By Hannah Kaminsky – Strolling through the checkout lane of my local grocery store after successfully collecting all of the items indicated on my shopping list, I can't help but be drawn to the displays of impulse buys. By no means do I stick strictly to my list, frequently deviating from my notation to try out new products or produce, but these last-minute candy purchases are merely curious eye-candy to me. Trust me, this is less a testament to my self-control and more an indication of the dismal selection. Standing there in line as the cash register emitted a low chorus of beeps, it occurred to me that absolutely none of those candies were even plausibly vegan. Come to think of it, even throughout specialty stores far and wide, I had never seen a single vegan candy bar before.
Enter the Crispy Cat, claiming the title as "the world's first organic, vegan candy bar," and invented by the masterminds behind Tree Huggin' Treats. Granted, you probably won't find one of these in your hole-in-the-wall convenience store any time soon, but their mere existence is a huge advancement for all of vegan-kind. Each of their three varieties are composed of the same crispy brown rice base and coated in dark chocolate, explaining their crunchy-sounding name.
Clocking in at about the same size and weight of the average chemical- and dairy-laden candy bars on the market, they pose some serious competition to the traditional saccharine treats right off the bat.
I simply couldn't stay away from the most unique combination of the batch, instantly snatching up the curious Mint Coconut bar without a moment's hesitation. Fearing the worst but hoping for the best, an intensely minty smell hit my nostrils like a ton of bricks as soon as the wrapper had been removed. Taking my first cautious bite, I was slightly taken aback by how… crunchy granola it was. In fact, it instantly struck me as an over-enthusiastically sweetened granola bar enrobed in chocolate. As granola is perhaps one of mankind's greatest inventions ever, this isn't such a bad thing, but the fibrous coconut pieces intertwining between clumps of crispy brown rice really didn't strike me as a "candy bar," per-say. Even with my serious sweet tooth, I found them to be tooth-achingly sweet, and began to feel as if I were entering a sugar coma after consuming only half of this one bar!
On the plus side, the chocolate is amazing. Dark, conservatively sweetened, and smooth as can be, bright accents of mint come through to add interest without overpowering everything. Luckily, I discovered that the coating could be cleaved away from the center easily enough, and enjoyed each component even more as separate entities. A great idea for a new, innovative flavor sensation to be sure, but perhaps not the best in practice.
After recovering from the brief sugar rush, I soldiered to investigate the next variety, Roasted Peanut. Excited by the strong aroma of peanut butter escaping the chocolate-covered candy, I wasted no time once it had been relieved of the protective plastic package. A swift chomp revealed a denser center than the previous, thick with nutty goodness and complete with whole peanut pieces. However, despite the amazing scent still dancing through the air, the peanut flavor was sadly lacking. Sure, the variety of textures from the smooth chocolate, crunchy puffed rice, and chewy innards worked together quite nicely, but where was the roasted, toasted taste I had expected? Comparing this treat to the Nutz Over Chocolate Luna Bar due to their similar composition, it was a close race, but I found that the Luna bar actually won over my taste buds, as it simply had more intense flavors and was ultimately more satisfying than a candy bar.
At this point, I was a bit more than dubious of the final variant, Toasted Almond, but gave it the benefit of the doubt nonetheless. I hoped desperately that this would be the savior of the bunch. Smelling only of chocolate, it was no surprise that the almond flavor was very delicate indeed, drowning in the powerhouse of cocoa surrounding it. Still, if these two elements were eaten separately as with the mint coconut bar, the almond center proved to burst with potential and be a delicious treat all on its own. Unlike the intense, sugary taste of marzipan, this bar has a quieter, more sophisticated, yet wonderfully nutty essence. Very sweet as always but accompanied by a good hit of salt and solid chunks of almonds, I would have simply adored this bar without the excessive use of chocolate. It's good chocolate to be sure, but – I hate to burst anyone's bubble – some things don't need chocolate to taste good!
Clearly the palate is a subjective entity, because while these don't really strike my fancy too much, they have won numerous awards from reputable sources such as VegNews. Although they do seem more like granola bars and are certainly more health-conscious than you average sugary treat, touting the fact that they are all organic, gluten-free, kosher, and vegan with abandon, they still do live up to the designation as candy. Maybe not a candy bar in the traditional sense, and probably not something that you would see average omnivores reaching for if offered their old favorites instead, but still a seriously sweet treat that could curb cravings in a pinch.
Hannah writes for Go Dairy Free, and her own blog, Bittersweet. She has a cookbook due out by the fall of 2007, My Sweet Vegan.