There was once a little girl from down under,
Who dreamed of creating chocolate, her eyes filled with wonder.
The girl yearned to make her bars into the world’s very best.
And was willing to put them through every possible test.
When she grew up, she became a great chef.
Her food healed all people, like Tom, Dick and Jeff.
All over she traveled and finally found, a bounty of raw cacao bean pods.
So she fought all the people who said: ‘Impossible! It’s against all odds.’
Until one day, voila! Her dreams had come true.
She had made the world’s best chocolate for herself and her crew.
November 2017 Update: Raiz The Bar has now shut down operations.
Buzz and branding surround many of the world’s chocolatiers but did you know that the majority of them are just melting down chocolate paste blocks (also known as chocolate liquor), adding flavourings and preservatives and then moulding the blended liquid into the shape of their choice: bars, truffles, etc… Chocolate paste/liquor is a big business with a few key players controlling the global supply. For all intents and purposes, these companies dictate the quality, taste and price of all the world’s chocolate. Carving out your own single-origin, fairtrade, organic, raw vegan chocolate bar brand is no easy feat. But Priscilla Soligo, founder of Raiz The Bar and Chief Chocolate Maker, is not looking for easy.
Cacao Origins: Behind The Bean To Bar Philosophy
In order to understand just how special and unique Raiz The Bar chocolate bars are, we need to take you on a journey deep into the universe of chocolate making. As with enology, this is a layered, complex world full of twists and turns- each of which represents a choice that impacts the final product, just like with wine. It begins with cacao plantations. Today, cacao trees can be found in equatorial regions across the globe though they are native to Latin America. The trees produce cacao pods, inside of which you will find cacao beans wrapped in a white fleshy rind.
Where and how the cacao beans grow influences the flavour greatly. For example, Peru & Ecuador proffer beans that are more smokey and less fatty while Ivory Coast beans tend to be earthier. Cacao farmers follow varying growing philosophies though inter-cropping is one of the most common, which is the practice of growing the trees interspersed with other crops like tobacco plants or coconut palms. These other trees creates the cacao bean’s flavour profile. But a key takeaway here is that the vast majority of the chocolate produced today is made from a mix of cacao beans, for obvious reasons such as: supply consistency, cost fluctuations, weather vagaries…
Here we have the first of many differences between Raiz The Bar and other chocolate brands. Her beans are from one country, one region, one cooperative of farmers- this is the essence of the bean to bar philosophy that she so passionately espouses. It is a testament to Soligo’s commitment to perfection that she has tried and tested beans from every cacao-growing country in the world. The beans she eventually fell in love with hail from lush Indonesian rainforests. From the fertile soil to the coffee and banana inter-crops to the family farmers she knows personally to the Asian identity they bestow upon her brand, the Indonesian beans she uses exclusively are essential to her product. She wants complete traceability, farmers with abundant livelihoods and perhaps most of all, a fruitier and fattier bean. It is generally agreed upon that cacao beans have a fat content of 50%, give or take. But the give or take part is key for Soligo- she reckons her beans ring in at 55% fat, resulting in a far more buttery chocolate, an improvement in flavour and texture she takes great pride in, and rightly so.
The Fermentation Process: Keeping It Raw
Unsurprisingly, most chocolate is not raw (and it’s worth saying that not everyone agrees that raw is better when it comes to taste). Rather, it is made from roasted, de-husked cacao beans. Before roasting and processing, all cacao beans go through a fermentation process- this dries out the white flesh and turns the inside bean into what we would recognise as the beginnings of chocolate. Pre-fermenting they are not even brown-colored! In order to keep the beans in a raw state, they cannot ever be exposed to temperatures above 48 degrees Celsius. This is highly difficult to control- but it just so happens that the Indonesian farmers she works with use ingenious flat wooden fermentation slats that enable the beans to remain raw. Soligo explains that many chocolate brands that are marketed as raw cannot actually verify that their ingredients have remained raw throughout (a similar problem exists with cashew nuts- removing them from their outer shells is extremely dangerous and labour-intensive, so heat is often used though packaging labels do not disclose this fact).
A Lesson In Technique: Winnowing >> Conching >> Tempering
Once the beans arrive in Raiz The Bar’s allergen-free factory in Kwun Tong, the real work starts. In fact, Raiz The Bar is Hong Kong’s first (and only) chocolate company that winnows, conches and tempers its own cacao paste/liquor. This involves specialty machinery, the likes of which are a made-to-order affair and took years of sourcing to find. First comes the winnower. Winnowing is the process of removing the husk from the beans. Since the great majority of chocolatiers use ready-made paste/liquor, they wouldn’t need a winnower. Nor would they need a conch, a.k.a. a stone grinder, which takes the de-husked bean pieces (nibs) and grinds it into a paste. How long you conch your cacao affects the end result greatly- Raiz The Bar does so for up to 4 days, which is highly unusual, not to mention time- and resource-intensive.
Post conching, the chocolate is then tempered in the tempering machine, along with raw cacao butter and raw evaporated coconut palm sugar. If you have trialled and/or made a great deal of raw chocolate like we have, you will be familiar with its quick-to-melt soft texture and sometimes gritty texture. Basically, it is liquid at room temperature because from a structural point of view it is uncrystallized- essentially, it is formless. In laymen terms, tempering creates the density and stability that a chocolate bar requires to remain solid at room temperature. This is where things get sexy. Well, chemistry-sexy if that does it for you. How you program your tempering machine in order to create beta-5 crystals without any of the other lower form of beta crystals is the secret sauce of true chocolate makers. The fact that Soligo attains this while remaining below 48 degrees Celsius is nothing short of incredible. She is a true master of her art.
Beyond The Beans
As a raw food chef and devoted vegan, Soligo wanted a chocolate that was as pure, as low-GI and as allergen-free as possible, without compromising on taste. She went through every sugar alternative and found coconut sugar to be ideal: it has a mapley richness that pairs perfectly with cacao, is available in a raw form, and does not cause blood sugar spikes. If it isn’t already abundantly clear, Soligo is deeply motivated to source only the very best ingredients. All her flavourings are cold-pressed and organic plant oil essences. The organic raspberry, mulberry and blueberry toppings are dehydrated by hand on the premises and she creates her own bio-active spirulina buckwheat crunch from scratch. Soligo has a knack for unusual yet complimentary flavour pairings- but the bars contain health properties too. As a devoted mother of two, Soligo was also looking to make a final product that was as nourishing as it was delicious- the bars contain superfoods like chaga mushrooms, chia seeds and acai berry. Our favourites? Youthful Me (orange with white mulberry), packed with anti-ageing resveratrol and Energise Me (mint activated buckwheat, spirulina and chia), full of bio-available protein and omega-3 brainpower.
Raiz The Bar is the real deal: a pioneering cacao company on a mission to create the world’s freshest, yummiest and healthiest raw chocolate, founded by two certified raw nutritionist Oompa Loompa sisters from down under- Soligo runs the company with her sister Rachel Whitfield- who watched Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory as little girls and dared to imagine that one day they would build their very own. We still can’t believe they are doing it right here in Hong Kong! Dreams do come true.
For stockists and more information, visit www.raizthebar.com.
Photo credits: Fresh Cacao from São Tomé & Príncipe via photopin (license)– all other images by Green Queen.