This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gluten-Free Norway: A Chocolate Tour

 If you're in Norway long enough, you may eventually need some chocolate.  Maybe as a quick energy boost while hiking.  Maybe as a comfort food when the days start shrinking.  Maybe as a quick and easy dessert when you've used up both your pans in your tiny kitchenette. 

In Trondheim, at least, there seem to be two companies that completely dominate the chocolate and candy market:  Freia and Nidar. Freia also corners the market on baking chocolate, chocolate sauce, chocolate, cream, and fruit sauces, etc. in the local grocery stores.  Unfortunately, nearly every single one of their products carries a "kan inneholde spor av gluten" warning (may contain traces of gluten).  The one exception is a set of heart-shaped milk chocolate pieces, which I have only seen in one store (the Meny in Solsiden).  There are also a few specialty gourmet chocolate bars (usually dark) offered in most allergen-free sections of stores, and some fancy/expensive items with the regular chocolate/candy selection.  If you can tolerate trace amounts of gluten, then your go-to for milk chocolate should be Kinder, which is a deliciously creamy milk truffle dipped in high-quality milk chocolate.

If you want something that is both free from trace gluten, widely available, and inexpensive, though, your options become limited.  Nidar is pretty much the go-to, because they offer a detailed allergen chart of their products:
  •  Visit their allergen information page here
  • Click on the link to "Allergentabell" on the right hand side of their website to open it in a spreadsheet program such as Excel or Librecalc.
  • The product name is on the left.  Each allergen is marked as "Resept," if the allergen is a primary ingredient (such as nuts in a peanut butter bar), or "Spor" if traces of the allergen may be present, even if not part of the regular ingredients. 
A few warnings:
  • Nidar maintains a separate English-language site, also with an allergen table, but the table on their English site is dated 2012, and may have out-of-date information.  The Norwegian-language site's table is from 2015.
  • It is worth running the allergen information page through Google Translate for additional information.  For instance, they mention that their marzipan contains glucose syrup made from wheat.  So while it is technically gluten-free, those who are otherwise wheat-sensitive may still react.  
Now that the technical information is out of the way, let's get to the chocolate itself!  After months of very little chocolate, I have taken the Nidar allergy list to the store and bought one of everything they had that was chocolate and not marked as having any trace of gluten.

Or licorice.  There is a Norwegian obsession with licorice (including in the first brand of toothpaste I tried when we arrived) and that's just not going to happen.  If you're the sort that actually likes it, you're on your own.  Ditto with the salt candy. 

The Chocolates

#1 Nidar Smørbukk Bar
Score: 4 stars (out of 5)

  One of the GIANT chocolate bars found in most grocery stores, this one is simply chocolate covered caramel.  The Smørbukk caramels are also sold as individually wrapped, unchocolated bites, and are one of the best sweets you can find here.  So the deliciousness doesn't suffer much from being coated in somewhat indifferent chocolate.  Overall, reminiscent of "Rollo" candies from the U.S.

#4 Nidar Cuba
Score: 4 stars (out of 5)

 This chocolate seems to be an outlier in that it uses a lot of natural ingredients (sugar instead of glucose syrup, powdered milk, palm and shea oils, chocolate, almonds, soy lecithin, salt).  As a result, it is less intensely sweet than most of the chocolates I've tried. It is an almond and chocolate truffle coated with milk chocolate.  Very classic, decent chocolate, and in a small bar for when you don't want a yard of chocolate.  

#3 Nidar Stratos Melky
Score: 3.75 stars (out of 5)

This is Nidar's answer to the fantastically delicious Kinder milk bars, (which unfortunately may contain traces of gluten). The milk truffle center helps offset the poor-quality chocolate, and makes this a perfectly edible little snack.  Not Kinder, but I would buy them again.  


#4 Nidar Troika
Score: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

From the Russian word for a group of three, this bar has three layers: marzipan, chocolate truffle, and raspberry jelly.  It is coated in dark chocolate.  It is one of Nidar's tastier options, with a little more going on than just so many of their other options.  Note that Nidar's marzipan uses glucose syrup made from wheat, and so while gluten-free, may not be safe for people with other wheat sensitivity.

 #5 Nidar Gullbrød
Score: 3 stars (out of 5)

This isn't as overwhelmingly sweet as some of the other sweets I've tried.  It is essentially chocolate-covered marzipan.  So it is mellow, filling, and just sweet enough to fill an energy craving.  In fact, it might make excellent hiking food.  Note that Nidar marzipan contains glucose syrup (what we call "corn syrup") made from wheat.  While it is technically gluten-free, those with other wheat sensitivities should avoid).

 #6  Nidar Stratos
Score: 2.5 stars (out of 5)

I didn't understand the chocolate air-bubbles when Hershey did it, and I don't understand doing it with relatively cheap, waxy chocolate either. For "foamed" chocolate to work, it really needs to very high quality, and this just isn't it.  On the plus side, it's a GIANT SLAB of chocolate (I didn't add something for scale, but the bar is about 8 inches long) and breaks into little bite-size pieces.  This might be good to keep in the cupboard when you just want a bit of chocolate in passing.

#7 Nidar Hobby
Score 2.5 stars (out of 5)

 This was a strange one.  There is a layer of marshmallow-like "foam, and a layer of some kind of jelly.  I couldn't identify the flavor of the jelly, but it was vaguely reminiscent of fake cherry syrup, with a strong sugar-alcohol flavor and a small amount of crystallized crunch.  On their website, it says the jelly flavor is banana, to which I raise a puzzled eyebrow.  Apparently this is really popular among kids here. 


 #8 Nidar Kremtopper

Score: 2 stars (out of 5)

 These looked promising, coming in a fancy-ish box that might even pass as a hostess gift if you are invited to someone's home for dinner.  But their reality is more like the dollar-store cherry cordials you get at home; really, really sweet, but not much else.  The chocolate part is particularly cheap and waxy, and the vanilla cream has a texture like a Junior Mint.  On the plus side, if you packed them hiking, they probably wouldn't get crushed in your pack.

The takeaway from this exploration for me is that we are thoroughly spoiled by high-quality milk chocolate in the U.S.  It really isn't one of the Norwegian specialty foods.  The best chocolates I've found here are imported, and if you really want a chocolate treat your best bet is to grab a Snickers.  They have a surprisingly wide market here, unlike any other candy we're used to seeing in the U.S.

More to come!

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