Bench Test: Exotic Chocolates

February 23, 2012
By Sketch Editors

Mast Brothers Papua New Guinea vs Asahikawa Ajigen Miso Ramen Chocolate.  Could two more wildly different chocolates exist?

Not often do we revue products, other than for Shelf Life Taste Test, giving grocery granola, instant risotto, licorice wheels, or British Colombian Balsamic a pat on the back or scrape off the plate– but something rather unusual happened.

Two bars of chocolate arrived by mail, each from a different sender. Both deeply underscore the latitude in taste of our planetary snack-scape.

The first bar of chocolate hails from Hokkaido via Tokyo.  Asahikawa Ajigen Chocolate.  Or the chocolate pays homage to Hokkaido.  My understanding of Kanji or Hiragana are nonexistent.  What you see on the bar in English is about as much as I can decipher.  The second largest island in northern Japan, Hokkaido is famous for sake, beer, seafood, and for its type of ramen, the fresh noodle soup (not the instant one) with as devout a following as those of camera lenses,  sports cars, and other religious artifacts.  The chocolate at hand is labelled Miso Ramen Chocolate.  What’s not to love about two of the best things on the planet making a simple convergence into a single packaged food?

The other tablet arrived by way of generous Katie O’ from Brooklyn who’s friends work in the Mast Brothers Chocolate facility in Brooklyn, NY.  The Papua New Guinea chocolate boasts a unique smokey flavour from the roasting and fermenting of the cacao beans, or nibs, prior to processing.  Handmade in small batches, Mast Brothers have, like us, had to reinvent the means to make their product on a small scale.  The foods we consume globally are, more often than not, accessible as the result of large-scale buyers, producers, and distributors.   This concentrates wealth, but also knowledge, and ultimately flavour.  Might we bear witness to the clashing chocolates of focus groups, committees, and two brothers, mega vs micro?

The two ingredients in the Mast Brothers chocolate are Cacao and Sugar, a differentiation from the Miso Ramen Chocolate.  A quick glance at the ingredients of any chocolate reveals all;  generally the lower quality (or character) of the cacao, the more emulsifiers, vanillins, fats, and so forth make up the bar.  Pleasantly here is a reprieve from the barrage of over-california-oaked wines where provenance is lost in packaging.  No vanilla perfume masks the pheromones in the Mast tablet.

Down to the test: First the Mast Brothers.   I expect something smokey, over the top, but upon opening it smells rested.  It could be the packaging that was smoked, or the envelope- it is not dominating the nose in approach to the tablet.  Instead, imagine wet bark, nearby campfire, raisins, a mellow and intriguing low-lying olfactory grazing chocolate inhale.  then the bite.

Toothy, slightly, and becomingly, gritty, like a hand made product would be.  What is remarkable as the Papua New Guinea melts over the tongue, not until it has washed over the sides, is that the pleasantly astringent-edged, earthy flavour kicks in  This takes four to six seconds.  It unfolds.  What is awesome in any single origin food with interesting complexity, is to have the time and space to let the taste evolve without being crowded by other flavours.  Good call skipping the vanilla.  There’s enough to satisfy, here.  Black tea, molasses, with the bitter and sweet– too easy to say bacon, but maybe a smoked pork chop, some resin-y tobacco.

Then the Asahikawa Ajigen Miso-Ramen Chocolate.  First, let us acknowledge this chocolate was likely sent as a joke.  An affectionate nod to two, separate, loves– but few would hope to have miso-ramen combined with chocolate.   I have my hopes up, you can pretty much convince me to try anything.  Opened, it is not unlike a roll of film wrapped in Mylar.  Then the symbolic images  of a cow, a plane, concede a potential conceit.  It looks fun, maybe it tastes less fun… The smell is nothing less than department store stuffed with Easter chocolates– waxy, vanilla scented chocolate rabbits an chicks, smells more associated with a mother’s purse than a bowl of noodles.  The bite: Sweet, condensed milk, smooth, more like a Kit Kat minus the kat.  Where’s the miso?  Staring at the wrapper begins the search something savoury.  Maybe there’s something- no, it’s the placebo of the image before me.  It’s ordinary milk chocolate.  Undeniable, promising less is more.  The Mast Brothers wins it, the Ajigen barely crosses the finish line.  Not in the least disappointed, though, each has much to say about the other, hardly could have paired more of a contrast.

First thought through my mind is what an amazing sauce the Mast Brothers chocolate would make on roast chicken.  Holy Mole.

-Micah Donovan

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