What’s so good about Grenadian Chocolate? (Everything!)

Grenada 60% Nibilicious

Now – I am a great believer in trying new (and good) things. When you end up absolutely loving something, the tendency is to keep buying the same bar of chocolate over and over again. Who doesn’t have their favourite preference? My guilty pleasure is rose in milk chocolate. I only allow myself to have it when I feel I really deserve it (or if it is pouring with rain outside and I want to feel better).

I have to say that Grenada Chocolate bars are fast becoming some of my number one choice if I want to have some dark chocolate. If you were familiar with my last post, I talked a bit about the late Mott Green and how he founded the Grenada Chocolate Company which is a bean to bar operation. The profits generated from making the chocolate go back to the people who produce it.

If you have never tried the Grenada 60% Nibilicious bar, I would urge you to do so. I think what I love so much about it is that there is a great variety of flavour and texture here. Within this bar, the entire process of making chocolate is encapsulated. We have the nibs combined with what would be finished product after the nibs have been ground and conched – (of course then, after a few more steps we have – chocolate as the end product!) The crunchy nibs combined with the rich and fruity floral notes ensures the palate detects every nuance of flavour found in the bean which is precisely what I love about this bar. Crunchy, fruity and incredibly moreish, this is high up on my list. There’s just so much going on!

Grenada 100%

Of course, the Grenada 100% is a  popular bar with so many people (my husband included) who could eat it in abundance and without guilt ( if I let him!) Within a tiny square, you have to brace your palate as there is going to be what I would call a firework display of taste. It is like having the chocolate equivalent of a double espresso. When someone said, ‘You have to try this’, I thought to myself – ‘Sure, OK. I mean I’m pretty safe, there’s no sugar after all. It’s not like I will really enjoy this and become addicted or anything.’

Famous last words of course!

I didn’t really think I would enjoy it. Biggest mistake ever. I love it. This is a bar which is bursting with the natural flavours of the bean. What a fool I was to believe that I needed sugar to make it taste palatable. (This is coming from someone who growing up always needed to have a massive dollop of ketchup on her plate). Of course, saying that, this bar is very intense and not everyone’s cup of tea. What I would say is if you could allow your palate to recover from the initial shock and allow yourself to really explore the taste, you will not be disappointed. Sharp, tangy and bursting with rich floral notes, this is a bar that allows you to discover Grenadian chocolate in all its natural glory.

Stay tuned for more reviews coming soon!

© Christina McDonald 2014.

 

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Not a morning person? A piece of dark chocolate might do the trick…

Alarm clock goes off. You feel instantly startled, fumbling with your eyes still half-closed searching for the ‘off’ button wondering what the urgent problem is until you realise ‘oh yes, time to get up..again.’ Another week is here. Not long after, I start craving something to banish the Monday morning blues. I thought it would be good to try an experiment. Instead of having a cup of coffee every morning before I go to work, I am going to have a piece of dark chocolate instead.

Apart from wanting to feel human again, you also want to feel naturally uplifted and happy if your mood is otherwise. The stimulant called ‘theobromine’ which can be considered as one of the ‘feel good’ effects of eating chocolate, can give you a boost not unlike the effects of caffeine. I’m not sure there will that much of a difference as far as feeling that happy buzz is concerned if I’m honest. I would like to see if I actually really do need that cup of coffee in the morning or if I could substitute it for dark chocolate instead without too much effort.

Addict that I am.

How do you feel when you eat a piece of chocolate? For me, I feel instantly relaxed. The entire experience begins visually and then, if I smell the chocolate before eating it, I feel as though I am already experiencing the benefits. When I am at work, just inhaling the aroma of the chocolates is intoxicating in itself and I find myself craving chocolate yet again. Strangely enough, it seems to be the dark chocolate I crave more through the aroma.

I often find myself desiring a piece of milk chocolate but it is the dark chocolate I find myself craving more these days. There are many different nuances of flavour simply found within the aroma of chocolate and it can in fact influence the entire perception and interpretation of the actual taste. There is no doubt about it. The very thought of eating a piece of chocolate does not exist in isolation on its own. How it looks, how it is presented, the aroma, etc. is just stage one of the process.

The memory of how good a piece of chocolate is that we had previously can trigger a positive reaction to future experiences. What we expect to feel and what we actually end up feeling may be of a mutual influence when it comes to tasting the food we eat and even more so when it comes to chocolate I would imagine.

Perhaps imagination is the key here. From the early creative stages of making a chocolate bar or a truffle and to how we interpret the taste and flavour, you could say that it is a work of art unfolding constantly and in a multitude of different ways. Similar to looking at a picture in an art gallery, we are all going to feel and experience something completely different to each other based to an extent on the sum of our own experiences.

And that is what makes it so fascinating.

© Christina McDonald 2014.

When it comes to Chocolate – what do you prefer?

This is a tricky one. Dark or milk? What are you in the mood for? Being an absolute addict, I tend not to discriminate between the two. I am a fan of both. I think as time progresses, I am leaning towards enjoying dark chocolate more. I never thought I would enjoy it but my palate has been educated thoroughly over the years. As far as tasting dark chocolate is concerned, I have learned to detect a wide variety of subtle flavours. Is it earthy, fruity or acidic? Is it sweet or sour? Is it floral or nutty? You would be quite surprised at what you can detect when you actually allow yourself to taste chocolate instead of swallowing it in one go (which I still do sometimes if I am enthusiastic enough or I have skipped a meal!)

Milk chocolate is something that I am learning not to crave so much, the simple reason being that when I start eating it, I cannot stop until the whole bar has been demolished. With a square if dark chocolate, I find that I actually enjoy and savour it so much more as for some reason, I can experience a variety of different flavour notes. This is not the case when it comes to tasting milk chocolate for me. I find the sweetness overrides the majority of the taste. Chocolate actually has well over 300 flavour notes which is even more than wine surprisingly! It is hard to believe but apparently, this is true. This would be attributed to many factors such as the kind of beans used to make the chocolate in question, how long fermentation and drying in the initial stages have affected the quality and taste of the bean, the conching time and even how it has been tempered influences the final product.

Badly tempered chocolate loses that brilliant sheen, it doesn’t have an audible ‘snap’ when you break it in two and it can bloom (which is when moisture causes the sugar in the chocolate to crystalise giving it a greyish, dusty pallor). The chocolate will still taste fine regardless. Throughout the different stages of making chocolate, whether it is from the starting point of roasting and drying the beans or in the final stages when it is being tempered, every step of the process will influence the taste. As far as taste is concerned, the natural flavours of the bean are susceptible to the entire chocolate making process and an experienced chocolatier will know how to bring the best out of the beans they have.

When you consider the cacao tree and how difficult it is cultivate, (it needs a very humid environment and only grows in the tropics with the right amount of moisture all year round), it is a wonder how we can sustain the world of cocoa production when you consider how intricate the process from bean to bar is – the threat of disease, volatile and unpredictable changes in climate and not forgetting economic and political factors, all of which can drive market prices soaring. When you eat a piece of chocolate, don’t just focus on the flavour but allow yourself to consider the journey that has transformed cocoa beans into the finished product – and what a journey it is!

© Christina McDonald 2014

Tasting Chocolate….

Which do you prefer, milk or dark chocolate? That is a hard question sometimes and for me it can change daily (sometimes hourly working in a chocolate shop!)

I am learning to appreciate dark chocolate more than ever before. Firstly, I do not seem to crave dark chocolate as much as I would do milk. The sweetness has become too much for me now and when I start eating it, I cannot seem to stop. It is a mistake to for me to buy a bar of milk chocolate – it will be gone in 45 minutes! Some people love a very high percentage and some people prefer something around the 65% mark. I draw the limit at 70%. Anything higher and I feel I am chewing and swallowing quickly to get rid of the intense taste. Anything past 80% is an acquired taste for me.

I remember trying 100% – it was quite an experience! The chocolate equivalent of double espresso. When you surpass the initial ‘shock’ to your palate, you can actually experience quite a wide range colourful taste sensations. Fruity notes, tangy, acidic, bitter, citrus, earthy, smoky, peaty…there are many ways to describe the experience and the beauty is…your experience will be completely unique to you.

How would you describe it?

So – where does the most comfortable percentage of cocoa lie for you? Between 60 and 70% is a good range for me. Flavoured chocolate which is around 65% seems to allow my taste buds to experience varying and more subtle flavours which can sometimes be lost in a higher percentage of cocoa. The natural taste of the bean comes through tremendously so without any other flavours added – sometimes additional flavours (such as rose, violet, cinnamon etc.) can enhance the taste of the chocolate and complement the variety of flavour notes found within the bar.

What we are tasting when we eat chocolate does depend on many factors of influence. The way the bean has been treated has a great impact on how the chocolate will eventually taste. The natural flavour of the bean will also be susceptible to the fermenting, drying and roasting process, the length of conching and of course, how the chocolate is tempered will all have an effect on the taste of the finished product.

Making good chocolate is a highly skilled craft requiring experience and precision. Selecting the beans is just the start of the process of discovering the many different colours and layers of taste. Knowing how to extract the best qualities of the bean through the chocolate making process is the key.

The entire process is dependent on so many variables – for instance, the climate conditions can influence how poor or successful a harvest is. When you actually take a moment to think about where good food comes from, we can truly appreciate the journey it has been on from origin to the finished product. From my brief experience working in the industry, making chocolate is a very creative and innovative journey. There seems to be no limits as to what you can achieve with the right amount of skill and application.

It’s another world. Magical, creative and sensual…what more do we want?

Christina McDonald 2014.

Food is good….

Travelling abroad recently combined with early starts, skipping meals and caffeine fuelled searching for departure gates reminded me of one simple thing-eating is important. Not just eating but eating and enjoying good food in a relaxed state. Lying in bed in my hotel room, I wondered why I felt so unwell. I had not eaten enough all day apart from a half a croissant in the morning (with a very strong black coffee of course).

The morning sunrise was something special on my first day there:

Sunrise in the Canaries...

Sunrise in the Canaries…

Running on empty was no way to travel sanely. Thinking about it, this crazy pattern of behaviour is symptomatic of my life as a whole. Always ‘too busy’ with other things to care about myself properly. When did I ever really appreciate the importance of eating well? The truth is-I do not as of yet appreciate or care properly about what I eat. I have a ‘grab a sandwich, anything will do’ philosophy which I am determined to change.

If anything, like so many of us, I love eating the wrong things. The ridiculous thing is that I love eating really good wholesome food. There is nothing more satisfying than feeling the food you have just eaten is doing your body good.

Working full time as an assistant manager for a chocolate company, I am slowly but surely learning to appreciate what goes into making great chocolate. My curiosity is expanding into new territories. Who knows what discoveries I will make on this new journey into appreciating food. I mean….’food glorious food’ must mean something good right?

BUT – the very thought of having to prepare a meal when I get home from work makes me feel exhausted….or perhaps that is my excuse for being too lazy to think about it. I know one thing for sure. I think I might actually enjoy it if I could just find somewhere to start. So -where to start? The kitchen. I think….

I always know what I enjoy eating. That part is easy of course. Cheese is up there. I love bread. I enjoy salads. …sometimes. (If there is cheese). With salads, I usually feel very hungry if I don’t have any protein or carbohydrates with it. As long as it is filling and satisfying, I am content. It is also where I fall down…I feel the same about pizza too.

What annoys me most of all, is coming home to a cupboard of food and not seeing anything I would want to eat. I only have myself to blame! First thing is first then – I have to make sure there is nutritious food that I enjoy eating waiting for me at home when I finish work. Then, I’ll have something to look forward to!

I am not sure I have ever really properly tasted food. Enjoying food and a satisfying meal, yes. When hunger is satisfied, that’s all well and good. My appreciation of food is still under par. Like so many things in life, I take it for granted. I don’t think I have tasted food and thought about how the ingredients have been combined to create the enjoyment of tasting it. Why does it taste good? Why do certain flavours work brilliantly together?

Apart from being hungry and subconsciously eating three meals a day, I now want to satisfy my curiosity about food, not just my appetite.

I wonder if we actually truly enjoy eating junk food. Isn’t it just the convenience we enjoy more? Having easy food ‘ready to go’ as it were, (I used to love microwave meals at uni), isn’t cooking. The most most important part isn’t included – having to think about making it. Making a list of healthy foods that we really enjoy is step one of the plan.

If we approach cooking with enjoyment, it ceases to be a chore. So – what do you love eating?

Get cooking! 🙂

© Copyright Christina McDonald 2014

The seductive and magical world of chocolate….

I could really eat a bar of chocolate right now. One thing is for sure – I’ve always loved chocolate. That hasn’t changed much over the years (unlike my waistline!) What has changed is my level of appreciation for good, high quality chocolate. When I first tasted dark chocolate that had been properly made, I was surprised at how I didn’t react much initially. I thought I knew what chocolate was having grown up with it in massive abundance through parental bribery. It was great – lovely in fact! So smooth, creamy and rich. To me, it was still just ‘chocolate’. Gorgeous, amazingly addictive, chocolate.

Why was it so good?

I’ve worked in the chocolate industry and luxury retail now for just over two years. I still remember my very first day at work in a chocolate shop. I was like a kid let lose. After I had the (very difficult task) of trying and sampling the many different and overwhelming varietes of chocolate, I hadn’t yet realised that my palate had become accustomed to other taste sensations that were not obscured by sugar. Walking home from work I thought I should buy a Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar (you know, for old time’s sake)…I felt sick eating it…all I could taste was sugar and fat.

Yes, I have been utterly spoiled!

Good chocolate needs only a select handful of ingredients. They are cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar and soya lecithin. If you look at the label of a chocolate bar, you should really only see these components. Everything else is junk. Not needed. I felt as though I was becoming more familiar with what I was actually eating instead of simply just buying something I ‘thought’ I liked. The truth was – I didn’t actually know the difference between what was good quality and what was bad quality chocolate. If we haven’t tried it, we cannot know!

Dark chocolate is especially good for you. Full of antioxidants. Various studies have shown it may be very good for the heart and lowering blood pressure to name but a few benefits. With all of this, it would be foolish to deny ourselves the pleasure of eating chocolate now and again. Not only does dark chocolate have some excellent health benefits, but it also helps to lift the mood too. There are certain chemical compounds within dark chocolate that can boost our serotonin levels. Not too shabby….

I love working with a product that can inspire the imagaination in such a way – even as grown adults, we cannot fail to be seduced by the simple wonder that is chocolate. So much to try, so much to taste…so much to experience in a world where we can allow ourselves to feel a little magic again….

© Christina McDonald 2014.

Emotion, Stress and Appetite – how to crave less and eat more.

If we are stressed, busy and under pressure, eating a healthy diet is an imperative. Not so easy as I have discovered recently. If I have a lot to do and my ‘to-do’ list is on my mind more than eating, I will start skipping meals. Then, I will end up snacking on things that are doing me no good.

Quick sugar fixes and caffine usually comes into play with me. I then wonder by 10.30am why I am ravenous. If you are used to ‘running on empty’, I would hold stress and anxiety as a possible culprit.

I always find if I am dealing with more stess than usual and a busy diary, I find my appetite suffers tremendously. The urge to eat disappears completely. Of course, if your stomach is tied up in emotional knots, eating will be near impossible.

Prioritise your stress load:

We all have a lot of stuff to do. It may not be as important as other things on the daily grind list so prioritising is a must. If too many things mount up, we become unable to deal with anything productively.

So we are not overwhelmed with stress and start forgetting to do really important things (like eating), we need to ensure we are on top of things. Get a pen, get the diary and organise yourself properly so you can plan your daily tasks before you feel yourself becoming swept away by them!

Stay away from convenient comfort food:

It is so tempting to eat food that is emotionally satisfying and not nutritiously good for you. Ready meals are a curse for this. Full of sugar, fat and filled to the brim with emotional comfort. If we are emotional, anxious or stressed, we will not think in a way that benefits are physiological wellbeing. Sugar rushes are not what you are craving in fact.

You probably need some carbs! The body knows what it needs and while we are right to follow our instincts when it comes to food, always ensure you are following your intuition when choosing what to eat. Cravings can lead you astray if you are not sure what it is your really need. The answers – know EXACTLY what your body is craving.

Avoid emotional eating:

How many food purchases are based on emotional eating? Loads. I remember when I left home how many ulster fries I would eat out and make at home when I was a student. Why? Simple really. My mum used to make it for the whole family every sunday and it was amazing. They tasted so good! I couldn’t wait for Sunday every week.

I don’t think I could remember feeling so much satisfaction and pleasure from food in such a way. When there was no more left, it was the worst thing ever! Crispy bacon, pancakes, fried bread and maple syrup…the worst food that could go in me and I was a glutton for more!

The key: Not allowing yourself to suffer excess stress will enable your body to respond properly to what it needs.

© Christina McDonald 2014