Think about this any time you need a lift: chocolate comes from fruit!
Chocolate is of course made from cocoa beans (cacao), which are the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree. The seeds are harvested, dried, fermented, roasted, ground, and fashioned into chocolate.
Why is cacao so loaded with health benefits, that it’s considered a superfood? Because it’s plant-based. It comes from fruit. It can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, it’s a metabolism booster and anti-inflammatory, and it’s filled with valuable vitamins and minerals.
So how delightful to discover a new brand from California, Nemzer Chocolate, which incorporates freeze dried fruit into dark chocolate. Since chocolate comes from fruit, these chocolate bars are basically a fruit salad!
Founder Roman Nemzer bases his chocolate on a French recipe, and the flavors are nicely balanced, with a mild and chocolatey 65% cacao.
French flair, freeze dried fruit, California cool. That’s a fruit salad!
Valentine’s Day is the holiday of love, whether romantic, platonic, or spiritual. But where did it come from, and how did chocolate (thankfully!) become associated with it?
The holiday began as an ancient Roman fertility festival, was Christianized with St. Valentine who according to legend married star-crossed lovers in secret against the wishes of Roman emperor Claudius II, became a day to celebrate romance during the rise of courtly love during the 14th century, and has since spread throughout the world, in various permutations. On Valentine’s Day in Japan for example, women give chocolate to men!
Chocolate has long been associated with love, from Mayan times onward, because of its mood elevating properties. Is chocolate an aphrodisiac? Scientists disagree, but throughout history people have embraced this idea.
For instance, Aztec emperor Montezuma drank golden goblets of chocolate before visiting his harem. Famed ladies’ man Casanova wrote that chocolate was more effective in the seductive arts than Champagne. Note though that these two historical chocolate lovers enjoyed their chocolate themselves, and didn’t share it with the women in their lives! This may have been a mistake, because today researchers have found that chocolate affects men and women differently, due to different brain chemistry, which may explain why women report craving chocolate more than men do.
On that note, a recent poll showed that 50% of women surveyed said that they prefer chocolate to, ahem, something else.
In contemporary times, the week of Valentine’s Day is a big season for chocolate purchases. Let’s face it: chocolate is love!
Your friend in chocolate,
Want more chocolate insights, plus a chocolate tasting? Book me as your group’s “sweet speaker!” Click here for speaking engagement topics, fees, testimonials, and videos, or contact me at email@example.com.
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We didn’t have a white Christmas in Chicago this year, but my family did have a delicious white chocolate bread with peppermint hot fudge on our dessert table, so we counted that as a blessing indeed!
What is white chocolate? And is it really chocolate?
It is and isn’t chocolate, depending on the quality, and the semantics. Here’s what I mean:
There’s premium quality white chocolate, and commercial grade white chocolate, just as with milk and dark chocolate. Premium quality white chocolate is made with cocoa butter, which comes from the cocoa bean from which all chocolate is made. Mix cocoa butter with milk and sugar, and you have quality, delicious white chocolate.
Commercial grade white chocolate is usually made with palm oil and other ingredients that do not come from the cocoa bean. If it doesn’t come from the cocoa bean, it isn’t chocolate. It gets worse: palm oil is a saturated fat that is bad for our health, and it is farmed in such a way as to be harmful to the environment, to animals who live in the rainforest, and to workers who in some cases aren’t paid a fair wage. The World Health Organization recommends avoiding palm oil. This means we want to be careful of palm oil in milk and dark chocolate, as well as white chocolate.
So, if you have good quality white chocolate, with cocoa butter, is it chocolate? It depends on your semantics. When chocolate is made, the cocoa bean is ground up and the white (or more accurately: ivory colored) cocoa butter is separated from the solid brown cocoa mass. White chocolate doesn’t contain the cocoa mass, though it does contain the cocoa butter, so chefs sometimes call it “chocolate-less chocolate!”
Was that answer confusing enough? Bottom line: read your labels. If you pick up a white chocolate bar and see that it’s made with cocoa butter, with no vegetable oil, you’ve got a delicious chocolate product. If the label says vegetable oil, that generally means palm oil, and you may want to back away from the bar, and proceed quickly to your nearest artisan chocolate shop or bakery to find the real thing!
Meanwhile, snow or no (and I like to call snow “white chocolate from heaven!”), I wish you a beautiful and delicious new year!
By Valerie Beck, chocolate expert, firstname.lastname@example.org
What two words scare us quicker than the words “chocolate shortage!” Chocolate is America’s favorite flavor, and some of us couldn’t imagine going a week or even a day without it.
You may have seen news reports of a coming chocolate shortage. So is there a chocolate crisis around the corner? Yes and no.
Here are the short answers:
~ Yes, because the global chocolate industry is being forced to change for reasons ranging from soil erosion to evolving customer preferences.
~ No, because while West African cocoa growing nations are facing huge challenges, South American and other cocoa growing nations are stepping in and growing more and doing it with fair labor practices.
And, we can make sure we’re supporting sustainable chocolate, by choosing chocolate that lists the country of cocoa bean origin for example.
Factors leading toward crisis include:
70% of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown in West Africa, and West Africa is facing a cocoa crisis.
This cocoa crisis exists due to years of unsustainable farming practices, climate change which means temperatures in West Africa are getting drier – cocoa trees like humidity – and the desert is taking over land that used to be fertile, and unfair labor practices including in some cases even child slave labor.
And don’t forget Ebola: the bulk of the world’s cocoa beans are currently grown in Ivory Coast and Ghana, and some workers travel there for the harvest from nearby Sierra Leone and Liberia where the Ebola outbreak is happening. A concern is that if workers get sick, there’s no one to harvest the cocoa beans.
Plus, chocolate has been largely recession-proof in the US, and people in more countries like India and China are getting a taste for chocolate, so demand is strong and increasing.
On the other hand, there’s evidence that supply might be stronger than some people think. Factors indicating abundance and opportunity include:
Even as West Africa’s cocoa bean infrastructure changes and needs to change, other cocoa growing nations are ramping up production.
For example, cocoa beans are native to South America and Latin America, and countries like Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and El Salvador are implementing cocoa bean initiatives to encourage farmers to grow more, and in some cases are encouraging foreign investment to produce more.
If you want to open a chocolate facility in Ecuador, where ideal cocoa bean growing conditions mean you can harvest cocoa beans year-round, there are financial incentives available.
Farmers in nations such as Peru have been given incentives to stop growing coca for cocaine, and start growing cocoa beans for chocolate (coca and cocoa or cacao have similar names, but are unrelated crops), and the plan is working.
In addition, it’s known that the big commercial chocolate makers are sitting on stockpiles of years and years worth of cocoa beans. If people believe there’s a shortage, companies can raise prices.
More and more consumers are looking at alternatives to commercial chocolate with its preservatives and artificial ingredients. Instead, a growing number of chocolate lovers are choosing the new wave of bean-to-bar chocolate, where the only ingredients are cocoa beans and sugar, and the chocolate is made artisanally, in small batches. Bean-to-bar chocolate gives you more health benefits, has a pure taste which the chocolate maker can develop such as by changing roasting or grinding times and methods, and uses cocoa beans not from farms in West Africa which are facing crisis, but from fair trade or direct trade cocoa farms which means benefits to farm families and communities.
Fyi I’ll write a blog post on bean-to-bar chocolate soon; for now please see my blog post on 3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods which includes info on Mast Brothers Chocolate, and see the photo below with a link to twenty-four blackbirds chocolate. Also, you can check out other bean-to-bar brands I love such as Askinosie, Dick Taylor, and Cao Chocolates whom we’ll visit on our January 23-25 Miami trip! All of these brands sell on their websites; enjoy.
So are we going to run out of chocolate tomorrow and do you need squirrel away a chocolate stash in the attic to stave off chocolate doom? No.
Is the global chocolate industry in a time of change? Yes.
Is it a good idea to read labels and vote with your dollars, to make sure you’re getting the chocolate you want, that reflects sustainability and the labor and health standards you believe in? Yes!
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Some people call New York City the Big Apple. I call it the Big Truffle, because of its enormous number of top quality chocolate shops and bakeries!
I usually visit New York a couple of times a year, generally in summer for the Fancy Food Show, and in November for Veteran’s Day weekend. It’s always a treat visiting old friends and meeting new ones, and tasting what everyone has been up to.
Before I started my chocolate services business 9 years ago, I was a corporate lawyer (and of course already a chocolate maniac). While employed at a large law firm in Chicago, I once spent a winter in the New York office, doing aircraft leveraged lease deals (don’t ask). I worked more or less around the clock, and what kept me more or less sane was sneaking out of the conference room for a Teuscher Champagne Truffle. Now when I visit NYC, it’s all chocolate all the time – well, not quite: I always make time for New York’s amazing art, architecture, and fashion, so that the overall theme is “sweet and chic!”
I love New York, and my most recent trip this past Veteran’s Day weekend was inspirational. Here are 3 chocolatey NYC neighborhoods I visited, and the shops that make these areas sweet:
1. Chelsea / Greeley Square
Walking from the Eventi Hotel in Chelsea toward Midtown, I let the Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity lead me to the Broadway Bites outdoor foodstalls market. Once I discovered it, I couldn’t stay away! Favorites at B’way Bites:
Sigmund Pretzels not only makes delicious, buttery, soft pretzels in creative flavors such as pumpkin seed, they also make creative cookies, such as the Wancko Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie, which contains a pretzel. Yes, soft pretzel bites are IN the chocolate chip cookie! Delectable.
Macaron Parlour‘s pastry chefs make exquisite macarons with lovely texture. Their combination of pumpkin and chocolate – a pumpkin macaron with chocolate pumpkin ganache – plus the hand-drawn pumpkin illustration on each cookie, won me over instantly. (What’s the difference between a macaron and a macaroon? I wrote a brief post about it; click here!)
Breads Bakery had a sign in front of their Broadway Bites foodstall announcing that they make the best chocolate babka in New York according to New York Magazine. Their chocolate babka was $5 a slice, and it was worth it. Dense yet light, flavorful and not sweet, and ultra-chocolatey, I was tempted to buy a few loaves and throw a chocolate babka party in my hotel suite. I’m serious!
2. Midtown / Fifth Avenue
Michel Cluizel is a longtime favorite of mine, because this family-owned brand believes in chocolate sustainability, fair trade, and traditional French fine-chocolate magic, with no soy lecithin. (For my post on why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate, click here.) Their Fifth Avenue store carries their charming macarolats, macaron-shaped chocolate bonbons with fillings such as raspberry, and also carries an abundance of their incredible chocolates, macarons, and more. They have a chocolate-making facility and museum in New Jersey, 30 minutes from Philadelphia, that we’re invited to visit next time – join me!
Jacques Torres goes by the nickname “Mr. Chocolate,” and his Rockefeller Center store reflects his sense of fun and his love of quality. Once, after chatting with the man himself at a chocolate show in New York a few years ago, I saw that he noticed a scrap of paper on the floor near his booth. He bent down, picked it up, and threw it away, showing in that tiny motion that he has the humility of the great.
Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery has transformed whimsy into a Michelin star. I love Chef Keller’s transformation at Bouchon of well-known commercial candy bar and dessert concepts, into exquisite upscale versions made with premium ingredients. For example, the “Oh Oh” dessert in the photo was a heavenly chocolate-coated swirl of cream and cake. We visited his Beverly Hills Bouchon on the Beverly Hills Bakery Tour that I whipped up for one day only, last spring. Let’s do it again – cross-country Bouchon!
3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg
Getting off the train in Brooklyn, I turned right instead of left, and found myself at Woops bakery. Thank you, Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity, for leading me to this gem. Not only were the macarons well-textured and tasty, but the alfajores were nicely not-too-sweet, the decor was refreshing, and the staff were helpful with directions. I know Manhattan but was a relative newbie in Brooklyn and clearly lost – yet found!
Among the pioneers of the bean-to-bar chocolate revolution are chocolate-making brothers Rick and Michael Mast of Mast Brothers. I’ve been a fan of their chocolate bars since they began making them in 2007, so what a treat it was to go behind the scenes at their Brooklyn manufactory, where I saw the care that goes into each stage of operations (cocoa beans are sorted by hand, sea salt is sprinkled by hand onto finished chocolate bars), and where I tasted their chocolate in flowing form, straight out of the grinder, where fairtrade cocoa beans are mixed for 3 days with sugar and nothing else. I also felt the love that everyone at Mast Brothers has for the art of chocolate. Their brewed chocolate drinks at their drinking-chocolate shop a couple of doors down were also phenomenal, as were their chocolate chip cookies, bonbons, and of course chocolate bars.
My mission has always been Uplift Through Chocolate, and it was exciting to experience and taste chocolate love in many innovative forms on my latest trip to New York. For more photos, see #NYCNovember2014 on twitter or Instagram, where I post as @chocolateuplift.
Save the date of next Veteran’s Day weekend, and join me for another set of sweet and chic adventures in the Big Truffle – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the list.