Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chocolate

I managed to miss my non-fiction finds in my earlier post, so last but not least, I found these at the booksale:
Guns, Germs, and Steel has been on my to-read list for a long time, but I hadn't heard of the chocolate book before, but I think we all know how much I love food history by now.

Of course, I chose to start reading the chocolate book (Emperors of Chocolate) first as one should ALWAYS choose chocolate over guns, and while the author is a journalist who tries to sensationalize everything,  includes some food history urban legends that have either been disproved or are at least highly suspect, and could have used an editor to catch an incredible amount of repetition, it is a fun read.

One of the interesting points she raises is that no one EVER goes to the store with "buy a Snickers bar" on their grocery list.  Candy is 100% impulse buy, so the competition is insane.  According to the figure in the book, every year the average American consumes more than 25 pounds of candy, and adults actually consume more than children.  That's a lot of "impulsing."  Again, according to the book, the industry averages about 150 new products a year, and only a handful of them will be popular enough to stay on the shelf, and most of those will just be a variation on a new theme.  At the candy display in my grocery store, there were no less than NINE variations of Reese's candy.  The standard peanut butter cups, white chocolate cups, dark chocolate cups, crunchy ones, something involving sticks....seriously, I had no idea one could do so much with chocolate & peanut butter.  And those were just the Reese's options.  She also points out that Americans are nostalgic about their candy.  Ever heard of a Bounty bar?  It was a Mars coconut candy bar that supposedly beat Mounds 2 to 1 in a blind taste test, but the Bounty bar failed after just two years because to Americans, a coconut candy bar is EITHER an Almond Joy or a Mounds.  While I actually hate Almond Joys and Mounds, I do understand the nostalgia factor.  I don't eat a lot of candy, but when I do, it's something from my childhood:  M&Ms, Snickers, Reese's (the plain boring ones), Whoppers, Dots, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, cinnamon bears, or licorice.  I don't branch out to try new things.  I might be on the far side of compulsive on this front (as Andy will attest) as the last time someone gave me a box of chocolates I actually cut them all in half to see what the centers were in order to GUARANTEE I would actually like the chocolate before biting into it.  Judging by the look on Andy's face when I offered him his choice of dissected chocolates, this is not normal chocolate behavior.

So, breaking out of my little candy rut, I decided to pick out a candy bar that I had never even heard of:
Hershey's 5th Avenue bar.  Anyone know this one?  We split it over our afternoon coffee, and both thought it tasted almost exactly like a Butterfinger bar, which is made by Nestle.  Butterfinger might have the slight edge both on flavor & scary orangish coloring, but had Butterfinger not been first for us, this one might have been the one we preferred.  As one can't patent a recipe and getting there first seems to be the make-or-break for a candy bar, it's little wonder why companies spend so much money in advertising and product promotion.

Interesting side note, do you notice those small white letters on the bottom of the package, "crunchy peanut butter in a rich, chocolatey coating?"  "Chocolately coating" seems to be American industry speak for "not actually chocolate."  To be called chocolate in America, it can't have any other fat besides cocoa butter, but according to a story on MSNBC in 2008, Hershey is now using vegetable oil, though I have no idea how much of the cocoa butter they are replacing.  They appear to be still using chocolate for the actual Hershey chocolate bar, which makes sense as it would be quite difficult to find allowable industry speak for "hunk of near-chocolate substance," though I guess it's worked for Velveeta for years.

Who would have believed that one would have to pay such close attention to labels even when buying junk food???

4 comments:

Abby said...

I have heard of 5th Avenue, but I don't remember ever eating one. A new candy bar I like is Take 5 because it has five layers of taste, ending with a pretzel in the center. And I do put chocolate on my grocery list, but I buy that 70% cocoa stuff - one bite and I am satisfied. And sorry about the return of the moths. :-(

Anonymous said...

I remember when 5th Ave. bar cme onto the market. We didn't get candy that often and if we did, it was usually a Hershey bar. When M&Ms cam out, I figured out that a bunch of little peices would last much longer than a bar.

Janet said...

I remember 5th Ave, but never really liked it. Of course, I don't care for mounds or almond joy either. My favorite is plain old Hershey bars, lol.

RobinH said...

I don't buy much candy at the grocery store- baking chocolate and occasionally stuff to go into baking. Where I'm bad is at work, which has vending machines. I try to save an apple or something from my lunch for mid-afternoon to help combat the urge to eat something out of a vending machine.

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