My fantastically talented photographer sister Danielle Falknor has been a huge help to me during the process of starting this blog. As you can see many of her photographs are showcased on the blog. She currently lives in San Diego, CA and recently had the great pleasure of visiting a very special chocolate factory. She agreed to guest blog for me and write about everyone’s favorite subject….chocolate! I hope you enjoy!
Like many people, I am a self-proclaimed chocoholic! Ever since I was young I would sneak into my mother’s private stash and devour her delicious Lindor, Galaxy and Cadbury bars. Halloween was my favorite time of year simply because of all the chocolates I was allowed to eat! If Willy Wonka really existed, I would have been that kid that won the golden ticket. So when I finally grew up and began to educate myself about food and more importantly about sugar and its disastrous effect on our bodies, I realized that I had to do the unthinkable… I had to lose the sugar! This meant I had to give up my first love… chocolate.
Now this sounds much easier than you imagine but I promise you it’s hard… really hard! However, after watching many scary documentaries and my subsequent saucer eyed research into what actually goes into these little foiled wrapped confectionaries, the question had to be asked… how much chocolate is there in a chocolate bar anyway? Well, it turns out, not much.
According to recent surveys, the average confectionary bar from companies such as Cadbury, Mars and Hershey’s have a minimum of 26% of cocoa respectively. Even Cadbury’s dark chocolate Bourneville has a minimum of 36% cocoa! So what’s in the rest of it? Well the simple answer can be found on the back on any chocolate bar in the ingredients description. For example a single snickers bar, about half the size of an iPhone, will contain 26g of sugar! That’s roughly the amount you’d get if you plunged your hand into a bowl full of sugar and pulled it out with your fist clenched! You may as well stuff a fist full of sugar into your mouth whenever you feel peckish. Other ingredients include combinations of milk, sugar, artificial flavors and colors, soy and other types of chemicals. It would be more accurate to call them “sugar bars”. So if these bars are not really chocolate to begin with, what does real chocolate taste like? But lets go further. What is chocolate anyway?
For the better part of a thousand years, the human civilization has been enthralled with the cocoa bean. This small little bean, its origins in Central and South America has thrilled us, enslaved us, been the answer to all our problems, from a simple little sweet treat to treatment for heart disease, a cure for sexual inadequacies and a drink to worship the gods. It has even been used as currency! Cocoa is a miracle bean that no one can resist. Over the last 200 years however, the cocoa has been subject to a serious corruption that has erased all of the health benefits that raw cocoa has to offer. This of course is due to the combination of two ingredients… sugar and dairy. Recently many documentaries such as “That Sugar Movie” or “Hungry For Change” have surfaced bringing light to the worrisome amounts of sugar added to the food we all eat today. Recent studies have brought forward the drastic and destructive effects these ingredients have on the body. No wonder doctors, health practitioners, personal trainers and nutritionists are urging us to do without sugar!
I currently live in the San Diego area and one day while walking through Little Italy’s Farmer’s Market I came across Nibble Chocolate! I stopped in wonder staring at the sign that read “Vegan, Non Dairy, Low Sugar Chocolate.” Intrigued, I wondered over to join a crowd of people swarming the sampling table. When I got close enough, a typical Californian youth with an impossibly white toothed smile asked me what I would like to try first. “I don’t know!” I said looking at the selection of tiny brown cubes of deliciousness before me. He handed me a leaflet and said “Let me explain” and proceeded to lead me on a tour of the world.
“We only buy beans from four different countries, Venezuela, Peru, Dominican Republic and Madagascar. The farms we use are all organic and the beans from each country has a different flavor to the other.” When I asked him why this was, he informed me that the cacao plant is just like a vine. The same grape or plant, grown in different parts of the world will taste different because of the varying climates, and soil nutrients each country offers. “The flavor is more prevalent in the higher cacao percentage bars. We have three different percentages for each country, 72%, 77% and 85%. Would you like to try some?” I just held out my hand like a greedy child.
Unlike cooking chocolate, which is 100% cacao, this chocolate wasn’t bitter. Instead it hosted a rich, nutty and creamy flavor that sent me into a swoon. There was barely any sugar in the bar so therefore I could taste the full body of the bean. In a nine square 72% cacao chocolate bar there is 1g of sugar per square. I bought a variety box of the chocolates for $20, and promptly took them home where my husband and I savored them for over a week. Fascinated at the company’s philosophy and approach to chocolate, I decided to find out more about the factory, its owners and how they make this amazingly delicious chocolate.
Sandra Bedoya and her husband David Mejia, the founders of Nibble Chocolate are both from Colombia originally, and Sandra used to make chocolate when she was a child. After moving to the States about 16 years ago, they decided to become more health conscious and decided to eliminate meat and dairy from their diet. After looking around for a business to get stuck into, they found that organic chocolate especially ones that cater to vegans was in very short supply. They decided to take a chocolatier course and earned certifications from the Ecole Chocolat. They took what they had learned and simplified the recipes to exclude dairy and sugar as much as possible. David said that the first attempts at making vegan chocolate were not very good, “It was horrible stuff!” However with persistence, they perfected their technique and eventually found a winning formula to start their business. They narrowed the bean suppliers down to the four best quality providers, and started producing their chocolate bars.
Their first farmers market day in La Jolla, CA was an overwhelming success! Selling out of all their stock, David said “that was when we got really excited and thought we have something here!” Pretty soon they expanded, bought new machines and found an office/factory space. They now have a presence in six more food markets and you can buy their chocolate online. David explained that “there has been a lot of interest and excitement about the brand because it is healthy but we don’t want to become too big. By keeping the business small we can make sure the quality stays at a very high level.”
I met with Sandra and David who gave me a tour of the factory space. It turns out that making chocolate is very simple but quite time consuming. As they took me around the factory, they explained that it takes about 5 days to make a batch of chocolate and another 24 hours before it is ready to be packaged. David insisted that they were not going to cut corners to speed up the process. “I want to keep the flavor and quality at the highest level.”
We started by taking a look at the fermented cocoa beans that had just arrived in huge brown bags. “Its important that we get the right quality. Many chocolate famers sell their beans under-fermented to large companies so they can save time. This makes the chocolate very bitter. We only work with communities that ferment the beans properly so we can get the right flavor.”
In the chocolate making process the beans first must be roasted just right and then they are crushed into small pieces called ‘nibs’.
The nibs are then placed into a stone grinder for several days, which refines and liquefies the beans into chocolate. The liquefied nibs are then transferred into another machine where the sugar is added and mixed for another day.
At that point the mixture is tempered and hand poured into molds where they are left on shelving units to harden for another day or two before being packaged.
At the end of the tour, Sandra and David brought out a brand new chocolate bar made from beans sent from a new supplier in Brazil. “It’s our latest bean, and we’ll be launching it soon” Sandra explained as she cut a piece of the hardened chocolate for me. The creamy and smooth texture slipped down my throat as easily and deliciously as a glass of warm Baileys. It’s definitely a bar I’ll be looking out for once they’ve launched it.
Throughout the tour, I noticed that I didn’t feel the need to gorge on samples to make me satisfied. I had my chocolate fix, and I’d even taken my time to savor the experience rather than munching through endless pieces. When I mentioned this to David he nodded knowingly and said “Welcome to the dark side!”
Nibble Chocolates are based in San Diego, CA but their chocolate can be purchased online on their website: www.nibblechocolate.com
– Danielle Falknor