Organic Chocolate: Dagoba, Blanxart, Chocolove, Domori, And Valrhona
The “Best Of The Best,” USDA-Certified Organic Chocolate Bars
With the rising popularity of organic and natural foods—the category has been growing at 20% a year, and even those who aren’t committed to the organic lifestyle have been seduced by the excitement of new Whole Foods stores opening near them—it is no surprise that chocolate has been be swept in this trend. Especially combined with recent substantiated medical claims of the high antioxidant content of dark chocolate, the concept of “health food” plus “organic” make having a piece of chocolate seem as good for you as an apple a day.
However, much to the dismay of both chocolate lovers, organic chocolate wasn’t exactly contributing much to chocolate circles in terms of the sensual qualities people were accustomed to. Chalky, dry, and astringent are words that were attributed to organic brands. Lacking were the sensual mouthfeels, the intense richness and complexity of flavors, the sybaritic enjoyment of chocolate as a sweet delight. everything tasted like...baking chocolate.
Why has the flavor of organic chocolate been so musty or inferior to “regular” quality chocolate? Answers may lie in the quality of the cacao itself, soil, and post-harvesting processes, since these variables often impart the greatest impact on flavor. Differences in Certified Organic practices may lead to different flavors in the finished bar, but recently organic chocolate has seen a major resurrection in quality. As this becomes more widescale, chocolate will only improve.
And it is improving. Like any new endeavor (broadscale growing of organic chocolate is less than ten years old), things evolve. Both new and established companies are producing Certified Organic chocolate bars that rival those that are not. But, guess what: a fair amount of the cacao beans used by all fine chocolatiers are actually grown organically. The growers and manufacturers simply do not go through the trouble of acquiring that label. This procedure involves certain governmental checks, growing conditions that are effective retroactively, lots of money, and many other hassles that, in the eyes of the respective companies, probably outweigh the value of the sticker. However, as cacao beans—especially fragile criollos—are susceptible to insect prey, if you’re committed to products that are certified, read on and discover exactly what to look for when you’re shopping for organic chocolate.
Dagoba: The King of Organic Chocolate
One such pioneer is Oregon-based, Dagoba. Founded in 2001 by Frederick Schilling (head alchemist), Dagoba has been producing some of the finest American chocolate that CNN/Money has heralded as the, “world’s best chocolate.” Whether or not you agree, you have to admit, though, that what they produce is some mighty fine chocolate regardless.
Every ingredient Dagoba uses is 100% USDA Certified Organic, whether it’s the mint and raspberries in their Mint bar, or the exotic spices in their Chai bar. If it’s not organic, it’s not used. More important, however, is the cacao. The beans are sourced from the Caribbean and certain parts of South America, including equatorial belt locales as Costa Rica, Peru, and Ecuador. Dagoba emphasizes the need to source cacao where the farmers themselves can obtain profitable yields, which is known as Fair Trade*. As such, the prices Dagoba pays for the beans are more expensive, which is also due in part to the care and chemical-free nature of the crops. It is important for the cacao buyers to visit plantations and communicate with the farmers directly so that both bean quality and equitable wages are achieved. Ecological sustainability is also observed and is in fact, a major role in cacao growing. Quite often, cacao trees are “shade grown,” meaning that the ecosystem in which they thrive is a bustling biosphere of various plants. For example, banana trees loom over cacao trees to provide shade, which simultaneously, supplies another food: bananas. So, it is a cyclical nature of dependence where the existence of one fosters another.
*For a detailed definition of Fair Trade Certified,click here.
Costa Rican cacao farmers who grow organic beans for Dagoba.
To put this into perspective, let us visit Costa Rica, the source of Dagoba’s single origin chocolate bar, Pacuare. This chocolate is named after the Pacuare River, one of the island’s wildest rivers that snakes its way through dense rain forests of untamed life. The estate on which the cacao is grown serves as a wildlife sanctuary for many plant and animal species. Also, the estate provides “root stock” (young cacao trees) and technical assistance to cacao producers, which as a result, improves social, ecological, and economic situations.
Dagoba founder Frederick Schilling personally visits the farm so that he can contribute as much as possible to sustainable agriculture and the support of the environment. He has collaborated with the growers on many of the processing procedures and has learned how to minimize energy while doing so. He visits not just Costa Rica, but each locale where his cacao is sourced. When you taste a chocolate bar that is produced with so much care, love, and attention to societal issues, you’ll quickly discover that these “unlisted” ingredients make the chocolate taste that much better.
Who’s Who In Organic Chocolate
If you want organic chocolate, you don’t have to turn to organic-only companies. Several “mainstream” chocolatiers are releasing their own lines of organic chocolate bars as well.
Blanxart’s Chocolate Ecologico Negro 72% bar is intense and somewhat bold. Although organic, it bears some of the characteristics that you would find common among their standard blended bars. The tone is very neutral and chocolaty, an all-around reliable bar for any purpose.
Chocolove has just introduced 61% and 73% Certified Organic bars to its line. (Click here for our review of Chocolove.)
Domori’s line of organic chocolate is called Chacao and features three different bars, all produced from Dominican Republic cacao. The Absolute bar is a 70% cacao that possesses outstanding complexity along with a centerpoint chocolatiness that could very well be the definition of “chocolate.” The Crystal bar is the same cacao at 90% embedded with sugar crystals, and Puro is cacao mass unadulterated (that means 100% cacao, sugar-free). All bars showcase the same cacao bean in varying percentages, so they also serve as an educational tool for comparison tasting. (Click here for our review of Domori.)
Valrhona has recently introduced their Nature & Chocolat line (called Cao Grande in Europe) that features a 39% milk and a 70% dark bar. The milk bar is a tad sweet and milky but offers wonderful flavors of nuts and caramel. The dark bar is a bit typical of organics with a slight mustiness, though clearly showing signs of divergence with softer fruity notes. (Click here for our review of Valrhona.)
Some other organic chocolate companies to look for: Endangered Species, Equal Exchange, Green & Blacks, Rapunzel, Terra Nostra, and Vivani; and we have seen a dozen other brands including Newman’s Own.
As an organic specialist, Dagoba makes bars in a dozen flavors. You can purchase a box that has one of each, including Brasilia, Chai, Dark, Latte, Lavender, Lime, Hazelnut, Milk, Mint, Mon Cherri, New Moon, Raspberry, and Roseberry.
Learn More About Chocolate
Chocolate Unwrapped: The Surprising Health Benefits of America's Favorite Passion, by Rowan Jacobsen. Evidence is piling up that chocolate’s antioxidants have a list of health benefits few foods can match. Jacobsen explains the positive physical and psychological effects of chocolate. He explores the colorful history, botany, and chemistry of chocolate, so you’ll understand what to look for and what to avoid. A recipe section provides a multitude of healthy ways to eat chocolate. $10.36. Click here for more information.
The True History of Chocolate, by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. The history of chocolate from its earliest pre-Columbian roots, its discovery by the Spanish conquistadors, to modern times. Fascinating for any chocolate lover. $12.89. Click here for more information.
Chocolate: The Nature of Indulgence, by Ruth Lopez. Written to accompany an outstanding exhibition at Chicago's Field Museum, with superior color photography. The history of chocolate, the economics and manufacture and traces the rise of chocolate barons such as Cadbury in Britain and Hershey in the U.S.$18.87. Click here for more information.
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao, by Maricel Presilla. An overview of cocoa plantations and their farming practices and the different strains of true cocoa. Presilla follows the life of a cocoa pod from a sapling through harvest, fermentation, roasting, and production to arrive at what we all recognize as chocolate. About two dozen unusual, interesting recipes follow. $20.47. Click here for more information.
The Science of Chocolate, by S. Beckett. For the true chocolate scholar or general scientific minds who want to know the details of ingredients and processing techniques, scientific principles such as latent and specific heat, Maillard reactions and enzyme processes that create the product we love. A series of experiments is included that can be done by students of any age. $39.95. Click here for more information.
The Science of Sugar Confectionery, by W.P. Edwards. Learn the various types of sugar confectionery:"sugar glasses" (boiled sweets), "grained sugar products" (fondants), toffees and fudges, "hydrocolloids" (gums, pastilles and jellies) plus sugar-free confectionery. $34.95. Click here for more information
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