I’m often asked how I got started making chocolate. I started over 10 years ago out of desperation for a low-glycemic alternative to the cane sugar sweetened stuff that floods the shelves of health food stores. My quest to avoid cane sugar began in the early 1990s. The lack of healthy alternatives to conventional chocolate made it difficult to indulge in one of my favorite foods and arguably the most important one! In 1994-1995 I travelled throughout Central and South America, volunteering on farms and learning about cacao for the first time, on it’s native soil. My interest in chocolate grew from there and by 2007 I found myself experimenting with making chocolate on a larger scale. I started selling my bars at farmers markets around Asheville, North Carolina and was soon selling them to food coops and independently owned health food stores throughout western NC.
Initially I used agave nectar to sweeten our bars. I quickly learned that it’s actually a high glycemic sweetener that’s not at all suitable for most diabetics. Within a year I was able to purchase a large grinder that allowed us to start using coconut sugar as a sweetener. For those who aren’t familiar with coconut sugar, it’s made from the sap of the coconut palm which has been boiled and dehydrated. According to Dr. Andrew Weil the biggest advantage of using coconut sugar over cane sugar is that it’s 70-79% sucrose and only 3-9% each of fructose and glucose. “This is an advantage because you want to keep your consumption of fructose as low as possible, and cane sugar is 50% fructose” (Weil, 16′)
Once we began using the grinder, we also started making all of our chocolate exclusively with whole cacao seeds (without adding cacao butter). Most chocolate bars today are made with the addition of cacao butter, giving it a very smooth creamy mouth-feel. I prefer to make chocolate base with only cacao seeds and coconut sugar. This simple recipe gives the fullest possible flavor of cacao. It also provides us with more magnesium and more of the feel-good brain chemicals. If I eat a conventional chocolate bar, loaded with cacao butter, I can finish the whole bar in one sitting. However, with Santosha Chocolate, just one bite is often all that’s needed! This is an advantage to those looking to lower their carb intake or for those who eat a ketogenic diet.
Early on I had noticed that most chocolate bars are not allergen friendly. Most of them contain soy lecithin (or other fillers), dairy and/or nuts (or they’ve been produced in a facility that uses nuts, dairy or gluten). We use only the most ethically sourced ingredients. All of our cacao beans are Fair Trade certified meaning the farmers are paid a fair price for their beans, well above market value. We buy them directly from a Coop in Peru (Norandino Coop) which works with farmers to help them produce some of the world’s highest quality cacao, all of which is certified organic. The coconut sugar we use is also Fair Trade certified (Big Tree farms from Bali).
Coconut sugar is not to be confused with the Red Palm tree which is destroying the habitat of Orangutans and other wildlife throughout south east Asia. The red palm tree is used to produce palm oil which is used extensively in industrial foods throughout the world. Coconut sugar has been criticized in the past few years for being an unsustainable because they are claimed to use trees that would normally produce coconuts. According to Annette Fischer of Wilderness Family Naturals (an undisputed expert on the topic), points out several facts that point to the sustainability of coconut palm sugar: More people are killed by falling coconuts than by being struck by lightning; Trees older than 50 years are no longer capable of producing coconuts and are then used for sap production; Most coconut palms used for sap production are kept around homes; Less than 1% of the coconut palms in the Phillipines are used for coconut sugar production.
Clearly our bars also stand out among the crowd because of our use of medicinal herbs. From the beginning I felt that chocolate was an excellent medium to consume these herbs. In future articles I’ll be covering why I choose the adaptogen herbs that we include in several of our varieties. Feel free to comment below and definitely let us know if there are any topics you’d like to see covered! I look forward to hearing from you!
Don Rowe, Founder Santosha Chocolate