Why this Chocolate is Illegal in the US

 Tonka Beans

Tonka Beans

French chocolate artisans, known as 'chocolatiers', and chefs around the world utilize the precious shriveled up tonka bean to impart intense caramel, vanilla, honey and cherry notes to both sweet and savory concoctions. Not so for American chefs as it's been illegal in the U.S. since 1954.

The bewrinkled and potent tonka bean comes from the fruit of the Brazilian teak tree that grows deep in the jungles of South America. Though the bean is illegal in the U.S., the wood from the tree is made into colorful and expensive flooring and cabinetry in North America.  

When my father was growing up tonka bean was used as the main flavor ingredient in his cream soda, his mother's artificial vanilla extract and perfume as well as his father's pipe tobacco. The U.S. FDA however considers any food containing coumarin as 'adulterated' and illegal because if rats are given high doses of the coumarin (a component of tonka) they develop liver issues.

Licorice, cinnamon and lavender contain similar amounts of coumarin but are not regulated like tonka; perhaps the tonka bean lobby was not as well funded as the others. In the midst of the financial crisis 2006-2009 the government was busy cracking down on gourmet chefs like Grant Achatz, the head chef at Chicago restaurant Alinea and raiding their spice cabinets for tonka.

Big pharma synthetically converts coumarin into a drug called Coumadin, an anti-coagulant. Coumarin in its natural form is not a blood thinning drug. The shavings from one tonka bean might be enough make 80 - 120 pieces of chocolate or 80 savory dishes. At least 30 beans would need to be eaten to be toxic to the liver (240 servings i.e. 1 gram total of coumarin) which is the same warning for nutmeg. Not sure about you but I don't eat 240 servings of anything at one go.

I've only discovered two chocolate shops in Paris' Marais district that have tonka added to their ganache bonbons. Let me just say that when my guests sample it during my chocolate tours, it blows them away! Just like folks can only visit nine states in the U.S. to buy recreational weed, Americans are currently only able to partake in tonka bean infused chocolate in France.

For the Love of Chocolate!  

Best Chocolate Mousse in Paris

Ok, that's probably an understatement. The five single origin selections of chocolate at Chapon's Paris mousse bar are probably the best in the world! That might be because of the tantalizingly rich ingredients that go inside: pure single origin chocolate, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla and heavy cream.

Because cacao beans pick up their flavor profile from the terroir (climate, soil and geography), each mousse offered by the chocolatier Chapon is unique...remember, these aren't added flavor ingredients folks, these are chocolate flavor profiles coming from the soil, the species of cacao bean, the fermentation time and the roasting levels.

Trinitario and Criollo beans are the most rare and the most complex in flavor. Most mass produced chocolate comes from the hardy Forastero cacao plant that is easy to grow on mega plantations but that bean's flavor profile is bland without any complexity. Fine chocolate is like wine, artisanal crafting can make one's taste buds scream "MORE MORE" of that yummy chocolate please. Fine chocolate is pricey because criollo beans make up less than 5% of the world's production. Criollo largely comes from Venezuela which has its own political and economic issues at the moment so saving these precious trees leftover from the Aztec-Mayan cultures is a low priority.

The chocolate in Chapon's mousse bowls comes from 4 - 5 countries - currently: Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, 100 percent and Madagascar. The Venezuela version is actually VEGAN chocolate because it's made with almond milk...don't worry it's just as rich as the other ones, I could barely finish my cone yesterday so a friend had to help.

Chapon's description of the chocolate profile of the Ecuador mousse is, "Powerful fruity nose. Flower flavor like jasmine, fig and sugared citrus fruit. Round in the mouth with good bitterness and acidity."

Hint: That HERSHEY, MARS or NESTLE bar in the vending machine near you is cheap because it contains a little bit of that flat-tasting Forastero cacao powder, artificial vanilla, artificial flavor plus a type of fat called "PGPR".

I audited food companies for 15 years and know that steps are taken to make processed food as cheap as possible, so in this case, the heart healthy cacao butter gets sold at a premium to the cosmetics industry and in its place is inserted PGPR. PGPR is a yellowish, viscous liquid composed of polyglycerol esters of polycondensed fatty acids from castor oil. You remember why grandma told you to drink castor oil right?

Go for the gold. Eat Chapon's chocolate mousse the next time you're in Paris!

For the Love of Chocolate!

Peppers in Chocolate & Cheese Now Trending?!

The first time I heard that Sancho (also spelled Sansho) pepper was coyly hiding in chocolate ganache I thought I'd give it a pass. Pepper and chocolat? Not a good idea, right?! I was expecting a gritty consistency but when I let it MELT on my tongue at Les Trois Chocolats in the Marais it was pleasantly smooth as silk with a tangy citrus flavored black pepper taste mid palate that blew me away. Apparently, Sancho is like Sichuan pepper, i.e. in the family of false or flag peppers that aren't truly in the pepper family. Definitely not as numbingly hot as Sichuan pepper, like at the amazing and popular spicy noodle restaurant voted the best noodles in France in 2016 at Trois Fois Plus de Piment.

My PCG guests are also usually a bit hesitant initially, but when I promise them that bonbons containing cherry blossoms, grilled black tea leaves, miso and rose petals may follow, they go along for the ride. Yes, Les Trois Chocolats is a Japanese chocolate chef and she brings Japanese inspired ingredients to her artisanal Paris chocolate kitchen. Her grandfather brought the art of French chocolate back to Japan decades ago but said she wanted to modernize her father and grandfather's traditional French chocolate recipes.

EdwarT chocolatier also has a bonbon called Bush Sauvage that contains a Tasmanian and Madagascar black pepper combination. This pepper flavor is more pronounced than at Les Trois Chocolats and both peppers are act like a wave alternating between the two very distinct pepper flavors. I'm finding that these dark chocolate bonbons pair well with French Syrah wines that are themselves peppery by nature.

To my friend's birthday dinner on Thursday I took some Saint-Nectaire cheese with Sancho I got at Taka et Vermo fromagerie around the corner from my apartment. The French dinner guests were a bit weary of my American adventurous spirit in the cheese selection as well (not many French folks like spicy food), but everyone loved it.

For the Love of Chocolate


Chocolate fruit in BALI!

Where does French chocolate come from on our Paris Chocolate walks and tasting experiences?

It starts in a bean (une fève de cacao) and ends in a bar (une tablette du chocolat). Or possibly the French chocolate chef could create it into a bonbon (i.e. a ganache or praliné filled candy)...we taste MOSTLY bonbons on the walks and tasting tours.

The chocolate fruit itself is a cacao pod and it looks like a brightly colored football when ripe containing cacao beans, i.e. seeds, covered in a white fleshy fruit. 

In January 2018 I was in small village in the mountains of Bali, so harvested a fruit on MY JUNGLE TREK and got to eat the seeds THANKS to the GUIDE AND HIS MACHETE. 

All around the cacao bean was the white pulp which tasted like a mix between strawberry, pineapple and banana and very sweet. Chewing the bitter cacao bean along with the chocolate fruit was a cacophony of flavors of tropical fruit, the chocolate taste we all love and earthy. YUMMY!

The French chocolate chefs tell their FARMERS HOW LONG TO FERMENT THE CACAO BEANS because that changes the flavor of fine French chocolate.

Please join me in Paris. For the Love of Chocolate!

If you love French chocolate, we've got you covered. Paris Chocolate Guru officially launched in December 2017 through Paris Airbnb Experiences. Due to overwhelming success of those initial chocolate guided visits through the Marais, with folks from all around the world, more chocolate-themed walks and experiences were conceived and have recently launched in Paris. 

If you want to meet happy people while visiting France, you need to go on a Paris chocolate walking tour. I'm not kidding, it must be the endorphin and anti-oxidant rush that single origin dark chocolate is known for. It's a fun way to learn about how the French chocolate makers (chocolatiers) act as caretakers - from the beans to the bars. Chocolate is born on plantations in the cacao belt, i.e. 20 degrees north and south of the equator, into the foodies' art form that French chocolate has become.

All Paris Chocolate Guru walks and experiences include at least one visit (and tasting) to a Paris chocolate shop...on one walk, we even go to FIVE shops so choose your Paris chocolate experience carefully. There are 40,000 restaurants in Paris...so if you're only here for a week or two you need to be selective about where you eat right?! The same goes for fine chocolate, in some Paris districts chocolate seems to be everywhere but don't be fooled.

In 2011 I started tasting chocolate at over 70 chocolate shops and learned that all French chocolate is not created equal. I hand selected each boutique that gets visited on these Paris chocolate walks over several years. I have researched the most-awarded chocolate chefs and then compared published tasting notes by German chef George Bernadini to what the chocolates tastes like in real life at each boutique. Many of these French chocolate chefs have their own plantations and/or give specific cacao bean fermentation instructions to the farmers they partner with.

TIP: The percentage of cacao on a label doesn't mean it'll be a great chocolate. The species of bean and how it was fermented and roasted matters a lot. The terroir of each country that the beans originate from is probably the most critical to giving chocolate complex flavor profiles: the climate, geography, surrounding lushness of vegetation (or not) and soil qualities (e.g. volcanic, peaty, sandy, etc.) should be evident in every bite of single origin chocolate. 

I'll give you the chocolate vocabulary and tasting method that you need to appreciate fine French chocolate on your trip to Paris. You'll learn some French along the way. It'll be fun! So join me...FOR THE LOVE OF CHOCOLATE!