Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chocolate with Hemp: The Next Big Trend?

Chocolate and hemp products seem to be popping up all over the place this year. In fact, in the last few months I have found three chocolates bars with hemp, just by chance. It began with Living Libations in the Spring, when I sought out their raw chocolate bars and discovered that a main ingredient in their chocolate was hemp.  Then a few weeks ago, I was shopping in Bulk Barn and came across the René Rey’s Organic HempHogs, a milk chocolate-coated hemp-flavoured truffle in the shape of a hedgehog.

My final hemp-and-chocolate discovery was at the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show where I met ChocoSol Traders.  This Toronto-based bean-to-bar chocolate maker focuses on the symbolic elements of the cacao bean and on being environmentally sound. They make a chocolate bar called Hemp Gold, which I purchased immediately to compare to the other hemp-flavoured chocolate that I had collected.

With five simple ingredients (cacao, hemp seed, maple sugar, cacao butter and sea salt), ChocoSol has created a very interesting flavour. The Hemp Gold bar tasted, oddly, like peanut butter. But perhaps the combined flavours of salt, hemp seed (which has a nutty flavour) and maple sugar create a flavour that is reminiscent of breakfast and my breakfasts always includes some sort of nut butter.

Although all three chocolate bars have a similar nutty flavour to them, they are very different from each other. So to compare them, I can say the following about each:
Living Libations' chocolate has a softer
texture than typical chocolate bars.

ChocoSol`s Hemp Gold is a solid chocolate bar that is not overly processed, so it is not pefectly smooth. But that means the chocolate retains more of its antixoidants because it is minimally processed with ChocoSol's stone ground and pedal-powered production techniques.

Living Libations chocolate is a savoury meal rather than a sweet dessert with its thick, pasty texture and power-packed punch of superfood ingredients.

René Rey’s HempHogs truffle is a coconut oil-based truffle and is very smooth, and is also covered in organic milk chocolate, which makes it sweet with a nearly irresistible texture.

So which one did I like the most?  Well, I liked what the Living Libations chocolate was doing for my health and digestive system, but in terms of taste it was a toss-up between ChocoSol’s Hemp Gold bar and the HempHogs truffle. But being a dark chocolate lover, I most enjoyed and appreciated ChocoSol`s Hemp Gold bar.

Why Hemp?
Hemp has been around for many years, but it seems to be trending now more than ever.  One reason is the increased focus on our health coupled with the belief that we should be eating more ‘complete’ grain products. A complete grain has the usual energy-inducing carbohydrates, but also proteins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients. Hemp is considered one of these ‘complete’ foods because it: “contains all 21 known amino acids, including the 9 essential ones adult bodies cannot produce.” (ref)
Also, we may be seeing it more in Canada, (all three of the chocolate makers mentioned above are Canadian) because we have more access to hemp seeds and hemp oils than in the U.S. In fact, “virtually all hemp nut and oil in U.S. foods are imported from Canada” (ref) because our government allow the plants to be grown in this country. The U.S. government, on the other hand, does not allow farmers to grow hemp because they do not differentiate between hemp and marijuana.
Hemp is also considered environmentally friendly because it has a high yield per acre of crop and requires very little pesticide use. So with increased environmental concern, hemp is emerging as one of the potential solutions and its popularity has increased in North America and Europe.

Is Hemp Chocolate the Next Big Thing?

So the real question is: will this hemp-and-chocolate trend turn into the next big thing?  I do think we will see hemp being incorporated more and more into the flavour range already offered by chocolate manufacturers who make chocolate with ‘healthy’ nuts, seeds and fruit, like almonds, hazelnuts, acai and blueberries. But I do not think hemp will become the next big flavouring in most commercial chocolates, for example, how hazelnut paste is found in so many internationally successful products like the Ferrero Rocher or how peanut butter is incorporated into…well….everything in North America. But who knows?  Perhaps HempHogs will become an international hit and we will find them sitting on store shelves along side Reese Peanut Butter Cups in a few years.

If you know of any other hemp-and-chocolate combinations, feel free to add them to the comments below.  And if you are interested in Hemp Chocolate but cannot find any in your area, maybe you can try your hand at making your own.  Check out my posts on making chocolate from the bean in your own kitchen. 

You can likely find Hemp seeds at your local health food store or online from Manitoba Harvest (see left). I used a package of their raw shelled hemp seeds called Hemp Hearts (pictured on the right). 

If you are in the Toronto area, ChocoSol also sells 400g of hemp for $10 in at least five farmers markets (see list here) and they carry whole hemp seed as well as hemp hearts.
Chocosol uses Peterborough hemp.

Here are the package details of the three chocolate bars that I tasted this week:

René Rey Organic HempHogs® "Milk Chocolate Truffles with Hemp Nut Cream Filling"
René Rey Chocolates Ltd., North Vancouver, B.C. (Canada)
Ingredients: cane sugar*, cocoa mass*, cocoa butter*, skim milk powder*, hemp nuts*, coconut oil*, hazelnuts*, soy lecithin*
*ORGANIC  MAY CONTAIN: other tree nuts and sesame seeds.

AltogetherNow Cacao Clarity Chocolate Bar
Living Libations, Haliburton, ON (Canada)
Ingredients: Brilliant organic raw Bali cacao wow, hemp, maca root, guayusa herb, camu camu, raw honey, vanilla bean, peppermint, grapefruit, cococréme.

ChocoSol TRADERS Hemp Gold bar
ChocoSol TRADERS (Toronto, ON, CANADA)
Ingredients: cacao, hemp seed, maple sugar, cacao butter and sea salt.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Live Healthy with Living Libations' Chocolate

Chocolate is a general term these days.  It is used to describe anything from candy bars, such as Mars and Hershey's, to Mayan-style hot cocoa beverages that are all the rage. And most accurately, it is used by connoisseurs and fine chocolate makers to describe solid chocolate made with quality ingredients.

However, the term 'chocolate' is also used to describe some of the newer types of artisan 'bars' that are made with cacao beans. Taza Chocolate stone grinds the beans to make a gritty-textured chocolate. The Canadian equal to American Taza is ChocoSol, based out of Toronto. Soma Chocolatemaker also makes an 'Old School' chocolate bar with a crumbly texture to replicate the way chocolate was made before the conching machine was invented (by Rudolph Lindt in 1879).

You might be wondering what is so special about gritty chocolate?  Well, the idea behind this trend is: the less you process the cacao beans, the more nutrients and antioxidants are maintained in the final chocolate product.

One Canadian company is taking this 'minimal processing' concept to the extreme with their raw chocolate creations.  Living Libations, a Haliburton, Ontario-based business, is creating chocolate that is made from raw (i.e. unroasted) cacao beans. They also add ingredients like hemp seeds, maca root, camu camu and other 'super foods'. So not only does the cacao retain more of its nutrients and antioxidants because it is uncooked and minimally processed, the resulting 'chocolate' is packed with added nutrients like minerals, vitamins and protein.

I first caught wind of Living Libations on a TVO documentary called "Semi-Sweet: Life In Chocolate" which aired back in June. The documentary followed four groups of people around the world and how their lives are affected by chocolate. Ron and Nadine, the couple behind Living Libations, were presented as extreme hippies who have been positively affected by it. They revere it as the 'food of the gods' and agree that it offers intense nutritional powers, especially in its raw form.

Described by an online writer as "a nutty New Age cou­ple liv­ing in rural splen­dour", Ron and Nadine apply their unique outlook on life to the creation of chocolate that is completely different from anything else in the Canadian market. One Globe and Mail article described their chocolate as "a paradigm shift. What they’re basically saying is this isn’t candy. This is food." I agree; from what I have tasted of their product, it is food. And unlike any chocolate that I have ever tasted.

First I tried Living Libations' "More than a Feeling, the Benediction is Where You Are Chocolate Bar" which is raw, organic and made with cacao beans from Indonesia. Along with the cacao beans, which are stone ground, it includes 10 other uber-healthy ingredients, including raspberry, hemp, maca root and gogi berries. The flavour was very strong and my initial reaction was not positive.  However, I decided to persevere and eat a piece a day for a week, and by the end of the week, the flavour grew on me and I found myself looking forward to this daily snack.

The second chocolate bar, called 'AltogetherNow Cacao', tasted very similar but had a hint of mint flavour . And although the other ingredients were different, it too included hemp and maca root.  So I wrote to Living Libations and asked about the importance of these two ingredients. They told me that hemp seeds are high in protein and contain Essential Fatty Acids.  The maca root is also very high in protein and has over 22 amino acids and minerals. They also told me that clinical research demonstrates it to be a powerful fertility and libido enhancer for both men and women. So if the nutrients are not enough to convince you to try this chocolate, the libido enhancer may be your reason.

I found myself getting caught up in researching Living Libations and their ideas about raw chocolate.  That lead me to David Wolfe and Shazzie, who wrote the book called "Naked Chocolate".  Shazzie is a woman from the U.K. who seems to be very similar to Nadine in the products that she promotes and the message she is giving to the public about all-natural foods and how they affect our health.  Shazzie also sells a line of raw 'chocolate bars' in the U.K. that are similar to the creations made by Living Libations.

What I noticed about these four individuals is they use creative ways to describe what raw chocolate can do for our health, body, mind and soul.  From the documentary, I wrote down quotes such as: "it is opening our Guinea Libations".  Huh? And finding a straight-forward description of each of their chocolate bars was not easy. But deciphering what Living Libations' chocolate was all about was the fun part in making a purchase decision.

The only real downside to this chocolate, for the average health-conscious consumer, is the price. With each bar costing about $20, one has to be selective. But there are no worries about gobbling up $20 in one sitting. It will certainly take a week or longer to work through one chocolate bar. One small piece a day can do wonders for your health, as I learned.  And eating too much at once can make you light-headed, as I also learned.

The best part about their chocolate is: "no sugar, no dairy, no cacao powder, no cacao butter", this is just cacao beans and real ingredients with no unnecessary processing.  So regardless of whether you call it chocolate or call it food, it is definitely unique, all-natural and healthy. Those are three things that I am always willing to sink my teeth into.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show

Toronto Chocolate: Part 3

Earlier this week I was in Toronto where I attended the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show, which took place at the Roy Thompson Hall on Sunday, November 4th.

This guy was being congratulated by everyone on the
show floor for his winning chocolate-eating abilities.
Hmm, I wonder how they knew that he had won the contest?
Was it the trophy that tipped them off?
Or maybe it was his beard...oh wait, that's not a beard!
So what is the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show? It is a trade fair where guests can walk from table to table and learn about chocolate products made by the various exhibitors, sample them and make purchases at reduced prices (well, some of the products appeared to be priced higher than in retail stores, but there were some great deals too). Other activities included chocolate and wine tasting seminars, a kids' chocolate activity centre, chocolate-making demonstrations and a chocolate eating contest. And as you can see from the picture, the chocolate contest is a happy (if not messy) event!

The exhibitor list was varied and showcased everything from shortbread to chocolate bars. It included ChocoSol Traders, an artisan and fair trade-oriented Toronto chocolate maker who allowed guests to grind their own cacao beans and blend their hot drinking chocolate with some bicycle action (see the photo on the right).  I decided then and there that I need one of those bicycles! The lady in front of me felt the same way - she was very happy to grind her own hot chocolate.  And so was the person behind me. I was disappointed that I was not chosen to work the bike, but I think it was my four-inch heeled boots that caused me to be overlooked (mental note: next year, wear flats).

Also in attendance was Laura Slack Chocolate Artist, Giddy Yoyo who makes 'organic heirloom raw chocolate' bars, and samples of BRIX Chocolate for Wine provided by B & M Marketing (Canada) Inc. and more. 

Unfortunately, I missed out on registration for the Wine and Chocolate Pairing seminars. I had really wanted to attend one, despite the extra cost to sign up, but by 1:00 p.m every seminar was booked. I had checked the website to buy advance tickets for the seminars, but could not find out how. So that would be one of my few recommendations for the show to include next year.

My only other recommendation is for the show to increase its exhibitor list next year.  After touring the entire show floor, I was surprised that I had gotten through it so quickly, even with waiting in long line-ups at some of the tables.

The cost was about $20-$25 per ticket (depending if purchased online or at the door); I would have liked access to more chocolate, confection and pastry makers for that fee. In fact, after touring the show floor, I found myself looking for Soma Chocolatemaker. Being Canada's most well-known bean-to-bar chocolate maker with two locations in Toronto, I thought they would have a table at the show or participate in the event in some way. Also, I know of many more luxury chocolate makers in Toronto who were not at this show.
Even though the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show was a little on the small side, I found the afternoon to be enjoyable, particularly when my mother and I took a little rest from the show to enjoy a glass of wine and some dark chocolate that I had purchased. Including a licensed bar in the show was certainly a nice touch by the event organizers.

If you are a chocolate-lover or are shopping for holiday gifts for others who appreciate fine chocolate and desserts, I highly recommend that you attend next year's event.  Check the website for more information. For more information on chocolate in Toronto, read Part 1 and Part 2.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

President's Choice Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Lollipops: Finally, a cake-pop designed for me!

Maybe you saw the commercials already? Or maybe not, but you have passed them in the stores without really noticing them.  Or maybe you have never even heard of them before.  Whatever the case, I am talking about the newly launched President's Choice Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Lollipops and I recommend that you run out to your nearest Loblaws, Superstore, Valu-Mart or other grocer that carries PC products and buy a box right now! If you like rich, very chocolaty desserts like chocolate cheesecake, and anything covered in semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips, then this is the dessert for you to try.

I have avoided 'cake pops' for a while now.  I own a cake, pastry and chocolate business (Ultimately Chocolate on Manitoulin Island) and people are always asking me if I make cake pops.  But I am not the type to make anything that is too trendy. I like creating new products and setting my own trends.  I also do like working with trending flavours, like pink peppercorn, sea salt, hemp, and other interesting herbs, spices and health foods that are being paired with chocolate these days.  But cake pops?!?  Definitely not something that was on my radar.  Until now.

Being a crazy cheesecake lover (and lover of all super-rich, heavy and overly chocolaty desserts), I am only upset that I did not think to ever turn my chocolate cheesecake recipe into a cake pop.  But President's Choice has done it again. They have tackled a current trend and then brought it to a whole new level of coolness....and flavour.

Since buying the box last night, I have tasted the lollipops both thawed and frozen (I was being impatient when I brought the box home from the grocery store). Although they taste great both ways, it is better to let them thaw to a nice cool refrigerated level - just an hour on the counter will be enough. That is when they are yummiest.

It is funny - I bought these for the first time last night and I just saw the new President's Choice television commercial for them a few minutes ago.  So it is a very new product indeed.

The Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Lollipops come in a package of 10 (280 grams) and can be found in the freezer section, near other frozen President's Choice desserts. If you are not a chocolate-lover (what?!?), then you might like to try the Salted Caramel flavour instead. The cost was $6.99.  Happy Holiday entertaining everyone!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Night of Indulgence: Chocolate in Toronto (Part 2)

Taste Canada - The Food Writing Awards

Christine Cushing
was the Awards Emcee!
On Monday night, I attended Taste Canada - The Food Writing Awards, which honoured the best Canadian food books published within the last year, as well as a Gala event with wonderful wine made by the Niagara College Teaching Winery and fantastic food provided by various chefs, pastry chefs, chocolatiers and other bakers. Celebrity chef Christine Cushing hosted the event, and another great Canadian celebrity chef, Michael Smith, won an award for his most recent book. Several other people were honoured for their fantastic work within the culinary industry this year.

Yup, that's me at the event!
This event was a great excuse to dress up and experience an evening of pure food pleasure. In addition to the unbelievable savoury dishes, I tasted pastries from Sucre Boutique, a Toronto-based pastry chef who makes artisinal pastry and custom cakes, Elm Hill Cookies from Oakville and handmade filled chocolates by the students of George Brown College.

Most importantly, the recently launched FoodiePages was sponsoring the event by giving away 50 different artisan food products from 50 Canadian producers who are signed up to sell products on the website. At least ten gala attendees took home a large gift box of my signature product, the chocolate TOFFLE, a milk chocolate truffle surrounded by a rich, dark chocolate toffee. I was proud to be part of such a wonderful event!

To learn more about Taste Canada - The Food Writing Awards, visit: and for information on the 2012 Gala event, click here. Although there is no information about the 2013 event as of yet, check back on that website for ticket information. The fantastic food, drink and dessert selection was well worth the cost of the ticket.

For more information on chocolate in Toronto, read my article from June of this year on specialty fine chocolate that I have found in Toronto.  Also, check back tomorrow for an article on the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show, which I also attended earlier this week.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Simple Recipe for Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt

Yesterday I was trying to come up with a ganache recipe to fill some tarts shells and what I came up with was a semi-sweet chocolate ganache with sea salt. It tasted so fantastic and it was thick enough to be easily rolled into truffles, so I thought I'd share the recipe here on my blog.

My first batch was made with Camino's 56% Semi-Sweet Organic & Fair Trade Couverture and it was incredibly good. I then made a batch with a Lindt Swiss Dark Chocolate bar and that had similar results, but with a slight vanilla flavour (Camino's chocolate has no vanilla in it, but Lindt's does).  You can buy the 300 gram Lindt bar at most grocery stores in the U.S. or Canada or, if you are in Canada and looking for Fair Trade and Organic chocolate, you can substitute the Camino professional line of couverture chocolate with Camino's 56% baking chocolate or Camino's 55% Dark chocolate bar, which is available at many Canadian grocery and health food stores, or online.

Here is my recipe:

Salted Dark Chocolate Truffles:

You need:
President's Choice was my
 choice of fine sea salt for this recipe.
  • 8 oz semi-sweet dark chocolate with 50% to 60% cacao solids (see above for chocolate brand suggestions or see below for truffle recipe using the Lindt Excellence Sea Salt chocolate bar)
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt (if you just want a hint of salt, use 1/2 - 3/4 tsp sea salt, for a bold, salty flavour use the full 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt (for decorating only)
  • For finishing: 8 ounces of semi-sweet (50%-60%) or bittersweet (70%) dark chocolate for rolling OR cocoa powder


Step 1: If chocolate is not already in pellets or drops, chop it into 1/2-inch to 1-inch sized pieces and place in a heatproof bowl (preferable if the bowl is also microwavable in case you have trouble melting the chocolate).

Step 2: Heat the cream in a small saucepan on the stove until it reaches the boiling point.

Step 3: Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir slowly with a wooden spoon until smooth (if it does not melt fully, microwave for 5 second intervals if it is in a microwave-safe bowl. If you are using a stainless steel bowl rather than glass or plastic, place over a double boiler and stir until melted. Add the 1 tsp of fine seat salt and stir until it is fully mixed in.

Step 4: Let set on counter overnight or for 8 hours. Then refrigerate for 1 hour in order to make it stiff enough to roll into balls.

Step 5: Once set, take a small spoon and scoop out small spoonfuls of truffle mix.  Roll between the palm of your hands to make balls.  Place each truffle ball on a piece of wax paper.

Step 6: Roll in cocoa powder or melt & temper another 8 oz of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate and dip truffles using a fork.  Place on a new sheet of wax paper. Place a few pieces of the coarse sea salt on top while still liquid. Let cool and harden.  Then eat!

Alternate Recipe using a Lindt Excellence Sea Salt chocolate bar:
1. Break up three (3) Lindt Excellence Sea Salt dark chocolate bars into 1-inch pieces.  Place in a bowl. 
2. Heat 3/4 cup cream on stove until it reaches boiling point.
3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir slowly with a wooden spoon until smooth (if it does not melt fully, microwave for 5 second intervals if it is in a microwave-safe bowl).
4. Let set on counter overnight or for 8 hours.  Refrigerate for 1 hour in order to make it stiff enough to roll into balls.
5. Follow remaining steps listed above.