A New Appreciation for an Ancient Favourite: Chocolate

My favourite chocolate story is one my grandfather used to tell. He was fighting with the British Army, stationed in a small town in Holland at the end of World War Two.  When the soldiers got news that the war was finally over, they went out and distributed all their chocolate rations amongst the children in the streets. I recently had the privilege of attending a chocolate seminar at French Mint, where I learned that the tradition of supplying soldiers with cacao products dates back to the time of the Aztecs. The Aztecs also provided this product; a frothy, ground cacao-based beverage, to men on their wedding nights, which brings us to this week’s chocolate holiday: St. Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate has long been used as a gift to demonstrate affection and also has an important association with a seductive power, so it is not surprising that it has become the offering of choice on February 14th.  Chocolate is the world’s second largest cash crop, following closely behind wheat. There is no doubt that it is appreciated year-round, however St. Valentine’s Day has become a time when we seek out the best, and pay attention to details that are often overlooked.

If you are truly passionate about chocolate, and wish to learn more about its history, as well as the political implications surrounding its production, then I highly recommend spending some time with David Mincey, Vancouver Island’s resident chocolate expert. His course, Chocolate – Food of the Gods, has been offered through UVic’s Continuing Studies department. The three-hour seminar I attended at French Mint was a condensed version of this course, but in that time he succeeded in completely transforming my view of chocolate. Sharing a selection from his personal chocolate cellar, students learned how to taste properly; take a small bite, chew and using your tongue, push the chocolate up to the roof of your mouth, allowing it to melt before you begin to swallow. Our palates were also developed so that by the end of the three hours we could distinguish whether the cacao beans used in the sample originated in South America (a noticeable fruitiness is detected in the flavour), or in Africa (a nuttier, somewhat drier taste on the tongue) where 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from.

For David Mincey, assessing the quality of your chocolate can be determined by looking at the ingredients list: the three top ingredients should be cocoa mass, sugar and cocoa butter. Lecithin, and vanilla are acceptable additives. Milk solids are also fine, if you are after a creamier flavour. But for the purists, anything beyond that is filler, and will distract from the authentic taste of chocolate. Over the past century, we have moved further away from this authentic chocolate product, and as a result, out tastebuds have become accustomed to more highly processed, altered versions.

It is, above all, a question of taste. You may prefer a chocolate confection to the pure product, and luckily, the array of choices available to us here in BC will easily cater to all. There are many local chocolate makers and pastry chefs doing exciting things incorporating local ingredients into their creations. If you are looking to support local chocolatiers this Valentine’s day, here is EAT’s list of the top ones on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the Lower Mainland. Click the links below to find out where they available.

Vancouver Island:

Terrible Truffles

Moziro Coffee Roasters and Chocolatiers

Organic Fair


Hot Chocolates

Dark Side Chocolates

Chocolate Tofino

Chocolat Chocolatiere de Victoria

Rogers’ Chocolates


Gulf Islands:

Denman Island Chocolates

Saltspring Island Chocolates

Cocoa West Chocolatier (Bowen Island)

Harlan’s Chocolates

Gabriola Island Chocolates


Lower Mainland:

Cocoa Nymph

Thomas Haas



Purdy’s Chocolates

Mink Chocolates

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