ESMERALDAS 50% VEGAN M!LK
Notes of gianduja and barley malt open as delicately as the blossoms of rare cacao and almond trees growing for this Arriba chocolate.
by Sarah Hoffmann
“Cane sugar, cocoa butter, rice drink powder and syrup, cocoa mass, tiger nuts, hazelnuts, vanilla, sea salt”. There are at least seven ingredients in this best-selling vegan mylk bar from a European-wide organic chocolate brand. By law, this product on the chocolate shelf cannot call itself chocolate. So why is it on the chocolate shelf and what exactly is it?
It is, paraphrasing food writer Michael Pollan, a food-like product of the type the Big Food industry has been stuffing us with for decades. Ultra-processed junk foods usually come in four intense flavours - salty, sweet, acidic, fatty - and, by now, account for half(!) of consumers’ daily caloric intake in some Western countries. More than 2 billion people are overweight, and 600 million are obese as a consequence. The chocolate industry’s big players, Big Candy like Barry Callebaut, Mars and Lindt, are all profiting from the junk food pandemic.
So resist we will. This time in the form of a climate-positive, delicious vegan m!lk chocolate which can claim to be a chocolate not only by law, but also by its taste. At Original Beans we follow a simple mantra when it comes to ingredients: “No More Than Four”. And so our Esmeraldas Vegan M!lk is based on three simple ingredients: cacao, cane sugar, and almonds. (Actually, there are four ingredients, since the cacao butter is pressed not from Esmeraldas Arriba, but from Dominican Trinitario beans. But we didn’t count that double for the other chocolate-type vegan mylk either.)
It was Leonardo da Vinci who said that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Leonardo may never have consumed chocolate, but in his practical, open mind would have appreciated the three stories of simplicity we are about to tell you. One about cacao, one about sugar and the final one about almonds, a product that was new to us and of which we learned a lot in the course of making the Esmeraldas 50% Vegan M!lk. (And so much is still to learn...)
Ingredient 1: Cacao
On a little clearing in one of Ecuador’s last Pacific rainforests, we meet Fernando. Fernando belongs to the indigenous Chachi community who have been growing rare Arriba cacao beans for a long time. Nestled at the edge of the Cotacachi Cayapas Nature Reserve, many hours up the Cayapas river, his cacao garden holds several hundred pure Arriba Nacional cacao trees. This rare cacao varietal is known for floral and nutty flavour notes. Just this year, with the support of Original Beans’ One Bar : One Tree programme, Fernando and his peers in the Chachi community built a large new tree nursery to replenish their Arriba cacao gardens. The work on this project was hard, but also a lot of fun, since the entire community came together to sweat and curse and laugh for several days as the roof construction for the nursery went up and hundreds of cacao beans deep into the seedbags. Jan, our Head of the Bean Team, was there with them not to advise from the sideline, but to help right where it’s needed. “A high cacao price helps our families and our forests directly”, says Fernando and confirms why it’s important to pay a multiple even of the Fairtrade price, as we do (1,75 times Fairtrade in 2020). In the end, it’s the cacao that makes the chocolate; that is, when you allow its flavours to come through, rather than suffocating them with too many other ingredients.
Ingredient 2: Sugar
The very same holds for sugar. A well grown, simply processed cane sugar from a good origin makes a lot of flavour difference. And so we travel some three thousand kilometres south-east of the Cachi to Guarambaré in Paraguay where we meet Araceli. A young woman in her 30ties, she has worked for the La Felsina sugar company for several years. On a tour through the mill, she tells us how the company was started nearly 100 years ago by an Italian immigrant family. Today, La Felsina is a leading craft sugar maker in Paraguay, the country which leads organic and fairtrade cane sugar production worldwide. Araceli makes the point that sugar from cane grown here has a 40% lower carbon footprint than European sugar from beet. Soil compaction and high energy costs weigh heavily on the beet sugar, and sea freighting La Felsina’s products across the ocean is just a fraction of that.
But making the most of the tropical sun’s regenerative powers is not the only benefit of sourcing here. Social responsibility at La Felsina includes employing hundreds of local people and funding their children’s schools.
In the end, it comes down to taste again. There is a lot of sugar in the Esmeraldas Vegan M!lk, all in all 30%. But while this chocolate is a sweet treat, its sweetness is light, and balanced, and natural. A sophisticated sweetness, Leonardo would say.
Ingredient 3: Almond
To grasp the sophisticated simplicity of almonds we find ourselves back in Europe, in the Villena Valley of Alicante in Spain. Here we meet Jose, an organic almond farmer, in his picturesque almond grove. Jose was born and raised between Almond trees and thus amidst the legacy of the Arab population who settled in this region several centuries ago. From Jose we learn that up until the 18th century, almond cultivation was part of the subsistence of local people here, much as cacao still is in parts of Ecuador. Almonds were a staple food in the diet of Jose’s ancestors. Today, they are an important commercial crop in the region and there is much ongoing research and breeding of almond varieties. Climate change and the increasing draughts in Spain are making the combination of modern techniques with traditional knowledge all the more important. Jose and his peers in the community have grown several late flowering varieties for at least one generation of which the Guara stands out. The Guara’s nutritional and organoleptic qualities make it a favourite, also among organic almond growers. “We grow our almonds with organic methods. This includes that we work hard to restore and maintain our soils, also against upcoming desertification in the hinterland”, says Jose.
In the end, it isn’t only traditional growing, solid breeding, careful harvesting (shaking) and processing (blanching) we make use of for the Esmeraldas Vegan M!lk, but also a hightech temperature-controlled protein press that allows us to add 5% raw almond protein.
Old and new, far and nearer: it is the art and ethics of simplicity which combine no more than four ingredients into a rich, vegan (and climate-positive) chocolate experience. That’s what we strive for at Original Beans when we follow our motto to taste the rare and preserve it. We hope it’s an experience you want to take home. We hope it’s an experience you will tell others about.
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