Winter is a chocolate lover’s paradise here. Oxford’s recent Chocolate Meltdown was a huge success, attracting nearly twice as many people as pre-pandemic. And Valentine’s Day is around the corner.
Less familiar is Chocolate Fondue Day, which is Feb. 5. It is an observance that may have started in Europe in the 1960s. Skewers with fruit, marshmallows and other treats are dipped in melted chocolate.
The Journal-News recently ran a photograph of a huge chocolate fountain operated by Middletown’s Lady Belgium Chocolate Fountains. The fountain was featured at Chocolate Meltdown.
Writing this column for nearly 10 years sometimes requires hard work. This week, I’ve had to sample six brands of chocolate sold at MOON Co-op Grocery.
To facilitate a fair comparison, all six are “dark chocolate” bars containing around 70% cacao beans: Chocolove, Divide, Equal Exchange, Hu, Lily’s and Taza.
Chocolove is produced in Colorado, using Belgian chocolate. Its founder and owner Timothy Moley, described as “tall and slightly eccentric” like Willy Wonka, started the company after a stint working as a USAID volunteer in an Indonesia cacao field.
Divine is owned by Kuapa Kokoo, a co-op in Ghana with 85,000 member-owner farmers. Ghana’s cacao bean industry had been a poorly run government monopoly, until Kuapa Kokoo was allowed to organize a co-op to grow cacao beans and later produce candy.
Equal Exchange is a producer-owned co-op founded in Massachusetts in 1986 by several former managers of food co-ops (like MOON). Equal Exchange co-op in turn sources its cacao beans from grower-owned co-ops in Latin America. The beans are organically grown and certified Fair Trade.
Hu was founded by Jordan Brown, Jason Karp, and Jessica Karp to supply their New York paleo restaurant. In 2020, during the pandemic, they closed the restaurant and focused on chocolate.
The principal difference among these four is how the 70% cacao is made less bitter. Equal Exchange uses organic raw cane sugar, Hu uses organic unrefined coconut sugar, and the other two don’t specify the source of sugar. Equal Exchange and Divine contain organic fair trade vanilla, which also reduces the bitterness.
Chocolove and Divine contain sunflower lecithin, an emulsifier that results in a relatively smooth “chocolaty” bar.
The other two bars I sampled are more distinctive. Taza Chocolate makes disc-shaped bars from Mexican cacao beans that are ground on hand-carved stones. This minimal processing results in a rustic gritty texture that appeals to some but not others.
Instead of sugar, Lily’s is sweetened with stevia, which is extracted from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, native to Brazil and Paraguay. For me, stevia has an off-putting chemical flavor, but it’s appealing to others, especially folks who need to avoid sugar.
I’ve been sampling the six in different order, to minimize the prominence of the first or last taste. By a slight margin, I favor Equal Exchange perhaps because of tasting vanilla, and Hu perhaps because of coconut sugar.
Organic Fair Trade chocolate is available at MOON Co-op, Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. See it online at www.mooncoop.coop.
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