Chocolate is one of my must-haves. Can I get an amen? I gave up soda pop a long time ago, along with store-bought candies and cookies, but chocolate I simply refuse to stop eating. In fact, I even list it as one of my 8 food storage items every one should be storing and how.
However, after looking at the ingredients in a regular chocolate bar, I couldn't eat it without a major prickle in my conscience. Depending upon the kind of chocolate bar, the nastiness ranged from high fructose corn syrup to soy lecithin. While I could find many bars without the high fructose corn syrup, I couldn't find any of the regular brands without soy lecithin. Soy lecithin is used as a binder and emulsifier for almost all commercially-made chocolate, so… it's in basically every stinking chocolate bar out there. Trust me, I did some checking.
There are a few reasons I don't eat soy products. For one, almost all soy is now genetically modified. We do our best to keep GMO crops and ingredients out of our home, off our land, and out of our bodies. Second, even if it is organic soy, it can mess with our hormone levels, especially estrogen, among other issues. With a history of cancer in my family, I try to stay away from extra estrogen. Here's a great article on the dangers of too much soy.
I think it's important to know how our food is made, especially if we're not making it ourselves. While I have cocoa powder at home and do make quite a few of our own goodies (like these awesome chocolate nut butter cups from Wardee!), I still purchase some things from the store.
Enter Theo Chocolate
In my quest to find a chocolate bar I could enjoy, I stumbled upon a brand called Theo Chocolate. It's made from organic fair trade ingredients, isn't too expensive, and it tasted great! Because I have to be honest with you, I don't care how good it is for me if it doesn't taste good. Though my imagination is quite vivid, I can't trick myself into thinking something is good if it's not.
When I told my boss how much I liked this chocolate bar, he looked into seeing if we could carry them at our pharmacy. Imagine my surprise to find out the factory was in Seattle, just two hours from our home. I had no idea they were practically in my own backyard.
As a Christmas gift from my employers, I got the chance to tour one of my favorite chocolate factories, Theo Chocolate. I discovered a few things (okay, a lot of things) that I didn't know about chocolate.
Chocolate is from a cocoa bean, which grows inside a pod on a cocoa tree. The trees produce all year long so there is no harvesting “season”. They grow within 20 degrees of the equator. The pods are about the size of a football with approximately 30 beans to a pod. They grow off of the trunk of the tree.
The pods are picked and then, get this, fermented! Yes, fermented. Technically, chocolate is both a plant and fermented food. Totally awesome, right? Okay, okay, by the time they hit chocolate bar status, they're not really a fermented vegetable, but they do start out that way. Confession: I might have scared the poor tour guide when she said fermented and I squealed with delight.
After fermentation, the beans are then dried and shipped. Theo purchases all of their cocoa beans from certified organic and fair trade farmers. It makes the price a little bit higher, but it ensures good farming practices for the land and good working conditions and a fair wage for the employees.
Cocoa v. Cacao
Ever wondered what the difference between cacao and cocoa is? Truthfully, not a thing. Some people use the word cacao towards the raw bean before it's roasted, but if you're purchasing chocolate in any form, there's no difference between cacao and cocoa. Just wanted to clear that up.
Once the beans reach the Theo factory (there's only one — all Theo chocolate is made in Seattle), they are roasted. Roasting brings out the flavor of the bean. They have two roasters, one from the 1930s and the other from the 1960s. I love to see old machinery still working. A raw bean tastes kind of earthy and bitter, where as a roasted bean is nutty and reminds me of an espresso bean. Much more palatable.
After roasting, the beans are blended into a chocolate syrup. Think making homemade nut butter, but more liquid. Then, the cocoa butter is separated out and you're left with cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The cocoa powder is then put into a large machine and sugar is added. It looks like a gritty brownie batter. After this is thoroughly mixed, the other ingredients are added to make a chocolate bar.
All of the ingredients added to the chocolate bars are certified organic and verified GMO-free. The marshmallow and candy canes added to the specialty holiday bars are made in house. This means a high quality and fresh bar. Plus, if you're reading ingredients, you know how hard it is to find an organic and verified GMO-free marshmallow or candy cane. This attention to detail makes me like Theo even more.
Most of their bars are at least 70% dark chocolate, but Theo Chocolate does offer a few milk chocolate bars. Bonus fun fact: between different runs of flavors and chocolate, they have to clean out the pipes. Because water would introduce mold, they blast chocolate through to clean everything instead.
Who else loves chocolate? Tried Theo, or do you have another favorite brand?
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