lacked any zesty bite or citrus sourness. Compared to the Sunkist Orange Slices, which I also got as free samples, it was rather muted in flavor.

Lemon had a bright citrus zestiness and a postively tangy lemon flavor. There was a slight bitterness to the finish that I really enjoyed, as it made the flavor feel more genuine.

Grapefruit was pink and tasted just like grapefruit with its characteristic pithiness. Here, too, the finish had an enjoyable bitterness to it.

Finally, the maroon gem was blueberry. Its flavor was more like blueberry jam or that blueberry-ish stuff that they’ll put on your pancakes at IHOP: blueberry-esque rather than like the fresh fruit. It had a deep red fruit flavor and some noticeable tannins.

I enjoyed the lemon and grapefruit flavored ones. Blueberry was decent, and orange was nice but could have been punchier. Overall, I think they still get an OM, though I should note these also come individually wrapped in bulk bins, so you can pick and choose your favorite flavors.

If you want a second opinion, you can read Cybele’s take on them on her site.

Toblerone – Crunchy Salted Almond

Kraft was showing off this Crunchy Salted Almond Toblerone at Sweets and Snacks this year. They were melting it down and giving it out as fondue samples. I managed to charm my way into a free sample for review from the nice ladies at Kraft.

This Toblerone was described as “Swiss milk chocolate with salted caramelized almonds and honey and almond nougat.” For comparative purposes, regular Toblerone is described in the same way, just minus the salted caramelized almonds part.

While regular Toblerones are already pretty crunchy from the nougat bits, this was even crunchier with the added bits of almonds. Those almond bits were variable in size and definitely asserted their presence in both flavor and texture.

They added a strong crunchiness and intense nuttiness. The hit of saltiness that they brought was also quite noticeable.

The honey nougat bits were candied and sweet with an interesting squishy/squeaky texture. Some bits crunched while others got flattened and half embedded in my molars.

The milk chocolate was sweet and thick with a dusky caramel finish that went well with the added salt. If it was the same milk chocolate as that of the regular Toblerone, the extra saltiness helped tone down the chocolate’s sweetness.

It got a bit too sweet in the finish for my taste, though I found it less cloying than regular Toblerone. I think the dark chocolate version is the best balanced Toblerone variety.

Still, I really enjoyed this, and the salted almonds are a great addition. I’ll happily finish my current mountain range of these, but I don’t think I’d buy them again. An OM.

Playing with modeling clay may reduce chocolate cravings – but probably not

Here’s another weird candy-related science from Discover Magazine’s Discoblog: “Use of a clay modeling task to reduce chocolate craving.” This one’s a little closer to my field of expertise than the last one, so I feel more qualified to break it down a bit more.

Participants in the study were asked to refrain from eating chocolate on the day of the study and to refrain from eating or drinking in the 2 hours before the study. At the start of the study, they went through a “craving induction procedure,” in which they were shown some chocolate that they could have only after they finished the experiment and were asked to think about how tasty they thought the chocolate would be. After this “craving induction,” they were asked to report how much they craved chocolate.

Next, participants did one of three tasks while the forbidden chocolates sat on the table in front of them. Contrary to what the Discoblog’s chosen image may have you believe, some people were asked to make generic shapes (not mini chocolate treats) with modeling clay while they could see neither their hands nor the clay. This was thought to serve as a distraction to the visuospatial system.

The other two sets of participants did either a counting backwards by 3’s task to stress the verbal working memory system, or a “sit still and allow your mind to wander” task to control for the passage of time. All participants did their assigned tasks for 10 minutes and then reported their chocolate craving levels again.

The authors report that the clay task and the counting backwards task both induced a significant change (decrease) in chocolate craving level from before to after the task, as compared to the change that occurred around the “do nothing” task. So yay! Playing with clay or counting backwards reduces chocolate cravings, right? Not exactly… check out their first figure:

Their error bars are really giant – error bars are those vertical lines on top of the bars; the ones in the figure above represent the variability in the data. In simplified terms, error bars can represent the portion of the graph in which you believe the true value of what you’re trying to measure lies.

Overlapping error bars are bad if you’re trying to show a difference because the true values for each condition could be in that overlapping portion. Just about all of their error bars overlap, including the key ones: before and after the counting task and before and after the clay task.

So takeaway lesson: don’t invest in a bunch of Play-Doh to cure your chocolate cravings just yet – though I bet if someone wanted to market a crazy new Play-Doh based weightloss technique and cited this study, they could still make a boatload of money.

Nutffles – Hazelnut, Almond, Red Velvet

Nutffles was a company that was new to me until I visited their booth at Sweets and Snacks. Nutffles is supposed to be a portmanteau for nut truffle (and also happens to cause some middle-school-boy giggles when said out loud).

I picked up free samples of their Hazelnut, Almond, and Red Velvet truffles. The samples that I got came individually wrapped and labeled, though from their website it also looks like they come in a four-pack.

The Hazelnut and Almond nutffles both had a lone nut in their center that was suspended in a thick, creamy, and smooth chocolate ganache. It was all surrounded by a crunchy wafer cookie, topped with a few rice crispies, and covered in milk chocolate. In the case of the Hazelnut nutffle, it reminded me of a naked Ferrero Rocher.

The texture on these from the mix of crispy wafer cookie, rice crisps, and smooth ganache was pretty great, and the whole nut in the center brought extra roasted nuttiness. I found them to be a tad too sweet for my taste, but they were otherwise enjoyable.

Red Velvet was covered in a cream cheese flavored white chocolate and had an almond in the center. The coating had a sour cream cheesey tinge that I really enjoyed (I’m a sucker for cream cheese frosting), and the red-tinged center had a nice cocoa finish.

I think these are all OM-worthy, though Red Velvet was my favorite. Can there be more cream cheese/cheesecake flavored candies in the world, please?

Sour Patch Kids contest and giveaway

Sour Patch Kids is currently running a Facebook campaign that extends their promotion of Sour Patch Kids as little trouble makers that do “sour” things and then try to make up for it with a small, “sweet” gesture. It’s the case of The People vs Sour Patch Kids, and the trial’s playing out over Facebook.

If you visit their website, you can upload photos or videos of how you’ve been wronged by Sour Patch Kids and hope for a personalized video rebuttal from their lawyer.

To further promote the trial, they’re helping me give y’all the chance to win some Sour Patch Kids candies and t-shirts. To enter, leave a comment naming something sour or sweet that you’ve done recently. I’ll select my favorite sour comment and my favorite sweet comment to win, and an additional 3rd winner will be randomly selected from the remaining entries.

U.S. readers only, please, and make sure you leave a valid email address in the mail field (it will only be used to contact the winners). Contest closes at 11:59 PM EST on July 31st, 2012. Good luck!

Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut bar

I got this Peanut bar as a free sample from the Justin’s booth at Sweets and Snacks, along with the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups that I reviewed last Friday. The wrapper describes it as “dark chocolate, peanuts, caramel, nougat.”

The bar was a bottom layer of stiffly chewy nougat topped with peanuts and caramel, then all covered in dark chocolate. The whole bar was on the lumpy side and had an uneven texture when chewed.

The caramel top layer was softly chewy and tasted lightly sweet with a tinge of burnt sugar to the finish. The bits of peanuts were pretty ensconced in the caramel. They had an incredible roasted nuttiness to them that really elevated this treat with its fresh flavor.

The nougat layer was jaw-workingly chewy and tasted of toasty starch, a hint of marshmallow sweetness, and a dry peanut roastiness. I think there may have been peanut butter mixed into it.

I really enjoyed this treat. It wasn’t too sweet and had a wonderfully fresh peanuttiness throughout the bar that somehow made it feel more wholesome. An OM.

Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

I’ve never been an, “OMG PEANUT BUTTER!” person, so though I’ve seen Justin’s peanut butter cups at Whole Foods for ages, I’ve never felt the urge to pick up a pack. When they were being given out as free samples at Sweets and Snacks, however, I made sure to get one!

The cups came two to a pack, each sitting loosely in a little white paper cup. They were gorgeous and well-formed, with well-defined fluted edges.

The dark chocolate was creamy with a smooth melt that had a lightly fatty airy feel. It tasted of dark chocolate cocoa with a hint of fruity finish – maybe cherry?

The peanut butter in the center was quite dry with a slight grit and the occasional larger bit of not-fully-ground nut. It had a great roasted golden nuttiness and a salty finish.

While saltiness is usually a boon in a chocolate+peanut butter treat, here the salt was just a bit too heavy-handed for my taste.

Still, I really appreciated the elevated quality of the fresh-tasting peanut butter. I’m going to hunt down the milk chocolate version of these to see if the sweeter milk chocolate is a better balance for the relatively saltier peanut butter. An O for the dark chocolate version.

Peanut Butter Cup Science

Here’s a candy-related science paper that I’ll never actually read in its entirety. Via Discover Magazine’s Discoblog, here’s an article called, “Oil migration in chocolate-peanut butter confectionary as a function of chocolate formulation.”

As best as I can tell from the abstract, scientists used MRI to measure the spatial and temporal changes in peanut oil in chocolate + peanut butter cups when different formulations of chocolate were used and at two different temperatures. At 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), everything stays put. At 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), the peanut oil starts moving around.

It seems kind of, “Well duh” that high temperatures are worse for keeping peanut butter cups consistent. I’d guess, however, that their tests of the different chocolate formulations may help candy makers choose their optimal “chocolate particle size, milk fat content, and emulsifier level,” which is less obvious. Your tax dollars at work, folks!