driven by passion, yes.
But also, intention.
I began my Chocolate for Breakfast adventure with the intention of building a community of chocolate lovers who shared similar viewpoints on pleasure …
But much to my surprise (and delight) the chocolate journey took on a life of its own. As my facebook fan base grew, chocolate makers from all over the world started sending me samples of their chocolates hoping to tease my palate and claim a space in my Top 12 Chocolate Finds ebook. Or, at the very least, on my fan page.
I redefined the word sumptuous.
You see the more chocolate I tasted, the more refined my palate became. Pretty soon I was choosing my chocolate by origin, much like a connoisseur of fine wine develops a more informed and discriminating taste for the grapes of a particular region. It’s not that there is anything wrong with a varietal, it’s just that I became rather enchanted with the nuances of flavor that I had never before experienced in chocolate.
Sumptuous became the hints of citrus in the chocolate of Madagascar. I learned that Criollo cacao trees were brought from Venezuela to the island of Madagascar at the turn of the century. I wondered if I was drawn to this particular chocolate because my grandmother, who was raised in Sicily, imbued my life with lemon. Over 90% percent of the world’s cocoa is bulk production, mostly from the Forastero bean. The remainder is fine/flavour cocoa, from most of the Trinitario and all of the Criollo varieties.
Sumptuous became the complex flavor notes in a bar of chocolate that whispered raisin. I stopped choosing chocolate for the ingredients “added” to it: salt, cacao nibs, peppercorns, pecans. I wanted to taste the
I wanted to see if I could discern notes of tobacco in cacao beans sourced from the Dominican Republic. I wanted to experience the deep chocolate flavor in cacao from Ghana and the fruity notes in chocolate sourced from Indonesia. I wanted to steep myself in chocolate. I wanted to really understand the words single source. Was I becoming a chocolate connoisseur?
Or a chocolate fanatic.
Maybe a little of both.
There I was, happily enthralled in this world of chocolate lust, when I got a call from the agent of a jazz singer in New York City. They were getting ready to cut a new CD and one of the songs was called, “Wake up and Live.” He thought it would be fun to send a Chocolate for Breakfast sample with the first two hundred CDs.
“Hi Sue Ann, I’ve been following you on facebook. I love your fan page. Do you make chocolate?” he asked.
“Absolutely. “ I replied, the words spilling out of my mouth before I could catch them and send them scurrying back to the
Safe place where reason lives.
“Let me get back to you in a few days.” I said, thinking surely I had lost my mind.
I hung up the phone and immediately called a local chocolatier whose handcrafted chocolate truffles I adored. I asked her if she would be interested in a joint venture. She jumped at the opportunity and our culinary expedition began.
Think dark chocolate morsel studded with crunchy cacao nibs. Think 72% cacao, less sugar, more chocolate. We want the sweetness of sugar to tease the taste buds, not hijack the chocolate. Now, add single origin: Madagascar. Yes, hints of citrus—you’re catching on. Finally, a dusting of Vietnamese cinnamon to tease out the subtly complex flavor of the chocolate. Can you see how this little adventure brought me back to the kitchen? I am a trained culinary nutritionist. I know just enough about the culinary arts to pleasure both my clients and me without vying for Top Chef acclaim. I play with the elements of taste the way a writer plays with words, trying them on for size and then watching how they play on my tongue or in my throat.
Then came …
I’m still playing with this one. What size will it be? How will I package it so that the artistry of the bar is illuminated? Are people ready to bite into the actual cacao bean? Will they be surprised by the delicate crunch or dismayed because it “looks” like an almond and they weren’t expecting the actual bean. Half the fun is pondering the outcome and playing with the mouth feel. But the true delight? That occurs when I watch someone bite into a piece of chocolate, and witness the look of chocolate rapture cross their face.
Every day I get the question, “How much is too much? How much chocolate should I actually be eating?” Even more important than portion size, is the quality of the chocolate. When my clients ask me what kind of chocolate they should consume, I show them what to look for so that they can make an informed decision. Here are my suggestions:
Consider the Number: The percentage shown on many dark chocolate products refers to the percentage by weight of all ingredients derived from the cacao bean. This is the total of chocolate liquor or cocoa powder (the cocoa solids) and cocoa butter. The cocoa solids contribute flavor, and the cocoa butter contributes the smooth texture.
So the percentage is really the percent of actual chocolate in the product. A higher percentage means more chocolate, and less of the remaining ingredients, primarily sugar. A higher percentage also means a more intense chocolate flavor.
Consider the Source: Is it ethically sourced? Much of the commercial chocolate you find in the grocery store comes from slave labor. You want to keep your eyes wide open here. Not all chocolate is created equal. The questions I ask a chocolate maker are, “Where do you source your chocolate? Is it organic? Is it fair trade?”
There is No Joy in Soy: Lecithin isn’t a necessary ingredient in chocolate, but its use allows manufacturers to more easily blend or “emulsify” ingredients that would otherwise behave like oil and water. It also allows them to reduce the amount of cocoa butter in their chocolate bar and replace it with other vegetable fats in order to save money. That’s reason enough to stay away from chocolate that has soy lecithin on the label.
Ditch the Dairy: Dairy binds with the antioxidants in chocolate and prevents them from nourishing your cells. If you want to get the best antioxidant bang for your buck, you want to invest in dairy-free dark chocolate. Yes, I have all kinds of science to support the benefits of including a beautiful piece of chocolate in your daily food repertoire.
Choose with Your Palate Instead of Your Head: I get this question a lot: Is raw chocolate healthier?
Not at all. Finding the best chocolate for your palate is largely a matter of taste.
If we limit ourselves to raw chocolate only, we miss out on some exquisite taste and texture sensations. I’m more concerned with the quality of the chocolate and the intention of the chocolatier. We should never assume that just because it is raw, it is going to be a superior bar. In fact, not all raw chocolates are created equal. Plus, they have a completely different mouth feel and flavor profile. As with all chocolate, look for small batch operations, pay attention to the ingredients, pay attention to your palate. My favorite raw chocolate is Gnosis. Vanessa Barg is a phenomenal chocolate maker and she knows her source, intimately. Here’s a review of her products.
But even more important than all of the buzz words and phrases (gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, fair trade, antioxidant-rich, raw, vegan) learn to appreciate the artistry and intention that goes into the crafting of chocolate that is worth savoring.
Sample, sample sample. There are lots of beautiful hand crafted chocolates for you to discover and enjoy. And be sure to keep your eyes on my chocolate for breakfast site so that you can watch future products unfold.
There are no distractions in this line of chocolate … just pure, unbridled intention.