Pretty boxes: How to choose the right packaging for your chocolates

Box of homemade chocolate truffles

Chocolate packaging craft brown

If the popularity of Mast Brothers proves anything, it’s that we’re all suckers for pretty packaging.

But when you’re gearing up to sell your first box of chocolates, making wholesale packaging choices can seem really daunting. The options seem endless. And not only for packaging… You’ll be making choices about graphics, about liners, about trays, seals, labels… decision after decision. It’s overwhelming.

The following guiding principles will help you make choices you won’t regret later.

First, consider your brand.

For example, you might ask yourself:

  • Are my chocolates elegant or rustic?
  • Are my chocolates priced to be high end treats or everyday indulgences?
  • Does my business have a theme, and if so, how can I incorporate that theme into my packaging? (For example, if you’re known for bonbons with unusual flavor combinations, consider boxes as playful and creative as your flavors).

Homemade chocolate trufflesAnd here’s an anecdote from my own life.

My chocolate bourbon truffles (pictured) are elegant and modern, with clean lines and geometric patterns (thanks to my trusty transfer sheets), so I guess I could have packaged them in elegant boxes with shiny foil liners.

But… refined packaging is not my brand.

How did I know that? Well… I dip each of my chocolates by hand. I’m proud to use chocolate from a local small-batch chocolate maker. I steer clear of artificial ingredients and preservatives.

So I was looking for packaging that suggests my chocolates aren’t just pretty sweets to be mindlessly eaten. My packaging needs to make it clear that these are high quality, individually produced treats, made entirely by one person from simple, wholesome ingredients.

My packaging needs to feel PERSONAL. Because my chocolates are personal.

With that in mind, I chose simple craft paper boxes, each one tied with twine.

The resulting packages are modern, rustic, and elegantly simple. Just like what’s inside them.

Second, consider what packaging will best protect your chocolates during transit.

If you plan to ship your chocolates, you’ll need strong boxes, perhaps with plastic trays to keep each chocolate in place, and a protective foam layer under the lid. And you’ll need to seal your boxes well and stamp them with a sell-by date.

But if you’re hand delivering chocolates to a friend as I did, you can skip the trays entirely, opting instead for simple brown paper liners. Layers of gift tissue should keep the chocolates from moving around too much.

They won’t be sitting around long at your friend’s house, so no need to worry about an expiration date on these babies. 🙂

Craft chocolate packaging

Btw, I bought these boxes and liners on amazon, but wholesale packaging distributors are cheaper and offer a wider variety of customizable packaging. Shoot me an email if you’re looking for wholesale confectionary packaging distributors — I’d be happy to send you a few names.

Feeling the love

I was so flattered by the Chocolate Disorder shout-out by Estelle Tracy in this recently published interview by Captain of Goods. Thanks Estelle, you’re awesome. Readers, be sure to check out Estelle’s blog, 37 Chocolates. It’s one of my favorites for candid reviews of chocolate bars, interviews with chocolate makers and more.

 

 

Welcome to Chocolate Disorder (the new In Temper)

You may have noticed that I’ve updated the name of this site.

Why? Truthfully, I changed the name because I was tired of having a long wordpress domain name that nobody would ever remember. And the shorter version of my old domain name, intemper.com, was already taken.

Also, whether or not it’s true, I’ve heard that search engines favor blogs with domain names that explain what they’re about. So I wanted my new domain name to include the word chocolate.

But why Chocolate Disorder? Well, I thought the name reflected the somewhat obsessive nature of my preoccupation with chocolate. And it’s a bit tongue in cheek, not meant to be taken TOO seriously — just like the blog.

Also, as you may have guessed, I’m pretty sure I have one. A chocolate disorder, that is. And if you’ve read this far, you probably do too. 😛

Today Is World Chocolate Day

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32140431

While every day is chocolate day for me, today was actually World Chocolate Day. Officially.

Excerpt from World Chocolate Day — Cooking without Limits:

World Chocolate Day is every year on July 7. Celebration of the day includes the consumption of chocolate. Today marks 466 years since chocolate was introduced to Europe. References to World Chocolate Day being observed on 7 July have been recorded as early as 2009.

Photo credit: Luisa Contreras via Wikimedia

What does “70% chocolate” really mean? The answer may surprise you.

Raw cacao seeds and ground cocoa nibs

You know that 70% dark chocolate bar you bought recently? Did some teeny part of you feel pretty good about buying really dark chocolate because, well, dark chocolate is good for us now?

Would you be surprised to learn that there might be MORE good-for-you stuff in a 60% chocolate bar, or even a (gasp) milk chocolate bar, than in the 70% bar you picked up?

I know I was.

Here’s the issue: the cocoa % on chocolate bar wrappers doesn’t actually tell us how much chocolate is in our chocolate (if by chocolate we mean ground-up cocoa beans — the brown stuff with all the antioxidants). In fact, cocoa % is totally useless for that purpose. All we can reasonably expect to learn from the cocoa % is how much SUGAR has been added to our chocolate — and even that is only true for dark chocolate.

Confused yet? Let me try to explain.

What cocoa percentages really mean

First, the basics.

The average chocolate bar has five ingredients:

  • Chocolate liquor: ground-up whole cocoa beans. Contains both parts of the bean: the fat (cocoa butter) and the solids (unrefined cocoa powder)
  • Cocoa butter: extra cocoa butter increases creaminess and fluidity
  • Sugar: because, sugar
  • Lecithin: usually from soy beans, lecithin increases fluidity
  • Vanilla: while old style European chocolate traditionally includes vanilla, there has been a notable movement away from vanilla by today’s chocolate makers

Cocoa % = chocolate liquor + added cocoa butter

Total cocoa percentages include not just chocolate liquor, but also added cocoa butter. The amount of each ingredient need not be disclosed by the chocolate maker, and the ratio between the two ingredients can vary wildly. Dark couverture chocolate, which needs to be highly fluid if chocolatiers are to work with it, often has a nearly 1:1 ratio of cocoa liquor to cocoa butter. Eating and baking chocolates don’t need as much cocoa butter, so their ratio may be closer to 2:1.

Here’s where the confusion around cocoa % becomes an issue for consumers. Say you’re choosing between two chocolate bars with the exact same ingredients, listed in the same order. You’re frustrated because the ingredient percentages aren’t listed on the packaging. But as an experiment, let’s pretend for a moment that they are.

Here’s what you’d see:

Bar #1: 70% dark chocolate 

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (66%)
  • sugar (29%)
  • cocoa butter (4%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

Bar #2: 70% dark chocolate

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (41%)
  • sugar (29%)
  • cocoa butter (29%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

In both cases, the % chocolate liquor and the % cocoa butter add up to 70%. Both bars have the same amount of added sugar. However, the first bar contains 66% actual ground up cocoa beans, whereas the second bar contains only 41%. That’s a 25% difference. And as a consumer, you have no way of knowing which is which.

As if that’s not confusing enough, consider the ingredients list for this milk chocolate bar:

Bar #3: 60% milk chocolate

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (42%)
  • sugar (25%)
  • cocoa butter (18%)
  • milk powder (14%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

That’s right — you could buy a dark milk chocolate bar and get MORE ground cocoa beans by weight than you would’ve if you’d bought the #2 dark chocolate bar above. So if you’ve been buying dark chocolate for health reasons, these numbers may give you pause.

The only way to really know exactly how much chocolate liquor is in your chocolate bar (besides calling the chocolate maker and asking) is by buying chocolate with no added cocoa butter. It does exist — chocolate makers sometimes call it “two-ingredient chocolate,” since this type of chocolate typically also excludes lecithin and vanilla. I like Undone Chocolate‘s two-ingredient bars, although admittedly I’m biased because I’ve spent a lot of time helping out in their shop. But many other chocolate makers make two-ingredient chocolate — Taza, Dandelion, Rogue and Sirene all do, just to name a few. I recently tried a great one — an 82% two-ingredient bar made with Peruvian beans by Maverick Chocolate, from Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find other two-ingredient brands at most good chocolate stores, or check out the selection at Chocosphere.

But here’s a longer term solution to the cocoa percentage problem: chocolate makers should provide consumers with the percentage of chocolate liquor or cocoa solids in their bars, not just the meaningless cocoa %. Giving consumers a breakout of exactly how much of a bar is made from whole cocoa beans and how much is added cocoa butter (which, btw, most chocolate makers buy in bulk from industrial manufacturers, although there are exceptions) would be a more honest, transparent way to market chocolate. It would also discourage chocolate makers from adding extra cocoa butter for the sole purpose of inflating their chocolate’s cocoa percentage.

Another perk: providing information about the percentage of chocolate liquor in chocolate might even boost sales of dark milk chocolate, which is poised to be the next big thing in high end chocolate. But I’ll save that for another post.

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3 reasons not to drink wine with chocolate

chocolate and wine pairings

Wine and chocolate

Wine and chocolate… two of my favorite things. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out, quite a lot.

While both wine and chocolate are popular date night treats (or, if you’re like me, every night treats), many chocolate geeks agree that you’ll enjoy chocolate more if you skip the wine (interestingly,  sommeliers do not appear to feel the same way about avoiding chocolate while drinking wine… but this is a chocolate blog, so let’s focus on how wine affects the taste of chocolate for now).

I should clarify that when I say you shouldn’t drink wine while eating chocolate, I don’t mean chocolate cake, or chocolate  mousse, or even chocolate truffles. Baked items and many filled chocolate confections contain ingredients  (butter, cream, liquid sugars) that will counteract many of the issues I describe below. I’m only suggesting you avoid one thing: drinking a big ol’ glass of wine while nibbling a bar of solid chocolate.

Here you go: 3 reasons to avoid pairing wine and chocolate

Reason #1: Sugar rivalry

Let’s start with the most straight forward reason wine and chocolate don’t make great bedfellows: they’re too competitive. Specifically, they both want to control your sweetness-detecting taste buds. When consuming chocolate and wine together, whichever one is sweeter will increase your perception of bitter flavors in the other. Usually (but not always), the sweeter one in such a pairing will be the chocolate. The sugar in chocolate may overwhelm the subtle fruity and floral notes detectable in many wines. And if you’re drinking a sweet or off-dry wine, you may lose a lot of the delicate raisin and berry flavors that are often prominent in very dark chocolate. In either case, you’re going to have a less than ideal tasting experience.

Reason #2: Some like it hot

Cocoa butter is a fussy, complicated, high-maintenance fat in many ways — and cocoa beans contain about 50% cocoa butter by weight. One of cocoa butter’s characteristic traits is its sensitivity to very small changes in ambient temperature. Solid at room temperature, cocoa butter softens steadily in warmer temperatures, beginning to melt in the high 80’s.

Knowing this, chocolate makers refine cocoa beans and sugar so the cocoa butter crystals and sugar particles in chocolate are the perfect size to melt and release their flavor in the average 97-98 degree mouth. Chocolate makers know that if the particle size is too small, the chocolate will taste slimy or waxy. Too big, and it’s grainy or gritty. To avoid these flaws, particle size is calibrated with incredibly precision, and with the assumption that the chocolate will be served at room temperature, and eaten by someone with a — I know this sounds funny — warm mouth.

With that in mind, let’s think about how drinking wine might affect these assumptions. Red wine is typically served between 50 – 65 degrees, and white wine is usually served colder than that. For several minutes after drinking a cool beverage, the temperature of the inside of your mouth decreases dramatically. If your mouth is cool and you try to eat chocolate, the result will be… yuck. I find most chocolate tastes waxy and flavorless if I’ve just had something cold to drink.

Slightly off topic, but this should also explain why chocolate should be brought to room temperature before you eat it (if it was stored in the fridge). And it’s also why chocolate chunks should be banned from ice cream recipes (my personal pet peeve… although even I have to admit that Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip is the best thing ever invented by human kind. But I digress).

Reason #3: Opposites attract

Both red wine and dark chocolate pair best with foods that balance their most pronounced flavors rather than compete with them. For example, the fattiness and blandness of cheese really complements the bright acidity of wine. In contrast, orange juice, which is acidic like wine, would be a terrible palette cleanser at a wine tasting. Can you imagine?

Wine — particularly red wine — shares many flavor components with dark chocolate, including acidity and astringency. The flavonoids (including tannins) that give structure to red wine also produce the astringency (that dry tongue feeling) and characteristic reddish-brown color of chocolate. The astringent quality of both wine and chocolate is more pronounced in an acidic environment (such as your mouth right after gobbling chocolate or chugging wine), so pairing them together will highlight the astringent notes in both, resulting in a less-than-ideal tasting experience.

Fantelli Merlot with dark chocolate

I hope none of this information discourages you from consuming wine and chocolate separately (or, screw it,  even together — there is no reason to be puritanical about it). But if you’re enjoying chocolate at home or with friends, might I suggest you try something like this instead:

Croissant, chocolate and coffee              bitter-chocolate-230307__180

 

Gianduja part III: where to find it

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

A little while back I wrote about the history of traditional Italian gianduja and its more modern, spreadable cousin. Since that post, a couple of readers have asked me where they can buy gianduja, since all they’ve been able to find at their local supermarket is Nutella.

You have three options if you’re trying to locate real gianduja in North America. First, you can probably find it at a specialty chocolate retailer in your city or town. To find the closest retailer, search on chocomap.com or download the Find Chocolate! app on your device. Yes, there’s an app to help you find chocolate!

Another option: you can search the shelves of a European food import store (think Dean & Deluca).

And finally — and this is my own preferred method — you can buy gianduja online.

Why buying gianduja online makes sense:

Besides the fact that it’s clearly awesome to buy chocolate without leaving the house or speaking to another human being, I like buying gianduja online because the selection is much, much better online than anything you’ll find in a brick and mortar shop — this I promise. I’m guessing the average specialty Italian food importer will carry one or two types of gianduja. In contrast, online retailers carry dozens.

Favorite online gianduja retailers:

For starters, Amazon carries a respectable number of gianduja products of both the solid and spreadable varieties, so it may be a good place to start. I recommend also checking out the selection at Chocosphere and World Wide Chocolate. If you live outside the U.S. and know an online retailer that delivers to your region, I would love to know about it — send me a link!

Europeans may want to order directly from one of the acclaimed Italian gianduja makers’ websites, such as Venchi’s. Or even better, find an excuse to go to Turin (remember that obscure work conference your boss mentioned a while back…?) and pick up gianduja from one of the many specialty shops scattered around the city. I hear Turin is lovely this time of year…

Want a more hands-on way to get your, um, hands on some gianduja?

Rather than buying gianduja, I highly recommend you try making it at home in your food processor. After seeing how easy it is, you may never buy the ready-made kind again.

See my recipe in the next post… But in the meantime, I leave you with this picture of deliciousness from Sarah Reid’s Flickr page.

I dare you to stare at this for 5 seconds without your mouth watering… 🙂

homemade chocolate hazelnut spread

Image above: Sarah Reid via Flickr

Featured image: Houang Stephane via Flickr