Chocolate Cranberry Clusters, Or: What Is Vanillin?!?


I love chocolate with pretty much anything- fruit, ice cream, pretzels, nuts, in candy bars, etc. But one time I was reading a chocolate label (“Don’t do that,” my husband likes to joke) and noticed that the last ingredient was something called “vanillin.” After looking at other candy labels, I noticed that it was in pretty much every mainstream brand of chocolate, and I had no idea what it is. So I turned to Google.

According to Google, vanillin is an extract from vanilla beans (although it is not the same as 100% vanilla bean extract). Because 100% pure vanilla extract/ real vanillin is expensive, 99% of the world’s vanillin is synthetic/artificial, a “by product of the pulp industry” that is produced with petrochemicals.

The internet debates whether or not this is a big deal for people’s health. I don’t know, but I still think it’s weird. (You can find Material Safety Data Sheets online for vanillin that mention it’s hazardous to aquatic life. Dunno if I want to be eating that). It got me thinking about how little we know about what’s in our food and where it comes from. Reading labels and knowing certain ingredients to avoid is a good start. But I’d also like to make more items myself so that I can avoid unnecessary extra ingredients. Plus, making items myself is usually cheaper (a win-win!).

So I was excited that these Chocolate Cranberry Clusters were an experiment that came out really well. I made them after having leftover chocolate from making a batch of Chocolate Salted Apricots, and they have only 3 ingredients- a bag of chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and walnuts.

To make them, mix 1/2 cup of dried cranberries (or dried cherries) and 3/4 cup of chopped walnuts into a sauce pan of melted (vanillin free 🙂 ) chocolate chips. Drop by the tablespoonful onto a plate covered with a sheet of wax paper, and place in the fridge to harden. You’ll end up with about 18, depending on their size. Enjoy!

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