Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chocolate Review: Hershey's 100% Cacao Baking Bar

By Benjamin Skipper

Hershey's 100% cacao baking bar (the variety in consideration is on the left) makes for the third variety of unsweetened chocolate I have given consideration to. Previously I considered Ghirardelli's 100% Cacao, and that review considered in conjunction another brand, Baker's. While some may think "chocolate is chocolate," there are some subtle differences to take into account. I don't use this type of chocolate for magnesium supplementation anymore -- I've been able to treat my muscle cramps successfully with pickles and pickle juice -- but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the taste of it!

Immediately noticeable was how incredibly less intense the bitterness was. It's very, very mild in this one, making Ghirardelli's and Baker's variety seem to offer a punch in comparison. Now how one interprets bitterness will vary from individual to individual in accordance to one's taste buds, but I personally find that bitterness can be both an on-and-off pleasure: some days I might want it, others not. If you have been intimidated by the prospect of advancing your dark chocolate eating to full cacao, then Hershey's might be somewhat of a good start.

Nutritionally, some questions are raised. When I looked at the nutritional info on my bar I noticed it had two ingredients: chocolate and cocoa. Cocoa is a product of chocolate after going through certain processing, so that may explain why this bar is less bitter despite being 100% cacao: It's all chocolate, but it doesn't contain all the parts of chocolate. If my memory serves correctly, Ghirardelli and Baker's is nothing but chocolate, no cocoa, so there may be some nutritional differences to take into account. Unfortunately I could not find nutritional info on either Ghirardelli's or Kraft's website, so I cannot confirm it. If I am correct, then I hypothesize one may derive greater health benefits by eating Ghirardelli or Baker's since you'd be eating cacao and its complete parts; the difference in bitterness does indicate something is different.

As for the flavor profile, it isn't all that great. It just tastes mildly of chocolate. Ghirardelli and Baker's pretty much tastes the same except for the higher bitterness. Perhaps that Godiva bar has ruined me; wherever these guys are getting their cacao, it ain't all that special. That isn't to say I'm disappointed, however. It's just that after having more enjoyable and complex experiences with other, sweetened varieties these unsweetened varieties seem lackluster in comparison. Nonetheless, they do make for some excellent pairings with some other foods. I, for instance, like pairing something sweet with it, like sweetened almond butter. Wonderful contrast! Though Godiva does prompt an interesting thought for me as to whether it would be nice to try unsweetened chocolate imported from different geographical areas. That would certainly be something to look forward to in the future.

But since Hershey's variety is so similar to Ghirardelli's and Baker's minus the bitterness, the most important thing to consider would be price and how easy it is to eat. If you recall, I detested Baker's variety since the squares were so huge and thick that I had a hard time breaking them with my hands or cutting them, and drooled all over my face struggling to bite through it. Its cheap price might be good for those with tight finances or for those who want to cook/bake with it, but I avoid it since it's an absolute hassle to eat. Ghirardelli, though more expensive, is pressed thin and is much more easy and enjoyable to eat. Hershey's takes a bit of a middle ground, both being inexpensive and somewhat indeterminate in its "eatability." The squares are thick, but not so much so that I couldn't break them with my hands or bite off of it. You won't be able to bite off it with your incisors, however. I don't think it's so difficult that it takes away from the eating experience, but it is noticeably crunchy, sturdy, and not at all a delicately textured chocolate.

It's a bit confusing for me to say, but I'm tempted to say that Ghirardelli is still my pick. I like the higher bitterness, and its thinness makes for a more enjoyable eating experience, especially if you're a connoisseur. Hershey's is just one of those take-it-or-leave-it brands that leaves me neither impressed nor disappointed. It's less bitter and milder in its chocolatelyness, and it's equal parts easy and difficult to eat.

As such, I'll have to conclude with the verdict that the chocolate you should choose ought to be based on your own preferences. If you want the full punch of chocolate, an easy to handle bar, and something delicate to chew, then I'd go with Ghirardelli. If you want something cheap, then Baker's. Hershey's serves as the middle ground and will please those who want mildness in both bitterness and chocolate, an okay price, and a crunchy, though not frustrating, texture. I choose Ghirardelli, though feel neutral towards Hershey.

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