Come join our chocolate feast!!!! A group of dedicated chocolate enthusiasts (and keen amateurs) gathered together and tasted some of the best chocolate around. We tried the finest single estate cacao, raw chocolate and some delicious milk chocolate and I’d like to share our findings and the thrills and joys of real cacao! Definitely not your average chocolate.
There is a huge difference between a quality chocolate and what we normally find in the shops and we had the rare privilege of trying them all back-to-back and finding out what kind of chocoholic we were! Some like chocolate with caramel notes, some prefer cacao with a hint of summer berries and we pretty much all loved the wild orange flavour. Here are the results of an intensive tasting session involving some of Jane and I’s favourite chocolate producers.
We were lucky enough to host this chocolate tasting at our recent vegan cooking retreat. Having assembled some of the most brilliant chocolate around we all tried to eat a small breakfast in preparation for the chocolate onslaught that lay ahead. How could we fit it all in!? There is no spitting chocolate out a la wine tasting (that would be way too gruesome and messy). This was a stamina event for serious chocolate fanatics and aficionados only.
In reality, it wasn’t quite that dramatic. There was a lot of nibbling going on and plenty of uuuuuuuuming and aaaaaaaaahhhing (in a good way). A variety of ecstatic yelps and the occasional ooooooooh (thats normally a very good sign). One thing is for sure, we had some clear winners that shone through and brought much smiles and happiness.
This choc-a-thon saw us taste a variety of chocolate from Willie’s Cacao, Ethicoco, Pana Chocolate and Choco Mama. These guys are making some of the very best chocolate available in the UK. I’d also like to mention Essy & Bella’s chocolate, who were definitely going to feature (we love em!) but time caught up on us.
So let the tasting begin…..
DARK CHOCOLATE WINNER – WILLIE’S CACAO PERUVIAN GOLD ‘CHULUCANAS 70’
We started with unflavoured, unadulterated dark chocolate. Pure, simple and potentially, absolutely sublime. For me, as a slight chocolate snob (I am a cook after all) this is where chocolate begins and ends. I love all chocolate, but this is its purest expression. All the flavour of the cacao is there (hopefully) and we were lucky enough to be in contact with the wonderful Willie’s Cacao who supplied some sensational, single estate, chocolate bars especially for the purpose of sampling a range of cacao from different regions and countries. We could really taste how the specific location of the cacao estate affected the flavour of the final bar.
It was clear that Willie’s had the dark chocolate comp covered with bars from Peru, Venezuela, Madagascar, Columbia and Indonesia. Willie compares good cacao beans to fine wines, each estate capable of producing beans with unique, stunning and individual flavours. Willie’s Cacao uses just raw sugar cane and natural cacao butter, no soya lecithin that can impair flavour. Willie even owns a cacao estate in Venezuela and visits all the farms that supply his beans. I love his approach and passion for chocolate.
It is a rare privilege to taste high quality products back to back, you can really appreciate the difference in flavours and textures. Willie’s range of dark chocolate it stunning and it was difficult to pick a winner. Eventually the Peruvian Gold ‘Chulucanas 70‘ came out on top with its distinct raisin-like flavour and deep, dark cacao taste. A tiny piece is like a taste explosion in the mouth!
Really, all of Willie’s chocolate is a delight, with the pure taste of exceptional cacao in each bar. He really does make chocolate from ‘bean to bar’ which many producers talk about, but few are scouring the jungles of Latin America and the world seeking new and interesting cacao beans. Picking a favourite, well it really just depends of how you feel that day, there are flavours like caramel, nut, berries, fruits in each bar. You’ll just have to have your own chocolate tasting to try the all!
(I have to say that my favourite Willie’s chocolate is the Indonesian Gold ‘Javan Dark Breaking 69’ which didn’t even make it to the tasting. Very irresponsible of me, it just disappeared somewhere on route. In the car. YUM.)
RAW AND FLAVOURED CHOCOLATES – WINNER PANA CHOCOLATE FIG AND WILD ORANGE
We then dove straight into the raw and flavoured chocolates and this was an equally difficult and exhaustive process, with repeat tastings needed to decided a winner (nobody seemed to mind this at all!) Extra tea was drafted in…. We liked Choco Mama’s Mulberry Crunch flavour an interesting texture and dried mulberries are rarely seen in the UK. Choco Mama is a small company based in glorious North Wales and we love trying their range of chocolate from our local health food store. Their chocolate is hand made in small batches with fair trade cacao form co-ops in Bali and Peru.
However the clear winner in this section was Pana Chocolate’s Fig and Wild Orange. They already produce a wonderful selection of chocolates with creative and surprising flavours and it seems that there are even more coming soon (I just checked out their website, Hemp and Nib is looking good). The Fig and Wild Orange flavour received the the most votes by a long way and like all Pana Chocolate is so rich and silky. We all loved the fragrant orange flavour coming from the orange essential oils.
Ethicoco’s rich and creamy bar did gather quite a few votes but the majority of people were part of the dark chocolate persuasion and it was always up against it. As a change, we will definitely be buying a few bars for a rainy day. I also love the sound of their Chai Latte Flavour and at VegFest this year in London, I tried their range of dark chocolate which was also delicious. We found that the oat milk makes this bar so creamy and it is not overly sweet, something I cannot forgive in a chocolate bar. I like to taste the cacao not the sugar! Ethicoco know their way around a top bar of chocolate for sure.
HOT CHOCOLATE HEAVEN
To top everything off with yet another dollop of chocolaty happiness, during our story telling evening with Claire, we made a massive bubbling pot of hot chocolate using a block of Willie’s 100% Venezuelan Black Cacao. You basically grate the entire block (if you’re making for fifteen) over a pan of water and bring to a simmer. The cacao does need cooking through for a while to allow it to melt and become silky smooth. You can add some almond milk, but it’s creamy and rich as it is and is packed with pure cacao goodness. As Willie says “Coffee is a poor mans hot chocolate” and when you try this hot chocolate, you can really see why. The flavour is intense and the aroma, totally sensational.
I love using cacao in savoury cooking like stews and pies. There is a ‘Smoked Chocolate and Beetroot Beans’ recipe in Peace & Parsnips which contains very dark chocolate. You can try adding a few teaspoons of cocoa to a Mexican-style stew, it brings a new and interesting flavour to a bowlful of your favourite beans and goes especially well with smoked paprika or chipotle chillies.
There is a rumour going round that bottles of rum where planted around the library at strategic points and this somehow made it into the hot chocolate. I have no idea how that happened?! So the scene is…..an open fire, a group of new friends, a wonderful story unfolding and a mug of rum laced hot chocolate from Venezuela…….it was a very special evening and the best possible way to spend the last night of our retreat. We all had rosy cheeks and slept like babies.
So tasting chocolate is a hit (we thought it might be!) We couldn’t think of a better way to round off our vegan cooking retreat, with all those whoops and occasional sounds of sheer delight! Great chocolate does that!! Highlighting the power that brilliant, plant-based food can have on us. It can bring so much joy and I’d like to thank all the chocolate suppliers for packing so much flavour, care, love and happiness into each little bar of chocolate. It was all very much appreciated.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF REAL CACAO
Cacao has been known as the ‘Food of the Gods’ for centuries in the Americas and it’s easy to see why. The cacao tree produces big pods, where the cacao beans hide and grow. Inside each cacao bean there is a cacao nib (for chocolate) and cacao butter (for chocolate, cosmetics etc). Most chocolates are made with extra cacao butter, or things like soya lecithin, added to make the bar smooth.
Cacao is very high in anti-oxidants and essential nutrients although many of these can be lost when processed into chocolate or cocoa. Some of the apparent health benefits of eating cacao are lowering high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, asthma, diarrhea, preventing wrinkles, liver, bladder and kidney disorders and many more.
The cacao bean is packed full of antioxidants, good fats, carbohydrates, protein, minerals like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, iron, zinc and potassium. They also contain oleic acid which is a heart-healthy essential mono unsaturated fat, fiber and vitamins E, B2, B1, B5, B3 and B9 as well as small quantities of vitamin A and C. We think it’s incredible that something as decadent as chocolate, especially raw chocolate, is so wonderfully healthy.
FULL CHOCOLATE TASTING RESULTS – TRIGONOS 4/3/16
Pana Chocolate – Fig and Wild Orange – 15 points
Willie’s – Peruvian Gold ‘Chulucanas 70’ – 5 points
Willie’s – Venezuelan Gold ‘Rio Carabe 72’ – 2 points
Choco Mama’s – Mulberry Crunch – 2 points
Ethicoco – Ugandan Oat Milk and Raisin – 2 points
Pana Chocolate – Nut – 2 points
Willie’s – Venezulean Gold ‘Las Trincheras 72’ – 2 points
Willie’s – Madagascan Gold ‘Sambirano 71’ – 1 point
Willie’s – Columbian Gold ‘Los Llanos 88’ – 1 point
Willie’s – 100% Venezuelan Black Carenero Cacao (as hot chocolate) – Many, many points…….(plus extras with a glug of rum)
Thanks again to Willie’s Cacao, Ethicoco and Pana Chocolate for sending chocolate across to the BHK. It is always wonderful to sample on the blog the products that we enjoy so much.
PS – Although Willie’s is not certified as vegan, I have spoken to them and they assure me that their dark chocolate it totally vegan.