In 2009, the chocolate world was rocked by the announcement that a rare strain of cacao had been found growing in a remote part of Peru. It wasn’t just that that particular variety--100% pure Naçional—was thought to be extinct.
The newfound trees were growing at a much higher altitude than was believed to support cacao cultivation. What’s so special about the Naçional bean, you ask? It’s an heirloom sub-type of Forastero (the family of cacao used primarily by industrial producers) that has evolved over the centuries into something truly yummy. Originally found only in Ecuador, pure Naçional was pretty much completely replaced by a modern clone selected for its disease resistance, not its flavor. Yet, tucked into a hidden mountain valley along the Marañón River in northern Peru was a stand of perfectly pure Naçional trees. Since their discovery, very few beans have been available, and only to a handful of artisan chocolatiers. We consider ourselves lucky to have two offerings on our Wall of Bars: Ritual Chocolate (Park City, UT) and Soma Chocolatemakers (Toronto, Canada). Come in and pick up one of these special bars and savor the unique flavor of Marañón cacao: intense, persistent and floral without any bitterness.
Yet another study about all the reasons dark chocolate should be part of your diet hit the press recently. This one focused on brain function and the findings were pretty exciting (particularly for a chocoholic like me). The researchers conducting the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study have been following the cognitive abilities of more than a thousand patients since the 70’s. They decided to collect dietary data for the latest 5-year wave. What they found was that people who ate chocolate at least once/week performed significantly better on organization, memory and abstract reasoning tests among other things. Based on these learnings, the study’s author said that next, he’d “really like to see what happens when people eat tons of chocolate.” Clearly I need to sign up! You can read more articles on Chocolate + Health here
Yes, I’m talking about chocolate. We often forget it’s made from the seeds of a fruit. Dark chocolate is packed with high-quality antioxidants (like Quercetin and Resveratrol) that destroy dangerous free radicals damaging cell membranes, tampering with DNA and causing cell death. Antioxidants protect against heart disease and stroke by improving blood vessel health and lowering blood pressure. They have been shown to reduce inflammation (a pre-cursor to many diseases), improve memory and cognition, increase insulin sensitivity (guarding against the on-set of diabetes) and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Not bad, right? And that’s just the antioxidants. Cacao is chock full of healthy stuff. If you’re still looking for a reason to get your daily dose of chocolate, check out our Chocolate + Health page with links to the latest studies.
By Laura Levy Shatkin
Chocolate tasting is not unlike wine tasting. Each type of chocolate bar contains its own set of flavor profiles. The flavors of the cacao bean, the source of all chocolate, can be influenced by a multitude of variables, such as topography, weather (e.g. rainfall, amount of sun, etc.), soil conditions (e.g. type, nutrient content, drainage properties, etc.), post-harvesting processing (fermenting, roasting, etc.) and, of course, genotypic properties. With so many variables affecting the flavor of just one chocolate bar, a tasting guide can be helpful. Whether buying bars to eat out of hand or use in baking, let these tasting notes be your guide. (The percentages with many of the bars represent the amount of cacao used.)
All brands are available for shipping through their respective websites. Many are also available at Cocoa & Co., 1651 N. Wells St., 312-624-8540, www.cocoaandco.com.
AMANO ARTISAN CHOCOLATES
Guayas River Basin, Ecuador 70%: Rich and deep in dusty cocoa flavors, with subtle notes of dark fruit and toffee and a floral aroma. Ultimate smooth melting, with lingering flavors.
Madagascar, Sambirano 70%: Racy flavors of green bananas and a hint of cherries; it’s a lively bar and lighter in color.