For over 20 years, Vital Choice has been sourcing the finest fish on the planet and recently expanded its offerings to other outstanding proteins, such as grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork. Now, Vital Choice’s repertoire of better-for-you food has expanded to include chocolate.
These chocolate bars are produced in small batches with simple — and pronounceable — ingredients, says Kelsey Carlstrom, associate merchandising manager at Vital Choice. There are only three of them — cacao beans, cane sugar, and cocoa butter — and they’re all organic. The cacao is direct trade, which means that the farmers and women’s cooperatives that process the chocolate’s raw materials are compensated fairly at a living wage. In turn, they can support their families and give back to their communities.
What you won’t see in the ingredients list are added dairy, soy, gluten, or emulsifiers.
The bars are also vegan, non-GMO, and never processed with alkali, a soluble salt obtained from the ashes of plants and consisting largely of potassium or sodium carbonate. When you alkalize the cacao (a process invented in Holland, so it’s known as the Dutch process), a substantial portion of it gets stripped of its antioxidants, substances that may protect you from heart disease. These same antioxidants are also found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices.
“We really want to provide dark chocolate and all its benefits to our customers so they can feel good about satisfying their sweet tooth,” Carlstrom says. That’s how chocolate came about in the first place, says Judy Olsen, who’s been a product manager at Vital Choice for 13 years. The brand, she adds, “always wanted to sell food that’s trusted.”
To get the full benefits of dark chocolate, the bars need to be made with 70% or 80% cacao. Like tea, berries, and red wine, unprocessed cocoa and dark chocolates made from it are rich in potent polyphenol antioxidants. The polyphenols in cocoa may help lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) when eaten with other foods, like nuts. In fact, the darkest chocolates are known to offer more of these antioxidants than such super foods as blueberries and acai berries.
Who can produce such a fine chocolate bar?
For nearly 15 years, chocolate was a top-selling product for Vital Choice, but it stopped offering the tasty treat due to a supplier issue. After a two-year break, it found a new supplier that meticulously handcrafts chocolate from bean to bar. Now we cannot tell you its name because, like the recipe, it’s top secret. Just know that this new supplier “stands for all the aspects we want out of our chocolate,” Carlstrom says.
Washington State isn’t known for its cacao fields, so the supplier works with producers in three countries: Dominican Republic, Peru, and Uganda. Once all the cacao is secured, it’s brought to their 8,000-square-foot factory for roasting, winnowing (the process of removing the outer shell from the cocoa beans), pre-refining, refining, and conching, which is the final stage of chocolate production when the texture and flavors are added, including, in this case, the embossing of a cross section of a cocoa bean on each piece.
Chocolate bars 2.0
The new chocolate bars come in four flavors: plain dark chocolate, dark chocolate with Himalayan sea salt, dark chocolate with dried blueberry, and dark chocolate with crystallized ginger. Two of these were from the first go-around: the “pure unadulterated 80% chocolate bar that was a bestseller,” Olsen says, and the blueberry bar, which she says is “100 times better than the previous version.”
Sure you can nibble on these bars on their own, one little embossed square at a time. But chocolate is a treat. And it goes so well with other treats, like wine. Carlstrom prefers a full-bodied red wine like a cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or syrah with her bars.
She also likes adding some salt to her sweets as she mixes her chocolate with pretzels, potato chips, peanuts, and almonds. Suppose you want to go one step further, and create a nice chocolate bar board. In that case, Carlstrom recommends adding some cheeses, such as goat, Parmesan, and blue cheese, as well as dried fruit, including raspberries, raisins, strawberries, and even bananas.