What’s in vegan chocolate?

Chocolate isn’t a single flavour. Like coffee and wine, each cacao harvest is unique palate and is creating a buzz among connoisseurs, say NZ’s best chocolate makers. By Mikaela Wilkes.

Reading and writing questions for Dr Joanna Kidman



Stuff NZ Newspapers


Focus Food & Drink

On a rural property in Mahurangi, north of Auckland, David and Janelle Herrick make some of the best vegan chocolate in the country. The Foundry chocolate makers said they got into the bean-to-bar business five years ago because ‘‘they just really love food’’. David, who has a background in marketing, had his interest piqued by an article about a Londoner crafting chocolate on a micro scale. And then taught himself. ‘‘If you think about how different grapes are from around the world, and how the wines all taste different to one another – it’s actually the same with chocolate.’’ The Herricks source cacao from seven different single origins, in Tanzania, Peru, Vanuatu, Uganda, India and Papua New Guinea. Their Kilombero Valley Tanzania bar was the Supreme winner at the inaugural Vegan Chocolate Awards, held by the Vegan Society Aotearoa in April, and also the bean-to-bar category winner. ‘‘The way we roast the beans, each origin with only two ingredients tastes utterly, completely different,’’ David said. Because the bars are only made from cacao beans and organic cane sugar, they’re naturally vegan. There are different grades of cacao, they explain. Most supermarket chocolates use inexpensive cacao beans, and then have to amp up the flavour with milk powder, butter, vanilla and so on ‘‘to make it more palatable’’, as well as consistent, no matter what bean harvest a big brand is dealing with. ‘‘When you’re dealing with the absolute best cacao in the world, you can make chocolate like this that tastes incredible, and feels incredible asis,’’ said David. Janelle added: ‘‘Think of it like a wine flight. Every harvest is slightly different.’’ David spent four months profiling the flavours in their 2020 Tanzania beans, which have ‘‘refreshing and fruity tasting notes’’ of stonefruit, Christmas cake, and even cherries. And not all vegan chocolate has to be dark, as we know it. Dark supermarket chocolate has a bitter quality, but dark Ugandan two-ingredient chocolate tastes like berries and cream and marshmallow, according to the Herricks. ‘‘And you’d swear it’s milk [chocolate], but it’s actually not,’’ said David. ‘‘All our lives, we’ve been told that chocolate is a flavour,’’ Janelle said. ‘‘Chocolate milkshake, chocolate cake, chocolate biscuits. But chocolate actually has flavour – different flavours.’’ Most of Foundry’s customers are foodies, rather than vegans, they said. But the audience is growing. ‘‘When a child with dietary needs asks us, ‘what can I eat?’, and we get to say ‘everything’, that’s the coolest part,’’ said Janelle. The Foundry’s single origin range is 70% cacao, so you can taste all those individualities. But they also make ‘‘seriously dark’’ 90% and 100% for the committed dark chocolate fans. A tight-knit community of about 10 chocolateenthusiasts make all the bean-to-bar treats in New Zealand, including the Herricks’ friend Gabe Davidson, of Wellington Chocolate Factory (WCF). WCF has been making its internationally acclaimed dark chocolate Peru Bar, ‘‘since [its] very beginning’’ in 2013. It picked up a seventh accolade in the Vegan Society’s awards, for the best dark chocolate. ‘‘I feel a really strong connection with Peru,’’ said Davidson, who visits his farmers regularly, but the week we spoke had flown up to Auckland to proffer speciality hot chocolates at a Karen Walker pop up. Typically, the Peru bar’s flavour profile includes stone fruit, apricot, raisin and honey. But depending on the seasonal variants of a harvest, one characteristic may be more exaggerated than the rest. And despite it having been on shelves for more than a decade, ‘‘we’re kind of nerds, so we’re always tweaking the recipe,’’ Davidson said. The bar’s quality comes down to knowing the bean well. ‘‘We play with how we roast, how long we roast, at what temperature, and how long we refine the nibs for in the grinder,’’ Davidson said. He also nabbed the award for best milk chocolate, for his new coconut milk chocolate bar – something he admits, he ‘‘never thought he’d do’’. ‘‘I’m too much of a purist,’’ he said. However, his own plant-based eating journey steered him towards alternative milks, and how he might use them. ‘‘I thought it’d be fun – asking, can we make a chocolate bar that’s delicious, using only ingredients from the coconut and the cacao trees?’’ But, how do you make milk chocolate without any milk? Farmers take the sap from the unripe coconut pods before they flower. They put that sap into a high-tech wok with a wooden spoon, where it’s crystallised from a liquid. The resulting coconut sugar has a lower GI than regular sugar. ‘‘So it’s essentially a health food.’’ It’s then added to coconut milk powder to make the bar. The sweetness sits somewhere between what you might expect from a dairy milk chocolate, and dark chocolate bar. ‘‘If somebody’s not a dark chocolate fan, then they will definitely like the coconut milk chocolate. It’s quite a bit sweeter, and very creamy. It’s a bit softer, and doesn’t snap in the same way.’’ Davidson tries to balance out the competing flavours, so when you bite into the bar, the coconut isn’t overwhelming. He’s also excited about what this experiment will mean for the future of his craft. Coconut is quite a ubiquitous ingredient across the plantbased food pyramid, but theoretically, WCF could do something similar with almonds or oats. ‘‘We intend to make more vegan bars. We’re always experimenting.’’ Fragments opens by saying we live in a time of ‘‘radical historical reappraisal’’. Why are these conversations so difficult, and how do we manage them? New Zealand history hasn’t been taught comprehensively in schools and countless people have told us they don’t feel well-informed about the past because they never learned anything about it. In some quarters, there’s also been a degree of wilful forgetfulness and denial about the more violent aspects of our colonial history and how this impacts us today. But knowing about our history can be empowering. It can help people to move beyond confusion or doubt and give them a way of thinking about how we might build a safer, more reconciled future. Our hope is that when New Zealand history becomes a compulsory curriculum subject from next year, young people will have the confidence to speak knowledgeably about the past and perhaps share what they learn with older family members. Is there a story in the book you found particularly shocking? Each time we visit a battle site or spend time at the gravesides of those who were caught up in the violence, another piece of the puzzle falls into place. But in Nukumaru, just outside Whanganui, history stops making any sense to me and becomes a source of sheer outrage. In 1868, members of a settler militia led an unprovoked attack on a group of unarmed Ma¯ ori children, aged between six and 12. Two, Kingi Takatua and Akuhata Herewini, were killed particularly brutally and others were seriously injured. The attackers later admitted that they assaulted the children because they knew they were unarmed and would not fight back. We’ve visited the area where this event, known as the ‘‘incident’’ of Handley’s Woolshed, took place and each time I feel the same creeping sense of horror. Until earlier this year, a nearby settlement bore the name of Maxwell, after George Maxwell who led the attack. The original name, Pa¯ karaka, was finally restored in February. Tell us about your research and writing. We take extensive field notes at the battlefields. Everything we see and hear is recorded and at the end of each day we sit down and transcribe. We include extracts from our field documents because they’re quite powerful accounts. That’s partly how we titled the book. Our field notes are part of the record so they’re a kind of historical ‘‘snippet’’. We can never see all of history at once... so the past appears to us in fragments. Our job is to piece everything together in a way that makes sense. What did you read while researching? Whiti Hereaka wrote an amazing prologue to Pu¯ ra¯ kau: Ma¯ ori Myths Retold by Ma¯ ori Writers, a book she edited with Witi Ihimaera. It begins and ends, powerfully, with the sentence, ‘‘This is where we start’’. I was inspired because when Ma¯ ori tell stories, we often do it in ways that connect us with the recent past, the deep past, and the endless past, so each story acts as an entry point for those histories. Similarly, every battlefield has a story and while there were some horrifying endings, a whole series of beginnings were set in motion. As a nation, we’re still coming to terms with those beginnings and also the possibilities for a future with new, and better outcomes. Fragments from a Contested Past: Remembrance, Denial and New Zealand History (Bridget Williams Books) by Joanna Kidman, Vincent O’Malley, Liana MacDonald, Tom Roa and Keziah Wallis. RRP: $14.99.