Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chocolate Stocking Stuffers that Give Back

If you are celebrating Christmas, it's getting close to the deadline for ordering anything without paying higher rates.  Our last Sacrament before that deadline, which is Monday, December 14th for many companies, is from Shaman Organic Chocolates.  They sent me these four bars in modest packaging that made me very happy to see.  Remember, saving the land saves the future chocolate that can be grown there.  I'm going to treat these as I always do with my full sensory analysis and share that with all of you, Sisters and Brothers, but I'm also going to talk briefly about Shaman and what you are contributing to when you buy their products.

They sent me four of their nine flavors of 2oz bars.  On each wrapper we see the profile of one of the Huichol people of Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains.  This company was created from the vision of one of their shamans, Brant Secunda, and the profits from the sales of these products they create help support three of their villages, enabling them to fight back against the pressure to assimilate into the urban world not far from them.  According to the literature provided with my samples, Huichol may be the last pre-Columbian people who have maintained their traditions unchanged by the rest of the world.  If that sounds like a worthy cause to you, Sisters and Brothers, just think how much more you give when you slip one of these bars into someone's stocking or give it to them one night during Hanukkah or use it during any number of winter celebrations happening around the world in the next several weeks.

Our Chocolate Coconut Acolyte has this to say about the Coconut bar:  "A serving (1oz) of this lovely bar is 140 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 14 g sugar, 1 g protein and supplies you with 1% of your daily recommended allowance (DRA) of calcium and 3% DRA of Iron.  However, it gives you no Vitamin A or C.  This bar is 60% cocoa, which is the point at which I can usually detect a distinct difference and this bar didn’t disappoint.  As soon as I opened the wrapper, the scent of chocolate hit me and became stronger as I snapped off a piece and brought it closer to my face.  Just holding it for a moment I notice that it doesn’t melt quickly on my fingers and when I pop it in my mouth it retains its shape for a long time.  This is definitely a chocolate that encourages one to savor it slowly.  The bite of this level of bitterness is more than some people can tolerate but I find it pleasant.  As the chocolate finally begins to melt, I begin to detect the presence of the coconut.  The coconut has been toasted which provides some texture but is so finely ground/chopped/minced that it’s almost a moot point.  And at 60% cocoa, the chocolate flavor completely overwhelms anything that the coconut would lend to the taste.  And that is the only thing I can find lacking in this bar.  By the third piece I’m definitely feeling a pleasant cocoa buzz throughout my body.  And I decided to stop at that point so I could truly appreciate the sensations awakened by this lovely chocolate."

I'll start with the "Organic Milk Chocolate with Macadamia Nuts & Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt" — say that over and over if you can; what a mouthful to say.  The added ingredients indicate that the Huichol are not producing all of the ingredients they use but also importing some things.  I think that's okay, because generally any region will have a limited number of crops it can produce.  One bar is two servings, so an entire bar has 300 calories, 12 grams saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 282 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 28 g sugar, and 4 g protein, with 2% of the daily allowance of Vitamins A and C along with 4% for iron and 10% for calcium.  The bars do vary in nutritional value, so I'll give this information for each one assuming you'd eat the entire bar and not just half of it, especially if you received it as a gift.

When I unwrap the gold foil under the paper, the scent is much darker than you'd think milk chocolate should be — that is because it's 37% cocoa content, making this a more European style of milk chocolate than we are used to in the USA.  The bar is sectioned into ten pieces, so I break off two pieces fairly easily, then just one piece to try.  When it's broken apart, the scent of the nuts and salt gets through to my nose as well.  The chocolate is cool and smooth on the bottom and sides; the top has tiny lines etched into it.  I take a bite and as I chew I can feel and hear the tiny nuts in it.  Wow, after a few chews the salt really powers through, overwhelming the cocoa and the nuts.  A bit less salt would really improve this flavor for me.

The next flavor is the "Organic Dark Chocolate" with 60% cocoa content, which is about where many people start to have negative reactions to the bitterness that can be part of the cocoa experience.  But remember, proven health benefits start at 70%, so eat this bar for pleasure and not for health reasons, though as the nutritional information shows, this is better for you than the 37% bar.  This 60% bar has 280 calories, 10 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 30 g sugars, and 2 g protein, with 2% of the calcium and 8% of the iron you need daily.

This has a much stronger cocoa scent than the previous bar, Sisters and Brothers, but it also got a bit damaged in transit, though only along the sectional lines, so really it just made it easier to eat.  This makes a nice snap when I break off one section.  This is a firmer, more solid chocolate, and by itself it makes a light crunchy noise as I chew one bite.  The cocoa rush is very quick, beginning immediately after I finish one half of a one section.  This is simply delicious chocolate, and I'm so pleased I eat another section.  The aftertaste is wonderful, prolonging the rush and making the world seem a bit brighter to my eyes this morning.

The 82% "Organic Extra Dark Chocolate" you can eat for health as well as pleasure.  I have to cleanse my palate first, so I can differentiate between the darkness of the two bars. This bar has 320 calories, 16 g of saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 10 g sugars, 4 g protein, with 4% of the calcium and 18% of the iron an adult needs daily.  This is not to mention all of the benefits several health studies suggest such darker chocolate may offer.  Let's see if I can sense anything different in this bar compared to the 60%.

The scent is again much stronger than the previous bar when I unwrap the 82%.  There is a definite bitterness to start as I chew one section and that bitterness builds up.  But I happen to like darker chocolate and this level of bitterness; 85% is where I usually start to get an unpleasant aftertaste.  This is very earthy and almost grainy in taste, and it melts very slowly in my mouth.  As I open up my full body, mind and soul to the experience, Sisters and Brothers, I feel myself expanding, my vision getting brighter, my body feeling lighter, and my heart calming a bit more along with my breathing.  You can't eat chocolate fast, though, not even the really dark variety, if you want to feel this; you have to be in the moment.  For pure taste, I think I prefer the 60% a bit more, though I bet I'd love 75-80% cocoa best.  For the reactions of my entire being, though, this is the one I'd choose as a Sacrament.

Each bar is organic and fair trade certified, and each sale helps the indigenous Huichol people maintain their way of life.  If these flavors sound good to you for someone on your gift list and you like buying chocolate that helps people support themselves, then I think Shaman Chocolates is an excellent choice.  If you want something fancier, they also have a gift box of flower-shaped chocolates in a variety of flavors you can choose from for only $8 plus shipping and handling.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

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