Healthy Halloween with Root Chocolate

Happy Halloween!

You may expect a rant about Halloween chocolate or a self-righteous monograph about how I don’t eat junk candy. But, to be honest, I love candy corn and Swedish fish and even Milky Way bars! We don’t eat too many sweets, but every once in a while, the candies from my childhood provide that comfort of sugary deliciousness.

Our apartment complex didn’t get any trick-or-treaters last year, so we don’t expect many (if at all) this year either. Still, we have our costumes ready to go (Carmen Sandiego and Wayne’s World – pictures to come) and some baby pumpkins decorating our front step.

So, today I’d like to take a positive spin on this mostly unhealthy holiday to cover some of the research on the health benefits of chocolate.

First, some caveats:

  1. I’m not going to claim that chocolate is straight-up good for you or that it can cure cancer. Chocolate still has components that are bad for you.
  2. The chocolate I’m referring to is at least 70% dark chocolate with no additives. We’re not going to make any claims about confections or candy here.
  3. I am not a scientist or doctor, do not take I write here as fact. Take a look at the linked articles and studies, then decide for yourself!

Lower fat & cholesterol

Some chocolate companies are marketing lower fat and cholesterol bars. I’m guessing that means they have a lower cocoa butter content, which is the fatty portion of chocolate. Though less fat is for the most part, better for you, recent studies are showing that the particular fats in chocolate aren’t as bad as other fats. Cocoa beans contain oleaic acid, which is what’s found in olive oil, as well as stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are saturated fats, which typically increase your cholesterol level. However, stearic acid has been found to have little to no effect on cholesterol, while palmitic does increase it. Bottom line – chocolate isn’t as fatty as you might have thought, if you stick to high percentage chocolate without many (if any) additives.

And if you’re really concerned about the amount of fat in your Halloween candy, check out this article that shows you how to exercise off each kind of candy you may pick up tonight.

Neural health

A study last year by the Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) shows that cocoa polyphenols can protect neurons in your brain, reducing the chances of Parkinson’s or Alzeimer’s. To learn more, read this.


Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, similar to tea and red wine. These act as antioxidants, which have been discussed as providing a wide range of health benefits, including reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, combating immuno-deficiency conditions, scavenging free-radicals, and preventing coronary heart disease. You can read more on


A study earlier this year shows that chocolate, when broken down by good bacteria in the stomach (probiotics, anyone?), turns into anti-inflammatory compounds, lowering the risk of coronary heart disease. Read more here and here.

Mood enhancer

Finally, there’s the health benefit that I find most convincing. Chocolate contains Theobromine (a stimulant less powerful than caffeine), Tryptophan (an amino acid that our bodies turns into seratonin, which is associated with a good mood), Phenylethylamine (an amphetamine), and Anandamide (triggering the same region of the brain as cannibis). Though these components of chocolate may be too minimal to cause any effect, my opinion is that whether or not there is a scientific link between chocolate and an improved mood, a cheery and energetic attitude is correlated with eating chocolate.

Tell me, have you ever eaten a good piece of chocolate and become more grouchy? That’s what I thought!

So, enjoy your Halloween. Eat high quality chocolate (in moderation) without the guilt. And make time for some exercise, just in case!

An Oregon Experience

Last weekend, Richard and I had the opportunity to travel to Oregon. The long weekend took us outside of our comfort zone and into a land of beautiful scenery, lots of rain, and delicious chocolate!

We spent one night at a funky off-the-grid community, where we slept in a one-room cabin with a wood-burning stove. We spent another night in a tree house hotel called Out and About Treesort, where we slept in a tree. Both locations had shared kitchens, minimal luxuries, and no cell phone reception. It was amazing to go off the grid and disconnect for a little while!

Richard at the top of Out and About Treesort

Richard at the top of Out and About Treesort

We also checked out Crater Lake in a whiteout snow storm, visited Deschutes Brewery, hiked around waterfalls near Portland, and attended a performance called Cirque Zuma Zuma, showcasing African performers in Bend.

Crater Lake in a snow storm

Crater Lake in a snow storm

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with chocolate. Well, during our trip, we also were honored to visit John Nanci, the Chocolate Alchemist himself, in Eugene.

Chocolate Alchemist's Workshop

Chocolate Alchemist’s Workshop

We also met Sebastian of Cocanu and explored the amazing chocolate museum/store, Cacao in Portland. We picked up Clay Gordon’s book and a craft chocolate tasting kit at Powell Books and brought home some Taza stone-ground chocolate rounds and a Lille Belle Farms (southern Oregon) bar made of chocolate aged in whiskey barrels!

Sebastian of Cocanu

Sebastian of Cocanu

I’ll be posting about our adventures and what we’ve learned from our travels in the days to come. Look out for posts coming on our newest batch of chocolate, on the varieties of cocoa beans we picked up from John Nanci, on updates on roasting and tempering, and on new mystery ingredients we may be adding to our chocolate soon!

Eight-five percent

Last week, we finished another batch of delicious chocolate. This time, we tried four distinctly new ideas: a new roasting profile, a higher percentage cocoa, a longer refining time, and finally, a different temperature range for tempering. And the result? Smooth deliciousness!


Rather than our typical 400 degree hit, followed by 15-20 minutes at 250, we tried a roasting profile inspired by some comments Chloe made when we chatted at Dandelion a few weeks ago. This time, we let the initial 1249 grams of Madagascar cocoa beans roast at 225 F for 45 minutes. That’s the longest we’ve ever roasted beans, even for our first roasting test, when we came up with the Xtra Toasty chocolate! We quickly cooled the beans on our quartz board and let them sit there for about 15 minutes.

After passing the beans through mock 2 of Richard’s fancy winnower (see the beans in their hopper below) and a quick pass through with the hairdryer, we were left with 878 grams of nibs.



Now comes the second experiment. We added only 155 grams of further refined cane sugar. The result is an eighty-five percent bar. This diverges from the seventy percent bar that many consider the most optimum way to experience chocolate. Dandelion did an eighty-five percent bar last year with Rio Caribe (Venezuelan) beans, and we really liked it! Dandelion even has gone so far as to develop a 100% chocolate bar – that’s no sugar added. Their cafe manager, Jenna, writes about her experience with the 100% bar here.

Our final eighty-five percent bars are definitely intense with a lot of really interesting flavor notes. We’ll continue to experiment with higher percentages, taking our chocolate even closer to its roots!

Refining Time

This time, we let the Premier Wonder Grinder run for a full thirty-three hours, nine hours longer than we’ve ever done before. We added the refined sugar about nine hours into the refining process, to let the nibs refine on their own first. Since then, we’ve learned more thanks to comments from Robbie of Ritual Chocolate on a previous post. We’ll continue to refine our sugar refining process and will try adding it sooner next time! Either way, these thirty-three hours made the chocolate quite smooth and creamy. I think we’ll aim for these longer refining periods moving forward.

Tempering Temperatures

The final experiment has to do with tempering temperatures. We tried to follow Mr. Van Leer’s advice and initially raised the temperature of the chocolate to 105 degrees. We brought it quickly down to 84 on the quartz, table tempering the chocolate liquor. Then, we raised it up to 90 degrees in the microwave. The result was a failed knife test. Clearly, this is still the most challenging part of our chocolate-making.

We tried again, taking the temperature up to 112 in the microwave, then dropping it to 82 on the quartz table, then bringing it back up to 92 before pouring into the molds. We still had a small amount of bloom, but it looks better than previous batches.

root chocolate poured into molds

We’re improving and learning so much! Please let us know if you have any advice for us, particularly around tempering!

Just a quick note of thanks to all of our readers – please let us know if there’s anything in particular you’d like us to look into, investigate, or experiment with. We’re open to ideas and very invested in keeping this a genuine and honest source of information for chocolate makers and afficionados everywhere!

Chocolate memories

Taste, like smell, holds incredible memory power, so naturally, chocolate memories are clearly etched in my mind. Three moments in particular stand out for me, for their flavor and their impact on my chocolate journey.

The first took place when I was twelve years old. My family had moved from California to Georgia a few years earlier, causing my best friend and I to be separated by over 2,000 miles. When her Bat Mitzvah approached, my mom agreed to take me out to California for a mother-daughter trip, including attending the big event. I had never been to a Bat Mitzvah before, and Stephanie’s was impressive for its glittery decorations, for the incredible number of guests, and for all that I learned about Judaism that day. Also on that trip, my mom and I visited Ghirardelli Square, watched chefs making chocolate behind the glass windows, and ate massive chocolate sundaes together. The trip made me feel grown up and close to my mom in a new way. It was also my first memorable moment with chocolate!

1998-11 giradelli

The next experience took place about six years later. I was studying abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico, doing an internship with Adelante Abroad and immersing myself in Spanish. One of my favorite things to do in a new place is walk the streets, observing the people and the culture in action. So, I spent many days walking around the main square or Zocalo. A large part of it was under construction, so I often had to weave through scaffolding to visit the smaller alleys and walkways. One day, I came across the Mayordomo main storefront. The walls are lined with chocolate products, stacked all the way to the ceiling! I had never seen anything like it, and it smelled amazing. I bought a few grainy rounds of the thick drinking chocolate as souvenirs for my friends and family. The unique flavors of this chocolate were different from any chocolate I had ever experienced. I was by no means an expert then (nor do I claim to be now), but I could tell it was something special.

Recently, I visited some old friends. One of them is pregnant and due in January. I asked her if she ever has any cravings now. She shook her head, saying that she just eats more than usual. Then she paused and remembered out loud, she actually did crave something – that crazy chocolate I had brought her from Mexico back in high school! I couldn’t believe she remembered the chocolate I brought her almost 10 years ago and went online to see if I could order some to give her as a baby present. Unfortunately Mayordomo only has online sales for Mexican addresses. If anyone knows where I can buy Mayordomo in the US, particularly in the Bay Area in California, I’d really appreciate it!

The third memory I’ll mention for now happened earlier this year. In April, Richard led a backpacking trip for a group of our friends to the Lost Coast in the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, which is a beautiful and remote area of California. We packed light but needed to carry in (and out) all of our food. I had been unsatisfied with trail mixes recently, so I made my own, including some Hershey’s milk chocolate chips I found in the back of the pantry. Later, when we reached the beach where we’d camp for the night, we pulled out the trail mix to re-energize. (Side note – this part was absolutely stunning and I highly recommend this hike for the adventurous trekker!) Yum, it tasted delicious!

lost coast

Recently, when I re-tasted the trail mix, I almost spit out the chocolate chips, a reaction Richard had when he first tasted the mix back in April. Our chocolate tastes have clearly evolved this year. In fact, I think we’re becoming chocolate snobs!

What are your more memorable chocolate moments? Share in the comments below!

Where do cacao farmers fit in?

Most chocolate consumers don’t consider where their chocolate is coming from. Those of you reading this blog are already ahead of your peers, because you’re educating yourself about the process, about what it takes to bring those tasty bars of chocolate to your tongue.

Even then, the majority of what I’ve covered so far involves the processing end of chocolate, once it’s considered cocoa. However, there’s a whole world of chocolate that occurs before the beans are hard and dry. That’s the world of the cacao farmers. I’ve discussed the importance of knowing the supply chain of your food, and the concept of slow food. It’s also important to consider the individuals who plant the cacao trees, cut down the cacao pods, and open them up to ferment and dry the cacao beans.

Recently, a video of a cacao farmer tasting chocolate for the first time went viral. The video was produced by Dutch news outlet, Metropolis. NPR covers the story focusing on the divide between producers and consumers. Metropolis also covered the other end of the story: what Dutch chocolate consumers feel and know about the plant their chocolate came from.

A few chocolate-makers are already paying close attention to the farmers, incorporating them into their decision-making process, and ensuring that their voices are included at the table of the chocolate industry. For example, SPAGnVOLA in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is a vertically integrated chocolate business. They own their own farm in the Dominican Republic and control every part of chocolate production, from branch to bar. I highly recommend taking a look at their single estate system and impressive impact strategy. Eric Reid, CEO and Founder, explains his strategy on a visit to Nigeria here.

Additionally, Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Missouri, provides one of my favorite models for a chocolate company. They practice direct trade (something we’d love to do here at Root Chocolate). They also incorporate the farmers they work with in their financial decisions with a strategy they call “a stake in the outcome,” and provide community development support through “a product of change.” Shawn Askinosie also operates Chocolate University, teaching local kids the ins and outs of chocolate and leads trips to Tanzania to share the chocolate journey with those who produce the chocolate in the first place. Shawn gave a commencement address to Missouri State University in December 2011 that still gives me chills.

We’d love to meet these exemplary leaders in the chocolate industry some day! Both Eric Reid and Shawn Askinosie consider the well-being of the cacao farmers just as important as the rest of the chocolate-making process. And frankly, chocolate wouldn’t happen without them, so we agree!

In a recent conversation with Yellow Seed about importing cocoa beans as a network of chocolate makers, an interesting idea came up. What if, just like we chocolate-makers choose which farmers or co-ops to source our beans from, the farmers themselves have the chance to decide which chocolate-makers to sell their beans to? In other words, why not provide some agency to the farmers in the process?

In this world of international trade, inequality, and scarcity, I’m still working out how to best incorporate the interests and voices of the cacao farmers into the chocolate we produce. Thankfully, there are leaders in the industry like SPANgVOLA and Askinosie. If you have additional ideas, please feel free to comment below!

Advice from Experts

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with two true chocolate experts. The first was Chloe Doutre-Roussel, author of The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone With a Passion for Chocolate. We sat at Dandelion in San Francisco, where she was doing a book signing on her way up to the Northwest Chocolate Festival last weekend.

I felt honored to spend some time talking to Chloe about her vast experience with chocolate. I sat down with a Mission hot chocolate from Dandelion and when the chocolate-making staff at Dandelion joined us, I felt totally surrounded by experts. I had the opportunity to show them my bean to bar activities at home, and we discussed roasting and winnowing issues.

Landen and Chloe Doutre-Roussel

The second expert was Tad Van Leer. I’ll go into detail about my conversation with Mr. Van Leer – I learned a lot! Mr. Van Leer grew up and worked in his family’s chocolate manufacturing company, Van Leer Chocolate, until selling to Barry Callebaut in 1999, and more recently worked as General Manager of J. Emanuel Chocolatier, in Chester, NJ. His Van Leer chocolate was named the top chocolate in the world in a blind taste test at Chez Panisse in 1995 by Cook’s Illustrated also our cocoa powder was the top choice by Cook’s in 1999, and was the chocolate provider for the White House from Carter to Clinton’s presidency.

I also happened to go to high school with Mr. Van Leer’s daughter, Liz. So, it was an honor to be able to reconnect and discuss his background and recommendations in the world of chocolate. And some of what we discussed melded well with some of the lessons I’ve previously learned and other parts were entirely new and different! There is a wide range of advice out there as far as how to make chocolate, and we’re open to learning it all!

Let’s go through the chocolate-making process and I’ll highlight the new and different bits from my conversation with Mr. Van Leer.


Mr. Van Leer recommends getting cocoa beans from Ghana. He loves the Accra beans; they have “the cleanest flavor” and ferment better than anywhere else. Ghana beans also have the best yield, have more cocoa butter, and have the truest “chocolate flavor”. They are also the beans that went into the chocolate that won Van Leer Chocolate all its awards. Previously we had heard that most of the best bean genetics (Criollo) are in Latin America. Now we’re looking forward to expanding our bean sourcing horizon! He suggests that everyone develop their own taste rather than taking the advice of others.


Using screens to filter the nibs and husks could improve the speed and quality of the winnowing process. Using screens after cracking allows the nibs to go through the screen while keeping the shell above. One can then easily “blow” the shells away. Using a series of smaller screens mimics a true winnower, and will give you the cleanest nibs.


Rather than our intensive kill step at 400 degrees, then dropping to 250 degrees, Mr. Van Leer recommends a completely new way of roasting (two step process): one to pop the shells, and again after winnowing and cracking the beans, never taking the temperature above 212 F. This allows for a more even roast with more of a consistent sized nib. Cocoa beans are of varied size- roasting them as whole beans over roasts small beans and under roasts larger ones. He suggests roasting with steam in a drum, something we haven’t heard before and are curious to try. Some of the roasting devices used by other bean-to-bar makers look like engineering feats out of Star Wars, particularly Art Pollard’s creation at Amano Artisan Chocolate. I encourage anyone interested in this to check out the documentary, Bean to Bar, which can be viewed on IndieFlix. If you roast in an oven ensure that the nibs are even on the pan. Coffee drum roasters also work well.


Mr. Van Leer’s refining recommendations were the most different from our previous advice. He suggests using a mill only to make the chocolate liquor. From there, the best refiner for uniform particle size is the three roll refiner. We’ve seen these before – Ritual Chocolate uses one, and goes into more detail on it here. Mr. Van Leer recommends a particle size of less than 25 microns, and encourages us to refine sugar to small particle size as well! He suggests refining the chocolate liquor and the sugar together. This makes for more uniform mass and also improves the conching flavor. Using a three roll refiner allows more fat release from the bean which makes the mass flow better, reducing the viscosity.


Another idea is to remove the chocolate from the Premier Wonder Grinder for further conching in a Kitchen Aid mixer, placed on a heating pad at about 145 F for 12 hours. At the moment, we’re conching directly in the grinder, so this could provide an alternative method! We learned that “cheap” chocolate is conched in a grinder- you usually get a less consistent flavor and the particle sizes are not uniform. He suggests tasting a cheap Easter Bunny from CVS or Walmart as an example.


Tempering seems to be a point of agreement (besides the exact temperatures) among chocolate-makers. Mr. Van Leer recommends starting the chocolate liquor at 105, then cooling rapidly to 85 degrees, then heating it back to 90-92 F. He suggests a microwave at power level 3 (for about a pound of chocolate) and stirring often. His recommended test is not paper or a knife, but rather to pour it into a small flat mold and see if it shrinks with no discoloration. If that works, then the chocolate has been tempered appropriately.


Finally, Mr. Van Leer suggests using polycarbonate molds, found online at many sites including TomricMicelli, and Chef Rubber among others. At the moment, we’re using some polypropelene and some silicone molds – neither are amazing, so we’re definitely open to alternatives.

This was quite an educational conversation and we’re excited to stay in touch as we build out our recipes and process further! Let us know if there are additional chocolate experts you’d like to hear from, and we’ll try to get in touch to share their knowledge as well!

Madagascar batch

This week we made chocolate again and this time, it was delicious, fun, and scientifically documented. Who am I kidding – that’s always what our chocolate-making process looks like!

(Side note – we wish we could be in two places at once, but we will not be able to attend the Northwest Chocolate Festival this weekend. Instead, we’ll be celebrating our wedding anniversary and attending a good friend’s wedding in Kansas City. For all you chocolate-makers out there, let us know how it goes, and we’ll see you there next year!)

We started this batch on Friday the 26th with the roast. Using the Madagascar 2012 harvest that our friends, David and Leslie at Arete generously donated to our “research and development” fund, we put 932 grams of beans on our two new trays into the oven.

roasting Madagascar beans

We roasted them for 5 minutes at 400, then 15 minutes at 250, then finally 10 minutes with the oven off. Then we removed them from the oven and placed them to quickly cool on our new homemade (!) quartz table. (Richard re-designed our entire apartment to include a chocolate factory in our former dining room a couple weeks ago while I was away at a wedding, including building our new tempering table from a beautiful chunk of quartz and some Ikea table legs – wow!)

quartz tempering table

On Monday night, we had our next chance to work on chocolate. It was time to test the winnower that Richard built out of our vacuum cleaner, a bucket, some serious tubes, duct tape, and the champion juicer. Check it out! This is mock 1 and we definitely have some ways to go on improving this, but I’m super impressed with the speed and ease of winnowing with this! Our first batch had a 65% yield of 607 grams, which we intend to improve with some adjustments to the engineering.

roaster and new winnower

We sent the nibs through our trusty Nutribullet to make them into a powder, then put the grinder, rollers, and resulting cocoa powder in the oven to heat. We set the oven to 200 F then turned it off before putting the items in. We’ve learned that the refining process is a lot smoother (and less noisy) if we heat our tools and ingredients first!

I then spooned in the cocoa powder slowly over 45 minutes, using a heat gun to warm the powder and the grinder as the cocoa mass began to liquify. By 10:35pm, all the powder was in the wonder grinder and we were off to bed!

The next morning at 8am, the liquid looked beautiful (and tasted like chocolatey mud)! Richard added 236 grams of sugar, which he had previously ground in a coffee grinder, making 72% chocolate.

Tuesday night, we finished it off with an hour and a half of conching with the spring-loaded grinder unlatched, so the wheels turned freely in the cocoa liquor without the pressure of refining as well. At 9pm, we turned off the wonder grinder and started tempering! We tried some new tempering scrapers and abandoned them halfway through for our trusty Home Depot plastic paint scrapers. Sometimes fancier doesn’t equate to more functional. That said, the quartz table worked perfectly!

tempering table

To temper, we raised the temperature to 112 in the microwave, then poured the liquid out onto the table. We agitated it and spread it around, reducing the temperature to 81 F with very few chunks. In previous batches, when we hit the low 80s, the chocolate tends to chunk off, which makes it difficult to later reintegrate as a liquid. This time, we encountered much less of that for some reason.

We tried a knife test to check the temper, which was inconclusive. Maybe we don’t wait long enough to see if it hardens with a shiny, hard coat. Maybe we eat it off the end of the knife too quickly. We’ll never know!

We decided to go for it – we poured the chocolate into our molds and for the first time, it oozed into them easily without clumping at all. We tried vibrating the molds by hand, to ease the chocolate into every nook and cranny, and in the process were able to successfully remove bubbles as well!

Madagascar bars

Overall, I’m pretty pumped about this batch. We simplified some of the steps and were more successful at most of them as well. Here’s what the final products look like – much less bloom than previously, beautifully shiny (especially that big one on the right), and delicious. We still have lots to learn, but we’re definitely improving!

Madagascar chocolate

Cottage Food Operations (CFO) and Chocolate

You may be wondering when we’re going to get on with making this delicious hobby into a business. Well, we’re not quite there yet, but I’ll share one option we’re considering: the CFO or Cottage Food Operation.

First of all, to operate a food business is no easy task, particularly in this litigious society of ours where McDonalds needs to label coffee as hot and Nytol has to label sleeping tablets with “may cause drowsiness.” There are quite a few licenses and permits and certifications required before one is legally able to sell food in the United States, and in our case, in San Mateo County, California. Specifically, the ability to make and sell food from a home kitchen raised enough interest that California passed a law that went into effect January 1, 2013, called the California Homemade Food Act.

The bill allows individuals to prepare and/or package certain non-potentially hazardous foods in private-home kitchens referred to as “cottage food operations” (CFOs).

All cottage food operators will have to meet specified requirements pursuant to the California Health and Safety Code related to preparing foods that are on the approved food list, completing a food processor training course within three months of registering, implementing sanitary operations, establishing state and federal compliant labels, and operating within established gross annual sales limits.

There are many benefits of this law. The biggest is that it is now possible to sell food made in your home! The law provides clear requirements in order to legally set up a business that sells non-perishable food made in a home kitchen.

There are also a few limitations. The one that is most challenging, in my opinion, is that cottage food operations are not allowed to sell products online or outside of the state of California. They may only be sold for pickup or delivery, or in the case of Class B permit, through a third party like a bakery or a chocolate shop. Additionally, there are annual income ceilings, specific food lists, and incredible labeling requirements. Finally, every county has a slightly different process, so a lot of detailed research is required before starting the steps required to legally sell as a CFO.

Our friends at Letterpress Chocolate are on their way to successful sales as a CFO, so we know it’s possible.

There are a few useful guidelines out there as to how to get started with filing the appropriate paperwork in order to start a CFO. Here are our favorites:

We’ve also discovered a few outlets for sales, if/when we get this going:

I hope these resources are useful to others considering this option. We’ll keep you updated on our process as well, particularly if we decide to take the CFO route! Leave us your thoughts below – are you considering a CFO? Where do you produce your bean-to-bar chocolate?