Answers to common chocolate questions
WHAT IS CACAO BUTTER, AND WHY DO YOU ADD IT?
Cacao butter is simply the fat portion of the cacao bean. Pressing cacao beans separates them into cacao butter and cacao powder (the nonfat solids). I add extra cacao butter so that the finished chocolate melts more smoothly and evenly on your tongue, making it easier for you to access the chocolate's flavors. And despite containing the word "butter," it's not a dairy product.
IS YOUR CHOCOLATE ORGANIC?
Organic ingredients are indicated on the packaging for each product. Starting fall 2020, I will use only certified organic ingredients.
My production facility is not certified organic. This is why the organic seal cannot be displayed on my products, even when all ingredients are organic. I am exploring organic certification and if it is important to you, please send me a note.
WHAT KIND OF SWEETENER DO YOU USE?
I use organic, fairly traded, whole (unrefined) cane sugars produced in Central and South America. Light brown in color, whole cane sugar is basically dried cane juice with its vitamins and minerals intact. There is, unfortunately, no sugar made in the United States that comes close to matching its quality, in terms of both flavor and nutrition.
DOES YOUR CHOCOLATE CONTAIN SOY?
No. Many chocolate manufacturers add soy lecithin to their chocolate to create a product that is thinner when melted and hence easier to mold. But it is not necessary, so I do not add it or any other emulsifiers.
DOES IT CONTAIN OTHER COMMON ALLERGENS (NUTS, DAIRY, ETC.)?
No. My facility only makes plain dark chocolate with inclusions that are not common allergens. The only ingredients in the facility are cacao beans, cacao butter (i.e. cacao bean fat, which is not dairy), whole cane sugar, and occasional inclusions that don't contain common allergens.
IS IT VEGAN?
Yes. It is made from just cacao beans, cacao butter, and whole cane sugar, which all come from plants. You may have heard that some sugars are filtered with bone char as a whitening agent, but whole cane sugar is not, and hence would be considered a vegan sugar.
HOW MUCH SUGAR IS IN YOUR CHOCOLATE?
Here's how to determine how much added sugar is in any reputable dark chocolate:
- subtract the cacao percentage printed on the package from 100% (for example, for a 75% dark chocolate, you'd take: 100% - 75% = 25%)
- the result is the percentage of the product that is added sugar, by weight
- use the added sugar percentage to calculate how much added sugar is in a given amount of chocolate (for example, for 10 grams of 75% dark chocolate, you'd take 25% of 10 grams, getting 2.5 grams of added sugar)
WHY DON'T YOU PRINT NUTRITION FACTS ON YOUR CHOCOLATE?
Small producers like me aren't required to. Nutrition facts are only required on products that sell over a certain volume per year OR make certain health claims on the product packaging. This policy exists to be fair to small businesses, since the analysis behind nutrition facts can be expensive and time-consuming.
A google search for "dark chocolate nutrition facts" will give you reasonably accurate data, should you need it. The numbers are going to be about the same for dark chocolate of similar percentages.
If you're concerned about added sugar content, I've explained how to find it for any dark chocolate in the previous FAQ.
Please note that chocolate is much more complex than standard data on fat, sugar, and calories can capture. I encourage you to go beyond these simple numbers and consider more of the story when determining what to put into your body.
WHAT DOES THE PERCENTAGE ON YOUR CHOCOLATE MEAN?
The percentage, by weight, of the chocolate that is cacao, as opposed to any other non-cacao ingredients, such as sugar. This percentage includes both whole cacao beans and cacao butter.
For example, one of my 70% dark chocolates is 62% cacao beans, 8% added cacao butter, and 30% whole cane sugar. 62% + 8% = 70%.
WHAT IS CHOCOLATE'S SHELF LIFE?
For the best experience, I recommend eating dark chocolate within 2 years of when it was produced, provided it has been stored properly (more on that next). After this period, dark chocolate will not "go bad," but it can become dull in appearance, grainy in texture, and less flavorful. These changes are known as coming out of "temper."
My latest bars have a production date on top, but I don't use a "best by" date. That's because the bars never truly spoil, and how long their "temper" lasts can vary considerably depending on storage conditions. Poor storage can ruin temper in minutes, while careful storage ensures temper for many years.
HOW SHOULD I STORE CHOCOLATE?
Ideally, keep your chocolate at a cool room temperature (65-72F), away from sunlight, excessive humidity, and strong odors. A little warmer or cooler is fine. Stored this way, it should remain in great condition for 2-3 years. But you'll probably eat it first.
If it's really hot where you are, yes, you should store it in the fridge or freezer. Just make sure the chocolate is sealed inside of its original package or a zipped bag first so that smells and humidity don't damage it. Give it time to return to room temperature before enjoying.
If, for some reason, you want to preserve the chocolate's texture for more than 2-3 years, store it in the freezer.
MY CHOCOLATE LOOKS DULL, DOES NOT SNAP, AND/OR SEEMS GRAINY. WHAT'S GOING ON?
Your chocolate is several years old or was exposed to warm temperatures and has come out of "temper." This is common during warm summer weather. It is still completely safe to eat, but the flavor and texture will not be at their best.
HOW SHOULD I TASTE CHOCOLATE?
There is no single right way to taste chocolate. However, some simple tips can help you get the most flavor from your chocolate:
- Make sure the chocolate is not too cold. You can rub a piece between your fingers to warm it up before tasting, or just leave it out for 15 minutes at room temperature if it was stored somewhere cool.
- Cleanse your mouth of strong flavors before tasting chocolate. And if you are sampling several different chocolates at once, a sip of lemon water or mild tea works well to reset your tastebuds between bites.
- Slow down enough to pay attention and enjoy it.
WHAT IS SINGLE-ORIGIN CHOCOLATE?
"Single-origin" chocolate is made with cacao beans from one area or producer. The size of an origin can vary a lot.
Sometimes the origin is a whole country. At the other extreme, an origin can be a single farm. In the middle of the spectrum, we have cacao from a single state or province, or a regional farmers' co-operative.
WHY DOES CHOCOLATE FROM DIFFERENT ORIGINS TASTE DIFFERENT?
Short answer: plant genetics, growing conditions, and post-harvest processing methods.
Expanded answer: all chocolate comes from a single species of tree, known as theobroma cacao. You'll often see the tree further classified into "criollo," "forastero," and "trinitario" varieties, but in reality the situation is considerably more complicated. Furthermore, this tripartite classification system tends to carry prejudices about quality, which I have found to be untrue and do not wish to propagate.
If you want to learn more about cacao varieties, my suggestion is to visit the C-spot, an excellent online resource for the finer points of cacao. In sum, there are not three but rather hundreds of subtypes of cacao and, hence, potential for flavor differences. Couple that with the variations in soil, climate, weather in a given harvest year, and even adjacent crops, and you have thousands of possible chocolate flavor profiles.
And that all comes before fermentation--a step carried out by microbes unique to each origin that some would argue is even more significant than genetic and environmental factors.
WHERE DOES CHOCOLATE GROW?
The chocolate tree can only survive in rainforest regions in the tropics, in a belt spanning roughly 20 degrees north and south of the equator. It is native to South America and now grown throughout the global tropics, with West Africa as the largest growing region.
HOW DO YOU SELECT YOUR CACAO BEANS?
I purchase cacao through a variety of specialty sourcing partners who share my commitment to ethics and sustainability. These partners have a substantial presence at origin, purchasing cacao directly from farmers and performing the critical fermentation and drying steps.
WHAT KIND OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT DOES YOUR CHOCOLATE HAVE?
In general, supporting quality-driven cacao farming (aka specialty cacao) has the positive consequence of preserving and even restoring rainforest habitats. This is true because cacao trees cannot survive outside of rainforest-like conditions. In other words, if you want cacao trees, you would do well to preserve the rainforest or at minimum practice mixed agriculture, rather than monoculture.
The major negative consequence of chocolate is the energy it requires to go from bean to bar, including the energy required to ship cacao beans from origin (in the tropics) to factory (usually located in cooler climates). I try to mitigate this by using local and regional ingredients, and by using environmentally thoughtful packaging material. Starting in 2020, I am also completing more of the process at origin so that waste materials like cacao bean husks are never shipped long distances.
WHAT KIND OF SOCIAL IMPACT DOES YOUR CHOCOLATE HAVE?
All of my chocolate is high-quality chocolate. High-quality chocolate often has a positive social impact because it requires high-quality (aka specialty) cacao beans. It takes investments in infrastructure at origin to produce high-quality cacao beans. These investments can create economic opportunities up-front, and in the long run they bring farming communities higher prices for their harvests. There are many examples of the extra money leading to increased educational and entrepreneurial opportunities at origin.
Low-quality chocolate depends on cheap, low-quality beans. Sadly, these low prices can promote a vicious cycle of substandard farming and labor practices, even including slave labor in some cases. Out of concern for both ethics and flavor, I do not use low-quality beans.
Starting in 2020, I am also completing more of the process at origin to better support the economies of cacao-producing countries.
DO YOU ONLY MAKE DARK CHOCOLATE BARS?
Yes, I only make dark chocolate products.
CAN YOU DO CHOCOLATE TASTINGS AND EDUCATION EVENTS?
WHERE DO YOU SHIP TO?
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CAN I SEND A GIFT ORDER TO SOMEONE ELSE?
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