Chocolate of the sea

27 09 2010

Hello, my name is Julia, and I am a chocoholic.

I’d like to say I’ve never met a chocolate bar I didn’t like, but that’s not entirely true.  I don’t like chocolate bars with almonds in them.  I’m not a huge fan of almonds.  They get in the way.

But this particular chocolate bar was almond-free.  In fact, it was just your average chocolate bar, with one deviation: someone, somewhere along the way, decided it would be a good idea to add salt to it.

Salt and chocolate…interesting, but not impossible, I suppose.  I mean, chocolate-covered pretzels are great.  So is Chocolate Turtle Chex Mix.  So sure, I’d never heard of a chocolate bar with some extra salt added, but it couldn’t be that bad.

What stood out to me was that the self-proclaimed special ingredient was no ordinary salt: it was sea salt. I suppose this makes it a gourmet food.  I wouldn’t really know, because the only known contact I’d had with sea salt up until this point was when I used sea salt bath scrub, and also when I swam in the Pacific Ocean.

I’ve heard sea salt marketed as a healthy, organic alternative to “normal” table salt.  (Evaporation equals superiority, apparently.)  According to Mayo Clinic, however, the nutritional values are the same.  The only significant difference between the two is flavor.

So with that in mind, it was time to see what effect a little bit of salt extracted from evaporated ocean water would have on a bar of chocolate.

Slowly, almost reverently (since the packaging was pretty), I tore my way through the cardboard till I reached the chocolatey goodness inside.  It looked like any ordinary chocolate bar.  I don’t know if I was expecting to see salt-encrusted chocolate, little sea urchins clinging to the brown squares, or what, but I was somehow surprised at how normal it looked.  How much different could a little sea salt make?

I took a bite (or, more accurately, put an entire square in my mouth).  Since I missed the part of the package that read “DARK” in capital letters, I expected it to be sweet.  It wasn’t.  Instead, it tasted bitter — like dark chocolate should be, though a little stronger than normal.  I didn’t taste salt, though.  Toward the end, when I finally swallowed the chunk of chocolate, there was a slight salty aftertaste.  Very slight.  I stood looking at the rest of the bar for a second, a little disappointed.

And then, out of nowhere, cottonmouth attacked.

(By cottonmouth I mean the condition of having a dry mouth…not the snake.  I did not have an Indiana Jones moment, just so we’re clear.)

I whirled around and flung open the refrigerator door, only to have my hopes shattered.  “There’s no milk!” I croaked out.  (All right, so I’m exaggerating about the croaking.)  I ran — yes, ran — out to the garage fridge, grabbed a gallon without slowing down, and flew back into the kitchen to pour myself a tall glass.  I chugged it.

Lesson #1 in grade school chemistry: salt makes you thirsty.

Once I’d downed a second glass of milk, I picked up the chocolate package, wondering what exactly drove Lindt to add “a touch of sea salt” to some dark chocolate.

The taste reveals a harmony of unexpected contrasts: the intensity of dark chocolate and the delicate seasoning of hand harvested Fleur de Sel sea salt crystals.

I got the chocolate intensity part from the bitterness.  What I didn’t get was the salty “seasoning.”  Maybe it was too delicate to be noticeable.

But it wasn’t too delicate to make me incredibly thirsty afterward.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed at the results of this little experiment.  I had expected a more interesting, complicated taste from a combination like salt and chocolate.  What I got instead was ordinary chocolate with a side of thirst.  Maybe the bitterness overrode the saltiness, or maybe my taste buds are failing me in my old age.  Whatever the case, when I (in a chocoholic stupor, of course) finish the rest of the bar in one sitting, I’ll be sure to keep a glass (or two) of cold milk handy.


Ingredients: Sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), soya lecithin (emulsifier), sea salt and vanilla.
$3.49 at Safeway
Pros: Chocolate.
Cons: Intense thirst.

Cherries gone wild

19 09 2010

When I was in kindergarten, I learned that cherries are red. The sky is blue, grass is green, lemons are yellow and cherries are red.

Seeing these on the shelf at AJ’s defied everything I had ever understood about color. My kindergarten self would have had a complex.

A blue cherry makes no sense. Everyone knows cherries can’t be blue. But lo and behold, here these were, in all their neon glory. And actually, this jar was only part of a whole rainbow of cherries on the shelf. Surrounding it were yellow cherries, green cherries, orange cherries, brown cherries… My head started hurting a little.

Now, odd-colored fruit is one thing. But these weren’t just colored differently — they were flavored differently. Lemon flavored cherries, lime flavored cherries, wild berry flavored cherries, chocolate flavored cherries… Now, hold up. Is it just me, or aren’t cherries supposed to taste like cherries? Doesn’t re-flavoring them defeat the purpose? Were these cherries freaks of nature?

The only normal jar in the bunch was the one filled with maraschino cherries. Those were red, like cherries should be, and I knew they were normal because I eat them on top of my ice cream. The rest of the jars had me curious, especially the blue one: wild berry flavored cherries. Isn’t a cherry a berry? Don’t they grow in the wild? What made these so special (aside from their rather…glowing appearance)? I had to know, so I snatched the jar off the shelf and bought it.

When I opened the jar and looked inside, the sight of blue cherries (such an oxymoron, still) floating around in bright blue juice didn’t really seem all that appetizing to me. Hesitatingly, I reached in and fished out a piece of the supposed fruit, the vibrant juice dripping from my fingers.

My first impression upon eating the cherry was that it was sweet. Really sweet. Not sweet like a strawberry or an apple or a (normal) cherry; more along the lines of let’s-see-if-a-spoonful-of-sugar-really-works-like-Mary-Poppins-says-it-does kind of sweet.  (Don’t tell me you never tried that as a kid.)  I think the strangest thing was that it didn’t taste like a cherry. Not one bit.

It had the texture of a maraschino cherry. It looked like one, it crunched like one…but it tasted like the love child of berry blue Kool-Aid and cotton candy.

(Yes, I know they could never have a baby cherry. Just roll with it.)

While it was certainly an interesting (and very sweet) flavor, I’m not sure what purpose it serves in cherry form. I think cherries taste fine just the way they are, without needing to be flavored like berries or limes or lemons…or whatever.  (The chocolate flavored ones made some sense, though personally I think I’d prefer regular chocolate-covered cherries.) Maybe you could put a wild berry cherry on top of your ice cream sundae, if you felt like those maraschinos were getting boring. But honestly, it’s sweet enough as it is that I feel like adding it to ice cream might put someone in a sugar coma.

The bottom line is, wild berry flavored cherries aren’t terrible, but I don’t see any practical purpose for them.  (Other than maybe a brighter substitute for blueberries on my mom’s yearly Fourth of July cake…or maybe I can take them along to the next black-light party I go to and wear them in my hair.)  If you can think of a better use for these, send your ideas my way. I’d love to hear them…especially seeing as I still have a nearly full jar of these sitting in my refrigerator.


Ingredients: Cherries, sugar/high fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, added as preservatives, calcium chloride, natural and artificial flavor, PD&C Blue #1, and sulfur dioxide (as a preservative).
$5.99 at AJ’s Fine Foods
Pros: Vibrant blue color if you’re trying to decorate something with oddly colored fruit. Perfect if you’re looking for blue raspberry cotton candy in cherry form.
Cons: Overpoweringly sweet; seemingly pointless; kind of pricey.

I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts

12 09 2010

Coconut juice. In a can. With pulp.

Oh, what’s that? You’re stuck on the title? Sorry; I couldn’t resist a Lion King reference. Not when it comes to coconuts.  (Actually, the original song was written by Fred Heatherton in 1944 — fun fact of the day.)

Now where was I? Oh, right — coconut juice, in a can. With pulp. As I meandered down the soft drinks aisle, this stood out to me. Maybe it was the bright label, or the fact that the can looked like recycled drainpipe, or maybe it was simply the fact that “coconut juice” sounds a little incongruous next to all the cola and cream soda. Whatever the case, I was intrigued.

Lately I’ve seen coconut water cropping up at grocery stores and even the local Circle K. It usually comes in those little cartons, and it’s touted as a health drink. I don’t know what the difference between coconut water and coconut juice is, though a little research seems to indicate they’re equivalent. Seeing coconut juice in a can, though, with pulp (because, yes, I’m mentioning the can and the pulp once again) struck me as odd. And almost repulsive.

I refrigerated the can first (because warm coconut juice does not sound appealing), and shook it before I drank it, since it contained pulp. (I think I made the right decision, because I later noticed that the can says, “Chill and shake well before serving.”) Before drinking it, I actually poured some into a glass, just to see how it would look.

Pond water? Milk that’s been left on the counter for a few years? This might prove interesting.

I took a tentative sip and mulled it over for awhile, unsure what to think. The aftertaste was stronger than the first impression, but I couldn’t quite determine what the flavor reminded me of. I took another drink and the answer came to me: skim milk. Very, very, very skim. With pulp.

I guess it makes sense. After all, coconut milk comes from coconuts (shocking, I know) and it had to have gotten its name from somewhere. The coconut juice was also a little sweet, especially the aftertaste, even though the can said “unsweetened.” Since coconuts are debatably a fruit, this also makes some sense.

I’m still not sure how necessary the pulp was. For someone like me who can’t even eat yogurt with fruit in it, all it did was trigger my gag reflex. But it most likely strengthened the flavor of the juice, though the pulp itself seemingly had no flavor. (Because, yes, I tried it by itself.)

Maybe my taste buds are still recovering from the green pepper jelly of last week’s escapades, but the coconut juice didn’t do much for me. It was a little boring. Sort of like watered-down milk with a dash of sugar.

Amy & Brian, the company that makes the juice, also sells pulp-free and lime varieties. The coconut juice with lime actually sounds pretty good. (Though that might just be because it reminds me of the Harry Nilsson song.) I may give it try, if I can find it next time I’m meandering down the soft drinks aisle. Until then, as far as health drinks go, I think I’ll stick to plain old water.


Ingredients: Young coconut juice and coconut pulp.
$1.79 at Fry’s Marketplace
Pros: Healthy, natural alternative to sugary drinks; palatable flavor. Also alleviates hangovers, for those of you party types out there.
Cons: The taste was a little boring; it seemed to be lacking something. A flavored version of the juice (like lime) might go over better.

Not exactly strawberry jam

5 09 2010

It looked like something that had come out of the neighbor boy’s nose. Lots of it. In a jar.

Definitely irresistible.

If it’s sitting on a shelf in the food section of the grocery store, it must be edible, right?  (Except those tuna strainers they sometimes have hanging in the canned meat aisle. Don’t eat those.) This stuff was located in the jelly aisle right between the apple butter and the apricot jam.  How bad could it be?

But…green sludge. In a jar. My mind and my gag reflex had a wrestling match for a few minutes, and in the end, my mind won out. I bought it.

Now the dilemma: how to eat it. The label said “green pepper jelly” (which, by the way, seems like a complete oxymoron to me), but I had my doubts about smearing it on a slice of bread with some peanut butter. So I referred back to the trusty label.

“Suggested uses: May be spread over or mixed with cream cheese for a wonderful hors d’oeuvre. Use as a glaze over meat, poultry or fish. Great on hot biscuits.”

Since I was trying to get as much of the original flavor as I could without eating the jelly straight out of the jar (I have my limits), I decided to go for the hot biscuit option. Unfortunately, I don’t keep many hot biscuits lying around, so I improvised with the poor man’s biscuit: a toasted bagel.

I opened the jar and gave the jelly a curious sniff. It wasn’t even a big sniff – but it was all that I needed. That jelly was strong stuff. And it didn’t really smell “wonderful” or “great”…more along the lines of my-cat-tried-eating-grass-again-and-obviously-it-didn’t-work-for-her. But I’m not one to judge a book by its cover.

So I spread a healthy amount of jelly on the bagel, pushed any thoughts of cat vomit from my mind, and took a bite.

1 second of chewing: Hmm, this doesn’t really taste like anyth–

I can still taste it. Even now, an hour later, I can still taste it. I will never eat again.

It was spicy. And make no mistake, I like spicy food…if it also tastes good. But this wasn’t just spicy – it was sweet. And that’s just as much of an oxymoron as “green pepper jelly.” I probably should have expected it, but considering that my taste buds are still in shock, I obviously didn’t.

While I was busy trying to wake up my taste buds by washing the flavor down with soda, my biology-student sister walked into the room. “It smells like a dissection,” she announced before she’d even come near the jar of jelly. Yeah, I thought. Something like that. (I would have voiced my agreement, but my tongue was in shock, remember?)

Who exactly came up with this stuff? Did some farmer, somewhere, plant green peppers next to his strawberries, and when it came time to make strawberry jam, did he think, “Ah, what the heck, let’s throw some of these peppers in a pot and dump some sugar in”? I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that there are plenty of recipes out there for the jelly. One site in particular suggests giving it as a Christmas gift because of its color. Now I know what to get Great-Aunt Marge in revenge for last year’s fruitcake.

The Food Network gives a five-star recipe for green pepper jelly, and another site suggests pepper jelly and cream cheese sandwiches as an apparent spin-off of the ol’ PB&J.  Bon appetit.

The bottom line is this: I know now that I will probably never eat anything involving green pepper jelly, especially not a bagel. But it’s food, and it’s probably edible…and someone, somewhere, likes it.


Ingredients: High fructose corn syrup, water, green bell peppers, apple cider vinegar, cane sugar, pectin, citric acid, minced onion, capsicum and green food color.
Price: $2.87 at Wal-Mart
Pros: Green is a pretty color.
Cons: Odd spicy-but-sweet flavor; not any more appetizing than its appearance would suggest. Might be good with cream cheese, but I say leave the cream cheese alone.

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