Many people ask me if dark chocolate is always vegan and the answer is yes. Mine contains simply cacao, natural cocoa butter and raw cane sugar because when it comes to flavour I’m a purist. Actually the majority of chocolates I make are vegan, I suppose because that’s where my taste naturally lies.
I grew up on Horse Island, an island off Southern Ireland, with my parents and five brothers and sisters leading as close to a self sufficient life as possible. We grew and milled our own grains, kept goats for milk and cheese, foraged for everything and even evaporated off sea water to make our own salt. So my taste has always been for the natural, and I’m not big on dairy or sugar. When I reach for a chocolate bar it is always a dark one, and when I drink hot chocolate it is a vegan version made with 100% cacao and water. The Aztecs didn’t realise they were vegans!
The other reason I love dark chocolates so much is that they enable you to taste the flavours of the beans in their most pure form. For all my chocolates I use the best single estate cacaos in the world – I have to be one of the luckiest people alive, because my quest to make great chocolate takes me on the cacao trail across the world, around the Equator, in search of the finest beans. Every trip turns up something new.
These beans are like fine wines, each one is totally different because of its genetics and the soil and conditions it is grown in. Take a look on my Flavour Map. So both Las Trincheras 72 and Rio Caribe 72 are both made from Trinitario beans, both come from Venezuela and both are 72% cacao but they taste really very different. Then compare these to the astonishingly juicy, fruity Madagascan Sambirano and you will be blown away. I want to introduce everyone to real chocolate with these long forgotten flavours. People are so used to generic brown chocolate, they don’t realise that mainly what they are tasting is sugar, vanilla and lecithin, not the cacao at all!
My early life also meant that when it came to making chocolate, my natural instinct was to go back to the basic raw materials and to make it from scratch. So about 20 years ago, I was on my cocoa farm in Venezuela wanting to set up a chocolate factory in the UK, and everyone told me I should simply buy bulk liquid chocolate and remould it like other companies did. But this was not in my nature. I wanted to choreograph every step of the dance. So I ended up setting up the first ‘bean to bar’ chocolate factory in Britain for hundreds of years, to start with making just 100% cacao cylinders with no added sugar or milk or anything.
My cylinders are what I use to make my Hot Chocolate. I have one religiously every morning made Aztec style with 100% cacao, water and a little sugar, so it is dairy free. It’s a wonderful caffeine free way to get a little energy boost and lift. The theobromine in cacao stimulates your body to produce endorphins which is what makes you feel good after taking exercise. And it is slow release so you don’t get an unpleasant spike. It is quite powerful stuff, so you can drink it in smaller quantities than a milk hot chocolate – treat it a bit like an espresso. To make a more classic vegan hot chocolate just use an Oat Milk or similar with my Hot Chocolate powder which simply contains cocoa powder and raw cane sugar.
If you haven’t had dark chocolate before, I would always say to try my Las Trincheras 72 first. It has soft nutty notes and is gentle and welcoming. Some people get put off dark chocolate because they find it bitter. Often enough this is because people using lower quality beans give them a heavy roast (like some coffees) in order to give them a flavour – this is what creates the bitterness. I always give my beans a light roast – just enough to bring out the flavours. If you like this, you could move on to my Dark Tasting Box which will take you on a journey to discover the different tastes of different beans and how I pair them with different ingredients in my flavoured bars. And of course you will get the incredible Japanese inspired Magnificent Creations. For me to join you in your tasting, virtually that is, watch my Tasting Videos.
I will sign off with a quick mention for my No Added Sugar bars, also vegan. These are my answer for the increasing number of people wanting to reduce the sugar they eat, but don’t like the idea of artificial sweeteners. They are 100% cacao naturally sweetened with fruit and nuts and make wonderful afternoon snacks. The Pistachio Date and Raisin Hazelnut get their sweetness from the dried fruits, while lovers of the Pure Gold 100% Sur del Lago cacao bar will find Orange Almond more similar to that as it has less than 2% naturally occurring sugars.
This month’s Tasting Boxes have a low sugar theme, and have got the original version of these bars in them, called Anna’s Jewelled Bites… this has 50:50 cacao to fruit and nuts which is how my mother makes them. You have to do this by hand though, because it is too thick for the depositing machine.
Happy Veganuary, everyone!