THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods
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PRODUCT WATCH: Check In To The Hotel Chocolat

Some of Hotel Chocolat’s “luggage.”
Some of Hotel Chocolat’s “luggage.”
  People who love luxury chocolates have a new destination: the website of Hotel Chocolat. The British company, founded 14 years ago, has just launched a U.S. website to enable Americans to try their lovely wares. The company makes chocolate with flair (the website photos show people in scenes that could be on the pages of Vogue), and makes bean to bar chocolate with beans from its own cocoa plantation, the Rabot Estate, on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean (the company also uses Ghanian cacao). The company offers a selection of elegant chocolates, including its signature thick chocolate slabs in a variety of flavors and sizes, made by pouring the chocolate onto a chocolatier’s marble table and allowing the pieces to set. Packed in stylish black cases, they just beg to be taken for a weekend of tasting. THE NIBBLE will run a full review of the chocolate in the coming months.
 

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TREND: Organic Coffee

Sales of organic coffee are growing so fast these days, that most other categories can only be envious. U.S. retail sales of organic coffee increased 24% in 2006 to $110.36 million, impressively outpacing the 15% growth of organic foods in general, according to the 2007 Organic Manufacturer Survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). According to Caren Wilcox, OTA’s Executive Director, the dramatic increase in organic coffee sales also reflects consumers’ growing interest in organic products, awareness of their availability in venues ranging from small coffee shops to “Big Box” stores, and the ever-increasing quality of organic coffee. In fact, several organic coffees from farms in Nicaragua won the Cup of Excellence competition in that country, held in June. The prestigious award program, managed by the U.S.-based Alliance for Coffee Excellence, selects the best coffees produced in a particular country in a particular year.   Don Francisco’s, one of the top organic coffees in our review.
Don Francisco’s, one of the top organic coffees in our review.
Participants in the Organic Coffee Collaboration, a project of the Organic Trade Association, are driving much of the increase in retail sales. The companies provide much of the organic decaffeinated, caffeinated, flavored and instant coffees widely available at retail outlets nationwide and direct from roasters via the Internet. The companies include Café Bom Dia (marketer of the Marques De Paiva brand, and also certified as carbon-neutral, of Coral Gables, FL), Dallis Coffee (also Fair Trade Certified, of New York City), DaSilva Fine Brazilian Coffee (marketer of ultra premium single-estate coffee directly from Espírito Santo, Brazil, of Winston-Salem, NC), Elan Organic Coffee (marketer of socially responsible coffees it develops through partnerships with village co-ops, of San Diego, CA), Equal Exchange (worker-owned cooperative, Fair Trade Certified™ and one of largest U.S. organic coffee roasters, of West Bridgewater, MA), F. Gaviña & Sons (producer of Don Francisco’s Specialty Coffee brand, of Vernon, CA), Fresh Harvest Products (of New York City), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (of Waterbury, VT) and Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company (of Vancouver, BC, Canada). Try them! (You’ll find some of them reviewed in our article on organic coffees.) Organic coffee is grown in more than 30 countries, including the United States. It uses methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment, replenishing and maintaining soil fertility, avoiding the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and building biologically diverse agriculture. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic farmers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production. Consumers who choose organic products do so for both the chemical-free factor and to support the environment.

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NEWS: Great Tomatoes, Year-Round

Backyard Beauties
Backyard Beauties: A great tomato is joy.
  If New England’s Backyard Farms inspires farmers in other regions, Americans with a taste for quality tomatoes may be able to get them year-round. Once September arrives in northern climates, delicious, locally-grown tomatoes disappear and tomato lovers have only the memories until the warm weather returns. Tomatoes picked green and shipped from thousands of miles away don’t deliver anything approximating the flavor of a vine-ripened tomato.
But Backyard Farms, a greenhouse company located in chilly Maine, is bringing fresh, vine-ripened Backyard Beauties to local markets throughout New England, year round. Their Beauties are grown in environmentally-friendly greenhouses using state-of-the-art technology. While other tomatoes are traveling to the produce section from as far away as Holland and Mexico—a journey of weeks—Backyard Beauties stay on the vine until they are fully ripened. Picked today, they arrive in New England supermarkets tomorrow. The response has been phenomenal. Please, Backyard Farms: Set up shop in every region. Americans deserve great tomatoes all the time! For more information visit BackyardBeauties.com.

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TREND: Olives—More & Better

According to the Trade Institute of Spain, the U.S. consumes about 170,000 tons of olives annually—about 1.1 pounds per inhabitant. Olives are seen as healthy snacks and are consumed in salads, in pizzas and on sandwiches. Even though the U.S. is a producer of olives, most of our olives are black olives used for olive oil. Between 2003 and 2006, imports of fresh and processed olives grew 26%, with a dollar increase suggesting that the U.S. is consuming olives of a higher quality as well. The main exporter to the U.S. is Spain (38%), followed by Mexico (22%), Greece (13%) and Morocco (6%).   Olives
Photo courtesy SXC.
 

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NEWS: “Real” Antioxidant Cocoa Debuts

Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder.
  Belgium-based Barry Callebaut, the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality cocoa and chocolate products, announces the launch of a unique new cocoa powder with true, measurable antioxidant benefits. ACTICOA cocoa powder contains a guaranteed minimum percentage of cocoa flavanols, making it a rich source of antioxidants. In addition to the health benefits, it’s also a delicious, full-flavored cocoa beverage (we haven’t tasted it yet, as the official word just came out, but we’re very familiar with the company’s products, and we’ll take it on faith until we get our cache for review).
Only two grams a day of the cocoa powder contain the amount of flavanols—the antioxidants in cacao—needed to have a positive antioxidant effect. Cacao flavanols are one of the most powerful antioxidants yet discovered. Though found in abundance in the raw cacao bean, most of the flavanols are destroyed during the conventional chocolate-making process. After years of research, Barry Callebaut has succeeded in preserving around 80% of the natural flavanol content of raw cacao in this new cocoa powder product. That’s good news for people who’d like to start and end their day with a nice cup of cocoa. Every time over the last few years that another chocolate bar (or fudge product) has touted its “antioxidant benefits,” THE NIBBLE has pointed out that such claims are a lot of marketing hype: that absent research on the label of exactly how many antioxidants were in the bar, it is a pretty vague claim, and that research is typically done on flavanol-enhanced cocoa, not on chocolate bars. We predicted that such a product would get to market sooner or later for those who truly wanted to get their antioxidants through cacao—and here it is! Next, as other companies do the same, we can anticipate, “Now, with more anxtioxidants than the other brand….”

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