Here’s a link to some new programs Hershey is initiating in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, areas historically rife with child labor, and other travesties.
There is something really irresistible about chocolates that come in a beautiful black box with a copper coat of arms. It’s not actually a coat of arms, but it’s a fabulous rendition of a ship sailing under a sky of cocoa pods. Add to that the magnetic closure and you have a presentation that sates your aesthetic senses before you even taste one of the little gems inside.
These are chocolates to savor slowly, each a mini-meditation on perfectly tempered couverture, sublimely wrought ganaches, and lovely visuals.
If you seek novel flavors, like mascarpone with Dominican dark chocolate, but also covet the classics, like a mint ganache enrobed in Venezuelan dark chocolate, Edwart is for you. Each square is a well-thought out pairing of interior and exterior. The Criollo with almond praline and Yoichi (Japanese whiskey) with a fruity chocolate from the Dominican Republic are only two examples of their creativity. Of course, it’s also nice to have some old favorites, like feuilletine…those delightfully crunchy bits of crêpe dentelle. The ginger, gianduja, sesame, curry, and mini rocher completed a lovely selection fit for your most discerning chocolate connoisseur.
Looking for wonderfully whimsical and beautiful chocolates for Easter, or any other holiday? Check out their website: http://www.edwart.fr.
If you plan to be in Paris consider taking one of their workshops. Trip Advisor has reams of glowing reviews for the plethora of chocolate offerings beyond the ganaches I sampled.
What makes for an exquisitely delicious chocolate Babka? To start, the flavors and proportion of chocolate to dough have to be perfectly balanced. Not too sweet, not too bready; not simply a dense mass of chocolate, but enough to sate your cravings.
Over the past holiday season I let it be known I was on the hunt for a great chocolate Babka and my family did not disappoint. I will not name all the loaves I tried in the vain hope of finding something reminiscent of my grandmother’s sublime version. Suffice it to say: Nine of the ten I sampled shall remain nameless.
One stood out high above the rest: Wise Sons of San Francisco. The ingredients alone tell you how fabulous this Babka will be: organic wheat flour, chocolate, milk, butter, sugar, cage-free eggs, brown sugar, water, cream, cocoa powder, vanilla, yeast, cinnamon, and salt. The loaf is beautifully adorned with a streusel topping that is somehow not too sweet. The interior is marbled with deep fissures of dark chocolate. The dough is like a breadier brioche, but that description doesn’t do it justice. My daughter, who went to culinary school, thought it was like a combination of brioche and puff pastry. Indescribable? Perhaps. But definitely capable of satisfying the most jaded Babka palate.
When I was growing up in NYC I used to have a hard time limiting my Babka intake as I found it very addicting. Probably because it was too sweet and I was a kid. This version is so satisfying that a modest portion is enough to sate even a major Babka jones.
If you’re not lucky enough to live near the Wise Sons bakery you can mail order this through Goldbely.com. It’s definitely a splurge, but each Babka will give you tons of gustatory joy and it freezes beautifully.
I recently had a chance to taste two of the newly imported Cailler bars (on Amazon at $27.64 for 13.8 ounces), one with hazelnuts, blueberries and almonds, and the other with cranberries and almonds. Both are beautiful, jewel-like creations with fruits and nuts imbedded into delicious thick slabs of UTZ certified dark chocolate. I bought them on Amazon, but they seem to have sold out. Having become a devotee…a chic way of saying addicted…I tried the Aldi roasted hazelnut bars in milk and dark chocolate, as they were UTZ certified and I thought might be worthy contenders. Of course, the enormous cost saving was also a big draw.
The Aldi bars were worthy contenders, though not as visually arresting as Cailler’s. They weigh in at a smidge over seven ounces each, are are really semi-sweet at 50% cocoa, and for $2.25 a pop they’re an extraordinary bargain. The chocolate is delicious, especially the dark bar, and the roasted whole hazelnuts perfectly crunchy and rich. One portion, a seventh of a bar, is a dessert unto itself. If you like milk chocolate you will probably prefer that version. For me, the dark one is really stellar.
Now, I just wish Aldi would offer their single origin mini bars on a regular basis. They were truly amazing.
Regina Monaco has a PhD in Chemistry, and her research is in the areas of physical chemistry, thermodynamics, and biochemistry. As a chocolatier, she always tries to use her scientific background to understand every step of chocolate-making process.
Regina likes to study the characteristics of every batch carefully: is the roast dark or light, considering the type of cacao used? Is the body smooth, light, creamy, rich, and flavorful or sticky, heavy, grainy, bitter and thin? She analyzes so she can maximize the positive attributes and minimize any negative notes, textures, or flavors.
Her mission at BronxGrrl chocolate is to make unique, quirkily imperfect chocolate with personality. Each batch is just a little different.
I tried a Maple Pecan Bubble. It was creamy, perfectly sweetened, and, with its crown of crunchy nuts and dusting of maple sugar, very satisfying to eat and look at. The chocolate itself was tempered beautifully. The texture dense, and the flavor profile earthy but still sophisticated. I actually ate it in two installments as I wanted it to last.
You might also try her Bubble with Pecans and Cranberries and the heart shaped truffles with raspberry, sour cherry, maple ganache, made with their family’s maple syrup. Both sound divine to me.
Stuart & Mhairi Craig, creators of Double Spiral Chocolate, named it after an ancient Celtic symbol resembling the Taoist Yin-Yang. Two opposing spirals emerge from a single line to signify how opposite components can find balance. The opposites they speak of are taste & nutrition. One of the guiding forces behind their company is minimal processing with only 2 or 3 organic ingredients sourced by Direct or Fair Trade: cacao beans (70+%), unrefined cane sugar (non-centrifugal*)and a whole food ingredient like mint leaves, raspberry, ginger, etc.
I sampled the Tanzania 75% Kokoa Kamila and the Haitian 73% with freeze dried banana. While two bars is not a comprehensive review of their wares, it does indicate attention to detail and quality. Their lack of cocoa butter makes for a slightly drier finish. I was quite taken with the banana bar as the character of the chocolate was a great match for the tiny pulverized pieces of freeze dried fruit. The Tanzania bar had a pronounced rustic quality.
Check Double Spiral out if you are a purist who seeks a minimally processed bar that connects you with the bean’s true nature.
*Non-Centifugal Sugar (NCS) – This organic, fair trade, traditional raw sugar is obtained by evaporating water from sugarcane juice. Importantly, there is no centrifugation step to remove the nutrient rich molasses. NCS is produced in sugarcane growing regions around the world, and known by many different names such as panela, rapadura, jaggery, gur, kokuto or muscovado. These have superior nutrient content compared to other ‘brown sugars’, such as turbinado, demerara or refined sugars mixed with molasses.
Here’s a link to a really neat chocolate map from Bloomberg News (you have to scroll down the page a bit to see it). It’s not complete, but gives you a visual for many of the locations and their predominant tastes.
When I was in high school I had a short period of fascination with witchcraft. Pretty quickly, I discovered it was mostly a mind game. Spells, hexes, and voodoo all seemed to rely on the intended subject knowing what good or evil was being created for them with dolls, potions, or boiling cauldrons. Chocolate is partially a mind game, too, but of a very different nature. Great chocolate casts its spell by creating an altered state of consciousness where your five senses collaborate to take you somewhere captivating, delicious, and new.
Hexx bewitches its customers with their wide array of single origin dark and dark milk bars. All of which are sure to carry you into a chocolate reverie and away from whatever harshes your mellow.
The look of these bars is also entrancing. Each is shaped into many little, flat hexagons with the double X design in bas relief.
All are sweetened with raw palm sugar, made from nectar found in the flower buds of the coconut palm tree. This nectar is then air-dried to form a crystalline sugar that’s naturally brown in color and rich in a number of key vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. Palm sugar has a low-glycemic index. It tastes and acts almost exactly like sugar, but it is unrefined.
I sampled four of their eight bars:
47% Camino Verde (Ecuador) dark milk is reminiscent of vanilla, caramel, fruit and cream. Easy to eat, but also very rich and satisfying in small amounts.
47% Sambirano Valley (Madagascar) dark milk is lighter in color and more gentle on the palate. A great choice for people who are afraid to up their cocoa content and want a milky, soothing bar.
70% Kokoa Kamili (Tanzania) is a very assertive offering with coffee, raisin, and a little astringency. It has a lingering, slightly dry finish.
70% Maranon Pue Nacional (Peru) is redolent of fruity biscuits, deep chocolate flavor, and fruity undertones. This is a classic in the chocolate pantheon and deserves attention from anyone who loves cacao.
I may eat chocolate all day, but I usually don’t start until mid morning, at the earliest. When I wake up thinking of a particular bar with anticipation I know it’s a stellar offering. Vivra’s 70% Alto Beni Bolivian bar is worth an early morning reverie. Wild harvested in 2015 this chocolate boasts an incredible blend of flavors: sweet ripe fruit and green olives which beautifully rounds out all the fruitiness with a hint of acidity.
The next bean to bar offering is a 70% from Haiti. PISA is a new bean cooperative located in the Acul de Nord region of Haiti. PISA works with an association of 1,489 smallholder farmers, 476 of whom are female. I have come to deeply appreciate Haitian beans and this Trinitario is no exception. Also harvested in 2015, it’s organic, direct trade, and has a drier finish. Not too sweet fruity flavors predominate.
Last up in this category is their OKO Caribe from the Dominican Republic. OKO Caribe has perfected the art of working with small holder farmers in the San Francisco de Macoris region. Also organic and made with beans harvested in 2015, it is creamier than the Pisa bar and beckons with notes of dark fruits, honey, and roasted peanut.
Their 31% milk chocolate offerings are delicious and fun. Take the Chili Crunch with toasted tortilla bits, sea salt and red Naga chili. It won a ton of awards, most recently the 2016 gold medal for best milk chocolate with inclusions. The heat is subtle, the crunch unlike anything else out there, and the chocolate decadently rich. I also loved their milk chocolate PB & Pretzel bar. Generously studded with bits of peanuts and pretzels it gives every bite crunch and nutty flavor. Too easy to eat with abandon. The last milk bar I sampled was the Curry Cashew. Another creative melding of flavors and textures. The curry somehow warms up the richness of the cashews and the milk base just makes it all taste remarkably luxurious.
The three 65% dark bars with inclusions were: Sienna Fig with Dottato figs, salted Sicilian pistachios, and pignoli. Here, the ingredients were added with a lighter hand which gives the finished product more of a choral effect than a solo performance. Orange Passion, with orange zest, passion fruit powder, and sea salt has an alluring orange scent right out of the package. The zest is not chewy as the pieces are fully amalgamated into the chocolate. I liked how the passion fruit gave this bar an extra edginess. English Garden is another multi-award winner, including the 2016 gold medal for best mixed chocolate bar. This unique and complex offering sports sweet basil, thyme, Meyer lemon, olive oil, and bits of French candied violets.
Clearly Vivra offers a wide selection catering to every taste, which makes it an excellent one stop destination for all your chocoholics.
This is a great post from the people at Bar & Cocoa on how chocolate is made:
Dark milk chocolate is the perfect choice for people who say they don’t like dark chocolate but want to eat it for its health benefits. They get a more intense cacao experience without any of the bitterness, acidity, tobacco, coffee, or terroir flavors often associated with a 70% bar. In addition, I have also found friends will try a dark milk and be more open minded about tasting a truly dark chocolate. For me, a lover of dark bars, these dark milks provide a dessert-like interlude with their incredibly creamy texture and slightly higher sugar content.
I just sampled two great dark milk bars from Dark Forest Chocolate, a bean to bar maker in Lancaster, NY. I first reviewed their wares in 2015 and was enraptured by a Goat Milk 50% chocolate. Luckily for those of you who love it, or haven’t tried it yet, it’s still in their repertoire. (See the review here: https://chocolateratings.wordpress.com/2015/07/25/dark-forest-single-origin-bean-to-bar-chocolate/)
It takes great skill to add just the right amount of heat to chocolate so it accentuates the properties of the bean while providing something new and exciting. Dark Forest Chocolate has achieved that elusive balance. Their 50% dark milk Cinnamon Pepper bar has no black pepper, just cocoa beans, sugar, cacao butter, whole milk powder, Ceylon cinnamon, and cayenne. It was delicious and satisfyingly complex. I also love the 24 little rectangles the bar neatly breaks into. Each piece provides the perfect morsel to savor this luscious combination of velvety textured chocolate and heat.
I also sampled their Salted Malted Milk Chocolate bar, another dark milk offering with unique malted milk undertones that triggered memories of malted milk balls…though at a far more adult level. Barley malt (the main component of malted milk powder) adds an retro flavor reminiscent of old fashioned soda fountains where malted milk, egg creams, and ice cream sodas were the coin of the realm.
I was so heartened to read this report (see link below) from Madecasse about improving conditions for cocoa farmers and workers. Thankfully, they, Singing Rooster, and many other chocolate companies are changing the economic landscape of the industry. It may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the impact of huge chocolate companies, but they are all doing what Gandhi suggested: Being the change they want to see, and I am grateful.
Apparently, L’Amourette means a little love affair in French. Perhaps, the intensity of a fling is a good way to describe the allure of these bars, but I could easily turn them into a long term relationship.
Andre V., founder of L’Amourette, says their company’s driving philosophy is the belief “in the uncompromising production of quality chocolate and confectionery, while not limiting our customer base to the wealthier layers of society.” In this day and age, when high quality, artisanal chocolate bars often go for $10, or more, for a 1.25-2 ounce bar, Andre offers a plethora of choices starting at $5 for large 3.5 ounce bars.
I often think of chocolatiers as gustatory explorers, and Andre is no exception. His Grenada Criollo Fine Estate 75% bar a case in point. He found a new Criollo that captivated him so much he experimented with making a small batch. If it garners the same interest in other chocolate lovers he will continue producing it. It’s that innovative and flexible attitude that distinguishes small batch producers from larger companies that can’t afford to take a chance on a smaller run. This aspect of bean-to-bar chocolate making is fairly new and incredibly creative. As consumers, we get the opportunity to refine and broaden our taste as new beans get added to the larger chocolate repertoire.
While I didn’t sample the Criollo bar, I did try two bars that point up both Andre’s desire to produce wonderful chocolate at an accessible price while also offering higher end single bean bars. I sampled one of each, starting with the estate variety: Arauca. This Columbian bean hails from the banks of the Arauca River, and has a very fresh, clean scent. It’s redolent of petrichor. (According to the Oxford Dictionary this means “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”) The 80% Arouca bar has beans that were coached for 48 hours, which makes it incredibly creamy. The flavor is as chocolatey as it can get and lingers with a sustained full, dense, rich presence that seems to be intensified by using only two ingredients: cacao and sugar.
The Dark Chocolate bar with Pomelo Peel, 72%, is made from a combination of Rio Caribe and Carenero Superior beans from Venezuela. The Pomelo flavors, similar to grapefruit, are a wonderful contrast to the mellow and intriguing notes of the two beans. With a velvety texture and a deliciously lingering finish, this is a definite keeper. The candied Pomelo is very well integrated into the bar, so there are not big chunks of it…just enough to enhance the chocolate’s fruitiness. I also have to mention the bright turquoise inner foil wrapping that contrasts to the yellow cardboard box adored with an Art Nouveau design. Just lovely.
Andre offers a cornucopia of 3.5 ounce bars with add-ins including: 72% Dark Chocolate Flavored with Bacon & Salami, 72% Dark Chocolate with English Toffee, 72% Dark Chocolate with Cayenne Chili & Cinnamon, and 72% Dark Chocolate with Dried Figs.
The following new studies show how chocolate can help stave off atrial fibrillation and memory issues, while helping improve cognitive capacity after sleep deprivation:
I was delighted to see K’UL Chocolate has four new bars, and even happier to sample them. Their product development is our collective joy.
The most intriguing of the four is 70% Golden Spice with Turmeric (600mg per 1.45 ounce bar), Ginger, Ginseng, and Goldenberries. As someone who adds turmeric to my vinaigrette, rice, and morning porridge I was already a convert to its health benefits. Here, it adds extra depth to an already great base chocolate. The ginger and ginseng are delivered with a light hand, and the goldenberries add a delightfully chewy texture. Another winner, especially if you have been wondering how to get more turmeric into your diet.
70% Espresso Crunch with nibs is aptly named, as the crunch is evident in every bite. Looking for an afternoon shot of energy with only 9 gams of sugar in 1.23 ounce bar? Well, here’s a great option.
70% Matcha Mint with matcha green tea and peppermint is for those who want a pick-me-up from a little caffeine but aren’t in the market for an espresso buzz. Enlivened by mint, this bar is creamy, dark, and refreshing.
85% Dark is a blend of Caribbean and Latin American beans. With only 5 grams of sugar in a 1.23 ounce bar it has a very silky texture, balanced flavor profile with only a hint of acidity, and plummy/raisin notes. In addition, it offers a nutritional powerhouse of 30% of your iron, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber. If you love super dark bars I wouldn’t miss this one.
If, like me, your love of chocolate extends to its manufacture, you might want to check out this great video of the K’UL factory tour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uV-Vd3Q-sY
I am always in the mood for something different from the chocolate world and Firefly organic bean to bar chocolate provides that new experience. This is an earthy line of bars, all of which, no matter what their cocoa content, speak a chocolate language developed centuries ago before the bean became so intertwined with sugar. More like a food, less like a confection. Because the beans are roasted and coached at the lowest possible temperature this is a perfect choice for someone who loves raw chocolate.
I like the phrase Jonas Ketterle, founder of Firefly Chocolate, uses on his wrapper: “This is not sweet chocolate, nor is it bitter–it is simply high vitality chocolate lovingly made in small batches from the bean…”
I sampled six of his bars, the most unusual of which was a wild harvested Bay Nut bar with 40% cacao, 30% bay nuts and 30% coconut sugar. While never having experienced bay nuts, I found the chocolate quite intriguing with its hickory-like, smokey flavor in a super creamy texture. The lingering taste reminded me of lychee nuts, and it was surprisingly un-sweet for its 40% cocoa content. Apparently, bay nuts were eaten by native people of California. They had a super long shelf life and once dried, stored well for years. The nuts were then roasted in ashes.
Firefly’s 85% dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt had chunks of nuts on the underside of the bar and was made with beans from Tanzania. The chocolate was intense, as you might expect from an 85% bar, and accented well with the roasted almonds.
The 60% Coconut Cream bar, made with Jonas’ stone ground coconut butter, was very creamy and less sweet than you would expect a 60% bar to be.
Maca is known in Peru as a stamina builder and hormone balancer. Firefly’s 77% bar with Maca was similar to the other chocolates in this range from Tanzanian beans: intense, full of terroir, and very earthy.
Last but not least, was the 77% Wildberry with beans from Belize. The berry notes were very light but enough of a presence to add another layer of flavor.
Jonas has a free monthly give-away you can sign up for on his website at the bottom of this page: https://fireflychocolate.com/handcrafted/vision/
Whether you’re a chef, home cook, or just love chocolate, Weaver Nut Sweets and Snacks has you covered. Their website, with its abundance of candies, chocolates, and nuts, is easiest to navigate if you type in what you are looking for in the search box, as opposed to looking through the huge range of products listed under “chocolate.” That said, you could come across some old favorite candy by searching in more global categories or by brand. For example, if I have a craving for Bonomo Turkish Taffy I now know where to get it.
In addition to their cornucopia of candy, they offer some excellent chocolates and their prices are very reasonable. In fact, some of them were great deals.
I sampled four of their high end covertures starting with Callebaut’s Dark 53.8% Couverture Callets/Chips (#04453). As you might imagine, these are on the sweeter side, which makes them a high end substitution for generic semi-sweet chips. They would also be a good choice as couverture for nuts, coffee beans, or nibs.
Callebaut’s 65% Inaya Couverture Pistoles ( #04621) boast a captivating deep chocolate presence with dark fruit notes and roasted cacao. An excellent choice for baked goods, drinks, and mousses.
Callebaut’s São Tomé 70% dark chocolate callets/chips (#04610) are wonderful for tempering as mendiants, couverture, barks, or in ganaches. They have a more robust flavor than the Inaya. Callebaut chefs recommend using it with fruits that have a moderate to high acidity and sweetness. Slightly bitter ingredients such as walnuts or mild coffees and spices such as Sichuan pepper also marry well with its dark red fruit flavors.
My absolute favorite was the Cacao Barry Tanzanie 75% (#04611). A fantastic chocolate that would be good for anything. It was simultaneously gentle, like a Criollo, and powerful with an intriguing flavor profile combining ginseng, ripe black fruits, slight smokiness and a lingering edgy finish.
They also carry Barry Callebaut Ghana Origine Milk Callets 41%, Callebaut Fairtrade 811NV 53.8% Dark Chocolate Callets, and Cacao Barry Venezuela 72% Origine Rare Dark Callets.
Weaver is definitely a great resource for bulk couverture as well as nuts, dried fruits, and candy decorating supplies.
One thing that really captivates me these days in the chocolate universe is a great dark milk bar. Harper Macaw makes one. It’s a 57% Brazilian rainforest direct trade sourced, perfectly tempered, smooth, creamy indulgence that is far too easy to scarf down. Dark milks offer the child in me something a little sweeter and the adult that higher cocoa intensity. If you’re doing a chocolate tasting this would make a great counterpoint to darker, single origin bars.
In that category Harper Macaw has you covered. Their line offers three dark single estate varieties: 74% Vale do Juliana, 75% M. Libânio, and 77% Tomé Açu. I did not sample those, but focused on their limited release 73% Bourbon Barrel Aged bar as a contrast to the dark milk. It was fabulous. Crisply tempered, redolent of bourbon’s lingering presence, rich, velvety, slightly acidic, with a hint of astringency, it sated my craving for a unique chocolate experience. I especially appreciated the slightly dry lingering finish as it etched its flavors into my memory.
Speaking of etching, each bar has a unique design that reminded me of the more angular elements in furniture created by Charles Rennie Macintosh. Just beautiful and unique. The outer wrappers are also works of art, as is Harper Macaw’s logo.
They also have a collection of bars with add-ins related to one’s political leanings. Titled: Tea Party, Left Wing, Red State, Flip-Flopper, Filibuster, and Taxation Without Representation, their inclusions run the gamut from butter toffee to peanuts and pretzels.
Harper Macaw is dedicated to conservation. When you buy their chocolate you help restore and protect deforested or vulnerable rainforest in northeast Brazil. Through partnerships with Instituto Uiraçu, American Bird Conservancy, and Rainforest Trust, they reinvest in the expansion of Reserva Serra Bonita, a cutting-edge rainforest conservation initiative. As Earth’s second most threatened terrestrial biome and the focal point of Brazil’s cacao industry, it is crucial to the survival of their cacao economy and the region’s biodiversity. By supporting innovative approaches in cacao farming Harper Macaw helps insure the health and stability of the region.
Will Marx is young, creative, entrepreneurial, and dedicated to his craft. Pairing ethically traded single origin cocoa beans with a passion for chocolate that excites the senses, he has crafted a line of bars to tempt even the most jaded palate.
Here’s a rundown of the four I sampled, none of which had lecithin or vanilla.
68% Belize Moho Valley 2016 harvest bar: In a word, excellent. Very rounded and super satisfying with fruity, caramel flavors, a slightly dry finish and a ridiculously smooth texture. Beautifully tempered.
75% Ghana Rainforest Alliance 2016 Harvest: Another audibly tempered, glossy finish bar, equally delicious, but quite different. Light coffee notes, a hint of roasted chestnut; rich and supremely satisfying. Just the right amount of unrefined cane sugar for that butterscotch undertone.
70% Honduras Wampusirpi 2016 harvest bar with Hawaiian Red Salt: If you love salted chocolate you have to add this to your stash. The beans hail from a remote part of northeastern Honduras. The Hawaiian Red Salt, sprinkled with a deft hand on the underside of the bar, adds a note of astringency to a fairly creamy chocolate.
In the let’s get creative category I tasted a limited release 80% Markham Valley bar with Sweet Corn and Ancho Chile. Apparently, in Papua, New Guinea they dry their beans by a wood fire. You can definitely taste the smokiness in the chocolate, making it a perfect foil for the Ancho powder (medium heat) and crunchy morsels of corn scattered on the underside.
Will also offers drinking chocolate and tasting squares. As someone who has hosted a number of chocolate tastings I can attest to the good karma they generate. Everyone seems to leave happy.
I have just tasted one of the best single origin chocolates, and that’s saying a lot, as there are plenty of excellent options out there. It’s a 73% bulk wafer from Vietnam offered by Santa Barbara Chocolate. The flavor is round, full, fruity, floral, balanced, and complex with a slightly dry finish. Like an edgy criollo. I love criollo beans, but they can sometimes seem a bit too gentle and predictable on the palate. This chocolate, which contains cocoa butter and vanilla, delivers all its fascinating flavors in a velvety texture.
Making this a 73% was inspired as it heightens all the nuances of the cacao with just the right amount of sugar. At $39 for a three pound bag it’s also an incredible bargain. One two ounce bar tempered into an ornate mold in fancy packaging would easily fetch $10, or more. I would suggest transferring some straight from the bag into a pretty glass jar and giving it as gifts…economical, unique, and luxurious.
While I temper chocolate as a moving meditation, I found these Vietnamese wafers almost impossible to adulterate with anything. They’re irresistible right out of the bag; and, their size and shape couldn’t be better for a perfectly timed melt at body temperature. At some point, I will make mendiants with maple glazed pecans or pistachios and thinly sliced dates or dried mango, but not now. Today I want to bask in the glory of this bean. (Two days later…ever the experimenter, I tempered some of this extraordinary chocolate and added dehydrated raspberries. The acidity of the fruit brought out even more floral fruity notes from the chocolate. So, even though it stands alone, it also plays well with others.)
I also sampled their organic Hispaniola 100% chocolate wafers sourced from the Dominican Republic. They have a very robust, intense, super chocolatey flavor noticeably without leather, soil, licorice, or tobacco notes that makes them perfect for baking. I tempered some and added 25% demerara sugar. The slight sweetness and crunch of the crystalized sugar was a fascinating foil for the Hispaniola flavors.
The 60% version of this bean is very versatile with its lush fruity flavor and lends itself to tempering, baking, or just eating out of the bag. A fun fact about this bean: it was the first cacao Christopher Columbus tasted when he arrived in the New World.
Then there were the 70% organic dark chocolate chips without soy lecithin. I can’t remember having mini-chips with such a deep, refined chocolate presence and a sublimely balanced flavor profile. They were a great addition to a batch of maple tahini chocolate chip cookies.
My last treat was their Caribbean 67% which also had a fruity presence and a slightly dry, lingering finish. In my experience, these fruitier beans are just excellent for couverture and desserts as they support a galaxy of flavors, like citrus, berries, nuts, seeds, coffee beans, and spices.
In addition to a great selection of products for the professional or avocational chocolatier, Santa Barbara Chocolate makes beautiful large organic truffles. Mine arrived in a stunning tall red faux leather box adorned with a sumptuous black silk ribbon. The box itself opens up sideways to form four smaller boxes that each contained four truffles. These are incredibly rich, vegan, and infused with organic coconut milk and organic honey. A memorable gift for someone you love or want to impress.
Santa Barbara curates a very special collection of cacao. Each item is handpicked for its unique properties, whether organic, Rainforest alliance certified, or coconut palm sugar sweetened, you can be sure it will be both high quality and a good value.
I focused this review on their dark offerings, but they also have milk, white, and compound chocolates, cocoa, drinking chocolate, and beans.
While I didn’t sample the Belgian Dark Chocolate Grand Aroma, I thought you might enjoy the following recipe from Santa Barbara’s owner and chocolatier Jason Vishnefske.
INGREDIENTS FOR BELGIAN BEER CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
8oz. Belgian Beer
1lb. 4oz. of our Imported Ever the experimenter, I tempered some of this Vietnamese chocolate and added dehydrated raspberries. The result was just what I had in mind: the acidity of the fruit brought out even more floral fruity notes from the chocolate.
Additional Chocolate Ingredient:
Belgian Milk Chocolate Couverture
PREPARATION OF BEER TRUFFLES:
Boil the Belgian beer with honey.
Pour onto the Belgian Dark Chocolate and mix so it is smooth.
When the ganache reaches 87F add butter and mix with a hand mixer.
Pour ganache into a parchment lined sheet pan and let it crystallize for 14 hours at 60F.
Temper the milk chocolate couverture and spread a thin layer of the tempered Belgian Milk Chocolate on the ganache side.
When it’s crystallized, turn the ganache and spread another thin layer of tempered Belgian Milk Chocolate on the other side.
Cut into 1/2″ by 2″ rectangles.
Lastly, dip each ganache rectangle into tempered Belgian Dark Chocolate Grand Aroma.
Many years ago, when I had energy to burn, I made a four layer dark chocolate rum cake covered in a blanket of white marzipan adorned with flat pink marzipan hearts. Just thinking about it evokes nascent yearnings. While I am not inclined to spend the good part of a day baking at this juncture, I still love the combination of alcohol and chocolate. So far, I have had to sate my cravings with some homemade ganaches infused with Benedictine or Nocello. Yes, there are truffles with Grand Marnier, Amaretto, and rum, to name a few, but the alcohol presence always seems fairly mild to me. Not so for the alcohol filled batons and truffles from Quintessential Chocolates. I recently sampled a few of their confections and was delighted with their intense flavor.
The truffles were appealing in their pretty Tiffany blue sleeve box with windowpane for viewing. Jamaican was deliciously rummy. The dark couverture with delicate white swirl was the perfect thickness to complement but not overwhelm its creamy center. MayaCaya, enhanced with cayenne, offered light heat and a hint of cinnamon. Fortunate No.4 Sea Salt Caramel had a smaller center and thicker shell. Here, though, it worked perfectly, as the sweet caramel was a excellent foil for the chocolate’s unique fruity-floral flavor profile. A wonderfully luxurious experience. Their Bittersweet Truffle was a classic dark chocolate ganache in a thinner shell. The sweetest of was a Belgian Milk Truffle.
Quintessential’s alcohol filled chocolates, six to a box, are encased in a sugar crust, which keeps the filling liquid, and coated in a thin layer of semi-sweet chocolate. Flavors included: Amaretto, Cabernet Sauvignon, Enchanted Rock Red Wine, Pecan Street Rum, Garrison Bourbon, and Republic Anejo Tequila. The boxes weigh 1.85 ounces, or 52 grams. I like the enclosed map of flavors so you know what you’re biting into, and I’m always a fan of variety. All of them were a far cry from the imported alcohol filled chocolates I have sampled from Germany with their cloyingly sweet, thicker chocolate shells. These were the perfect juxtaposition of chocolate and alcohol. Liquid, crunch, and silky textured chocolate all at once.
Quintessential also offers fruit nectar and coffee filled chocolates, and a wide variety of barks that look very appetizing. The truffles are only available in their Texas based store, but everything else can be ordered online.
I have been tempering chocolate in the microwave for many years. (Here’s a link to how: https://chocolateratings.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/quick-and-easy-chocolate-tempering/) My latest obsession is mendiants, those beautifully adorned small chocolate discs with a mosaic of fruits, nuts, and/or spices on top.
One of my favorite mendiant recipes is made with blue cheese powder (see link below for the one I use) and maple roasted pecans. Today, I added a bit of freshly chopped rosemary to the recipe. They looked lovely and tasted divine. Of course, when adding blue cheese powder I find it best to keep these in a covered container in the fridge.
Here’s my recipe for BLUE CHEESE CHOCOLATE WITH MAPLE ROASTED PECANS AND ROSEMARY
Lay out a large piece of aluminum foil on a flat surface.
MAKE THE NUTS by adding 2 TBSP real maple syrup to a frying pan with, at least 2″ high sides. Cook on medium heat until syrup bubbles.
You can add a little cayenne or Serrano chile powder if you like a bit of extra heat, or skip it.
Quickly add about 1 1/2- 2 cups of pecan halves.
Stir on medium heat fairly continuously until all the moisture from the syrup is absorbed, about 5-7 minutes. You want them golden brown.
Dump out on the aluminum foil, separate any nuts that have stuck together, and let cool completely.
(I make this recipe with all sorts off different nuts and keep them in the fridge in jars. They are also wonderful on salads.)
Temper the chocolate. I usually only make a small batch, using 8 TBSP 70-75% good quality chocolate, chopped.
Set aside 2 TBSP from your total of 8.
Put the remaining 6 TBSP chopped chocolate in a one cup Pyrex measuring cup and nuke for 30-70 seconds on high or medium high power. When all the chocolate can be stirred to a smooth mass it’s done. This can be tricky because the chocolate make look as if it’s not melted, so you have to stir it after 30-40 seconds to check how far it’s come.
Add 1 TBSP of the remaining chocolate. Stir until amalgamated.
Do the same thing with the last TBSP chopped chocolate.
Add 1/2-1 tsp. finely chopped rosemary, if using. Stir well.
Add 1 1/2 TBSP blue cheese powder. Stir until combined.
On a large piece of waxed paper, put about 1/2-3/4 tsp melted chocolate in a blob and make it into a circle using the back of a teaspoon.
You should have about 25 discs about 1 1/4″ in diameter when you’re done.
Top each with 1-2 pecan halves.
They should solidify at room temperature, but if, after an hour, they haven’t, put them in the fridge.
(Note: This lasts well when refrigerated for years. Yes, years.)
Nuance. What a great name for a chocolate company. After all, nuance celebrates the subtle differences between similar things. Isn’t the awareness of different aspects of chocolate what we seek to discern and appreciate? What accounts for those differences that we gradually train our senses to notice? Is it the terroir, the bean’s handling, the phase of the moon when the beans were harvested (thank you, Rudolph Steiner for biodynamic farming), fermentation conditions, storage, shipping, conching, the addition or omission of vanilla, packaging, and other multifarious causes and conditions? Clearly, all contribute to the ultimate arbiter of taste: one’s own body-mind state when eating chocolate. Your internal conditions are affected by externals, like: climate, whether you’re tasting solo or in company, the aesthetics of your surroundings, ambient sounds, aromas, darkness, light, time of day, etc.
A Hershey bar might taste like manna from heaven in a prison cell, while the most beautifully packaged, carefully sourced, and perfectly tempered chocolate could taste like ashes if eaten after bad news.
The nuances are where it’s at. Kudos to Toby and Alix Gadd, creators of Nuance Chocolate, for coming up with such a fitting and inspirational name. Their bars are worth the time it takes to cultivate discernment. To eat this chocolate mindlessly would be sacrilegious.
Toby and Alix use premium cacao beans from ethical sources, which they roast in small batches and grind for up to three days. The dark bars I sampled had no added vanilla. If you’re looking for a super luxurious mouth feel it’s necessary to grind the beans a long time.
They have a huge assortment of bars on their website (www.nuancechocolate.com). Here are the ones I sampled:
Marañón 70% Peruvian bar, made from rare cacao from the Marañón River Canyon. I have tasted this bean on numerous occasions. It’s highly touted because of the fruity, slightly floral notes and gentle presence on your palate. Nuance’s rendition is velvety and full of those subtle layers of flavor that distinguish this bean from many others. When tasting something so refined I like a thinner bar, and that’s exactly how they made it.
Toby sent me a tasting flight of 16 gram batons with six squares each. I followed his suggestion for the order in which to try them:
Uganda 70% Dark, Forestero. Astonishingly good, I was struck with it’s creamy texture, beautiful temper, no acidity, and rounded flavor. If you’re searching for a 70% bar that doesn’t scream of soil, earthiness, coffee, or leather, this is it.
Next up was the 90% bar from Ghana, another Forastero, but far more intense with a much drier finish. If you’re exploring super dark chocolates I would suggest you give this a try. It had a definite presence from a long fermentation, and plenty of depth. I found the finish lasted for minutes and left me quite sated.
Number three was the 70% Fiji bar from Mataswalevu farm. Also Forestero beans, this one was fruitier with definite caramel notes and a very round finish. No bite or acidity.
Their 70% Criollo bean bar from the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela had a creamy texture, nuttiness balanced with floral notes, and finished with a soupçon of acidic edginess.
The bar from Papua New Guinea, a Forestero, has beans that were dried over an open fire. This is quite unusual, as most beans are dried in the sun or on racks. I definitely tasted the smokiness, which surprised my senses but not to the point where I missed the ultra-creamy texture or complex layers of dark fruitiness and terroir.
The 70% from Cuyagua, Venezuela is a more assertive Criollo. It intermingles acidity, dark fruits, earthiness (atypical for a Criollo), and hints of nutmeg for a complex, intriguing experience.
The 70% Moho Valley, Belize Criollo/Trinitarion bar is fascinating. It’s full of cherry, lychee, and walnut. The lovely dry finish is perfect against the chocolate’s creaminess.
Dark Milk bars are the darlings of the current chocolate scene and for good reason. They take milk chocolate into adult realms. Nuance’s 55% Chantilly Cream bar with Forestero beans from Ghana, is made with heavy cream, not milk, and the result is just ambrosial. Lush, rich, balanced, and satisfying, it’s different from every other dark milk I have ever sampled. If you love dark milks, this will vastly expand your repertoire.
Nuance’s 55% Dark Zurich Milk bar, also a Forestero from Ghana, evokes Dulce de Leche with its creamy caramel flavors and soothing finish. Here, the milk is full-fat from Holland. Both these dark milk bars have vanilla beans added for an extra layer of interest.
For you mocha lovers, they offer Bean Cycle #1, a collaboration bar of Ethiopian coffee beans and Trinitarian cacao from Madagascar. Unlike many other coffee and chocolate combos, Nuance’s rendition is smooth as silk. Coffee here is a presence, not a crunch. Different and delicious.
This is a company to watch. Their exacting standards, ability to coax a bean’s personality from its natural state, and know when to mix things up, makes them respectful of nature but also creative chocolatiers.
I love chocolate bark so much I regularly temper my own, but when I don’t have the time there’s SmartBARK! They use the same great ingredients I would use at home: organic, Fair Trade, 70% chocolate, real vanilla, with high quality nuts, grains, seeds, and dried fruit.
Each bag of SmartBARK! is 4 ounces and contains three generous servings of 40grams each. They’re fairly low in sugar, ranging from 10-14 grams per serving, contain 15% of your daily requirement for iron, 3-4 grams of fiber, and have between 3-4 grams of protein.
A tiny pet peeve of mine has been the dearth of fruit juice sweetened cranberries. SmartBARK! uses apple juice sweetened cranberries in their Cranberry Bark and it makes a big difference. The plump, fresh, chewy fruit is still a bit tart, with just enough sweetness to take the edge off. This bark is thicker than the others I sampled which initially surprised me until I saw how the fruit really benefited from a higher ratio of chocolate.
Their thinnest bark is Quinoa, chock full of crispy puffed quinoa. I loved it. The way the well-tempered chocolate riffed off the tiny grains of quinoa was like a gustatory celebration.
Almond bark had both thinner and thicker pieces of chocolate and crunchy whole roasted almonds.
Trail Mix was crammed with currants, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and sunflower seeds. Their recipe had just the right balance between the slightly chewy-sweet currants, crunchy seeds, and delicious dark chocolate. Like the Quinoa variety, it was slightly thinner. Of course, as SmartBARK! feels, looks, and tastes like an artisanal product the thickness of each batch might vary.
Everything was fresh and conveniently packaged for tucking into a briefcase or bag. All four options would make great travel companions without taking up too much space.
If you check out their website: http://www.sweetdesigns.com, you can find other interesting bars, like the one with ginger and walnut, and specialty items like Chocolate Truffle Filled Figs.
I have always loved sci-fi, science, and space exploration, so I have to share this fun fact: NASA astronauts ate Sweet Designs Chocolates on the Space Shuttle.
Simran Sethi hosts The Slow Melt, a new chocolate-centric podcast you can subscribe to on iTunes.
In all the years I have been eating and reviewing chocolate, I have never heard anybody present it in such fascinating, thorough, and captivating ways.
Simian artfully combines a little memoir, information on tasting, packaging, climate, social issues, feminism, and a plethora of other topics into a mesmerizing show.
Years ago, when I was raising my children, we belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program). It was a wonderful experience that brought us closer to the farmers who grew our food. Apparently, the idea appealed to bean-to-bar maker Brian Wallace, founder of Endorfin Foods, and the world’s first Community Supported Chocolate (CSC) box. Just like a CSA, it creates a relationship between the grower and the consumer. Brian’s program sends out a box of chocolates every month with your subscription. These are a combination of products made exclusively for the CSC, like: chocolate covered exotic fruits, truffles, barks, their whole bean drinking chocolate, and a couple of bars from his regular range. Of course, you don’t have to belong to his CSC to enjoy his chocolate as it can be purchased any day from his website.
Brian’s beans are never roasted. They are: fermented and dried on site, then cracked and winnowed, crushed, and stoneground with coconut sugar and coconut mylk before being milled, tempered, then molded into bars.
Like other bean-to-bar companies, Endorphin Foods is trying to be the change it wants to see by paying farmers higher rates for their beans and working only with cacao grown by small farmer cooperatives and estates in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Madagascar. This, as you know, bypasses the slavery and child labor used by 70% of cacao farmers in Western Africa.
I sampled five of Brian’s bars, all of which are sweetened with coconut sugar, dairy free, soy free, gluten free, agave free, and GMO free.
From the 80% single origin line I tried the Madagascar bar. Made from Criollo beans, its creamy texture enhanced a dark, fruity flavor profile.
Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate, 56%, is sweeter with a melt in your mouth texture. It’s a completely different experience from traditional milk chocolate as it has a higher percentage of cacao solids. The coconut milk does not taste like coconut but somehow creates a milkier bar.
Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Coffee and Cardamom, 60%, is a delicious combo of warm spice and coffee.
Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Ginger and Rose, 56%, woke up my palate with its lovely gingery edge and floral essence. Unusual, creative, and very satisfying.
Dark Chocolate Coconut Mylk with Anise and Wormwood, 70%, used a darker base to balance out the heady flavors found in Absinthe liquor: Grand Wormwood, Anise, Sweet Fennel, Melissa (Lemon Balm), and Mugwort. The resulting bar is complex, rich, and slightly addictive.
At the time of this review, you can use the discount code “farmtotable” to get 30% off the first month of your own subscription box at http://www.endorfinfoods.com/subscriptions
If you regularly read this site, you already know I was totally blown away by K’UL chocolate. A few days ago I received an email from Molly Nicaise, the CEO of Singing Rooster, the company that exports fermented cocoa beans from Haiti used in K’UL’s bars. Once I started reading about their mission I became even more enraptured. Not only is the chocolate divine, they are an über socially responsible company that is making a difference in the world. As I believe their work deserves more attention, I want to review Singing Rooster’s chocolate bars, and share a bit about the way they work their magic.
Singing Rooster was established in 2009. They partner with small-holder growers of coffee and chocolate to alleviate poverty in Haiti.
They serve as:
Agricultural and business consultants
Organizers of pre-harvest financing
Primary buyers of crops and products at premium prices
Product transformation: creating higher value items (like roasted coffee or chocolate bars)
Business guiders, developers, and cheerleaders
Equitably distributing economic gains
Creating new markets and special sales opportunities
Singing Rooster offers an opportunity to directly support vulnerable farmers, help reforest Haiti, and build rural economies.
Singing Rooster exceeds every aspect of fair trade: they pay farmers a minimum of $3/lb for coffee crops & return another .50 cents from sales.
They use proceeds to help farmers with agriculture improvements, business management, and replanting Haiti’s deforested lands with tens of thousands of coffee and cacao trees. Haiti gets a whopping 66% from every sale!
There is minimal job stability in Haiti with 70% of Haitians unemployed; sustainable jobs are required for autonomy. Haiti’s potential as a self-sustaining country rests, in part, with economic development: job creation, product improvement or design, and opening up international markets for Haitian goods like coffee, art, and chocolate.
Meaningful employment is one path to autonomy, self-sustainability and dignity.
According to The World Bank, economic growth in agriculture is more than twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors of the economy. Coffee and cacao play important roles in Haiti’s rural economy: they provide income diversification. There are thousands of jobs in coffee and cacao, and new seedlings are environmentally essential for reforestation and soil management.
So far, Singing Rooster has put over $1,000,000 directly into the pockets of farmers.
Unlike the bulk of the world’s cacao, Haiti’s organic crops represent the top 3% of cacao produced on earth.
I sampled four of their bars, all of which were made with 70% Kafupbo single origin chocolate, a luscious Criollo/Trinitario hybrid.
Orange Crunch, a gustatory celebration of vibrant citrus flavor with roasted nibs, is complex, wildly textural, and full of super rich chocolate flavor. Each aspect of this bar compliments the others, creating a unique combination of sweet and slightly acidic flavors in a velvety chocolate base.
Lemon Ginger is a delicious blend of organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, and natural crystalized ginger with lemon oil. It’s positively addicting with the yin/yang play of sweet crunchy ginger and slightly tart lemon. Deep, dark, creamy Haitian chocolate rounds out the experience.
Pure Dark offers an unadulterated experience of that lovely smooth texture, hints of licorice, red fruits, and jasmine.
Cinnamon was just fantastic, but I love a little heat with my chocolate. The combination of chile and cinnamon was like a far more complex Red Hot with creamy dark chocolate. A real winner.
You can buy those, plus other chocolate bars, nibs, and coffee from their website: http://www.singingrooster.org.
The multi-talented husband and wife team of Timothy and Lacy Christ was creating high end fantasy inspired costumes and jewelry before being captivated by the world of bean-to-bar chocolate. One look at their Elf-inspired website will give you a sense of their artistry. They source organic ingredients from Fair Trade purveyors, and their wares are soy-free, dairy-free, and non-GMO.
I sampled three of their bars, starting with the 50% almond milk infused dark milk bar made with Peruvian criollo beans from the Norandino cooperative in the Tumbas region. I have tried and loved many dark milk bars, even one from Dubai made with Camel’s milk, and each is fairly different from the next. By using almond milk, Timothy has created a velvety textured chocolate with caramel and molasses overtones.
Their 70% bar from the Lamas region of Peru transported me into a gustatory reverie with its beautiful, snappy temper, super rich, creamy texture, and multi-layered flavor profile of figs, walnuts, and terroir. The beans are a hybrid of trinitario and criollo. I also loved the slightly dry, tannic finish as a counterpoint to the sweetness and velvety texture preceding it.
Another offering from Peru (Norandino) is their 85% bar. An astonishingly flavorful high cacao content chocolate that, like the 70%, had me from my first morsel. Its crisp temper made an audible crack when I broke off a piece. The beans are just sublime. A deep chocolate flavor that’s earthy, with notes of coffee and plum. This 85% chocolate wakes up whatever nascent chocolate yearnings may be lurking in your unconscious. It would make a fabulous addition to a chocolate tasting, or a gift for your favorite chocophile; especially, one who is just venturing into the 80% and higher cacao stratosphere.
They also offer a quartet of cocoa butter bars with various add-ins: pistachios, cashews, almond milk & vanilla, and coconut.
In addition, they make beautiful small domed pyramids of chocolate that can fit into tiny tins you can take anywhere.
All bars are packaged in 1.4 ounce squares with their logo in bas relief.
If you’re lucky enough to live in Buffalo, take a trip to their Elmwood Village location and where you can taste the actual cacao beans and load up on gifts for all your chocolate loving friends.
NEW! Thinking Elvish just came out with a new bark: Yggdrasil’s Seed with pumpkin and sunflower seeds on 70% dark chocolate. Just fabulous! The bark is very thin so the proportion of toppings is perfectly balanced with the chocolate. Be warned, though, it’s highly addictive.
Interested in the Norandino cacao farmers? You can read more here:
I thought you might be interested in reading this article on snorting cacao:
Let me be perfectly clear: I AM NOT RECOMMENDING IT!
You can get a plethora of psychoactive benefits from eating dark chocolate in the 70-100% range. You can also use raw cacao in your smoothies, add it to coffee, make hot chocolate, bake with 100% cocoa, or creatively throw it in anything else that gets it in your system without compromising your heath.
I am truly smitten with the single origin Farm to Bar offerings from K’ul. The four bars I sampled would make a fabulous addition to any chocolate tasting with their combination of depth, character, beautiful tempering, and subtlety…assuming I wouldn’t scarf them down before the guests arrived.
Their Marañón River Peruvian Fortunato No.4 (also known as Nacional) made from the world’s rarest white cacao beans is just sublime: fruity, fresh, with a hint of acidity, it showcases the nuances of this special bean.
Fazenda Camboa, Bahia, Brazil is another wonder. Actually, I have had my share of Nacional and always love it. This organic Forester bar was more of a revelation: super creamy texture, caramel undertones, and a lovely finish.
Hacienda Limon, Los Rios, Ecuador is another delectable treat made from heirloom cacao. Like the Fazenda, it delivers its buttery rich flavors in an über creamy base.
Kafupbo, Petit Bourg, de Borgnes, Haiti is an organic chocolate with complex licorice undertones perked up by red fruits in a velvety texture. It could easily become my new favorite. Super luscious and satisfying.
In the realm of K’ul’s add-in creations is the Electrobar, beguiling me with bananas, evaporated coconut water, toasted coconut, electrolytes, and Cyprus sea salt. Its crunchy, chewy, immensely satisfying and rejuvenating. When K’ul adds ingredients, they do it with a very generous hand. This bar is chock full of flavor and textures, making each bite a slightly different gustatory adventure.
Their hand-roasted Marcona Almond bar in 70% dark chocolate is also easy to scarf down and great for an outdoor adventure.
I strongly recommend you get on their email list as they offer various promotions throughout the year, and you can keep up with their new products.
While Keats once said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” when it comes to chocolate it’s all about the ephemerality of the experience. Perhaps, the beauty that fades quickly is precious because of its fleetingness. When I eat a piece of amazing chocolate and know the flavor, texture, and aroma are with me for only the briefest moment, I can savor them with a different kind of attention. Chocolate from Georgia Ramon reminds me how great chocolate can bring me fully into the moment. The visual joy of their packaging, the tactile and auditory pleasure of the reclosable interior cellophane sleeve, and the quality of their beans all invite a gustatory reverie.
Georg Bernardini and Ramona Gutmann founded Georgia Ramon in 2015, but this is no novice chocolatier. Bernardini has over 27 years experience in chocolate, patisseries & confiserie. His career has taken him from Bonn and Munich to Paris and Toulouse.
In 1992 he and Oliver Coppeneur founded Confiserie Coppeneur et Compagnon. While there, he set up the company’s bean to bar chocolate line. Ramona spent two years working at Confiserie Coppeneur in Bonn as a shop manager.
Georg wrote the definitive book on artisanal chocolate: “Chocolate – The Reference Standard.”
Georg and Ramona value sustainability using many organic ingredients and beans sourced from cooperatives, or plantations Georg has been working with for years.
Before I even tasted any of the eight bars they sent me, I was captivated by the flat, rectangular cardboard envelopes adorned with unique designs that went from an insanely beautiful Dia des Muertos themed painting on their Haitian 80%, to a floral hippie-inspired pattern on the 100%.
Each bar is 50 grams, but the packaging, flavor intensity, and lovely bas relief of Mondrian-like squares made me think it was larger.
Let’s start with the wildest chocolate combo I have ever eaten: Broccoli and Salted Almonds in White Chocolate. This khaki green beautifully thin slab is conched with de-oiled almond flour and air-dried broccoli powder. Then, they add Sicilian roasted and salted almonds. There are 42% cocoa solids. It tastes creamy, green, fresh, and comes studded with tiny bits of crunchy nuts. If you have a curious palate I would highly recommend experiencing this unique vegan bar.
At the opposite end of the cacao spectrum is their 100%, Mountains of the Moon. Made with a combination of Forastero and Trinitario beans from the Congo, it is well-tempered and incredibly intense. The earthy flavor redolent of coffee, spices, and leather.
Georgia Ramon’s 80% made with Haitian Trinitario and Criollo beans is crisply tempered, almost black, rich, and balanced. I am a fan of the 80% range and find products differ greatly. This one is so satisfying that even a small rectangle sated my craving for an exquisitely smooth chocolate with flavors of fig, roasted nuts, and cognac.
Their 70% dark from the TCGA Cooperative in Belize is a gentle, sweeter bar. Like its siblings, it’s beautifully tempered. The flavor is earthy and more straightforward with a slightly dry finish.
If you love the combination of dark chocolate and sea salt, Georgia Ramon offers a 70% with sea salt flakes from the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. It has the same amount of added sugar as the plain 70%, but a vastly different flavor profile. The salt is subtly added, achieving the exact right balance. Enough to perk up the essence of the beans while not overwhelming them.
Super finely ground coffee from the jungles of Ethiopia and cocoa nibs infiltrate every bite of their 55% bar. Unlike many others in this cacao content range, it is not particularly sweet, with 13 grams of sugar in the whole bar. An inventive, perfect combination that once tasted seems as if it should have been ubiquitous for years.
38% white chocolate never dreamed it could embrace beetroot and coconut, but it all deliciously comes together in this bar. The dark ruby-amethyst color looks amazing while the flavor and texture surprise your taste buds. Crunchy-chewy coconut pieces are a perfect counterpoint to the beetroot’s sweetness and ultra creamy texture.
Their 66% Brazilian Trinitarian dark milk bar was delightfully deep, full of terroir, and ground but not conched. Its mildness combined with memories of the bean’s earthy origins, making it another original from Georgia Ramon.
What do you really want from your chocolate? An energy boost? A calming break in your day? A gustatory joy? I expect a lot from my chocolate. Deep, rich taste, snappy tempering, a texture that enhances all the above, appealing packaging, and ethical sourcing. Quite a tall order.
Luckily for me, there are many incredible options out there. One of the newest is Desbarres from Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada. A micro-batch bean to bar manufacturer and brainchild of Ariane and Erik Hansen. They currently offer six different bars from Madagascar, Ecuador, Tanzania, and Trinidad, all in the 72-85% range. A distinguishing characteristic of all their chocolates is the two ingredient factor: the bars contain only chocolate and organic cane sugar. This, combined with their penchant for higher cocoa percentages, enables you to taste the bean in its least adulterated form.
Ariane designed all the packaging and it is lovely. The inner cardboard sleeve has a reproduction of a map drawn by Giovanni Batista from the 16th century. It shows the Tropic of Capricorn as a reference point, since chocolate is grown between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, 10 degrees north and south of the equator.
All four of the bars I sampled were beautifully tempered with a nice gloss, and a satisfying snap. Each weighs 38 grams. That may sound like a small portion, but the chocolate is so satisfying I found a few bites truly sated my cravings.
The 72% Ambanja from Madagascar tasted of citrus and berries with a slightly dry finish. The circus was non-acidic, just there to add some complexity and balance to the berries. The beans are lauded by other chocolatiers and hail from the Akesson Estate in northern Madagascar.
The Ambaja 85% bar was a different cat altogether, even though the bean was the same. Here, the citrus berry combo was accented with a deep earthiness. If you are looking for an intense, uber chocolate experience, this is it.
Kilombero, from Tanzania, 78%, was also earthy, with coffee and caramel notes.
Camino Verde, also 78%, from Ecuador was the fruitiest of the four, and had a creamier finish.
All delivered a satisfying chocolate experience designed to highlight the nuances, complexities, and unique characteristics of each bean.
Dr Xiaonan Lu has been chosen by IUFoST for the “Young Scientist Award 2016”
The University of British Columbia needs 50 beans from as many origins as possible. Please send some.
Dr Lu, University of British Columbia, is conducting a study about the cacao beans profile to see if he can correlate their origin to one or several of the parameters he is measuring and maybe develop an automatic recognition of the origin of any bean or other automatic recognition he would find.
He would like to get as many origins as possible. Can you send him some of your beans and ask your friends / suppliers / contacts to do so?
He needs 50-100 beans of each type to conduct the experiments. The more types (and locations), the better. He will be happy to share the results with you after.
Please email us to let us know what you can do and send the beans to “Pierre Gruget, 5971 Marine Drive, West Vancouver, BC, V7W2S1, CANADA”
And please give all the information you have on the beans (country, province / state / town, village, farm, elevation, and whenever you know: age of the tree, when it was picked from the tree, any comment on the growing condition (use that pesticide 3 years ago…surrounding (vegetation such as coffee trees, or any significant activity (wood oven at 20m, lake… at 50m, sulfuric acid emitted 5 km away …), variety if you know it, orientation (NW or SW) of the hill if any, soil if you know it, any analysis you may have, even old…
Only the country is mandatory today but more information would be great. If providing several samples don’t forget to identify them Lot 1 Lot 2…
All information will be kept anonymous.
If needed, we will be happy to reimburse you the costs.
Enjoying that research, sincerely yours.
UBC Chocolate (Non Profit Group supporting Research on Chocolate at University of BC)
Research conducted by Dr. Xiaonan LU, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Food Safety Engineering | Food Nutrition and Health Program
The University of British Columbia
Office 604 822 2551 | Fax 604 822 5143
Publication in Food and Chemistry journal
Volume 202, 1 July 2016, Pages 254–261
I have never been to a Costco, but I heard about these almonds and bought some on Amazon. They are so amazingly delicious I have been buying them monthly ever since.
What makes them crave-worthy is the perfect amount of 70% dark, ethically sourced chocolate encasing each crunchy roasted nut. Apparently, some great chocolatier calibrated the exact right ratio of creamy chocolate to nut. Believe me, it’s not easy to do. Too little chocolate and I’m left wanting more. Too much and it overwhelms the nut presence.
Then, they add just a touch of sea salt and turbinado sugar crystals, both of which amp up and balance out the other flavors and textures. The result is divine.
Adding to my joy is the relatively healthy nutritional profile for dessert: 1/4 cup (40 grams) has 14 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, 55 mgs of sodium, and 4 grams of protein. Not so bad for something so incredibly satisfying.
By the way, I have tried similar products from other makers and they are not as good.
At the time of this review (6-22-16) a 32 ounce bag was selling on Amazon for just under $25 with free shipping.
I love gustatory experimentation, so when a few coconut sugar sweetened bars from Primal Chocolate came across the transom, I was intrigued. Coconut sugar is touted by some for its lower glycemic index than table sugar. Other nutritionists say it’s on a par with honey, though vegan. Regardless of the conflicting theories, it is an alternative sweetener that comes from the sap of the coconut palm.
Eating Evolved’s motto is: Chocolate: It’s food, not candy. I completely concur. At least, the chocolate I usually gravitate towards that is lower in sugar. As a matter of fact, dark chocolate is one of the 15 superfoods and chock full of phytochemicals, healthy fats, fiber, iron, etc.
I tried three of their bars:
Their signature dark rolls in at 72% and is a very satisfying, earthy bar with a creamy texture. Easy to eat and quite satisfying. Crunchy Caramel is 85% cacao, yet it has the same 7 grams of sugar in a 28 gram portion as the signature dark. Both have a dry finish. Almond Sea Salt, my favorite of the trio, also has 7 grams of sugar per 28 gram serving with the addition of slivers of almond and a sprinkle of sea salt. The added dimension of flavor from the almonds and sea salt made this bar the most interesting and flavorsome, while the nuts provided a lovely crunch.
A few years ago, there was an article about Japanese workers going into the forest for a day of rest and relaxation. The salubrious effects of this outing were obvious to all, especially the researcher investigating what he called Forest Therapy. When he was asked how he de-stesses while working in a windowless lab all day he said he used essential oil of Balsam Fir Needle. I tried it, and it beautifully transports me to a deep glade in an emerald wood.
MilkBoy’s 60% dark bar with essential Pine Tree Oil reminded me of that relaxing experience. I would have thought pine and chocolate might clash, but they are an inspired combination. The citrusy edge of pine with a creamy medium dark chocolate creates a balance of flavors and velvety texture. It’s perfect for the gustatory explorer in you.
As you already know, the Swiss are famous for their super creamy chocolates, especially, the milks. If you love milk chocolate, their velvety Swiss Milk chocolate bar is an indulgent option. They also offer a Lemon and Ginger version and one with Crunchy Caramel and Sea Salt. As you might imagine, the latter is quite sweet; yet, the addition of sea salt perks up the caramel flavors to the point of making the bar interesting and complex. For a dark chocolate lover like me, the Lemon and Ginger was a revelation: tart with just the right amount of acidity and a hint of ginger, it elevated the milk chocolate into adult territory.
85% is more my thing, and their 85% bar is super smooth, low in sugar, and beautifully tempered. The taste is rich, sophisticated, with a slightly dry, lingering finish. The vanilla is applied with a light touch so it gently enhances the bean’s flavor.
MilkBoy also makes a plain milk bar for those who love a pristine version, and a white chocolate rendition with bourbon vanilla.
All the bars are a generous 3.5 ounces and come in a lovely cardboard package adorned with black, paper cut silhouettes evoking an Alpine village, complete with cows.
I love innovation. Not for innovation’s sake, but when it truly improves something. K’UL (pronounced cool) Chocolate is definitely innovative. Founder, Peter Kelsey, calls his bars Superfood and I can see why. Chock full of nuts, seeds, anti-oxidants, and supplements each bar is its own little powerhouse of nutrition. It’s food, not candy. Vegan and gluten free.
K’UL Chocolate travels to the cacao farms, selects the beans and imports them. Then they roast, winnow and grind the beans. They make it their mission to improve the lives and environment of the farmers. Luckily, this kind of ethical agenda drives more and more chocolate companies.
The bars are designed by athletes for athletes. If you are into endurance sports or big adventures, K’UL Chocolate has a bar for you. The packaging itself is water proof and pocket sized. This means that even if you are hiking the Amazon and your chocolate melts, you can still neatly squeeze out its soft goodness.
I sampled a few and found them brimming with add-ins. My favorite was the Maca & Fruit bar. Maca is an ancient root that is used for energy, but it does not contain caffeine. (Here’s a link to more information on its benefits: http://draxe.com/top-5-maca-root-benefits-and-nutrition/) The combination of cherries, cranberries, raspberries and pomegranate is divinely chewy, and plays beautifully with the 70% chocolate.
All the chocolate they use is 70%. The pure bar has an earthy profile with a slightly dry finish and undertones of dark fruits, like raisins and plums. While I liked it, I was a bigger fan of the bars with add-ins, and not just for their added nutritional punch, but for their visual appeal. The fruits and nuts are mixed in so you can still see them peeking though the chocolate, quite beautiful.
Saltsensation, with sea salt flakes, was delicious. That little bit of sodium really amped up the chocolate’s flavor giving it a multi-layered, nuanced taste.
Peanuts & Currants was very satisfying, and a perfect choice for a hike or a briefcase.
Endurance, enhanced with Pumpkin seeds, Guarana and cranberries had a marvelous combination of crunchy and chewy textures. Guarana is like caffeine on steroids, so be warned if you are sensitive to its effects. On the other hand, if your body thrives on that extra burst of energy, this bar’s for you.
The folks at K’UL are always creating new combinations, so keep checking out their website for new temptations.
NOTE: They have a special introductory offer on their website where you can buy a variety pack of four bars for $11.99, including shipping.
The older I get the more alluring a new chocolate taste, texture, or even packaging, can be. So I was delighted to sample some of Pacari’s offerings.
Before I tell you about the chocolate, let’s talk about the visuals. The black sleeve encasing five mini boxes of dark chocolate covered fruits, espresso beans, and nibs is so appealing, any jaded chocophile would be thrilled to tuck into its contents. Whole, dark chocolate covered cacao beans, three larger boxes to a pack, also come in their own black cardboard box. Somehow, all that black makes them alluring.
Pacari uses Ecuadorian organic beans from small farms, cared for by 2500 families. They are committed to biodynamic techniques and have won many awards. Clearly, this chocolate has good karma.
Though there are five boxes (two ounces each) in the Tropical Fruits gift pack, there are four flavors: two dark chocolate covered banana, one dark chocolate covered nibs, one dark chocolate covered golden berries, and one dark chocolate covered espresso beans. The first thing I noticed after tasting all four varieties was the perfect amount of chocolate covering. Just enough to let the intensity of their centers come through. You might think banana is not intense, but these little dried pieces pack a ton of flavor, along with a satisfying chewy texture, and a hit of tropical fruit aroma. The espresso beans are super crunchy and full of caffeine. What a wonderful way to get a bit of a pick-me-up in the afternoon; especially, if you need something easily portable. The nibs, because they are small, sport a mini-crunch that’s addictive. The golden berries were my favorite for their burst of chewy, slightly acidic flavor complemented by that perfect layer of chocolate. Apparently, I am not the only one to think they’re divine, as they received the 2012 gold medal from The International Chocolate Awards.
Pacari’s Chocolate Covered Cocoa Beans come in three flavors: Natural, Banana, and Ginger. Each box is 3.17 ounces and there is one of each in a package. Frankly, I think this is a very gutsy, even visionary, product to produce. It shows an incredible respect for chocolate lovers everywhere who have embraced whole foods, and have cultivated an adult palate for deeper, less sweet chocolate. These are not to be scarfed down, but savored. If you love the crunch in life, each chocolate covered roasted bean will more than sate your craving. I would eat a few with some Jasmine Green or Silver Needle tea. Amazingly, for all their punch, there is no bitterness. The natural flavor beans were the essence of cacao, but refined. The ginger flavor had been done with a gentle touch, so the spice didn’t overwhelm. As for the banana, as you would imagine, it added a bit of extra sweetness, and a whiff of banana flavor. An interesting trio, and a fantastic choice for a chocolate tasting. Each chocolate coated bean was dusted with cocoa powder which made them look like truffles.
Pacari’s drinking chocolate is another visual and gustatory winner. The cocoa itself is Arriba Nacional, one of the world’s best if you like fruity, floral flavors. It’s a subtle, yet compelling, flavor profile that is full of nuance. I used some of this 100% cocoa in a simple brownie recipe. Once they cooled, I crumbled them and stirred the chunks into tempered dark milk chocolate to make brownie bites. Delicious. Far simpler is to mix some into a cup of steaming milk with your favorite sweetener for an almost instant treat.
Pacari likes to promote the work of local artists. Paula Barragan’s work adorns this box. You can see more of it here: http://www.paulabarragan.com. I checked out her art and it is beautifully energetic, open, colorful, and inviting.
Pacari offers free shipping on all orders over $25. That’s a rarity and an extra incentive to get tempted…as if you needed one.
Just when I thought I had heard every cool thing one could know about chocolate and its production here comes Hoja Verde with their factory right on the equator. Since 2014 it has been in Cayambe, Ecuador, bisected by the equator. One half is located in the northern hemisphere and the other half in the southern hemisphere.
Their beans, the now famous Arriba or cocoa Nacional, are sourced from an area above the Guavas river in Ecuador. I have written about them before as their lovely floral notes and lack of bitterness are fairly legendary.
Let’s start with the four bonbons, all made with 58% dark chocolate. I have an affinity for chocolate with passion fruit and this little gem combined them in a happy marriage of crisply tempered chocolate encasing a delicious filling of passion fruit, whole milk and sugar. Rich, sweet, and decadent. Guava was also stellar. Mint, with its creamy green filling rang in at a perfect pitch of sharp coolness, while tangerine had a surprisingly mellow citrus flavor.
I also sampled eight 50 gram bars, each with 14 rectangular pieces. The 50% dark milk bar was just luscious. There’s nothing like a great dark milk chocolate and this one hit a home run with its adult, not-too-sweet flavor, snappy temper, and smooth texture.
There are three 58% bars, all somewhat sweet, but still full of dark bean complexity and depth. One had crunchy peanuts embedded on its side, another was mixed with toasted quinoa, giving a more subtle textural interest, and the third was infiltrated with chia seeds that gave it a slightly more pronounced crunch.
The remaining bars did not have add-ins, which allowed for the full flavor profile of the beans to come through. All had a firm temper. The 58% and 66% bars have 4 grams of sugar per 10 grams of chocolate. The 66% was far more layered, reminiscent of dark fruits and dusky florals. The 58% was better suited to the three previously mentioned bars. 72% was sublime. Those same dark fruity notes with chestnut and a perfectly balanced long dry finish. 80%, an almost black chocolate, was also immensely satisfying as it had everything the 72% offered plus a deeper, earthier, perfectly rounded flavor not easily achieved in an 80% bar. To me, Arriba beans shine in the bars with higher cacao content as they bring a softness to what might otherwise be too intense.
Johannes Busch, Nelson Schwab IV, and Brando Tijerina are the triumvirate behind ChoN’anga Chocolate with benefits. Together, they have created a line of barks and truffles infused with herbs, nuts, and fruits. Each one has a different focus from energizing to relaxing.
I sampled six of their seven barks. They come in two sizes: single serving 40 gram pouches and 114 gram bags, both of which are resealable. The barks are made with 70% couverture from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.
Unlike other bark type chocolates, these are already cut into small rectangles that make them neater to eat.
ENERGY is enhanced with sprouted almonds, matcha green tea, dried blueberries and bee pollen, all of which pack a rejuvenating and nutritional punch. I liked the crunchy nuts, chewy berries, and uplifting qualities of the tea and bee pollen.
BREATHE is refreshing with its addition of mint, blueberries, hemp seeds, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, cocoa nibs, and osha root. That last one was new to me so I looked it up. Here is what I found on a site by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP: “Osha root has long been used by Native Americans for cold, cough, and other respiratory ailments. The root contains oils, including camphor, saponins, ferulic acid, terpenes, and phytosterols. One of the most notable benefits is its numbing effect, used to help soothe the irritated tissue of a sore throat. It has been an ingredient in cough drops and lozenges and can even be made into a cough syrup that is more effective than echinacea and goldenseal.” I did feel as if I was breathing more freely after eating just one piece. (Other research has shown that chocolate itself is very effective at relieving coughs. See one of the many articles here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4032585.stm)
SUPER ANTI-OXIDANT has organic almonds, pecans, blueberries, cherries, golden berries, ginger, sesame seeds., matcha green tea, and turmeric. That might sound like a gustatory free-for-all, but each ingredient was used judiciously making the final product still very choco-centric.
VIBRANCY has a very lovely aroma of lavender and rose petals along with its add-ins of sunflower seeds, blueberries, nettle leaf, and damiana. Historically, damiana has been used as an aphrodisiac and sexual potency booster by the native peoples of Mexico, including the Mayan Indians. It also increases energy, and helps asthma, depression, and menstrual problems.
RECOVERY has a chewier texture as it is full of organic cherries, ginger, and banana. There’s also a crunchy undertone from organic pecans, sesame seeds, and hemp seeds. A very yummy combo.
VITALITY was another bar chockfull of fruits and nuts including sunflower seeds, figs, dates, hemp seeds, maca root, Siberian ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and horny goat weed. (Here’s a link to more information on horny goat weed: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-699-horny%20goat%20weed.aspx?activeingredientid=699&activeingredientname=horny%20goat%20weed)
Clearly, it might not be wise to scarf down bags and bags of these nutritionally enhanced chocolates at one sitting. I sampled some of each one at the same time and felt no adverse effects. Of course, chocolate itself has 300+ phytochemicals, so anytime you’re eating a 70% or higher bar you are already getting myriad health benefits. The additional ingredients in ChoN’anga are wonderful if you are looking for specific enhancements.
The company is also happy to create custom blends and bulk orders if you have specific dietary goals or requirements.
Are they called Sweet Buddies because there are two to a pack? Or, is it because they will be your chocolate pals? Maybe, the ingredients are good buddies? Beats me. All I know is they are another great creation from Chocolate Inspirations.
My favorite of the trio has salted vanilla bean caramel paired with roasted peanuts and enrobed in 58% dark chocolate. What makes these extra delicious is the perfectly chewy texture of the caramel. It allows each bite to last a satisfyingly long time. I am always amazed at how a little sea salt can both highlight the individual flavors and then corral them into a fiesta of complex flavors. Heaven!
I liked the sublime combination of salted vanilla caramel and marshmallow in the next bar because the coconut cream came through more strongly. A completely different experience, it seduced me with silky, slightly chewy marshmallow enhanced by the chewier caramel and thick chocolate couverture. Since there are not many marshmallow and chocolate confections available, I would suggest trying these if you love that combo.
Though not enrobed in chocolate, the last duo was salted vanilla caramel and peanut. Even though I am a chocophile, this bar was just wonderful. Without couverture, the saltiness of the caramel was accentuated and highlighted by crunchy nuts.
There was not a weight on the wrapper, though each bar is about 2 ounces, giving you two big portions in each package.
“DALLAS, March 18, 2014 — The health benefits of eating dark chocolate have been extolled for centuries, but the exact reason has remained a mystery — until now. Researchers reported here today that certain bacteria in the stomach gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.
Their findings were unveiled at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting, attended by thousands of scientists, features more than 10,000 reports on new advances in science and other topics. It is being held at the Dallas Convention Center and area hotels through Thursday.
“We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the ‘good’ ones and the ‘bad’ ones,” explained Maria Moore, an undergraduate student and one of the study’s researchers.
“The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate,” she said. “When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory.” The other bacteria in the gut are associated with inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These include some Clostridia and some E. coli.
“When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke,” said John Finley, Ph.D., who led the work. He said that this study is the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach. The researchers are with Louisiana State University.
The team tested three cocoa powders using a model digestive tract, comprised of a series of modified test tubes, to simulate normal digestion. They then subjected the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation using human fecal bacteria, according to Finley.
He explained that cocoa powder, an ingredient in chocolate, contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber. Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over. “In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity,” he said.
Finley also noted that combining the fiber in cocoa with prebiotics is likely to improve a person’s overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds. “When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems,” he added. Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in foods like raw garlic and cooked whole wheat flour that humans can’t digest but that good bacteria like to eat. This food for your gut’s helpful inhabitants also comes in dietary supplements.
Finley said that people could experience even more health benefits when dark chocolate is combined with solid fruits like pomegranates and acai. Looking to the future, he said that the next step would be for industry to do just that.
This study was supported by the Louisiana State College of Agriculture and a Louisiana AgCenter Undergraduate Research Grant.
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
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This research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
In our current chocolate laden world it is difficult to create something that stands out. Chef Meagan of Amore di Mona has managed to do that with her Madhava agave sweetened dark chocolates and caramels. Using agave gives them a much lower glycemic index and is particularly well suited to caramels.
I sampled the plain dark bar first. With only four grams of sugar in a 35 gram portion, the whole bar, it was just sweet enough to make it a treat, rather than a health food. The agave has an interesting effect on the temper, giving it a slightly creamier texture.
Next up were the two Caramela bars, each weighing in at 64 grams. It’s hard to believe there are only two grams of sugar in each 21 gram square, as they taste rich and immensely satisfying. The very fact that there are three large squares per box makes them a super portable way to enjoy dark chocolate coated caramels. I can easily see taking these along with me to the movies, as their perfectly chewy centers prolongs your enjoyment. The one with cranberries adds an extra layer of sweetness and texture. Using apple juice sweetened cranberries makes these even more crave-worthy, while the addition of organic ground vanilla beans beautifully rounds out the caramel-chocolate flavors.
I also tried their box of assorted chocolates: dark, caramela, caramela with cranberries, caramela with cherries, caramela with crunchy coffee beans, dark with currants, and dark with crunchy coffee beans. The dark chocolates are heart-shaped and very visually appealing. The caramelas are more rectangular. Slightly chewy, creamy caramel blends wonderfully with all the add-ins, though the one that really woke up my taste buds was studded with crunchy coffee beans. What a great juxtaposition of flavors and textures.
Always one to pay attention to packaging, I appreciated the ribbon and seal adorning both boxes.
Artisana chocolate has a history that goes back to 1700. The family has been farming cacao in Venezuela for over three hundred years, long before we even conceptualized an “organic” food label. It was always organic and still is, though now it’s USDA certified, Non-GMO, vegan, and gluten free.
I happen to have an on-going love affair with criollo beans and all three of their bars are made with this complex, yet mellow chocolate. There are three iterations: 65%, 75%, and 85%. Each 50 gram bar comes in a pretty cardboard envelope with a foil liner. The bars themselves are divided into six rectangles with a lovely bas relief of a cacao pod. Each rectangle has raised sides and an indented middle. For the life of me I don’t know why this design is so satisfying. Perhaps, because it accentuates the beautiful shiny, crisp temper?
Fifty gram bars are not typical, and unlike so many other companies that use small portion sizes to make nutritional information seem healthier, Artisana deems that one portion. It’s certainly not out of the question that you would eat the whole bar in one sitting; however, two large pieces are quite satisfying.
If you do decide to scarf down a whole bar you will get a whopping amount of iron. The 65% has 40% of your daily requirement, the 75% has 50%, and the 85% has 60%. For comparison, 135 grams of tenderloin has 9% of your daily iron needs.
Even though the bars sport the same criollo bean, they are vastly different in flavor. The 65% is sweet, but not too sweet. There is a tantalizingly dry edge that appears just as it melts in your mouth and continues through the finish. The combination of silkiness with that hint of dryness is deliciously balanced.
The 75% bar has an earthiness complemented by its creamy texture. Dark fruits, plum, cherry, and raisin round out its profile.
Not for the faint of heart is the 85% bar. An intense bittersweet chocolate with just 7 grams of sugar in a 50 gram portion. The dry edge is most pronounced here. If Carl Jung were a chocophile he would talk about this being the shadow side of criollo, as its sweeter incarnations look so innocent, while this super dark version challenges you with its intensity. It’s designed for those of you who want the full metal jacket of cacao’s chemical bounty.
I don’t usually buy pastry as it is typically too sweet for me; however, this Chocolate Brioche from Aldi ($2.99) had been calling my name for a while and I finally succumbed. Lucky me. This is really delicious, even though it looks more chocolatey than it tastes, the texture is divinely chewy and satisfying. For a commercial product it is remarkably free of junky ingredients. There are palm and canola oils, but no trans fats. Every ingredient is a recognizable substance, like creme fraiche, eggs, flour, etc. One serving, 50 grams or 1/8th of the cake, contains 4 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 14 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of fiber. Definitely not a health food, but for a decadent treat at least it contains real ingredients.
I have also tried the chocolate chip brioche and did not like it nearly as much as the chocolate swirl variety because its chocolate presence was barely noticeable. On the other hand, it has 1/3 less sugar and a lovely, eggy brioche texture. Could make a great base for your favorite raw chocolate hazelnut spread, or some excellent jam.
They also offer cinnamon and vanilla cream versions.
It’s amazing to see how many things conspire to create an overall impression of something, especially food. Take packaging, for example. Dark Forest Chocolate, a new bean-to bar company based in Western New York, has the sweetest logo above its name: dark brown abstract trees on a shiny copper background. Charming and captivating.
Though the bars weigh in at 60 grams, or 2.1 ounces, their division into 24 small rectangles makes it seem as if they are larger.
In the high end chocolate world, there is a never ending debate about whether to add vanilla. Does it highlight cacao’s naturally complex flavor, or not? Dark Forest chocolate makers Joanne and Dan Sundell do not add vanilla to their bars, so the unadulterated flavor of the beans shines through. I find this creates an earthier experience.
It is hard to stop eating their Goat Milk Dark Chocolate (50% cacao). Made of Trinitario-Forastero beans from Uganda, it is deliciously creamy with a depth you can’t find in commercial milk chocolate bars. The wonderful edge of acidity from the goat’s milk gives it even more complexity and interest. If you love dark milk bars, this is definitely one to try.
Dark Forest’s Madagascar Criollo from the famed Akesson plantation in the Sambirano Valley is a 70% bar. I have always been a big fan of Criollo beans and this one is no exception. At first, it may seem like Criollo is the Merlot of cacao because it is so easy to scarf down, but as it lingers you appreciate the beautiful balance of fruity flavors, texture, sweetness, and depth.
Their Tanzanian is a Trinitario from the Koko Kamili Cooperative and is also 70%. I loved the lingering slightly dry finish with its dark fruit and hint of tobacco/coffee notes.
They offer more flavors, like Cinnamon Pepper Milk, in their shop and will soon be able to ship.
We all know how crucial bees are to pollinating foods and flowers, and how disturbing it is to read the numerous stories about colony collapse disorder and the sudden dying off of hives. Anyone who helps give bees a safe environment to live, pollinate, reproduce and make honey is a hero in my book.
In other parts of the world they take beekeeping very seriously. In Paris, urban apiaries are de rigueur, they even have bee hives in city parks, like these in the Luxembourg Gardens: http://www.talkinfrench.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Beehives-at-Jardin-du-Luxembourg.jpg.
In addition to being delicious in tea, baklava, and halvah, honey has well-documented medicinal uses. It never goes bad and its anti-bacterial properties work as well today as they did in ancient Greece, Rome, and India. Many people use it to treat seasonal allergies, burns, or for soothing a sore throat.
Honey also pairs well with a variety of foods like cheeses, fruits, nuts, and chocolate.
That’s where Claire Marin, the founder of Catskill Provisions, comes in. She creates two types of chocolate truffles. One with honey and one with honey whiskey.
Her Fall raw wildflower honey I sampled is from chestnut, maple, goldenrod, buckwheat, bamboo, and asters. It’s absolutely superb.
She also makes NY Honey Whiskey, distilled at Finger Lakes Distilling on Seneca Lake. It is 80% NY Rye and 20% Malted Barley aged for 2.5 years in new American Oak charred barrels and infused with Fall honey.
The relevance of all this honey talk becomes apparent when you sample her chocolate truffles. Packaged beautifully and carefully, so nothing happens to them during shipping, they are handmade and fairly large. The Honey Whiskey variety are not particularly alcoholic but have that added dimension alcohol imbues. The centers are supremely smooth and the Belgian chocolate couverture is applied with a liberal hand. The Honey truffles are a purer chocolate-honey taste, also dipped copiously in dark chocolate, and dusted with cocoa.
If you are looking for a gift for yourself or someone else, I would strongly suggest pairing a box with their raw Fall wildflower honey. And, if you are lucky enough to live within 50 miles of her apiaries you will get the added benefit of a honey “vaccination” for your seasonal allergies, should you have them.
Last but not least, if you want help setting up a hive in the city, suburb, or country Claire is happy to consult with you.
Frankly, both of these bars are so delicious I can’t pick which one to start writing about first.
As always, with Shawn Askinosie’s chocolates, they look just scrumptious. I still smile every time I open a package and see those sweet little alphabet squares spelling out Askinosie Chocolate, each one a perfectly sized bite.
But that is nothing compared to reading the package of the peanut infused bar, where I learned the woman pictured on the cover is the lead farmer who helped gather and ferment the beans. In all the years I have been writing chocolate reviews, I can’t remember a time a woman has been a featured farmer for any brand. Very impressive; and, I hope, a harbinger of things to come in the industry.
These Mababu Trinitario beans are superb. The slight bitterness of the chocolate paired with peanut butter wakes up all those taste buds that grew up on peanut butter cups and says, “Here’s the adult version of your childhood treat.” However, this bar has the peanut butter blended with chocolate. There are no layers, no puffy squares filled with mounds of peanut butter. Just the peanut saturated chocolate. Intense, and all grown up. I love it.
The other bar I tried was “Coconut Chocolate with Coconut Sugar, A Beautiful Mess.” It’s part of their CollaBARation line where they partner with other food artisans to create new, unusual chocolate treats. Completely different from the previous bar, this is a perfect mix of coconut sugar, crunchy toasted coconut flakes, and single origin chocolate. The flavors are glorious together and the juxtaposition of the creamy dark chocolate with all that crunch is incredibly satisfying.
Shawn is devoted to social responsibility and sustainability. He believes businesses can solve world problems; especially, when people get involved at a young age. For those of you who take that as seriously as he does, here’s a link to his Chocolate University program: https://askinosie.com/learn/chocolate-university.html.
Chocolate Naive: Peanut, Tahini, Spices, Dark with Berries, Dark with Hops, Dark Milk with Porcini, and Nicaragua Nicaliso
Lithuanians love their beer; especially, unfiltered, raw beers. Hence, this pairing of dark (67%) chocolate and hops, a very different experience from any other I have ever tasted. The initial leathery flavor reminded me of a stout or porter with their characteristic bitterness and lingering dry aftertaste. A definite roasted flavor of hops and malt predominate. Very interesting. The bar, based on Trinitario beans, is thin, beautifully tempered, and sports that lovely Chocolate Naive logo of a man on a huge unicycle.
Dark Chocolate with Berries (65%) is almost a polar opposite to the one with hops. It is based on a Madagascar Criollo, the perfect choice with blueberries, strawberries, and black currants (all freeze-dried, powdered, and fully amalgamated into the chocolate). This thin, snappy bar with the sweetness of fruit and the fetching tartness of berries delivers a series of exciting berry fireworks in each bite. A real jewel.
Another bar in this range is their Nicaragua Nicaliso (70%), a predominantly Criollo bean. Unlike other Criollos, this has a bit of an acidic edge, nothing harsh, just there to add another dimension to this typically gentle chocolate. The addition of clarified butter is ingenious as it enhances all the inherent flavors of this Central American cacao while adding an extra-velvety texture. Immensely satisfying and more complex than most Criollos.
I sampled three bars in their new organic range: Mulate. Tahini is a dark milk (45%) with tahini and a stage whisper of sesame seeds. A great marriage of super creamy chocolate and slightly chewy-crunchy, roasted sesame seeds, it won the Northwest Chocolate Festival’s Bronze Medal. Unique and delicious.
Their Mulate Peanut with Sea Salt (45%) combines smooth peanut butter with clarified butter to produce a subtle, but still noticeable, peanut taste in a velvety chocolate.
Spices is the name of the third bar in this trinity. On reading the ingredients: dark chocolate (65%) with cinnamon, vanilla, and cayenne, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that cayenne steals the show. Not so, it was the vanilla that hit me first, then a bit of cinnamon, with the cayenne’s heat and spice finishing everything off and lingering. Since all bars with hot spices have varying intensities, I would rank this heat level as medium. Not so in-your-face that your mouth is burning, and not so mild you don’t notice it. A perfect amount to allow the other flavors, and the creaminess of their dark chocolate (enhanced with clarified butter), to shine.
Design has always been important to Chocolate Naive and they have gone in a completely different direction with this range. Typically, their bar packaging is a clean-looking cardboard envelope with a re-closable plastic sleeve inside. The Mulate bars come in a glossy, stiffer cardboard adorned with fantastical images in a rich palette of colors, with a foil inner wrapper.
In its own category is their Dark Milk (67%) “Back to the Origins” bar with Porcini. Wow. What a surprise. The approachable earthiness of freeze-dried wild porcini mushrooms with clarified butter in this luxuriously silky dark milk chocolate is far from what I would have expected. Not only do the flavors mesh perfectly, they complement each other. Here, 2 + 2 = 10. The woodsy porcini and complex chocolate flavors blend seamlessly to produce something unpredictably lush. You just have to experience it for yourself.
Almost half a century ago, when I was growing up in Manhattan I would spend afternoons at the Museum of Modern Art. The space was far more intimate than it is today, and lent itself to a very personal experience. Invariably, there would be someone looking at a painting by Jackson Pollock and remarking, “My grandchild could do that with her eyes closed.” “No,” wanted to say, though only a teen myself, “it takes far more than you can imagine to paint like that.” But my protestations would have fallen on deaf ears.
In the chocolate world, there are also many would-be imitators. Luckily, there is an abundance of truly original, creative chocolatiers whose greatest joy is tantalizing us with new ways to visualize and relish this remarkable substance.
It came as no surprise that Tatiana Sánchez, founder and creative director of Unelefante, was a jeweler before entering the chocolate world. Her visual aesthetic infuses everything Chef Jorge Llanderal, Unelefante’s chocolatier extraordinaire, creates.
All of Unelefante’s cacao is produced by Luker, a Columbia company that opened in 1906. They use Trinitario beans, that famous hybrid of Criollo and Forastero. Interestingly, the Luker variety is heavier on the Criollo which lends it extra lushness. “Luker’s beans are grown on thousands of small family farms in the fertile lowlands and foothills near the port city of Tumaco, on Columbia’s southwest coast next to the Pacific Ocean. Shunning pesticides and chemical fertilizers, these small farmers have taken advantage of Tumaco’s tropical climate and rich soil to bring out the full flavor potential of the bean, with its beguiling marriage of fruit and floral tones, balanced against bracingly sharp notes.”
The Tablette Pollock is a thing of beauty dancing with vibrant colors and visual energy. It practically leaps from its lovely cardboard home, through the gold foil into your mouth. Once there, you are met with a surprisingly adult flavor profile for a 58% bar: earthy, with hints of leather, coffee, and dark fruit.
The other six bars I sampled were all 65% cacao and visually entrancing. The bars are each 3 by 5 inches, 50 grams and thin. I love the thinness. It allows the toppings to shine, breaks with a clean, well-tempered snap, and makes it easy to eat a little or a lot.
Palanqueta with peanuts, jaggery and pinion is a delight of crunch, spice, and tiny sugary bits (jaggery is Indian, made from the sap of palm trees or sugar cane, and has a similar flavor to brown sugar).
El Jardín Secreto or “The Secret Garden” has crystallized flower petals, cardamom, and pieces of dry apricots and pistachios. The magenta flower petals are just beautiful. Clearly, Chef Llanderal and Ms. Sánchez are a great team when it comes to creating new, exciting taste and textural combinations. Luker chocolate is a perfect foil for these inclusions, as it is not so assertive that it overwhelms them; nor, is it so nondescript that it gets completely obscured.
Fray Mole has mole paste, pasilla chili, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sea salt. The smokey dried peppers, spices, crunchy seeds and hint of salt work so well that it’s almost impossible to separate out their individual flavors.
Oblea Di Oblea Da looks like a mini carnival on chocolate with its pink, blue, green and yellow wafers, little rounds of caramel, crushed nuts, and sea salt. While Obleas means wafer in Spanish, the bar’s name is a lovely nod to the Beatles.
Bananeira, with dehydrated freeze dried banana and coconut flakes reminded me of a moonscape. The fruits are wonderfully crunchy and not at all sweet. As it warms in your mouth, the coconut becomes chewy. That protean textural shift is quite fetching.
Coco Bengala has coconut candy, crystallized ginger, and curry. A riot of flavors and textures that made me feel both sated and craving more. The pink-tinted coconut candy scattered with ginger and curry was simply beautiful. But, beauty is as beauty does, and this bar delivers on every level: taste, visuals, both crunchy and chewy textures, slight curry scent, and that audible snap.
After all this raving, you might be frustrated in procuring these bars. The following places will sate your cravings:
The Colossal Shop – Chicago – USA
Material – London – UK
Persephone Bakery – Wyoming – USA
Printemps – Selección de tiendas en Francia – UE