Tuesday, November 23, 2010

stress relief isn't always chocolate-flavored

It's here!  The moment you've all been waiting for - the post for which you've been holding your breath!  The Great Vegan Chocolate Round-Up.  Yes, I am a woman of my word.  But first, a lesson in stress relief, should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being destitute in chocolate possession.

Mashing a can of black beans until they look like the picture above just might be the best way to relieve stress I've found in 2010.  Sure, eating too much chocolate and occasionally drowning in wine might be fun, but beating the pulp (quite literally) out of a pile of beans is pretty darn rewarding.

What was even more rewarding was when they [eventually] held together and really did let me form them into Better Bean Burgers from Vegan on the Cheap.

Mister and I agree that I should have smushed the patties a little thinner to make them more crunchy and less mushy, but the Vital Wheat Gluten ended up doing exactly what it was supposed to and forming these into some pretty "meaty" (if not a little squishy) "burgers."

I placed each burger between two halves of an Arnold's Sandwich Thin and served with a healthy side of fries.  What you can't see in this picture is Mister's healthy side of condiments, because heaven forbid he should taste the food.  Anyway, the Better Bean Burgers were tasty and relatively simple to make once the beans were mashed.  Besides, I'm pretty sure I'll always have days when a little bean-mashing might help, so it's good to know I can turn that aggression into a tasty meal!

Now, my patient, dedicated readers, it's time for dessert (long overdue).

By way of introduction and explanation, I set out on this journey quite selfishly.  I love chocolate and I love excuses to eat chocolate.  That being said, I especially enjoy savoring my chocolate and I would rather have one really good small square than an entire bar of something I'm eating just because it's chocolate.  Life is too short and calories too precious for either to be squandered on less than the best chocolate.  While trying to discover the best ways to spend my time, money, and calories, I figured I would share my findings so that you might find it easier to navigate the road of vegan confections (if you're new to this game) or possibly get a pointer from someone who has traveled this road before.  Katie, I'm looking at you.

The contenders?
  • Theo Mint Dark Chocolate 70% cacao
  • Bug Bites by Endangered Species
  • Equal Exchange Very Dark Chocolate 71% cacao
  • Newman's Own Organics Dark Chocolate 54% cacao
  • Green & Black's Dark 70%
  • I very much enjoyed the Vivani I bought a few weeks before this idea popped into my head, but I wanted to focus on chocolates I hadn't tried yet, so you can see what I have to say about Vivani here, with the added endorsement that I will absolutely buy it again.
  • I have had Endangered Chocolate bars before and find them completely enjoyable.  Feel free to read about my first encounter with this vegan chocolate here.
The Criteria:  I tasted, savored, and chewed my way through these delights with these things in mind:
  • texture
  • "darkness"
  • savorability (on a scale of 1-5, 1 being the least and 5 being the greatest)
  • nutritional profile
  • company karma
Theo Mint Dark Chocolate was first on this reviewer's tongue.  It had a smooth, velvety texture, as well as a bittersweet darkness that was perfectly accentuated by the mint, resulting in a savorability score of 4.  I liked that there were only 5 ingredients, although as I made my way through the rest of my chocolates, I discovered that to be a theme.  That just shows how brainwashed I had been by commercial candy producers, to be impressed by simple, pure ingredients with no more than three syllables per word.

The whole bar was 420 calories, 34g fat (20g sat.fat), 22g sugar, 8g fiber, and 6g protein.  However, one of the things I enjoyed most about this bar was that it was divided into 6 perfectly-sized mini-bars (think Hershey's fun-sized), which make a much more palatable nutritional profile.  Assuming you can practice self-control and eat one sixth at a time, you'll only set yourself back 70 calories, 6g fat and 3.5g sugar, which is a small price to pay for dessert.

In terms of company karma, Theo has a pretty good leg up on other chocolate companies.  They were the first organic, fair trade chocolatier in North America and they invite consumers to visit the facility in Seattle.  "Best of all, Theo Chocolate tastes amazing because it's made with love, integrity and only the highest quality, sustainably sourced ingredients."  This is a company you and I can feel good about supporting.

 Next up, we have Bug Bites, individually wrapped .35oz pieces of dark chocolate by Endangered Species.  I grabbed one of these little guys on my way through check-out at Essene one day, figuring it was the perfect size to be a nice dessert one night without making a commitment to a whole bar of chocolate.  The texture was smooth enough to seem creamy, earning it a savorability rating of 4.5 and the dark but sweet flavor brought out the deep berry notes in the Beaujolais I was drinking alongside.  Something I found a bit alarming and a little charming was when I opened the wrapper, a small square picture of a Green Darner dragonfly greeted me.  I don't know why I wasn't expecting that.  Bug Bites are certified organic by both the USDA and Oregon Tilth.  They are also gluten free, kosher, and vegan.  A serving size (see nutritional label ^) is 4 pieces, but I found one to be completely adequate for satiating my chocolate cravings for only 50 calories, 4g fat, and 2.5 g sugars.

 Equal Exchange Very Dark Chocolate (71%) absolutely lived up to its name.  The chocolate was extremely dark with a strange hint of fruit juice at the end.  I couldn't quite make out whether it seemed to be a berry or citrus flavor, but it wasn't overwhelming either way.  For savorability, this bad boy was the favorite, coming in at a perfect 5.  The chocolate is fair trade, kosher, organic, and the cacao comes from small worker-owned co-ops in Latin America.  If that doesn't get you karma points, please tell me what does!  
The nutritional information is a little alarming, but once again, this bar can be broken into sixths for long-term enjoyment, bringing your evening dessert to 92 calories, 7g fat (4g sat.) and 4.5g sugar for 4 squares of dark chocolatey goodness.

Newman's Own Organics Dark Chocolate (54%) was far sweeter than the others and almost fudge-like in texture.  Honestly, it was cloyingly sweet and it may have been the lower cacao content, but I would be borderline on labeling this as dark chocolate.  I suppose its saving grace was the lack of dairy that would deem it Milk Chocolate, although that does have me pondering what SoyMilk Chocolate might taste/feel like.  Unfortunately, the overwhelming sweetness lowered its rank on savorability to a 3.  The whole bar has 470 calores, 32g fat (19g sat), 41g sugars, 4g protein.  The bar is divided into 8 squares and 2 seemed an adequate dessert which would still set you up with the scariest nutritional profile yet: 117 calories, 8g fat, and 10g sugar.  As for karma to balance that mess out?  Well, they are USDA certified organic as well as Rain Forest alliance certified.  I love their cookies, but I'm really not impressed with the chocolate.

 Green & Black's Dark 70% will bring this party home.  I picked up one of the "fun-sized" bars, weighing in at 1.2 oz, which is only slightly above the recommendation for daily dark chocolate intake.  Yes, that's what I said - due to the happiness-inducing qualities of the flavanoids (antioxidents) present in dark chocolate, health/wellness professionals recommend eating 1 oz of dark chocolate daily, especially through the winter months when people are at risk of developing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  That's right, folks, put away your artificial sun lamps and buy yourself 100 oz of dark chocolate!

Anyway, this little bugger is the only chocolate on our round-up with a foreign accent: distributed internationally, these tasty little treats were made in Italy!  Like the other chocolates reviewed, G&Bs are organic and paired well with Beaujolais.  This bar was adequately dark, but not outstanding and not quite as smooth as the other chocolates.  The wrapper is sophisticated and attractive, but the chocolate itself started out a little "waxy" for lack of a better term, which influenced its overall savorability, earning another 3.  The best thing about this bar is its size - I found half the bar to be quite sufficient for an after-dinner treat, but even if you ate the entire "Little Taste of Green & Black's" you would still only eat 190 calories, 14g fat (8g sat), 10g sugars, 4g fiber, and 3g protein.

So, there you have it - my Super-Duper, Organic, Good-Karma, Vegan Dark Chocolate Round-up.  I sure hope it was worth the wait!  Did I miss anything you were hoping to see?  Did I miss anything you love and think I should eat?  Let me know!  Until tomorrow, Champagne wishes and dark chocolate dreams!


  1. It was definitely worth the wait! Thank you so much for taking this difficult mantle of chocolate tastership upon yourself; it was a noble act. :P

    Seriously though, thanks for the reviews! It sounds like we have similar tastes when it comes to chocolate, so I now know what to look for when a craving strikes. And I've been noticing some not-too-pleasant early-winter blues setting in, so maybe I should make it a point to try some of these!

  2. Kelly, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Let me know what you end up with and what you think!

  3. Mmmm... I love dark chocolate! I tried some rice milk chocolate the other day and it was just way too sweet. Aside from B&G (which is no longer vegan in Australia, apparently) I can't get these brands here. But that Equal Exchange Very Dark Chocolate sounds just so delicious!

  4. Susan, that's tragic. Maybe you can order online?