Replacing Chocolate

Dearest Rachel –

You might remember, the last time we were on the island, we used up the last of one of the few remaining jars of Hershey’s spread on some marshmallows we placed in the toaster oven. Well, to be perfectly accurate, we put it on the graham crackers that we set atop those toasted marshmallows (and for the record, the toaster oven didn’t prevent said marshmallows from burning black; they just didn’t burst into flame like they would have over an open fire). Much as we hated to use the last of it – since Hershey had stopped making the stuff, for whatever unfathomable reason – we knew that one day, that jar of spread would probably go bad (especially since it was already open), and the amount that we thought we had ‘saved’ was no longer worth saving.

We had that happen to so many foodstuffs over the course of our lives that we actually gave the phenomenon a name: the Prospector’s Tangerine. It’s based on some old tale of a grizzled ‘forty-niner that visits the local town’s general store after several months of searching for gold. He’s got some small grubstake, but nothing particularly significant – just enough to stock up on provisions for the next few months. As he collects the items he’s determined he needs, his eye alight on a box of strange orange fruits, and he asks the proprietor about them.

“Why, Jeb, they’re called tangerines. Care to try one?”

“Naw, thanks all the same. I’ve got enough tastes I can’t satisfy without having to add another one to ’em.”

It’s not much of a joke, but it is a circumstance we found all too relatable. We would find something we like, we’d enjoy it for a while, it would stop being made, and either we would run out forever, or – if we were made aware of the situation beforehand – we would stock up on the product… and never use it again, because there was never an occasion special enough to deplete our finite and unrenewable supply. It was a taste we would never be able to satisfy again, so we held onto it until what we had was unusable as well.

Jan can testify to the amount we had to throw out of the pantry and the freezer, and the girls (particularly Ellen) can vouch for the refrigerator (indeed, there’s still a bottle of chocolate liqueur that she couldn’t throw out, as it apparently spilled a bit and is now stuck fast to the bottom of the fridge). I’d apologize to you for throwing out so much, except it was the only thing left to do with most of it all.

But even while you were still around, we wanted to find some thing that would replace the discontinued Hershey’s spread. I’d even considered it for an episode of that YouTube channel we were hoping to make. Okay, that I was hoping to make. And to be honest, at the time I was picturing something that would simply bemoan the fact that it was gone, and compare it to a number of other things we’d developed tests for and lost: things like chili-cheese Munch-ems (or Munch-ems in general), the McDonald’s McSkillet, and so forth.

But that was before your passing, and the discovery in our pantry of one last unopened jar of the original Hershey’s spread, combined with my imprisonment (or, more to the point, my release) in Switzerland. As much as I might not want to use up the last of the stuff, I’ll need to soon enough because, even though it’s sealed, I can’t guarantee how long it will keep – and what better way to give it a proper send off than to find it a worthy successor? So, in the spirit of “It’s a Southern Thing”s feature series, “Bless Your Rank,” I’m going to be comparing it against a collection of potential replacements. And since that’s a lot of chocolate spread – and mine is only one opinion – I’ve invited the girls over to help me rate each of these. Maybe we can even make a video of it, and get everybody’s reaction in real time.

So here’s what we plan on working with:

The Benchmarks

Naturally, Hershey’s Spread itself is what we’re trying to replace, so it’s basically the standard we want to replicate. On the other hand, after all this time, I may have forgotten (and exaggerated, thanks to the nostalgia filter) what it truly tastes like, and it may not of been as great as all that. Add to that the fact that it’s been sitting around for a while (albeit sealed and undisturbed), and its own quality might be dubious at best).

Crema avellanas NUTELLA ferrero 350 g - disco

The other benchmark is something I haven’t named, but which obviously would come to mind when someone thinks of chocolate spread; why wouldn’t we just switch over to Nutella? Even back in the day, you pointed out that you could taste the hazelnut in it (which by contrast, I couldn’t, unless I was really trying to), and you weren’t all that fond of it. It’s why we preferred Hershey’s in the first place.

And for what it’s worth, I’m using a store brand hazelnut spread – I won’t say one’s as good as another for the sake of comparison, but I already had this over at the folks (from back when I would grab breakfast there back before I made a practice of either waiting for Daniel to wake up or walking over there – or both), and didn’t see a point to get a second jar of the stuff just to have the name brand on hand when I’ve started to see your point about tasting the nut. That’s also why I don’t have a photo, not that you asked.

The Swiss Finds

These are the ones that led me to believe I could find an adequate replacement – or even an improvement – upon the stuff we can no longer find. After all, who knows chocolate better than the Swiss? Admittedly, the Ovomaltine is likely to have a different sort of flavor (to say nothing of the texture; seriously, what is ‘crunchy cream’ going to be like in terms of mouthfeel?) due to the use of malt in its formula, but the Lindt company strikes me as one that could easily create a worthy substitute for – or even an improvement on– anything Hershey could create, particularly since its offering is specifically described as dark chocolate, which almost all of us favor against milk chocolate.

The Amazon Discoveries

Of course, there’s no point in crowning a winner that can’t be readily purchased back here in the States; that’s just creating the same problem we already have. However, while trying to find the two Swiss products on Amazon (and succeeding, within limits – they can be a bit pricey on this side of the pond), I found a couple others that might also be of interest. I don’t know that much about tahini, and the idea of a sesame-based spread seems particularly odd, but I’m more than willing to give it a try. If nothing else, the idea of an ‘all-natural’ substitute somehow seems healthier, at least (of course, it could also give off a “drink up Socrates, it’s organic!” vibe). As for the Jet spread, well, it was available for a relatively cheap price, and from the looks of it, it might will be the one milk chocolate representative in the competition; we’ve got to give that flavor a chance, too.

The Wild Card

Another item of interest that got me considering assembling this comparison was when Erin brought over a container of chocolate hummus. To be honest, I don’t expect this to do well, as it had a decidedly gritty mouth feel, but I can’t deny that it had a very strong dark chocolate taste. So, if she’s able to bring it, I’m willing to add it to the competition, and see how it stacks up against the rest.

The Criteria

Now, this might be applying more rigor to it than necessary – especially in comparison to the way Matt does this on ‘Bless Your Rank’ – but it’s useful to have some basis of comparison, in my opinion. I’m not gonna hold the girls – or Daniel, for that matter – to maintaining these standards, but it’s something to work with.

I want to compare each of these on three main criteria: taste, mouthfeel, and spreadability. To be sure, for that last criteria, we’re not spreading these on whole slices of toast like I’d intended at first – seven whole slices of toast each would be a ridiculous amount for any of us to go through – we’re just going to use miniature vanilla wafers, with Ellen substituting rice cakes for a Nestlé Crunch vibe.

And while mouthfeel might be something of a reiteration of the other two criteria, I think it’s something of a separate concept to bear in mind. One would want something creamy (which admittedly puts the hummus and the Ovomaltine at a disadvantage), but not too thin (which might pose a problem for the tahini) – something with the consistency of peanut butter.

As for taste, that could be broken down further between sweetness (bearing in mind that there’s such a thing as too sweet, as well as not sweet enough), chocolatiness (if that’s even a word – but the difference between the flavors of dark or milk chocolate, and whether one or the other is better. This one will most likely be one of the more contentious criteria, as some of us prefer one over the other), and any other flavor notes (such as hazelnut, for instance, or malt) and whether they detract from or enhance the flavor somehow.

Yeah, I know, I’m going a little overboard. But we’re talking about a treasured flavor from our past; if we can find something that truly can serve as a reasonable substitute – or better yet, an improvement upon – what once was, wouldn’t that be nice?

And suddenly, I wonder if I’m not thinking about something more than just chocolate spread.

In any event, I’m hoping to film this, like I said, and maybe get it edited and released by White Day.

Wish me luck, honey; I think I’m going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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