Monday, February 25, 2013

The sweet and the savoury, Conillin™ Chocolates has something for everyone

Connecticut-based Conillin Chocolates has an intriguing story and a totally unique product concept. They make whole freeze-fried fruit that are rolled in chocolate (panned), as well as chocolate bars with fruit flavours. It began with an idea to provide the same taste experience that you get from real chocolate-covered strawberries, but in a product that can be packaged and endure long travel and shipping.

Founder Patrick Cayer decided to freeze-dry fruit because he believed that "fruits dried with sugar produced a gummy and raisin-like texture, which in the end was too sweet on the palate" (ref). I agree. Personally, I have never liked dried fruit in chocolate for the same reason - it just tastes too sweet.  And when added to chocolate, the resulting super-sweet combination also has a chewy texture, rather than a nice chocolaty melt.

Freeze-dried fruit never seems to taste any sweeter than fresh fruit. So when combined with Conillin's chocolate, there is a wonderful fresh fruit taste without the added sweetness, and a nice crunch from the freeze-dried pieces.

This fresh-fruit flavour was clear in Conillin's jar of panned Raspberries, which I tasted for the first time a few days ago. These whole freeze-dried raspberries are lightly rolled in a semi-sweet 58% dark chocolate and then tossed in more raspberry powder for a unique look and taste. The raspberry flavour really stands out and holds all its naturally bitterness, but with a hint of semi-sweet chocolate.

I love the Raspberries because they satisfy my cravings for a chocolaty snack. I also feel less guilty while eating them; there is little fat in this product and it is mostly made of freeze-dried raspberries, with important vitamins and antioxidants. And we cannot forget those weight controlling 'rasberry keytones' that are all the rage! So I feel that this product is a way to enjoy a gourmet dessert while being healthy.

On the other hand, if you prefer your chocolate-raspberry combination to be sweet, try Conillin's 58% Dark Raspberry chocolate bar.  In this case, the chocolate's sweetness really stands out and there is just a hint of raspberry. This is a nice change from many other raspberry dark chocolate bars on the market, which are either too bitter (i.e. a 70% paired with unsweetened raspberries) or overwhelmed with raspberries and you are left crunching seeds for hours after. In Conillin's chocolate bar, you will get your semi-sweet chocolate fix while enjoying just a hint of raspberry flavour.

Conillin also sells a 38% Milk Chocolate Chai Tea bar with a nice balance of spice and chocolate, and a wonderfully smooth texture.

Their other milk chocolate bar is Passionfruit, which was also very tasty. The fruit flavour was at the forefront, but very naturally paired with the milk chocolate.

Conillin Chocolates uses real vanilla and no artificial ingredients - an important fact for any true chocolate lover to know!

Patick Cayer is now planning to bring his chocolate-and-freeze-dried-fruit concept to many more consumers through his Kickstarter campaign. The goal is to increase production space and distribution in order to bring  Conillin's chocolate-and-freeze-dried fruit concept to more consumers. So check it out! Every level of donation will provide you with a variety of Conillin's products to try, which are well worth the taste (speaking from experience!).

Conillin also sells jars of panned blueberries, orange pieces and strawberries, as well as an Earl Grey Tea chocolate bar. For more information on Conillin Chocolates, check out the website:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

From Bean-to-Bar: a Month of Do-It-Myself Chocolate Making

So how does a wanna-be-chocolate-connoisseur spend the coldest months of winter? Making chocolate of course! And not just any chocolate either, I have made chocolate from bean to bar. That's right folks, once again I have roasted cocoa beans, shelled them, and ground them until they have liquefied into real chocolate and I have done this nearly every day for the past month.

So why would someone go to all this trouble? Well, certainly not to start my own bean-to-bar chocolate business since I have no plans to invest in costly equipment any time soon. Nor do I plan to figure out where to order beans from and try to winnow the darn things in my tiny commercial kitchen, even if I would love to fill my garden this summer with cacao shells instead of mulch. Nope. No way. Those certainly are not the reasons why I have been making chocolate from bean-to-bar. 

The reason is as it always is: learn more about chocolate, understand the process by doing it myself and become a better chocolate connoisseur.

Another reason was to brush up on my skills and to develop a few new recipes.  I was giving a class last weekend on making chocolate at home by using simple, inexpensive appliances like a blender and a coffee grinder, so I wanted to go beyond my usual recipe and test several different ones in preparation (like homemade chocolate with lightly ground espresso beans - yum!).  In the end we only had time to try out one recipe in the class. But I still learned a lot this past month.

One of the things I learned the most about was roasting. Roasting cocoa beans greatly affects the final chocolate flavour. So by making several batches of chocolate using both roasted and unroasted beans, I learned how the flavour differs depending on the darkness of the roast (or lack thereof). I also learned that chocolate made with roasted cocoa beans does taste better. Do not get me wrong: both the raw and roasted chocolate that I made tasted good to me, but the chocolate made with the roasted nibs had a smoother and more well-rounded flavour.

I also learned that it is not easy to tell the difference in taste between cocoa beans before they are made into chocolate. I suppose that some people are advanced enough to taste the difference between cocoa beans from different origins when tasting them plain and raw, but I am just not there yet. So this taught me that I have more to learn.

And my new goal? Learn to tell the difference in cacao bean flavours by origin, or at least identify which is better, tastier or has a better flavour profile. Is that even possible? I don't know. But I intend to try!

Hummingbird Chocolate Maker from Ottawa helped me get started. They sell roasted Dominican Republic cacao online, which I have previously ordered.  Then a few weeks ago, I put in another order for their beans, but this time asked for a different origin. They sent me roasted Bolivian cacao. So I have been eating cocoa beans every day in order to taste the difference between Bolivian cacao and Dominican Republic cacao. I've also been tasting these against various brands of nibs from Ecuador and Peru. So far, I can still only taste the difference in the roast (the Bolivian have been roasted for longer, some of the nibs I roasted myself, and some are raw), but I think I might be getting somewhere with tasting the difference.  However, they most often still taste like cacao to me: unsweetened, crunchy and bitter.

What's also great is that after a month of bean-to-bar chocolate making, I have two new chocolate-related addictions:
  • I LOVE snacking on roasted, unsweetened cacao beans (never thought that would happen!) and,
  • Crunchy, under processed, unconched chocolate is the bomb! There is such a tangy, acidic flavour to it and I have developed a fondness for it and for the crunchiness. This does not mean that I will never eat smooth, fine chocolate again, it just means that I now can satisfy my chocolate craving when I have no other satisfactory chocolate on hand. I can simply take out my coffee grinder, grind up cacao nibs and sugar and in 15 minutes I will have an old-fashioned style chocolate to snack on.  

What else did I learn?
This is the B&D Smartgrind(r)
- excellent for grinding up
cacao beans & nibs.
  • Only certain types of coffee grinders work for grinding cacao beans at home.  Check out the photo of the one that works best on my previous post about making chocolate from bean-to-bar at home: I learned that a Black & Decker Electric Coffee Grinder is amazing at grinding coffee, but not for cocoa beans. Unfortunately cacao quickly liquefies from the heat of it and gets stuck deep within the grinder.  It took me several hours to clean it out, so now it is back to being a coffee grinder again! Instead I bought a second blade grinder called the Black & Decker Smartgrind(R) Coffee Grinder with stainless steel grinding blades.  It was only $19.99 at the Home Hardware. Check
  • I also learned that you can make very small batches of chocolate in your Coffee/Herb grinder, which will liquefy if you add melted cocoa butter, but it is not as fine (grittier) than if you transfer to a decent blender with a new blade (I used an old blender at one point and it did not do anything to further refine my chocolate beyond what the coffee grinder did - but my trusty Osterizer 12-Speed Blender worked great.
  • A tea monitor works
    great for chocolate!
  • There is such a thing as a tea monitor and it can be used to measure temperature of chocolate. I've been using it for a month and it works great.  See the picture on the right.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Raw Chocolate: Forget the Next Big Thing, it is the Right-Now Thing

The Story of Raw Chocolate: The Upside, The Downside and The Middle Ground
For a list of raw chocolate makers, click here.

Two years ago I bought a “raw chocolate” bar at a local food store. So I decided to write an article on raw chocolate and why a chocolate manufacturer might make chocolate using unroasted cocoa beans. But at that time, Google Searches on the subject were a disappointment and there seemed to be little information available.  All I learned was that raw chocolate is made from cocoa beans that are unroasted and Pacari is a brand of raw chocolate. But I still could not quite understand why raw.

Today ‘raw chocolate’ seems to be everywhere, with more and more chocolate makers using unroasted cacao to make chocolate and explaining exactly why they do this. This has clearly become a chocolate trend.

So why do they make it? The reason is similar to why we might choose to eat raw fruit and vegetables over cooked ones: consume more nutrients. One chocolate maker, Amai Raw Chocolate, described their reasoning as: “It maintains its nutritional density because it is not subjected to the same high heat as traditional/ commercial chocolates.” (ref).

My research on raw chocolate has told me that it started out as being made by hand, and often includes natural and low glycemic sugars, such as coconut sugar or xylitol, and it is often mixed with other raw, organic fruit and 'superfoods', like Maca root in many cases. The cacao beans used are organic and the resulting chocolate is most often vegan.  Also, what I uncovered is that many of the original makers of raw chocolate participate in a yoga lifestyle or in holistic healing.

However, more and more bean-to-bar chocolate makers are beginning to add a raw chocolate bar to their range of product offerings. As a result, smoother-textured versions of raw chocolate are becoming available. Also, these newer raw chocolate bars are being introduced by businesses with a lot of experience in chocolate production, flavour mixing and development, so the taste is improving.

There is some controversy in the chocolate world over raw chocolate. Raw food advocates say that the cocoa beans and the resulting chocolate can not be heated to temperatures above 118 degrees Fahrenheit (or 114F in some cases) while being processed. However, Jeffrey G. Stern, a cacao education professional, says that after the beans are fermented and dried in the sun on cement pads in the jungle where they are grown, the temperatures reach above 118 degrees F. So no chocolate can truly be 'raw' as defined by raw food advocates (ref). And unfermented beans have such a poor taste, that no one would dare eat them or turn them into chocolate. Some describe the taste of unfermented beans as "soggy, unripe nuts" or more vividly as "cats pee" (ref: Twitter, @ultimatelychoc).

Another concern about raw chocolate is bacteria, bugs, and other potential health hazards that may be on the cocoa beans, which can only be killed off by heating them. Raw advocates argue that "...chocolate-industry professionals...claim that the conventional method of heating chocolate is necessary to kill bacteria present in the raw ingredients, and that even after cooking, companies such as Cadbury's have still suffered salmonella outbreaks." (ref) However, it is understandable why large companies would roast the beans, if not for improved taste, but to ensure that they have done everything possible to remove the risk of illness for their customers.

Roasting cocoa beans is similar to roasting nuts, like almonds and pecans. It not only kills bacteria, it improves overall flavour. I have been making chocolate at home with my little coffee grinder and blender, and have now made some chocolate with roasted beans and some chocolate with raw beans. I can tell you that flavour is much improved with roasted beans. Much like with raw versus roasted pecans or other nuts, roasting pulls out some of the tartness and sweetens the end flavour in a way. It also adds a beautiful dark chocolate colour to cacao nibs, versus the grayish colour of raw nibs.

All that said, I still sit on my chocolaty 'fence' of raw versus roasted. Like with most other food arguments, I am just not sure which is better for my health? It is sort of the same as the debate over butter versus margarine. Or diet pop with aspartame versus full-sugar pop. But in the case of raw chocolate, it is the argument: more nutrients and risk of bacteria versus less nutrients but better taste and low risk of bacteria. So my decision is to do what I always do: mix it up. A little of raw chocolate at times to get those extra antioxidants and nutrients and a little (well, a lot) of roasted at other times.

So I have chosen to take the middle road and just be happy that there are more chocolate makers in this world, adding more and more options to choose from.
 If you want to learn more about raw chocolate, there are a few books on the subject, including:
· Naked Chocolate by David Wolfe and Shazzie (Barnes & Noble Link) - this is one of the originals. David Wolfe introduced the concept of raw chocolate as a holistic and spiritual treatment to life's health challenges. Includes an "unconventional history of cacao".
· Raw Chocolate (Barnes & Noble Link) - with this book, learn to make the chocolate, then make many recipes like truffles, dipped fruit, cakes and more with a raw chocolate base.
· Ultimate Raw Vegan Chocolate Recipes book (Barnes & Noble Link)

 If you are interested in trying Raw Chocolate, you will find a full list raw chocolate bars and confections, a long with links to their makers' websites here:

The Ultimate Raw Chocolate List

If you are looking for raw chocolate brands in your region or throughout the world, you have come to the right place. Below is a list of raw chocolate makers by the country in which they are sold and/or made. For information on this trend, which has been dubbed "The Raw Chocolate Revolution" by some, and both the benefits of and concerns with raw chocolate, please see my recent article here.

  • ChocoSol Traders (Toronto, ON) They make a range of bean-to-bar chocolate and offer a few options for raw chocolate, including a sugarless base for chefs and raw truffle lovers: Available at various Farmer's Markets and locations throughout Toronto.
  • Giddy Yoyo Makes a range of flavoured 75% dark raw chocolate bars that is gluten free, soy free, dairy free, and free of refined sugar and "other nasty funk" as the folks at Giddy Yoyo like to say. They also sell raw cacao nibs, which I received as a gift at Christmas. It was purchased at HomeSense.
  • Olivia Chocolatiers (Cantley, QC) This Quebec-based bean-to-bar chocolate maker has a new raw collection of chocolate bars made from non-roasted Trinitario/Criollo. The collection includes: a 92% Maple Raw (I've tried this and it is bitter, but very good), a Raw 86% and a Raw 76% chocolate bar. Available in various locations in Quebec, Ontario and B.C. and can be purchased online.
  • Living Libations (Haliburton, ON) A fun, nutty couple from Haliburton who make raw chocolate that is more like a 'food' with the purpose of holistic healing and energy building. Their chocolate includes maca root, camu berries and other superfoods. They have excellent quotes on their website from celebrities like Alanis Morrisette and Woody Harrelson, who have tried their chocolate.
  • Live on Chocolate (Toronto, ON) Facebook Page Raw chocolate and desserts made with cacao from Ecuador. Available at various locations throughout the city.
  • Amai Raw Chocolate (San Meteo County Peninsula, California) Sell raw chocolate by the ounce, chocolate dipped bananas, cashew cups, caramels and more.
  • Lulu's Chocolate (Sedona, Arizona) Raw, vegan, organic, fair trade and gluten-free chocolate, including truffles, buttercups and chocolate bars. And some pretty fun pictures on their website advertising the chocolaty underwear that they sell!
  • UliMana (Asheville, NC) Awesome-looking raw, vegan truffles. Their first truffle was inspired by David Wolfe's book, Naked Chocolate. They sell worldwide.
  • Gnosis Chocolate (New York, NY) Hand-made, sweetened with Coconut Palm Sugar, Sourced directly with "raw integrity" from origin, and infused with superfoods and functional herbs. (ref) Uses raw cacao from Bali, Ecuador, Peru, Grenada, & Madagascar which are turned into truffles, gift collections, etc. plus single origin bars (Madagascar, Bali, other). Also works with Francois Pralus to make raw cacao paste. Ships world-wide.
  • Madre Chocolate (Honolulu, HI) This is true Hawaiian chocolate and as I've written before, I love this brand. I have never tried their raw chocolate bar; it is not widely available & is limited edition, and it disappears quickly when they make it!
  • Luminaria Raw Chocolate / Luminaria Guiltless Chocolate (Santa Monica, CA) Organic raw chocolate marketed as having only 1.5g of natural raw sugars and each bar is under 100 calories. There is not much on their website, you will find more on info their facebook page.
  • Pacari Ecuadorian Organic Chocolate (Ecuador, but with US sales) I have tried Pacari's chocolate and recall that I enjoyed it very much. They have line of raw chocolate bars (70%, 85% and 100%), which is probably the most widely selling raw chocolate brand available. Single origin chocolate made entirely in Ecuador.
  • Sacred Chocolate (Marin Country, CA)  This chocolate is stone ground and kept under 115 degrees Fahrenheit from bean to bar. They hand pour and hand wrap each bar in a small custom designed, certified organic, vegan, and 100% renewable energy and carbon balanced factory. This chocolate brand was founded by David Wolfe (one of the authors of the book Naked Chocolate) and Steve Alder.
  • Fearless Chocolate (Berkeley, CA) They favour "bold and dynamic" flavours but keep their recipes simple and uncluttered to allow "the natural vibrance of each ingredient to shine". Their chocolate bar range includes flavours like 70% Exploding Coconuts, 70% Green Tea Mint and a 75% Dark as Midnight bar. Buy online or check their Store Locator for a retailer near you.
  • Santosha Chocolate (Asheville, NC) - Raw chocolate that is stoneground and certified organic, vegan, soy- and GMO-free and low GI because it is made with coconut palm sugar. In addition to a single-origin 85% Peru, they also offer such flavors as:  Coconut & Black Lava Salt, Citrus & Maca, and others.   
  • Antidote Chocolate (Brooklyn, NY) Bean-to-bar chocolate made with raw and roasted Arriba Nacional cacao beans. The chocolate is also organic and vegan. They offer a range of 73% to 100% dark chocolate bars. Sold in a variety of stores across the country, or buy online here.

United Kingdom and Other:
  • The Chocolate Tree (Edinburgh, Scotland) makes chocolate straight from the bean in a private kitchen in Haddington, and has a storefront cafe at 123 Brunstfield Place. To complement their range of single origin chocolate bars, they have recently begun to make a rawMadagascar bar with 68% cacao solids. It is available to purchase online here:
  • iQ Chocolate (Manor Loan, Stirling, Scotland) Scotland's bean to bar chocolate makers. Specialising in making single origin, raw chocolate by stone grinding the beans slowly and coconut blossom/palm nectar as a sweetener.
  • Conscious Chocolate (Kent, UK) or Handmade, raw, organic chocolate. Free from pesticides, dairy, soya and gluten. Sweetened with natural agave nectar. Made in Kent, sold worldwide.
  • Ombar Superfood Chocolate (Cambridge, UK) Ombar's raw chocolate is made with coconut sugar and freeze-dried fruit. Also, it's 100% organic and sustainably sourced. Twitter: @OmbarChocolate  
  • Kali Ma (Jersey, Channel Islands) Eco-friendly, 'high vibrational chocolate', raw, dairy free, gluten free and most of the chocolates do not contain sugar and are instead sweetened with agave nectar. Made in Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, France but sort of part of the UK, also independent?
  • The Raw Chocolate Company (West Sussex, UK) - a full range of flavoured chocolate bars and other raw chocolate confections.
  •  The Raw Chocolate Shop (United Kingdom) - they do not make chocolate, but this is a 'one-stop' shop where you can buy many brands within one order for one shipping price, including Pacari and The Raw Chocolate Company products and nearly all the UK brands listed here.
  • Elements for Life (UK) They sell a kit for making raw chocolate yourself (no actual nibs or beans int he kit though, just raw cacao powder & cacao butter) and also sell the Yummy Scrummy Brownie and raw ingredients like nibs and nuts so you can make your own creations at home.
  • Booja Booja (Norwich, U.K.) They sell vegan, dairy-free, organic and raw chocolate products, including raw Nacional Arriba cacao beans and nibs from Ecuador, a large collection of truffles and ice cream. You can find them in stores in London and other parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Check their website for the full listing.
  • Mulu Chocolate (Devon, UK) Sells a range of handmade bars and buttons throughout the UK and online.
  • Rawr Chocolate (Cambridge, UK) dairy free, refined-sugar free, organic, handmade raw chocolate. Sells a large range of raw chocolate bar flavours.
  • Living Food of St. Ives (Cornwall, UK) Not sure it if these 'pies' / bars can be classified as chocolate, but is made with cacao nibs, various ingredients and held together with coconut oil. A large range of interesting flavours.

This list is by no way complete, but that is my goal! So if you know of any other raw chocolate makers, please do add them to the comments below and I will update the list periodically with your suggestions. Or feel free to e-mail me at

Sunday, February 3, 2013

For an intense chocolate experience, try Peru's Pure Nacional cacao

Simple Ingredients; complicated history

Well, I did it. I finally tasted chocolate made from Peru's pure Nacional cacao. After reading much about this once-thought-to-be-extinct cacao bean, I thought it was high time that I experienced it first-hand. After all, how can a person who is on a quest to become a chocolate connoisseur not taste chocolate made from a rare and highly acclaimed bean?

According to an article in the New York Times, the Peruvian pure Nacional cacao bean is a very rare bean indeed. In fact, it was thought to be extinct until two men, Don Pearson and Brian Horsely, who were providing supplies to mining companies in a hidden mountain valley of the Marañón River, came across a cacao tree. They sent the beans to the U.S. government's Agricultural Service to be tested and discovered they had essentially found a cacao 'treasure chest'.

At one time, pure Nacional cacao was widely grown in Peru, being part of the usually resilient Forastero-tree family (as opposed to Criollo or Trinitario type of trees). Eventually it was nearly wiped out by disease, with some still growing there but not pure. But thanks to Pearson and Horsely and a Swiss chocolate expert, 15 tons of 68% dark chocolate were made from the beans and processed in Switzerland by a chocolate company (ref).

Also according to the article, another unique aspect of the pure Nacional bean is that some of the beans are apparently white, a result of the trees being left undisturbed for hundreds of years.  They still turn brown when roasted, but this differs greatly from most other cacao beans, in that they start brown, reddish or purplish.

Canadian chocolatier, Christophe Morel, must have gotten his hands on some of this precious chocolate because I received an expensive 80 gram 2011 pure Nacional Pérou chocolate bar for Christmas (it cost $20 for one bar). I savoured the chocolate for the entire month of January, eating one small piece at a time. And what an enjoyable experience it was. The chocolate was very rich in flavour, and intense, just the way I like. Also, it had an excellent colour and snap, indicating expert tempering on the part of Christophe Morel.

Clay Gordon, a chocolate expert and founder of the The Chocolate Life, had the same experience with the pure Nacional chocolate as me when he tasted a bar made of the same chocolate, but marketed by another chocolatier.  He wrote "...Nacional is known for fruity/floral aroma...yet the chocolate did not deliver on that expectation." (ref)  I felt the same, that it was not fruity or floral.  It was more intense with deep flavours that I could not really categorize. However, I did enjoy the chocolate and its rich flavour immensely.

Some key points on the pure Nacional Peru cacao bean:
  • It is related to the nacional (Arriba) of Ecuador, but it grows at higher altitudes
  • Also called Fortunato No.4 chocolate and produced by Marañon Chocolate, a company founded by Dan Pearson and Brian Horsely after their discovery of the beans
  • Marañon Chocolate pays premium pricing and a percentage of the profits to farmers, ensuring a fair trade for the farmers who cultivate the pure Nacional (ref)
  • The company that makes the chocolate from the beans for Marañon is kept very hush hush, although Clay Gordon believes it is crafted by Felchlin (ref).
  • About 40% of the beans are white - there is a gorgeous picture with a great example of the white bean on Marañon's main home page:
So where else can you buy this chocolate?
Besides Quebec chocolatier Christophe Morel, who sells the bar online as well as in stores in the Montreal area, it is also available in the Gatineau/Ottawa area by chocolatier rochef, in Alberta by Sweet Lollapalooza Confections and in the Vancouver and B.C. regions by thierry, gem chocolates and Cocoa West Chocolatier. Two Canadian wholesalers also carry the product Point Carré and Quizna.

In the U.S. it is widely available by at least one chocolatier in most major cities.  You can check the list here to see where it is available near you:  The same list outlines chocolatiers in Europe and other regions of the world.

Here are the package details from the chocolate that I tasted this month:

CM Chocolatier Pure Nacional Pérou, 68% cacao, 80g (2.8 oz)
Christphe Morel Chocolatier (Montreal, QC, CANADA)
Ingredients: Dark chocolate (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter). Allergies Allert: All our products may contain nuts, peanuts, milk protein, soybeans, gluten and sorbitol.