Chocolate and Salt

Yesterday I helped my friend Fran work the Ohio Wine Producers booth at Cleveland’s Fabulous Food Show at the IX Center. As a result, I had a fun day hanging out with Fran and enjoyed learning more about Ohio wines and wineries. An unexpected bonus was being introduced to my new, favorite chocolate-covered food item:

Chocolate-Covered Cheese Doodles

Yes. The chocolate-covered cheese doodle was the sampler at Fantasy Candies’ booth at the show. Imagine a malted milk ball on steroids. Yowsa!

Fantasy Candies is located in Lyndhurst, Ohio, and produces a delicious array of more conventional chocolates, as well. Owner Joel Fink also plans chocolate and wine pairings, and thus the visit to us at the Ohio Wine Producers booth.

But back to the star of this blog: the chocolaty-delicious  cheese doodle and the wonder of marrying chocolate with salt.

Now, it would be difficult to find a red-blooded American who doesn’t love a handful of Peanut M&M’s. Am I right? And God bless the genius at Hershey who decided to put an almond inside a Kiss. (And if it’s the same guy or gal who came up with the cherry cream-filled Kiss – here’s a big kiss for YOU!)

I don’t know the science behind the appeal of combining salty and sweet flavors, but the marriage of the two sure results in some amazing indulgences. At the elegant Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas (the newest tower of  suite accommodations attached to The Venetian), a stop in the little sundries and gift shop near the guest elevators offers a few chocolate bars bearing the Palazzo name. I don’t have any on hand (sadly) to see if the actual chocolatier who makes them is listed in the small print.

If you happen to be in Vegas and are a fan of chocolate and salt, you must make time to stop by and purchase a bar of the dark chocolate with sea salt. I’ve tried a couple other chocolate/sea salt bars here and there, but the Palazzo’s brand is my favorite by far. A single bar (and just a single serve size, nothing huge) can be nibbled on and savored for a week. The flavors are so intense, to gobble up the bar in a sitting would be like gulping down 50 year old scotch in a sippy cup.

Another chocolate and salt combo that was one of the most memorable desserts I’ve ever had, anywhere, was a slim slab of chocolate pate topped with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil, and sprinkled with Maldon salt. Unbelievable. The mouth feel of the creamy chocolate made even silkier with the touch of oil, followed by the surprise of the tiniest crunch of crystallized salt was kitchen magic. Executive Chef Elise Wiggins at the Hotel Monaco in Denver was responsible for this remarkable dessert.

At the same event in Denver we tried a taste of a local chocolatier’s chocolate with bacon bits – also fabulous.

Having sung the praises of chocolate and salt, I have to tell you, the funny thing is that I’m not even a “chocoholic,” like so many of my friends. At dessert time I’m more likely to select the creme brulee, or a lemon gelato, over any of the chocolate offerings. When I was a kid, my favorite candy bar was a peanut brittle type bar made by Lance, and today I’ll probably buy some licorice if I’m in the mood for candy of any kind.

I either read an article or heard someone on NPR a while back talking about the health issues involved with salty/sweet food combinations. Not only are there the obviously salty and sweet choices, like the peanut M&Ms or chocolate-covered pretzels, but there are  many ways salt and/or sugar are hidden in prepared and fast foods to make them secretly more palatable to us.

Back to yesterday’s Food Show, another sample I tried was of a Bourbon Chicken. The people were selling bottles of their sauce to make this tasty dish. The small bite of chicken was savory, but with that sweet overtone we enjoy in many barbecue sauces, and in some Asian dishes, like Teriyaki, etc. And it’s common knowledge that foods we don’t register as being especially salty can be loaded with sodium. And others that seem savory can easily have much more sugar than we’d ever guess.

As a result, our palates are subliminally satisfied on several levels with one dish, making us happy to eat more, and more . . . and more. We are not nearly as tempted to overeat basic foods, even if we love them. When was the last time you stuffed yourself on green beans, for instance?

Green beans – plain and fresh – are one of my favorite vegetables. But add a little bacon and onion and saute them with a touch of that bacon grease? We’ve taken something delicious and healthy and turned it into something even more delicious and consequently, something you’re even more apt to load up on your plate and ask for seconds. Apparently, the more complex flavors keep our happy little mouths wanting just one more bite!

Oh, well. It makes sense to keep our ingredients simple and wholesome  if we want to be healthy. But I’m telling you – if you’re in the neighborhood of Fantasy Candies on Mayfield Road in Lyndhurst, you won’t regret stopping by for a few chocolate-covered cheese doodles.

They’re even better than a deep-fried Snickers.

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