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Milks vs Mylks vs M!lks?

Walk into any specialty coffee store or health food store and you’ll be accosted by a dizzying array of plant based ‘mylks’ (read on for an explanation of this spelling). And craft chocolate is increasingly in on the act too (a hat tip to the likes of Solkiki and Forever Cacao whose vegan background inspired this move many moons ago).

What’s extraordinary is why this is only happening NOW: Why has it taken so long for people to discover the delights of alternative, plant based mylks? The answer, is that these plant based mylks aren’t new, and there has been some super smart marketing.

And what is even more extraordinary is why, and how, we ever came to drink animal milk. Only a few adults living in Northern Europe, along with the Masai in Africa, and a few other people in Asia, can comfortably drink animal milk. Most human adults struggle to drink milk for want of the lactase enzyme. And even for adults with this enzyme, for most of recorded history, until pasteurisation was developed, drinking milk was a pretty risky proposition. Indeed, the Romans viewed the way “northern barbarians” drank animal milk as a sign of their depravity and lack of hygiene.

See below for a selection of alternative mylks and animal milks that make for some intriguing comparisons. But please do note that whereas the taste and texture of an oat mylk latte is pretty similar to a latte made with cow’s milk latte, ‘alternative mylk’ chocolate bars aren’t really substitutes for ‘classic milk’ bars. They are more like “inclusion”, bars with distinct flavours and textures.

How did we come to consume so much animal milk?

Quite how humans first stumbled across making yogurt, cheese, etc. isn’t recorded. But we do know that in about 5000BC enterprising farmers in modern day Croatia were making cheese out of goat’s milk. And it’s now thought that various tribes in Northern Europe were drinking milk even earlier (possibly as early as 8000BC). Indeed, it’s even suggested that being able to secure this extra source of nutrition is what enabled these tribes in the North to prosper and survive.

But drinking milk really only took off in the 20th century with the advent of pasteurisation and, ironically, war time rationing. During (and after) World War I and II, both the UK and US governments faced all sorts of other food shortages and realised that drinking milk provided a great source of calcium, protein and vitamins. So drinking milk was actively encouraged; indeed in 1946 both Attlee’s government in the UK and Truman’s in the US made milk available for free in schools (and this continued in the UK up until Mrs Thatcher’s premiership in 1971).

Why did alternative, plant-based milks (re)appear?

Plant based mylks aren’t a new invention. Drinking (and cooking with) coconut milk may well predate Northern Europe’s habits with animal milks. In 14th-century China, a soy milk called ‘doufujian’ was a popular breakfast drink where it was consumed alongside crisp, savoury doughnuts. And published references to almond and soy milk can be found as far back as 1226 and 1365 respectively (and they were clearly being drunk before this).

One reason for the popularity of non animal milks in Europe is the same as why we eat fish on Fridays and why drinking chocolate took off in the late 16th century. As we discuss in our virtual tastings, the medieval custom of fasting (i.e. abstaining from any animal products on Wednesday, Fridays, Lent, and many other holy days) led to almond and oat milk being recommended by the church as nutritious and filling, and the Jesuits used the same argument to promote drinking chocolate in church on these days with papal endorsement.

But it wasn’t until the late 20th and early 21st centuries that ‘alternative mylks’ really took off again. In the UK various attempts were made by The Vegan Society to make plant based milks including cabbage (which REALLY didn’t boom) and soya milk (which did a little better) in the 1940s and 1950s.

What really seems to have fuelled the growth of alternative mylks was some smart marketing and genius (re)positioning. For example, in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, soya milk sales boomed after it was packaged in ‘Tetra Paks’ and sold in supermarkets’ refrigerated aisles to be next to cows milk. Although (most) soya milk doesn’t need refrigeration, placing it next to ‘normal’ milk meant that consumers saw it as an alternative for cereals, coffee, etc.

Even more cannily, over the last decade, marketeers have enlisted the support of specialty coffee stores to market a dizzying array of mylks; varying from tiger nut to cashew, pea to hemp, oat to soya. Appealing to customers via baristas is genius; it offers an upsell to valuable consumers, a new means for baristas to demonstrate their skills (it’s hard to steam, and then combine, many plant milks with coffee), highlights environmental concerns and creates ‘vibe’ and ‘buzz’. Indeed, the Swedish behemoth of oat based mylks; Oatly; initially only supplied specialty coffee stores in the US market, and created such demand that they accidentally spawned an underground market where loyal coffee store customers were occasionally allowed to purchase Oatly for home use.

Dairy farmers have not taken this onslaught lightly. They’ve formed various initiatives (including the wonderfully named 2017 bill called the Dairy Pride Act (Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk and Cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday). And, after extensive lobbying, EU law now prevents dairy alternatives from using the word milk if “it isn’t produced by a lactating mammal“; hence the use of “mylks” and “m!lks” (hat tip to Original Beans).

But despite these efforts, plant based mylks (and “m!lks”) continue to grow. And the same now looks to be happening in chocolate.

Animal and plant-based milks with chocolate.

Chocolate bars owe “lactating animal” based milk chocolate a huge debt. Indeed, without innovations around milk chocolate, we might still be mainly drinking chocolate (up until the mid-nineteenth century, chocolate was always consumed as a drink; mainly with water, but sometimes with milk). But then in the mid nineteenth century a series of technical developments changed all this, culminating in milk chocolate (for more details see here).

Firstly, Bristol based Joseph Fry discovered that if he added cocoa butter while he was grinding roasted cocoa nibs he could create a stable solid chocolate bar. And so, in 1847, he launched what is now described as the world’s first chocolate bar for eating.

And then a a series of inventions by the Swiss during the last few decades of the 19th century turbocharged the transition from ‘drinking’ to ‘eating’ chocolate. Firstly, Rodolpe Lindt accidentally discovered ‘conching‘ and how to create smooth and silky textured bars. Next, and arguably of even great importance, was the creation of milk chocolate bars by Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle. Daniel Peter’s perseverance here was extraordinary. For over twenty years he strived to find a way to add milk to chocolate, despite the fact that chocolate violently, and rapidly, spoils if it comes into contact with any liquid as it’s being ground and conched. The answer was to use Nestle’s dried milk powder and thereby create one of the world’s first ‘bliss point‘ foods that we now know to be irresistible.

One other side note: this propensity of milk to curdle partially explains the difference between American and European preferences in milk chocolate bars. While working out how to create powdered milk, Henri Nestle also worked out how to prevent this dried milk from undergoing lipolysis (i.e., curdling). But when Hershey copied Nestle and Daniel Peter’s milk chocolate, he apparently missed this trick and so his bars acquired a somewhat different aroma. Americans, however, fell in love with these milk chocolates and their ‘tanginess’ (technically this is called ‘butyric’). And even though today American milk doesn’t have any problem with lipolysis, because American consumers enjoy a tanginess in their milk chocolate, butyric acid is added. Consequently, over here in Europe, many of us find the smell a little suspect (Google for more graphic descriptions; and do come to a virtual tasting to find out more).

Unsurprisingly, given their environmental passion, craft chocolate makers are increasingly interested in experimenting with plant based mylks. And they too have run into some interesting labelling laws. For example, Original Beans‘ new ‘Vegan M!lk‘ (note the spelling) made with almonds contains a far higher percentage of chocolate than its milk alternative (Esmereldas Milk) which is made with the same beans. This is because to call this M!lk chocolate “chocolate” it needs to have, under EU rules, at least 14% of “dry non-fat cocoa solids” which in turn means that you need 45% cocoa or more in a bar to be “chocolate”.

Comparing plant based mylk (or m!lk) and animal based bars.

One heads up: Whereas an oat cappuccino isn’t a million miles away from a cappuccino made with full fat milk in terms of texture and taste, an oat, almond, rice or coconut milk chocolate bar is VERY different from a classic or dark milk bar (a dark milk craft chocolate is over 50% cocoa, most classic milk craft chocolates are 38-48%… mass produced bars can be as low as 20% chocolate).

A craft chocolate mylk or m!lk bar is better approached as an inclusion bar. The ‘mylk’ creates distinctive flavours and aromas that are intriguing to savour. Don’t judge them as failing to replicate classic milks; that’s not what they are about.

Health and environmental considerations.

Although the dairy industry has made various attempts to improve its environmental credentials, it’s facing an uphill battle. To summarise from a recent BBC report:

CARBON EMISSIONS (Per Litre Produced)WATER REQUIRED (Per Litre Produced)LAND REQUIRED (Per Litre Produced)
Milk (cow)3.2kg628 litres9.0m2
Almond Milk0.3kg371 litresNA
Oat Milk0.9kg48 litres0.8m2
Soy Milk1.0kg28 litresNA
Rice Milk1.2kg270 litres0.3m2
Note: It can be claimed that some of these comparisons may not be comparing “apples with apples” in that whereas a pint of milk is a pint of milk, a pint of almond mylk can be as low as 2% almonds (the rest being various additives, emulsifiers and of course water, which is also in cow milk).

And it only gets more complex when you look at the health claims. At the risk of promoting a tonne of furious email responses, I’d like to suggest that some of the health claims for alternative milks may be even more “out there” than some of those made over the years for chocolate. Indeed you can find can find studies arguing that (tick any of the below):

Chocolate / Cashew Milk / Raw Cocoa Nibs / Oat Milk / Tiger Nut Milk / Soya Milk etc.

…can help you with (again tick as you want):

Cleaning your teeth / Improving your mental health / Matching your blood type / Fortifying your bones / etc.

Unwrapping these claims and making sense of them is hard, time consuming, and controversial. It may well be that matching your blood types to different milks may help you feel better (yes, this really is claimed by some mylk marketeers). But it’s hard to get the science sorted and feel comfortable about these assertions.

As ever, the best advice is to check the ingredients. Different soya or almond or oat milks will have radically different ingredients, additives and even use different processes. Repeated studies show that organic milk has less pesticides, antibiotics and added hormones than many supermarket milks. So, as with craft chocolate, read the small print.

And from a health perspective; don’t panic. Take comfort in the expert advice of the great nutritionist Marion Nestle (no relation of Henri):

[while] milk is not essential for health… milk is a food like any other, meaning that its effects depend on everything else people are eating or doing. People who like milk can continue drinking it. Those who don’t like it don’t have to.

And it’s the same with chocolate. We are now (fortunately) increasingly spoilt for choice. Enjoy these milk, mylk and m!lk bars!

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A sugar by any other name would taste as sweet?

While an excess of sugar in mainstream chocolate conceals flavour, small quantities of sugar in craft chocolate functions to add a sweet balance to the bitter flavours of cocoa.

Did you know that there are ways to do this with ingredients other than table sugar? The various substances that impart sweetness to chocolate can provide an interesting and delicious depth of flavour to a product. They are perfect for those who may want to reduce their sugar consumption, as well as for the sweet-toothed curious!

Erythritol

Erythritol is a sweetener with zero calories, which is derived from corn. It is 60-70% sweeter than table sugar and does not affect blood sugar or contribute to tooth decay. It normally does not cause a laxative effect, unlike other sugar alcohols like sorbitol or xylitol.

It has a sweet taste that allows the flavours of the cocoa beans to shine.

If you’re interested, try:

Maple Sugar

Maple sugar is what is left when maple sap is boiled. Because the water evaporates, maple sugar is sweeter and richer than maple syrup.

Maple sugar is composed of the same stuff as table sugar (sucrose) so should be consumed in moderation. It does contain more nutrients, including manganese, calcium, potassium, iron and zinc, but these are in trace amounts. Maple sugar’s glycaemic index is lower than that of table sugar, indicating that it may be slower at raising blood sugar.

If you’re interested in trying the warm, caramel flavour that maple sugar adds to chocolate, check these out:

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar comes from the flower sap of the coconut palm. It is widely used in South Asian cuisine, such as in Indonesian sweet soy sauce.

Like maple sugar, it retains more nutrients than table sugar, but should still be consumed in moderation. It is comparable in sweetness to table and brown sugar and has a soft date-like flavour.

Taste the aromas of coconut sugar in these bars:

Milk

Milk is often added to chocolate in a powdered form: all the liquid is evaporated out so that the end product is milk at its most concentrated.

It accentuates the luxuriously rich flavour of chocolate, as well as offering creaminess, a counterbalance to any astringency, and a sensation of sweetness.

Milk has a natural sweetness as it contains lactose, which is a type of sugar. When milk is processed, such as by being heated or by grinding milk powder, lactose breaks down into smaller sugars (called glucose and galactose), which creates more of a sweet surface area for our taste buds to pick up on, thereby making it taste sweeter!

‘Dark milks’ take advantage of this. At Cocoa Runners, we sell a few bars that contain no added sugar at all, replacing any added sweeteners with milk powder. This results in the decadent intensity of a dark chocolate and the creaminess of a milk chocolate – try these to see what we mean:

Honey

Honey is a product of plant nectar that has been altered by bee enzymes. The enzymes break down much of the nectar’s sucrose into fructose and glucose. Honey offers essentially the same nutritional value as other simple sugars – a source of energy and little else. However, honey is around 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar, leading to a caloric decrease of 20 calories in a 2.5 oz. bar.

COMING SOON to Cocoa Runners: HoneyMoon Chocolates:

Honeymoon Chocolates is a bean-to-bar brand motivated by supporting the conservation of honeybees. The endangerment of bees is a big problem because they pollinate 70 of the 100 crops that provide 90% of food worldwide. They purchase directly from beekeepers and a portion of profits goes towards bee research.

Honey complements cocoa products with both its ethical transparency and its added complexity to flavour profiles.

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asSALTed … Why It’s Worth Taking Salt A Pinch More Seriously

crystals of salt

Salt is an intriguing addition to craft chocolate and a critical culinary tool, but it also can be a major problem.

Humans need a (small) amount of salt per day to survive, but ‘in excess’ is also incredibly harmful. Indeed overdosing on salt was an approved suicide mechanic for aristocrats in ancient China. Today this sort of overdosing is pretty rare.  Nonetheless according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the published health guidelines of over 100 countries’ health departments, most of us are consuming “30-50% too much salt”, and over the long term, this “dramatically shortens our life expectancy” (source: WHO).

Read on to take some easy steps to avoid excess salt, and appreciate why a pinch of salt is still great for craft chocolate.

Why do we add salt to chocolate?

One of our most popular bars in our virtual tastings was Menakao’s ‘Salt and Nibs’ bar up until Brexit caused various supply challenges.  But fear not, it’s now back in stock and will feature in our upcoming Flavour Deep Dive Tasting.  And it’s a great example how a pinch of salt can pull out even more redberry and citric fruitiness from Madagascan chocolate that bursts with these aromas and flavours.

And many dark, milk and even white chocolate bars will contain a (small) pinch of salt. And this is smart for a bunch of reasons:

  1. Salt awakens our taste receptors for sweetness, so canny makers can make do with far less sugar than you’d expect.  With salt you need less sugar to make something taste sweet. Technically what happens is that a glucose sensor in our intestine known as SGLT1 is activated by salt, and this heightens our ability to detect sweetness in our tongue and gut.
  2. Salt also adds texture and crunch; many of us enjoy the ‘tang’ of salt (in small doses).
  3. The combination of sugar, salt and fat creates what is now called the bliss point.

Why do we add salt to other foods and drinks?

Salt has a bunch of other qualities that make it a great ‘go to’ for food and drink companies. Some of these applications are fine. Others are more dubious.

  • Salt is a fantastic preservative. Salt dries out meats, fish, etc. and by doing so prevents bacteria from spoiling the food.  Humans have known this for at least 8,000 years.
  • Salt inhibits the sensation of bitterness: Try adding salt, for example, to some grapefruit and it’s extraordinary to see how this works. Indeed even ultra processed, mass produced 100% dark chocolate bars can be made a bit more palatable by a dose of salt.
  • Salt also prevents us realising that a food is otherwise bland and flavourless; Professor Graham MacGregor of the UK’s Action Against Salt is illuminating on (ab)uses here.
  • Salt also acts as a great binding and bulking agent. Adding salt to meat, chicken, etc. enables unscrupulous manufacturers to inject more water into, for example, a chicken breast, so effectively you can pay 15-25% as a maker can ‘bulk up’ of these foods.
  • Salt also makes us very thirsty, so if you want people to drink lots and lots, adding salt is a canny play to sell more soda, soft drinks, etc.

What’s the problem with excess salt?

Humans definitely need salt. But we need remarkably little; less than 0.5g per day is enough for various remote tribes in South America and South East Asia. And indeed the Yanomamo tribe in Brazil regularly run more than 20 kilometres per day on these levels of salts — and are far healthier (again see the blog for more details here and two great podcasts).

By contrast, in the UK the average citizen consumes over 10 grams of salt per day, over 30% more than government guidelines. And we aren’t alone here; of 189 countries surveyed by the World Health Organisation in 2015, 181 were above the WHO daily average recommended daily intake of 5 grams per day (note: exactly how much is “too much” is the subject of lengthy debates, but it’s generally recommended that adults shouldn’t consume more than 5 grams (WHO) or 6 grams (UK NHS) per day).

Numerous studies have shown that this excessive salt creates multiple health challenges. Without wishing to panic you, here are couple of warnings (along with explanations, and please note that “sodium” is the American term for we in the UK call salt):

  1. In most people, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with excess sodium [salt] in the blood. As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water… This increases… the volume of blood in the bloodstream [which leads to]… more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It can also lead to heart failure. There is some evidence that too much salt can damage the heart, aorta, and kidneys… and that it may be bad for bones, too (Harvard School of Public Health).
  2. Too much salt consumption kills more than a million people each year, with death rates the highest in low and middle income countries… too much salt intake now accounts for one of every ten deaths from cardiovascular causes (New England Journal of Medicine).
  3. …regularly eating too much salt puts us at increased risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the main cause of strokes and a major cause of heart attacks and heart failures, the most common causes of death and illness in the world (WHO – Action against Salt).

Historically a major issue with many studies on salt was the difficulty of measuring salt levels and obtaining consistent results. Unlike many other nutritional research fields where a couple of measurements a day will suffice, salt levels fluctuate MASSIVELY hour by hour; so the experiments and controls for studies on salt require far more measurements and are really hard to do. And then salt’s deleterious impacts can take decades to appear; even longer than tobacco, and way longer than sugar. As a result, various early salt research using daily, not hourly, measurements created some contradictory and confusing results (the so called J Curve, which somehow suggest it’s OK, and maybe even good, to have salt at some low and then high levels, but not consume ‘average’ levels of salt).

How are we consuming so much salt?

10 grams of salt is a LOT. To put this in context, you’d need to consume over 70 full bars of the Menakao Cocoa Nibs & Sea Salt in a day to get near to your recommended UK 6 grams per day (and over 100 bars for the 10g most of us are consuming).

The culprit of our excessive salt consumption is (again) ultra processed food. To quote one recent Australian study, “Around 75 per cent of the salt in our diet comes from [ultra] processed foods, which means we may be unaware of the amount of salt we are having”.

As the Australian study notes, where the salt is in these ultra processed foods isn’t always obvious. For example, many ultra processed breads contain more salt than a bag of crisps. As the UK’s Action Against Salt warned in 2014 and 2018: “In the UK, bread is the single biggest contributor of salt to people’s diets, providing nearly a fifth of salt intake from ultra processed foods”. So just by checking the amount of salt in your daily bread can make all the difference.

And because salt is so good at “tickling our taste buds”, many ultra processed confectionery bars and drinks contain an awful lot of salt, for example:

  1. Ultra Processed chocolate confectionery including snacks such as a Crunchie bar contain over 0.72 grams of salt per bar.
  2. Instant hot chocolate drinks by the likes of Cadbury and Galaxy can contain over 1 gram of salt per serving; more than in a glass of sea water!
  3. A Pret chocolate croissant contains 4.7 grams of salt per croissant (and a plain croissant still has 0.9 grams).

Don’t Panic!

Savouring a craft chocolate bar doesn’t expose you to the risk of excessive salt. Even those like Zotter’s ‘Butter Caramel’ or Menakao’s milk chocolate bars (which are BRILLIANT examples of the bliss point combination of sugar, salt and fat) have way less salt in them than a commercial slice of mass processed bread, high street croissant and most chocolate confectionery snacks.

If you cook at home (as opposed to reheating food like substances), adding salt to flavour and season is also safe, especially when cooking with craft chocolate.

At the same time, checking out the amount of salt on any product’s ingredients is a useful ‘red light’ warning for processed foods. If there is more than 0.7g per 100g it likely means it’s an ultra processed food like substance. Note: sadly this doesn’t hold in reverse. Back in the bad old days, many supermarket mass produced, “plain” dark chocolates did have salt added to them to obscure their lack of flavour. But since Action On Salt‘s “naming and shaming”, these activities have been curtailed (although these bars are still ultra processed; nib rather than bean roasted and other additives are still included).

And one other bit of good news: Once you start to reduce your consumption of ultra processed food like substances that are full of salt, your taste buds will rapidly adjust to appreciate, and indeed demand, less salt. You’ll just need a pinch of salt (and/or sugar) to bring out the flavours of your ingredients and foods.

So please enjoy some craft chocolate bars that all show the wonders of a pinch of salt.

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I’m a Chocoholic and I’ve Signed Up for Veganuary – Should I be Worrying?

milk chocolate tasting

Christmas may be over, but our love of chocolate is unremitting. Brits eat on average 11kg of the stuff each year. We love it. But you’ve signed up for Veganuary and you’re worried you’ve bitten off more than you can chew…

Don’t Panic! 

We would happily bet a bar of the stuff that chocolate won’t be the thing that breaks your pledge – it may even keep you going if you’re struggling! 

Veganism and craft chocolate is surprisingly and wonderfully simple (with a small caveat – read on to find out more). Pure dark chocolate should only ever be made from cocoa beans and sugar, with the optional addition of cocoa butter. 

Cocoa butter? No fear – this is the natural fat of the cocoa bean. A texture-enricher and mouthfeel-magnifier, it’s completely plant-based. Phew! 

That said, supermarket chocolate is not always vegan; manufacturers often sneak in milk as ‘whey powder’ or ‘butterfat’. This is the stuff to avoid. 

Unlike the supermarket shelves, we have a great collection of actually vegan-friendly dark chocolate ready to explore. What’s more, we have a bunch of makers who produce vegan milk and white chocolate by using coconut milk instead of cow, goat, or sheep milk. Cue these two brilliant bars from Forever Cocao and Soliki.

The Take Home Message 

The global food system is responsible for around 30% of emissions worldwide. So firstly, it’s great that you’ve signed up to Veganuary and Good Luck! Secondly, chocolate – far from being outlawed – is your wingman, especially if it’s craft dark or vegan milk chocolate. 

Last but not least, you’re sure to have some supermarket milk chocolate kicking around after the festive season. Forewarned is forearmed! Sidestep any chocolate-centred kerfuffle by asking for a bar or two of craft dark or vegan milk for Christmas or Hanukkah.

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The New Kid on the Block: Vegan Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate. With a name like that, it couldn’t possibly be vegan. But how about mylk chocolate, as it’s sometimes dubbed? If you’re one of the 1.5 million vegans in the UK, or simply a curious dairy-alternative dabbler, there’s good news: plant-based alternatives have landed on the craft chocolate scene. 

Mylk, You Ask…

The plant-based milk industry is booming and, with around a quarter of people opting for these non-dairy alternatives in their morning coffee, chocolate makers are beginning to chase this lacto-free glory.

We often parallel the craft chocolate movement to the specialty coffee scene. A selection of oat, soy, almond, and rice milks are now a given, chalked up onto the menu board of any self-respecting indie coffee shop. 

Although the wonderful world of craft chocolate is several years behind specialty coffee, we are making up ground. Chocolate bars are seeing the introduction of milk alternatives, meaning ‘milk’ (or mylk!) chocolate bars, suitable for vegans, will soon be more widely available. 

How It’s Made 

If you’ve read our Vegan Milk Tasting Article you’ll know that we like to compare craft chocolate to recent speciality coffee movement. After an incredible boom in dairy milk alternatives, no hip coffee joint nowadays could contemplate an oat or soy milk shortage. 

The craft chocolate industry is a couple of steps behind; it’s only just recently that producers have started experimenting with plant-based milk in their chocolate. Coconut milk or oat milk often replaces the usual cow, sheep or goat, working brilliantly alongside the cocoa. 

There aren’t any great differences in how you craft milk or vegan milk chocolate bars. In both cases the maker will add dried milk or dried coconut milk when they’ve ground the beans and are starting the conching process.

Is There an Increase in the Amount of Vegan Bars available? 

Most definitely. But remember, the Vegan certification is not a good indicator. Many of the best craft chocolate makers aren’t certified and the certification on supermarket brands doesn’t mean that they are any good for you or taste good! 

With vegan milk chocolate, craft is the way to go. There are a host of great makers to explore, from Marou in Vietnam and Raaka in the USA to Forever Cacao, Solkiki, and Chocolate Tree based here in the UK. Take a look at our current favourites.

And if You’re Still Not Convinced, Here’s a Taste of Two of Our Favourites:

Over the years, the Cocoa Runners Chocolate Library has seen it’s fair share of vegan milk chocolate bars. Bars previously crafted by Solkiki and Endorfin featured. Two stars from our current vegan milk bar collection are Forever Cacao’s 55% Coconut Milk chocolate and Marou’s 55% Ben Tre Coconut Milk bar. 

Forever Cacao’s 55% Coconut Milk is crafted by Pablo Spaull who creates his unroasted chocolate deep in the Welsh countryside. Pablo uses Peruvian beans in all of his bars. With the help of Ecotribal, he buys his beans directly from Ashaninka co-operatives living in the rainforest and on the banks of the Rio Ene.

The sweet and aromatic flavour of the coconut gives the bar a refreshingly floral note. The unroasted Peruvian cocoa beans have an earthy, grassy profile, which complements the much lighter, sugared flavours of the coconut. Both rich and cooling, the chocolate bar finishes with an earthy sweetness. 

Next up is Marou’s 55% Coconut Milk bar crafted in Vietnam using cacao harvested in the Ben Tre region. When fans requested a milk chocolate bar from French chocolate crafters Samual Maruta and Vincent Mourou, they decided to capitalize on Vietnam’s coconut-growing history and culture. 

The flavour is distinctly coconutty with a fudgy texture. We found this bar’s coconut milk beautifully complements the spicy and fruity flavour profile of the Ben Tre cacao. Expect an aromatic bouquet of raisins, coconut, honey and delicate spices. A vegan milk chocolate dream!

*** 

If in doubt about the vegan-ness of any bar, it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients (with careful scrutiny). And if it’s one of ours, but you’re still unsure, feel free to get in touch! 

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Myth Busting: Is Dark Chocolate Vegan?

Eating chocolate makes us happy, and the darker it is, the more serotonin (a.k.a the happiness chemical) is released. But can vegans reap the benefits? 

In a Nutshell

Yes! In fact, pure dark chocolate should only ever be made from cocoa beans and sugar, with the optional addition of cocoa butter (which, despite its name, is just the natural fat of the cocoa bean and so 100% plant-based). 

We are delighted that almost all of our dark chocolate bars are suitable for vegans – have a browse. A few of our chocolate makers do add sunflower or soy lecithin to their bars to reduce the viscosity, so keep an eye out if you are severely allergic to soy! 

However…

We do have a few exceptions within our Chocolate Library with two bars that go off the beaten track a bit. The natural Carmine dye that is sprayed onto Mucho’s Carmin’s bar with cochineal derives from an insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha of Mexico, and for TCHO’s Mint Chip Gelato it’s the milk within the freeze-dried gelato that makes it not suitable for vegans.

Although dark chocolate should be inherently vegan (besides bars that are doing something innovative like those above), this is not always the case. 

Supermarket mass-produced dark chocolate sometimes has milk listed within its ingredients. Take Lindt’s Excellence Dark Touch of Sea Salt or Morisson’s 85% Dark Chocolate as examples. 

Whilst we strongly believe that these ‘dark’ bars that actively contain milk solids within the chocolate cannot really be called a dark chocolate, unfortunately this is the case for many mass-produced bars.

A Side Note 

If you are looking to cut down on sugar, a word to the wise: sometimes chocolate manufacturers use lactitol as a sweetener – and yes, lactitol is derived from cow’s milk. 

In Summary 

Dark chocolate is nearly always vegan, although animal products often find their way into supermarket chocolate ingredient lists as ‘whey powder’ or ‘butterfat’. But we’re having none of that. The vast majority of dark chocolate in our Chocolate Library is vegan. 

Vegans and those intolerant to lactose or allergic to dairy are very good at checking the labels of their chocolate bars. And what delight! almost every single dark is very much on the tasting table! 

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Does Chocolate Help You Sleep?

For most of its history we’ve “drunk” chocolate.  And hot chocolate remains a favourite “night cap” for many kids and adults.

Yet many people fear that eating, or drinking, chocolate in the evening will keep them up at night.  And one of the most common questions at our Virtual Tastings remains “does chocolate contain caffeine”.

The simple answer to that “is there caffeine in chocolate” question is YES.  But the amount of caffeine in chocolate depends on the type of chocolate, the cocoa varietal, how it’s farmed and how it’s crafted (or processed).

The more contentious question is “does chocolate at night keep you from sleeping” (or “will some chocolate in the afternoon act as pick me up”).  To try and answer this question, we’ve researched some of the active ingredients in chocolate and tried to understand their impact. 

Our conclusion is that the answer differs not just depending on the chocolate but on the person eating (or drinking) the chocolate. 

Chocolate’s Active Ingredients

Chocolate contains a bunch of active ingredients – in particular caffeine, theobromine and tryptophan. Chocolate is also normally combined with sugar and sometimes milk. Each of these “work” on us differently.

Caffeine works directly on our central nervous system making us more “alert” and, when overdone, make us jittery and it can even become addictive with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.  There is some caffeine in chocolate.  But it’s not a huge amount, even in dark chocolate — far less than in a cup of coffee.  Savouring a few squares of chocolate will involve consuming less  caffeine than in drinking a cup of decaffeinated coffee.  To become addicted to the caffeine in coffee it’s suggested you need to drink more than 9 coffees of Xg per day; for chocolate it’s over ten 100g bars per day.

Chocolate contains far more of another stimulant, theobromine.  In a standard dark chocolate bar, theobromine comprises 1-2.5% of the weight of a bar, caffeine 0.06-.4%.  Theobromine, even though it’s in the same class of chemical as caffeine (and is just as astringent), doesn’t stimulate the central nervous system.  Rather it acts as a muscle relaxant whilst also stimulating, and regulating, cardiovascular activities (i.e., it can sort your heart out).  Unlike caffeine there is no evidence that Theobromine will keep you awake – indeed there are studies suggesting that theobromine can help people sleep (see blog for references).

Chocolate also contains tryptophan, which  stimulates serotonin and melatonin.  And serotonin and melatonin are believed to help sleep.  But again, the amount of tryptophan differs by chocolate type and it impacts different people very differently. 

Now let’s turn to some other stuff that is often added to chocolate — sugar and milk.

Sugar for almost everyone acts as a stimulant which prevents most of us from going to sleep (at least initially).  That’s why people reach for a sugar snack (including many chocolates) for a mid afternoon pick me up.

Milk, especially hot milk (for drinking chocolate) however is soporific.

Differences Between Chocolates

Just to make matters even more complicated, different chocolate types contain different amounts of each of these elements. See the blog for more details, but here is a first summary

  • Dark chocolate contains the most theobromine, caffeine and tryptophan but has the least sugar (normally) and no milk
  • White chocolate (ie just the cocoa butter) contains no caffeine, but does have theobromine, tryptophan and lots of sugar and milk (or coconut milk if it’s vegan etc.)
  • Milk chocolate is between the two …. 

And then different beans, farming practises and crafting approaches also make massive differences.  For example; different roasting profiles and fermentation approaches will impact the concentration (and efficacy) of tryptophan. 

Differences Between People

As if this complexity isn’t enough, it turns out that different people react differently to the same bars and compounds.  For more on this see the work done by Professor Tim Spector (an avid craft chocolate fan and subscriber) on identical twins where he shows how the way we react to different foods is primarily a question of our gut’s microbiome.  And this is definitely applicable to chocolate

Our Request, Experiment and Suggestion

Given all this complexity, we’d like to ask for your help with an experiment.  Can you find a friend, family member, partner, etc. and experiment with different chocolates at different times and record your reactions here?

Sources:

ACADEMIC ARTICLES

https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-eating/news/a26374/dark-chocolate-magnesium-levels-sleep-help/

https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.5384

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4335269/

http://web.colby.edu/st297-global18/2018/10/28/serotonin-dopamine-the-neurological-benefits-of-chocolate/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575938/

JOURNALISTS

https://mammothcomfort.com/does-chocolate-really-stop-you-sleeping/

https://www.sleep.org/articles/five-surprising-foods-that-could-be-making-you-tired/

https://www.cacaoteaco.com/blogs/blog/does-chocolate-have-caffeine

https://criobru.com/blogs/news/what-is-theobromine-and-should-i-swapping-it-for-caffeine

https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/caffeine-vs-chocolate-a-mighty-methyl-group

OTHER SOURCES

http://www.tim-spector.co.uk/

https://joinzoe.com/

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Cutting down on sugar?

One easy way to eliminate sugar and still enjoy great chocolate is to try 100% bars.

100% bars contain nothing but cocoa beans. Through careful selection of beans, long grinds, heavy conches, and extra cocoa butter, our makers create amazingly flavourful 100% bars.  These 100% bars will always be a little astringent (they’ll make your mouth dry), but they are not necessarily bitter (for more on the difference between astringency and bitterness, please read this blog post). What’s more, they really encourage you to savour your bar and experience the full depth of flavour inherent in cocoa beans.

You can try our collections of 100% bars here: World Edition or Deluxe Collection.

If 100% isn’t your thing, you can still cut back on sugar with regular craft chocolate.  A typical 60g bar of 75% dark chocolate contains about 15g of sugar. By comparison, a mass-produced 60g bar of milk chocolate contains up to 40g of sugar, as sugar is a much cheaper ingredient than cocoa.  So even a small 45g checkout snack bar will contain 20g or more of sugar.

What’s more, you’re extremely likely to eat this whole snack bar in one go. (It’s not your fault! Read here for more on the “bliss point”) By contrast, craft chocolate bars lend themselves to savouring. You only need 3-5 squares after a meal to feel satisfied, which is roughly 2-5g of sugar (less than a regular bowl of cereal).

By carefully reading the label and figuring out what is really in the chocolate you buy, you can easily cut down on sugar. If you want to eliminate it completely, have a try of these amazing 100% bars and boxes.

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Low Sugar Chocolate

January is often a time of year for cutting back; but you can still enjoy delicious craft chocolate without breaking your resolutions.

100% cocoa chocolate bars are made using nothing but cocoa beans. With no added sugar, flavourings or vegetable fats, the only ingredients is cocoa (sometimes with a touch of added cocoa butter).

The result is chocolate that allows you to discover the pure taste of the cocoa bean and how the artisan maker has revealed and honed its flavours. Crafting 100% chocolate isn’t easy, but when done properly the complexity of flavour is like no other chocolate bar.

If you’re new to 100% chocolate, don’t be put off by the idea that it will be bitter. It’s true that the flavours can be intense but 100% cacao bars are generally not nearly as bitter as you might expect.  Much of the mouth-puckering bitterness that you find in mass produced high percentage dark chocolate is down to how the beans are crushed, pressed and even treated chemical solutions as they rush to make the maximum amount of chocolate in as little time as possible.

By contrast craft chocolate bars are made completely differently, as the artisan tries to give true expression to his cocoa beans. The maker does this by coaxing out all the beans’ flavours as they roast, slowly conche, refine, temper and even age the bars.

That being said, we know 100% chocolate is not for everyone.  So with that in mind, today we present three collections – two of which have 100% cacao chocolate, and a third with a little more variety of intensity, with bars range from 85 – 100%.

The Low Sugar Collection

A collection of four fantastic dark bars that are low in sugar but don’t compromise on taste. Each is at least 80% cocoa, but with a rich, complex flavour and almost none of the bitterness you might expect.

Inside this collection you’ll discover bars from Taza, Menakao, Pralus and Naive.

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100% Collection: The Madagascan Edition

The Madagascans are growers of fine fruity cocoa beans that lend their incredible intensity to this fine selection of chocolate bars. If you’re new to 100% chocolate, then the Madagascan bean makes an excellent starting point.

This collection includes bars from Pralus, Chocolate Tree, Chocolate Madagascar and Akesson’s.

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100% Collection: The Aficionado Collection

Luxuriate in darkness with this exquisite selection of bars.

These four distinctive makers will have your taste buds singing from the rooftops with delicious, complicated and surprising flavours.

Compare and contrast the unique flavour profiles of each terroir. With each bar you can taste how the maker has crafted the beans into unique 100% chocolate.

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5 Ways To Enjoy Chocolate And Cut Down On Sugar

Chocolate and low sugar

From elevating your mood, to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and pancreatic cancer, it seems like there are more and more benefits to eating chocolate. It’s no secret however that plenty of chocolate (mainstream milk chocolate in particular) contains huge amounts of processed sugar. Although sugar has never been in the running for health food of the year, thanks to huge media attention and a number of high profile campaigns such as Jamie Oliver’s ‘war on sugar’ the sweet stuff seems to have become food enemy number one.

Less sugar doesn’t have to mean less chocolate. The list of chocolate’s health benefits keeps on growing and there are plenty of ways to get your chocolate fix and cut down on sugar.

Whether you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake this New Year or just looking for some healthier options we’ve put together our recommendation of chocolate that is full of flavour and goodness but low on sugar.

1 Go Dark

As a general rule, the higher the cocoa percentage the less sugar a chocolate bar contains. Not only do you get less sugar, the higher cocoa percentage also means more of the good stuff. Try to choose bars with at least 85% cocoa mass, we recommend:

Taza Wicked Dark 95Taza Wicked Dark 95% – the large sugar crystals in this stone ground chocolate make it taste deceptively sweet. The biscuity texture is full of ground cacao beans.

Pacari Raw 85% – Pacari use unroasted cacao, which they say makes the bar much higher in antioxidants.

Original Beans – Mexico Zoque 88% – The Mexican beans give the bar a delicate coconut base and expressive hints of tropical lychee.

2 Go Alternative

If you prefer your chocolate a little sweeter try bars made with alternatives to cane sugar. Coconut blossom sugar has a lower glycaemic index, meaning you’ll get less of a sugar rush (and then crash) after eating. Made from the sap of coconut flower buds, it has wonderful caramel taste similar to brown sugar. Lucuma is a subtropical fruit, native so South America, which not only has a low GI but is naturally high vitamins and nutrients. When dried this ‘superfood’ can be used as a natural sweetener and has a unique sweet taste that is often compared to sweet potato or maple.

Lucocoa Dominican Republic Dark 70 Lucocoa Domnican Republic 70% – sweetened with a combination of lucuma and coconut blossom sugar, the bar has a rich flavour with hints of banana.

Lyra Peru Dark 78% – this organic dark chocolate is made using coconut blossom sugar.

Reine Astrid – Sugar-Free Cameroon 44% Milk – Opposed to cane sugar, this bar is sweetened using the starch-derived sugar substitute, Maltitol.

Zotter – Pangoa, Peru 50% Milk with Date Sugar – It’s been sweetened with date sugar, a natural sugar alternative which adds strong notes of caramel to the overall profile.

3 Try Dark Milk

A few months ago our co-founder Spencer went on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch to talk about one of the biggest trends in craft chocolate – dark milk bars. The high cocoa content and plus the milk means that these bars are surprisingly low sugar and often contain less of the sweet stuff than many dark chocolates. Perfect for the milk chocolate addict.

Zotter Dark Style Milk 70%Zotter Milk ‘Dark Style’ 70% – this sugar free bar from Zotter uses the natural sweetness of the milk to create an intense yet creamy bar

Jordi’s Dark Milk 74% – one of the highest percentage milk chocolates we’ve ever come across.

4 Go Sugar Free With 100%

100% cocoa chocolate is made from a single ingredient, cocoa beans and has no added sugar whatsoever. Don’t be afraid, when made well by artisan makers, 100% chocolate has no unpleasant bitterness and is full of flavour. Cacao is a fruit just like an apple and an orange, so it also contains some natural sugar.

Fruition 100Fruition 100%– for the true enthusiasts a spectacular bar that shows just how delicious chocolate can be without sugar.

Akesson’s Madagascar 100%  – an multiple award winner, this is a very approachable 100% perfect if you’re trying it for the first time.

Original Beans – Cusco Chuncho 100% – this intense dark Swiss chocolate has a perfectly smooth melt and a delicate floral sweetness, revealing a lightly perfumed profile of rose petals with a cut-grass sweetness.

5 Savour Don’t Scoff

If you ever try to eat a whole one of our chocolate bars in one sitting, thanks to the high level of flavanols you might find yourself struggling to get even half way through. We think, therefore the best way to cut down on sugar is to break off a little piece of your favourite bar and as it melts to savour the gorgeous flavours that are released…..

All the bars in our Chocolate Library are what we call ‘bean-to-bar’ or ‘craft’ chocolate. What this actually means is that the chocolate was made directly from the cocoa bean by the maker. Making them by hand in small batches, without using any industrial processes or adding any artificial ingredients, creates chocolate that not only tastes amazing but is also naturally high in flavanols. Some studies have suggested these flavanol compounds may actually help suppress appetite (along with whole lot of other benefits).

Enjoy!

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