October 13, 2009
Not long ago Martin noted the distinct difficulties of finding chocolate spreads without added vegetable fat, especially palm oil. We've all remarked that in some senses this is particularly puzzling given that cocoa butter itself is the solid fat needed to stabilise a chocolate/nut mixture.
Happily, 2 prominent Italian chocolate manufacturers have come to the rescue with chocolate hazelnut spreads containing no added vegetable fat that will make you throw away the Nutella. Even more impressively, both are milk-free as well, giving the pure chocolate/hazelnut experience, undiluted by foreign substances. How do they rate?
Slitti comes up with Gianera, which seems to be a new addition. In the past, Slitti had a spread that included vegetable fats, but appears now to have seen the error of this way. Gianera looks appropriately dark in its jar (there's also a milk version, for those interested, also vegetable-fat-free) and nicely homogeneous in composition - no separation problems here. In tasting, though, it's got nice prominent hazelnutty flavour but is clearly a bit too sweet, making the chocolate subdued. Another problem appeared in a toast test. Spread on warm toast, the spread melts rather too readily into a sauce-like fluid, dripping over and through the toast and making for a messy experience, not to mention unideal in texture since the melt sensation in the mouth is lost. Nonetheless, it's a vast improvement on most products on the market and certainly gets you to an acceptable level of flavour.
Venchi are the masters of all things chocolate and hazelnut, and now here again prove their mastery with Crema Spalmable Cuor Di Cacao. Its sinister dark colour is a far cry from the milder Gianera impression, and obviously here we have a higher chocolate ratio, already a good start. It's also got a far more powerful aroma upon opening the jar, with a superb chocolate/hazelnut burst that hints at what's to come. The flavour is just in another world compared with every other spread, powerful, bold, and for the first time ever in a spread, it would seem, not to sweet. Venchi has finally had the courage to leave the cloying, sugary path trodden by its spread brethren to give us a chocolate hazelnut spread that actually tastes of chocolate and hazelnuts rather than sugar. Equally impressively, where Slitti slumped, Cuor di Cacao maintains the ideal spreadable consistency on hot toast, so that you can eat it without taking a bath after. This is the chocolate hazelnut spread we've all been waiting for: dark, not milk; flavourful, not sweet; dense, not insubstantial. Let it be said yet again, for chocolate and hazelnuts, Venchi are the best in the world.
I should also mention that there exists a third option, from an obscure company called Cereal Terra: Nocella. This one also has no vegetable fats, and uses honey rather than sugar. However, they go with cocoa instead of chocolate, so without the cocoa butter, it separates. Not the end of the world, you simply stir upon opening, but in flavour it doesn't approach Venchi's product. It also suffers the same problem as Slitti's Gianera on toast, turning into a liquid. Still, it does offer the bonus of being organic, so it's worth getting especially if you are interested in issues of sustainability. Again it's a quantum leap above other spreads. Nonetheless, the overall winner is clear: Venchi is the chocolate hazelnut spread to get if you want the flavour the name suggests.
Martin - might I suggest picking up Venchi for the chocolate shop's reopening? The more I try them the more I become convinced that for what they do they have no peer: gianduja, praline, chocolate bars with hazelnuts - that general theme. One seems to be able to find the brand readily enought in the UK but in a bizarre irony almost never the chocolate/hazelnut stuff; rather, all the rest, which, while OK, is not of the same extraordinary level that they achieve with their specialty.
October 26, 2006