Back in July 2014, I endeavored to cut out a lot of sugar from my diet – things like cold cereal, sugar in my tea, cookies, cakes, pastry, etc.
One thing I haven’t given up is chocolate. No way. No day. I’m a veritable chocoholic. Some of you will probably call me a food snob, but I’ve cultivated a taste for organic dark chocolate, around 70-72 percent cocoa content. Go any higher and I think the chocolate starts to taste chalky and kind of like eating a teaspoon-full of baking chocolate. Blech.
Go any lower and chocolate becomes sweet enough to kick me into overdrive with how much I want to consume.
Along with my abiding jones for chocolate, I’ve developed an affinity for chocolate with chili. Chocolate w/ chili started getting popular a few years back – though don’t quote me on the exact time frame (although I distinctly recall a scene in the 2000 film Chocolat when Vianne, played by French actress Juliet Binoche, added chili to her chocolate to woo Roux, played by Johnny Depp, and cast a spell over the townsfolk of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain).
Doing some online research, I found pairing chocolate with chili is a centuries-old tradition of the Mayans and Aztecs. Plus, those who enjoy mole’ sauce may be aware it’s made with chocolate too. Well, it’s online research – take it for what it’s worth, folks.
I’ve tried to do my own unscientific research on the best chocolate chili bars. I typically have one or two pieces in the afternoon, paired with unsweetened Earl Grey tea. The bergamot in the EG tea seems to enhance the taste of chocolate and the heat of the tea matches the heat of the chili and allows the chocolate to spread beautifully over the tongue, deepening its flavor.
My passion was first fired when I ate a Trader Joe’s chili cinnamon chocolate bar that was part of holiday chocolate flight gift. I saved it for last since I thought it was going to be dreadful, like its counterpart, chocolate with potato chip shards, salt and pepper. That was truly nasty. There’s only so far you can take gourmet, I think.
But TJ’s chili cinnamon bar was by far the best bar in the package, in my opinion. The chili was delicious and the cinnamon seemed an essential part of what made it delectable. I’ve longed for another bar since December and they’re just not something TJ’s carries off-season. Guess I’ll have to wait until next Xmas.
So here’s my opinion about the chili chocolate bars I’ve been able to find (by no means exhaustive – rather a delightful work in progress):
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Chili & Cinnamon
As mentioned above, this started my love affair. I ate this back around Christmas 2014. Now that I’ve eaten other dark chocolate chili bars, I’d be curious to go back and taste this one again and see if it still stands up as my favorite. My tongue is no longer virgin to the taste of chili in chocolate.
Theo Organic Fair Trade chili 70 percent dark chocolate
This was a much coveted bar. I couldn’t find this anywhere around where I live. I had to order this through Amazon and it took about two weeks to come from a pharmacy in Los Angeles. The bar was very good – smooth, pleasantly citrusy, with a nice heat that settles at the back of the throat once you swallow a bite-full. Ingredients include ancho chili powder, cayenne chili powder, ground vanilla bean, cinnamon and orange essential oil.
Update: I discovered this bar at People’s Food Co-Op in Ann Arbor! It’s my favorite co-op store in the city and I was so excited to see it! I bought two!
Lake Champlain Chocolates Grace Under Fire Pistachio & Red Pepper
Named for rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, from Burlington, Vermont — where Lake Champlain Chocolates is located. It has pistachios, cinnamon, organic vanilla powder and red pepper flakes. This is a delicious bar, though not very hot. The heat comes well after it’s swallowed. The blocks are a little bit thicker, which gives it a nice bite. It’s 54 percent cocoa, making it a sweeter bar than the 70 percent+. I love the pistachios. Really good chocolate!
Lake Champlain Chocolates Spicy Aztec
I ordered this at the same time I ordered the Grace Under Fire bar. The label reads, “An unexpected blend of spicy cayenne pepper, crunchy pumpkin seeds and fragrant cinnamon.” 57 percent cocoa, a touch higher than Grace Under Fire. Opening up the wrapper, the scent of chocolate was strong and smoky. The blocks were just as pleasingly thick as Grace Under Fire and the taste of pepper was immediate, hitting the roof of my mouth. And the heat lingered a while. Totally delicious. You could see the big pumpkin seeds too when you break off a piece. This was probably the hottest of the bars I’ve had, perhaps because of the cayenne pepper, and it may be my new favorite besides TJ’s bar.
Vosges Red Fire Bar
This, disappointingly, had no heat to it at all, but was an extremely delicious chocolate bar in its own right. Have it if you really love gourmet, small-batch chocolate, feel like shelling out around $8 for a bar, but don’t expect any particular spicy kick. Sort of a disappointment for the high expectations I had.
Madecasse Cinnamon and Chili Pepper This is chocolate from Madagascar. I spotted it at the local Whole Foods Market and nabbed it since it said chili on the label. It was a good bar with enough kick to it. Actually, nothing different stood out to me about this bar except that it had an acceptable chocolate chili taste to it.
Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate Spiced Chili
This had so many spices going on, they literally danced on my tongue, jilting from left to right. Ingredients include pink peppercorns and juniper berries, chili, ginger, cassia, star anise and cloves. The taste was a little too complex to make this one I’ll buy again (or one I’d gobble up en masse) but it imparted a very interesting taste experience that makes one think of dusty golden hallways and faded green velvet curtains in an ancient Hispanic villa. Don’t ask me what that means. This chocolate was just evocative.
Lindt Excellence Chili
This chocolate is very smooth, the squares are thin and have nice heat at the onset. It’s too sweet to be 70 percent and the package says 47 percent minimum cocoa solids. It also says it contains chili extract and artificial flavoring, which I’m certain would turn the organic crowd off. However, I like this chocolate and I could see myself easily eating mass quantities, which is a dangerous thing. I think someone who wants to delve into chocolate with chili should try this. It’s not an expensive bar and you can pick it up at places like Meijer for around $3-4 for a 3.5 ounce bar.
Next on my list: Find Chuao’s Spicy Maya bar
This may be another bar I have to order online. I haven’t seen this in my travels. I feel sort of silly paying for a chocolate bar and then paying as much, if not more, for shipping charges. My addiction has gotten the better of me, I fear!
So, what’s my favorite chocolate chili bar, among the lately consumed? I guess I won’t know until I eat the Chuao’s bar, but for now, I think I really like the Spicy Aztec bar from Lake Champlain Chocolates the best — Wonderful heat and delicious chocolate.
I’ve also eaten Lake Champlain’s Rum Caramel Dark Chocolate bar as well and I think their chocolates are outstanding all around. They’re not necessarily 70 percent dark, but everything I’ve eaten from Lake Champlain is totally delicious.
Check back when I find the Chuao’s Spicy Maya bar and I update my review. If anyone has eaten a particularly delicious dark chocolate bar with chili in it, drop me a line. I’d love to know about it and what you thought. This review is by no means complete. I look forward to finding more chocolate chili bars to test.
Until then — happy scarfing, folks.