Tagged: chocolate

Fun-sized statistics that melt in your mouth

I’m told that there are treatments available for those of us who are compelled like to count and sort our candy by color before eating it. I can stop any time I want, of course, but today’s fun-sized pack of M&Ms gave me pause.

This Unit Not Labeled for Individual Retail Sale

No yellow. There’s a yellow guy on the package, but he’s a peanut M&M. Do the regular chocolate ones still come in yellow? Yes, they do, but not in this pack. What are the odds?

Well, assuming that the little packages are filled from an effectively bottomless vat of M&Ms representing the official color distribution (24% blue, 14% brown, 16% green, 20% orange, 13% red, and 14% yellow) and that every fun-sized pack has 17 candies like this one, the odds of no yellow should be (1-p(yellow))^17, or 0.84^17, which is about 5.16%.

In a much more rigorous and costly investigation, the estimable Josh Madison bought 48 packages (larger than mine, each had an average of 55 candies) of M&Ms and ran the numbers. No word on the number of pepcid tablets he needed, but not one of this 48 bags was bereft of any single color. Madison did, however, find that the actual distribution in his sample was not so close to the published ratio, with a lot less blue and more of all the others, especially green.

On the off chance that you’re still with me, I bet you’re wondering, “ok, professor chocoholic OCD, is there something I can use here?” Well, I think there are two ideas worth remembering if you’re in the business of counting or estimating or forecasting things:

Size Matters. Sample size, that is. If you based your view of the M&M world on my single 17-candy packet, you’d have a pretty messed up view of reality. If you used one of Josh’s 55-candy packs, you’d be a lot better off, but even with 48 such packs, you’d have only partially cracked the code.

Seemingly Rare Events aren’t always as rare as you think. Intuitively, a small pack of M&Ms missing a color feels like a rare thing – how often have you seen it? But the math puts it at 5%, one pack in 20. Huge businesses are built on the preferences of market segments smaller than 5% of the population. The United States contains about 4.5% of the world’s people.  And sometimes rare events are even rarer than you think. What are the odds of picking up a fun-sized pack that’s all blue (the most common color by the official stats)? Do you think that would be 100 times rarer, maybe 10,000 times less common than no yellow? How about 0.0000000029% or about 1 all-blue pack in 34 billion, compared to 1 pack in 5 for yellow-deficiency? If all 400 million M&Ms made each day were put into 17-candy packs, they’d make only 8.5 billion packs a year. That would be a rare event.

The odds of a rare event happening are 1.0 after it happens. No matter how crazy it might seem, events with long odds can happen, and once they happen, they have happened. You could choose to believe something’s not right in your calculations or in the world, and you’d probably be smart to check. But once the all-blue pack is in your hands, there it is. Just remember that the odds of getting another one are just as small as they were before.

So think hard next time you put M&Ms into some kid’s trick or treat bag. Who knows what might happen?

Halloween Kit Kat? Give me a break

It’s the week after Halloween, and that means tons of leftover candy. Especially since it’s the stuff you couldn’t palm off on the young extortionists in costume, I usually don’t pay much attention. But this week, somebody left a bunch of Kit Kats in the office, and some of them had orange labels. And we all know that means peanut butter, right?


Wrong. These orange-wrapped Kit Kats are in fact “Halloween Kit Kat” and they are orange in color but not in flavor.  They’re not peanut butter, they’re not pumpkin pie, they’re not orange Creamsicle, they’re not even candied yam or cantaloupe flavored, they are white chocolate that’s been dyed orange.  It’s a bit like a wafers wrapped in a crayon.


This is so disappointing because I know they could have done so much better. In Japan, Kit Kats come in all sorts of seasonal varieties, many of them fruity. Even right here in the USA, there are candies in seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice, so why would Hershey phone in such a weak Halloween Kit Kat?

We gave the world the bacon chocolate bar, can we not put some real pumpkin flavor in a candy bar? Don’t America’s children deserve more squash in their goodie bags?

This chocolate pudding could be A+

I’ve called out food trucks before for obfuscating the name and content of common dishes, but when Mei Mei Street Kitchen put Sanguinaccio Dolce on the board, they helpfully, if bluntly, glossed it with “Taza chocolate, John Crow farm pigs blood.” $2, what could possibly go wrong? If there’s going to be blood in my dessert, I’d rather it be local.

Mei Mei Street Kitchen Menu

Sanguinaccio Dolce (don’t you just love saying that?) is a traditional carnival dish of the Basilicata region of Italy, the arch of the foot of the boot, if you will, or maybe a spat, since it has coastline on both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas. It’s more or less chocolate pudding with some fresh pig’s blood in it, sometimes served with biscuits.

Mei Mei provided no biscuits, but did include a nice dollop of cream and some sesame(?) seeds. The characteristic flavor and texture of Taza chocolate was evident in the apparently creamy pudding. There was no obvious or intrusive blood or pork flavor, not even the saltiness that I was expecting. It’s just a subtle twist to the chocolate, a bitterness that I doubt you’d even be able to identify as blood if some evil person gave it to you without disclosure.

Sanguinaccio Dolce

Ingredients aside, $2 for such a small serving of pudding may seem a little steep, but you do get to say that you ate it. Plus, how much chocolate pudding (and blood) belongs in a balanced diet? If you need to load up, go get yourself a venti chocolate cookie frappuccino with two strips of bacon. [N.B., at the time I wrote this I was as yet unaware of the Dunkin Donuts bacon egg and cheese on a donut breakfast “sandwich”.]

I applaud the Mei Mei team for putting something different out there and also for making an effort to use the whole animal. Their menu is ever-changing and seasonal, so get your sanguinaccio dolce while you can. Maybe as summer heats up they’ll add ice cream and call it Sundae Bloody Sundae.

Also, if you haven’t heard, Mei Mei is opening a brick and mortar restaurant, and you can support them on kickstarter.

All candy should come with technical cross-section diagrams

While snagging a fresh Mozart Kugel from the snack table at the office I noticed this informative diagram inside the box. Behold the majesty of two different kinds of marzipan on one chocolate ball.  What really drove the Salieri Kugel to madness was how easy the Mozart Kugel made it look.

Inside the Mozart Kugel

Now that’s my kind of infographic. It’s too bad you typically only get this sort of diagram with German or Japanese candy. To my mind, it should be as required as the nutrition information or the candy guide for the perplexed. Via Steve Almond’s CandyFreak, you can also test your ability to identify candy bars by their cross sections, and there’s a whole load of cross-sectional chocolate fun at Edible Cartography. It should go without saying that I really like that name.

The Legend of the Passover Hamster

You know how every office has somebody that loves to tell stories, often the same ones again and agin?  I’m not gonna lie, it can be annoying, except when you get a really good story out of it.  This is one such story: The Legend of the Passover Hamster.

It should be no surprise to anybody who has grown up a member of a minority that the media and culture is soaked with the images and traditions of the majority group, and that this can give the minority a weird envy for the cultural trappings of the majority.  It is out of this cultural soup that the Passover hamster emerges every year to, well, I’m not really sure what, if anything, the Passover hamster does.  I hope it’s not that creepy breaking & entering you get with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

The Passover Hamster, to be simple and direct about it, is a chocolate Easter bunny with the ears removed.  And by “removed” I mean eaten by the Jewish parent preparing (creating? constructing?) the Passover hamster for a credulous child with a bad case of Christian holiday envy.  No, there are no hamsters in the old testament, except perhaps to note that they are not kosher.  But hey, are there any chocolate-egg-laying bunnies in the new testament?

There’s something about this story that delights me, and that’s odd since I have such scorn for the Hanukkah bush.  To me the Hanukkah bush is just straight up envy of another tradition.  It accepts lesser stature (bush vs tree) as if it’s ashamed of something.   The Passover hamster is satirical, even slightly transgressive, like a golem in drag at a Purim spiel.  Plus, in years where Passover comes after Easter, you can get the bunnies at a good discount.

Here, for the perplexed, is a brief guide to creating not the classic Passover hamster of our youth, but a modern version with a twist.  I illustrate with peanut butter, but of course that’s not kosher for passover so I’ll have to eat this hamster before sundown.  I think I can manage it.

1. Procure hollow chocolate Bunny and filling

Traditional eastern european fillings include prune and poppy seed, but you can also use more middle eastern fillings such as organic almond butter or tahini.   Chill the bunny and let the filling sit at room temperature.

2. Remove the ears

Strictly speaking, this should be done in a single swift stroke with a sharp knife by a man with no stain upon him.  Or you could just chew them off.  If you need more explicit directions, I can send you an e-mohel.

3. Fill your hamster

Depending on the configuration of your particular bunny, you can either just spoon in the filling, or you may have to use a pastry bag.

4. Let set, and serve

This little guy kinda looks like Bart Simpson, doesn’t he?  Happy holidays.

* The observant – and the Observant – will note that it’s pretty unlikely that a chocolate Easter bunny would be kosher for passover, or even kosher at all.  I would instruct such persons to carve their Passover hamsters from solid blocks of passover chocolate, or perhaps build them with laser-cut sheets of chocolate-covered matzo.

Caffeine Nation

Last week I attended a discussion and book signing for Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America by historian Benjamin Carp.  History might not run as deep here in Massachusetts as it does in Sicily, but it’s pretty thick in Boston and the event was held at the Old South Meeting House, a site of major interest to the topic of the 1773 Tea Party.

I will not attempt to summarize the book, largely since I have not read it, but I do have to highlight something Carp mentioned in his talk: tea, coffee, and chocolate – all hot, bitter, caffeinated beverages – all hit the European scene around the same time (the 1580s) and some say they they fueled the enlightenment in Europe and then the revolution in America.

That’s a big claim, but I’m not one to underestimate the power of coffee, tea and chocolate.  Europeans gradually figured out that they liked their chocolate, coffee and tea with both milk and sugar, the latter another product of the transoceanic trade that somehow made these goods widely if not cheaply available hundreds of years before GPS.

The colonists dressed as Indians who dumped tons of tea into the harbor in 1773 had autonomy and self-determination on their minds more than a particular choice of beverage, but it would be as interesting to hear their take on 21st century Americans arguing about patronage of small independent coffee shops or multinational megacoffeechains as it would to know what they think of today’s tea party movement.

Look to the peanut butter oatmeal cookie

I’ve been informed that today, June 12, is National Peanut Butter Cookie Day.  What better day to test my crackpot theory that you can improve things by adding peanut butter.  For example, here is Quaker Oats’ “Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie” recipe, and my modifications in [brackets].

  • Preheat overn to 350F
  • Combine and cream
    • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) margarine or butter [avoid margarine at all costs; substitute peanut butter for half the butter]
    • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar [if your brown sugar has turned into a rock, gently microwave it into molasses]
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Add and beat in
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Add
    • 1+1/2 cups flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon [I’ve never bothered with this, although I have been known to add some ground coffee]
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) [salt is never optional]
  • Stir in
    • 3 cupts oats
    • 1 cup raisins [feh, I use chocolate chips or more likely a hacked up chocolate bar or Reese’s pieces for special occasions]
  • Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheets [use a larger spoon or just scoop chunks with your hands if you get bored]
  • Bake 10-12 mins

Viola!  Chocolate chunk peanut butter oatmeal cookies.

Tour de Taza

When you live outside the tropics, it’s sort of hard to buy “local chocolate.”  You can buy from a local chocolatier, which is somebody who buys chocolate from someplace else and melts, molds, rolls, carves and otherwise remakes it into delicious confections.  You can also buy chocolate from a local chocolate maker, somebody who imports cocoa beans and turns them into what we know as chocolate.  Somerville’s Taza Chocolate is in the latter category, and this weekend, they opened their doors for an open house and tour.

Welcome to the Taza Chocolate Factory Tour

Health codes prevented the hundreds of tour-goers from entering most of the factory, but we did get a good look at the roaster and winnower with co-founder Larry.  The aroma was intoxicating.

Larry and the roaster

Looking vaguely Steve Jobslike, Larry held forth passionately about Taza’s commitment to their cocoa cooperative in the Dominican Republic, local partnerships in Somerville (they buy letterpress labels from nearby Albertine Press!), and creating an organic product using ancient Mexican stone mills.  The company is just three years old, but the major equipment was purchased used and is over 30 years old.

The winnower.

Is that a cork substituting for a button on the winnowing machine?  No matter. One business-minded guest asked where the bottleneck was in the process, and it turns out that the answer to that is wrapping and packaging, and Taza plans to expand into adjacent space in the building to increase capacity.

Indulging my usual passion for salty chocolate, I picked up a $4 round of Taza’s Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Mexicano in the salted almond variety.  The factory might not open to the public again for a while, but run don’t walk to Taza’s website or your local supplier.


Earlier this week I was in Santa Monica engaging in the dark art of qualitative marketing research. (For more insight into marketing research, try Lynne’s shiny new blog, Marketing Analytics) While dining with my colleagues, I discovered that they had been having on ongoing discussion on foodie topics, and were eager to draw me into the symposium.

The questions came rapid-fire, each one positing gut-wrenching choices: “if you could have just one cheese for the rest of your life…” “what’s your favourite fruit?” “what’s the best seduction meal?” “what would be your last meal?” and so forth. I shot from the hip answering alternately thoughtfully and blithely, and then they unleashed the stumper – the question that was disturbing in its very implication.

Cheese or chocolate?

If starting right now – no last fling allowed – you had to give up one of those foods forever, which would it be? Each one has hundreds or even thousands of varieties and forms and applications. There’s chocolate in some of my favorite coffee drinks, and cheese in so many savory foods. For some, a dessert is incomplete without one or both. Chocolate cheesecake is off the table immediately. I waffled, I wavered, I changed the subject.

I told two friends about it recently, and they chose quickly but came down on opposite sides. One claimed a bit of lactose intolerance and the other pledged allegiance to the savory side of life. Others I’ve told, especially vegetarians, have been as worried by the question as I am.

I remember a few months back, twitter buddy @thespottedduck asked which four cheeses you would restrict yourself to for the rest of your life and had a hard time getting any takers to cut back to just four types, even with broad categories like “swiss” or “goat.” And similarly terrible to contemplate, a man in England raised over 1,000 pounds for charity by pledging to give up cheese for just one month. See the terrified reaction here by one bloke who has a list of top five European cheeses. He’s not cutting back to four anytime soon.

As a marketer, I’m all about forced ranking as a way to uncover preferences. As a businessman, I’m all about making tough choices to stay focused and productive. But as an eater, I’m just not sure I like thinking about this sort of thing.