Antioxidant-rich and minimally-processed, raw chocolate has caused quite a furore amongst the avocado-and-coconut-oil crew – y’know, those yoga mat-toting, lycra-wearing, spiralising, green juice-chugging wellness wonderwomen whose Valencia-filtered Instagram feeds make you want to laugh. Or cry. Or both.
But done well, raw chocolate can be a treat to eat – more pleasure than pain, and certainly more palatable than those spirulina shots that look like a swamp and taste worse (in my imagination, anyway – having yet to try bog snorkelling I can’t actually make a comparative analysis).
First off, let’s talk terminology. For ‘raw’, simply read unroasted – no, the cocoa beans haven’t got hot and bothered through roasting or conching, but they can naturally reach temperatures of 50°C whilst undergoing the vital fermentation and drying stages, exceeding the 42°C which is the accepted ‘cutoff point’ or truly raw foodstuffs.
A good roast or a long conch can make even poor chocolate more pleasurable. Like with raw meat, raw chocolate can often taste metallic; like with meat, roasting vastly enhances – and augments – inherent flavours. Conching takes texture from rough’n’ready to smooth’n’silky’, and can also mellow down and round out a chocolate’s flavour profile. Without these stages, it takes some skill to yield a passable product – and even more to make one that’s actively enjoyable.
The Pana Chocolate range is such stuff, and with its chic, understated packaging it’s also got real appeal to a broader demographic than many of the raw choc brands with which it shares shelf space. Hailing from Down Under, Pana is named for its founder Pana Barbounis – a forty-something Melborne man who reckons his raw chocolate will be the world’s number one brand by 2017. Given that he’s already got an annual turnover of $5 million, the goal seems like more than pie in the sky.
Pana (the man) discovered raw chocolate over a decade ago and founded Pana (the brand) in 2012, developing his own products after training in the UK and Belgium. A dedicated chocolate store opened a year later in Melbourne offering bars, truffles and raw desserts, followed by one in Sydney two years later. Now Pana Chocolate is stocked in 19 countries and, if the cocoa-nuts of the UK say yay to the brand, Barbounis says that a British branch will follow.
With brand Pana, man Pana wants to support local artisans and ethical industries. Pana uses Australian packaging, and pays fair prices for organic ingredients sourced direct from their origins – Dominican and Bolivian cacaos, Filipino coconut oil, and Peruvian cold-pressed cacao butter, sweetened with Mexican dark agave nectar, variously further flavoured with ingredients like Spanish wild carob and Sri Lankan organic cinnamon.
The chocolate lacks preservatives, animal products, gluten, dairy and soy – but does it lack flavour? Not a bit of it – and what’s more, the flavours are fine: deep, rich and intense; smooth, rich and long; for want of a better adjective and because this one says it well, ‘chocolate-y’.
From Pana’s 11-strong range, fans of florals will relish Rose, cool customers will dig Mint, and those who like to get a little intense should sample the ‘Eighty’, whose name refers to cocoa percentage. Just don’t let it get hot and bothered – the coconut oil content means it’ll go super-soft and be rather less luscious.
The mantra of man-Pana and brand-Pana is ‘Love Your Insides. Love The Earth’. I think I love the chocolate and I think you will too.
MORE RECOMMENDED RAW CHOCOLATE
Forever Cacao ‘Wenglish’-man Pablo Spaull bean-to-bar raw uses criollo cocoa beans from Peru’s Satipo region.
Pacari This tree-to-bar raw chocolate is made in Ecuador from local cacao, and comes in a range of interesting flavours.
The Chocolate Tree The Scottish bean-to-barist makes an exceptional unroasted 70% Madagascar Sambirano bar.
- Pana Chocolate costs £3.20 for a 45g bar, available from Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic, and direct via the website
- All other mentioned raw chocolate brands are available from Cocoa Runners
- To read more about Ecuadorean bean-to-bar chocolate from Montecristi, click here