GLOBE & MAIL: Raw chocolate bars are surprisingly sweet

Judging by the ever-growing popularity of ultradark chocolate bars, you might say the news about the health benefits of cocoa beans has been internalized.

David MacDonald, owner of the artisanal chocolate factory Olivia (named after his daughter) decided to see what would happen if he upped the “superfood” ante for his new line of bars: He keeps the cocoa raw rather than roasting it.

He says raw cocoa, like raw seeds, sprouts and vegetables, contains enzymes that improve digestion and nutrient absorption in the body. Originally, he planned to target health food stores and pharmacies – selling the raw bars alongside his traditional organic dark chocolate. “I saw it as a health product,” he says. “We didn’t expect it to taste good.”

Mr. MacDonald understands that the shiver-inducing astringency of cocoa beans is what gives some dark chocolate a bad name, and so at his factory in Cantley, Que., he experimented with a small-batch process. To his surprise, his test batch had a soft, rounded flavour and a natural sweetness that was sweeter than its roasted equivalent. Plus, similar to other fermented products such as wine and cheese, the flavour improves and mellows with age. “Some people say they taste nuts, some people taste fruity notes,” he says.

As a result, gourmet food shops across Ontario and Quebec are stocking his raw bars. At Ottawa’s specialty grocer Il Negozio Nicastro, chef Andrew Craig was inspired to develop a wine pairing workshop based on the bars. He pairs Olivia’s Raw 85% bar with pinot noir and the Raw 76% with gewürztraminer or a Canadian late-harvest riesling. No one is more amazed than the chocolate maker himself. “We never dreamed raw chocolate would have such a diverse flavour profile,” says Mr. MacDonald.

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Special to The Globe and Mail