Friday, May 8, 2009

The Dark Side of Mars

Pure Dark and CocoaVia

Having made its name on milk-chocolatey checkout line staples such as M&Ms and Snickers, the Mars Company is now setting its sights somewhat higher, aiming for your heart rather than
your gut.

Owned by Mars subsidiary Dove, CocoaVia makes and markets a range of "healthy" dark chocolates. Thanks to a proprietary process 15 years in the making, CocoaVia chocolates maintain higher levels of cocoa's naturally occurring flavanols, along with added B6, B12, folic acid, antioxidants C and E, and calcium. Published clinical studies have shown that these "heart-healthy" components reduce cholesterol and promote circulation.

While I'm a little leery of those shoehorned-in nutrients, I suppose I'm willing to let frankenfood be my medecine when it tastes like this: mellow, potent, mineral-y, intriguing without being too complicated. CocoaVita bars don't have the pudding-like quality of other Dove dark chocolates but are still pleasantly silky. The variety shown above also contains crackly bits of soy crisp.

But here's the rub: according to Mars' own PR, "only a relatively small portion needs to be eaten to reap the heart-health benefits." A single (doll-sized!) 20g bar contains 90 calories--half of them from fat--along with a little sodium, a respectable 2g of fiber, 20% of the RDA of calcium, and no cholesterol. It would be easy to overdose if not for the recommended retail price of $4.99 for a 5-pack (I got my stash for half price at one of those scratch-and-dent outlets that sells everything from punctured sacks of kitty litter, to prestained undershirts, to dogeared boxes of froufrou chocolate).

CocoaVia has been around for a while and I'm not sure how the brand is faring; it certainly isn't a ubiquitious candy-shelf presence. Perhaps that has something to do with Mars' much quieter relationship with another upscale chocolate venter, the Pure Dark chocolate boutique in Manhattan's West Village. Different stations around the the store dispense the various formulas in formats including slabs, discs, and powders; samples are plentiful. There's a drinking chocolate counter and a trail mix bar where you can order up a bespoke combination of dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate nuggets.

That Pure Dark doesn't allow photography inside the store is understandable but unfortunate; a wall display at the back of the store gives one of the best explanations I've ever seen of the complicated transformation that turns beans into chocolate, complete with scale models. Throw in an animatronic toucan and some motorized seating, and Pure Dark would be a top-notch EPCOT Center attraction.

Pure Dark
350 Bleecker Street (at W 10th St)
New York, NY

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