With Easter and the inevitable chocolate fest only a few days away, there is no better time to talk cacao…
When Vanessa Barg, 24, graduated from New York City’s Institute of Integrative Nutrition two years ago, she had every intention of practicing as a holistic health counselor. But while helping her first clients make healthful decisions about the way they ate, she came upon a new vocation as a raw chocolatier.
In March 2008, Barg stepped out of her practice for the last time and launched Gnosis Chocolate. She sells her “uncooked” dairy, gluten, cholesterol, sugar and soy free chocolates online through her website and in over one hundred stores across the U.S. and internationally, from Curacao to New Zealand. Barg’s range of 13 different bars start from: $8.95 and are available to buy from Gnosis Chocolate.
How did you make the transition from holistic health counselor to raw food chocolatier?
I realized that some of my clients had sugar addictions. One would eat really well during the day but binge on Kit Kats in the evening. The point is to indulge healthily, not to ignore the sweet cravings. Cacao, which is raw unprocessed chocolate, is one of the top ten most nutritious foods in world. So I started making raw chocolate for her which has a really fresh, fruity and intensely chocolatey flavor to replace the highly processed stuff packed with bad refined sugars and cholesterol. I didn’t plan on starting the company but people just started to ask for more and more chocolate and it just grew from there!
We don’t usually think of chocolate in terms of being “cooked” or “raw”. Your chocolate is organic and made using fair trade cacao. But how is it different from conventional organic chocolate made from similarly responsibly sourced ingredients?
The processes of making the two types of chocolates are completely different. The cacao I use is not roasted or subjected to high temperatures. Cacao butter melts at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so you don’t need to melt it past that. This means that all the many vitamins, minerals, particularly magnesium, antioxidants, neurotransmitters- which are mood enhancing compounds and enzymes are maintained in the chocolate. When making “normal” chocolate a lot of the goodness is lost in the long roasting and cooking processes
So how do you make your chocolate?
It’s so simple, we should all be making it in our homes! I don’t use any machines, apart from a food processor to grind nuts. I simply melt down cacao butter and add pure ground cacao beans. Then I stir in herbs and other ingredients such as nuts and dried fruits. Love is the most important part though, which is why we even include it in the ingredient list.
When did you first discover raw chocolate?
It was about 3 years during a talk by David Wolfe who is a world authority on raw food nutrition and raw chocolate. I’ve been a chocolate lover my entire life but I had no idea of its origins, so when he said that it comes form a bean and he started expressing the bio-chemistry of it I was hooked. That day I bought a bag of cacao beans from a health food store in Manhattan. I went home and I threw the beans in a food processor with figs, dates, cashews, cayenne pepper and a little bit of agave nectar, which is a natural sweetener from a Mexican cactus plant, and made the most amazing chocolate fudge bar.
How did you go about developping your recipes?
I’m an herbalist so I just took what was on my kitchen shelf and put it in the chocolate! But then I started to customize the chocolate for my individual clients adding the specific herbs I would recommend for them. If it was a lady and she was having cramps during her menstrual cycle I would add vitex or chaseberry root to ease the pain. Also cacao itself helps with cramps because it has a lot of magnesium which helps to relax muscles.
Why does your chocolate have this amazing sparkle when you bite into it?
That’s the crystal manna, it’s like pixie dust. Its blue green algae from a lake in Oregon which is full of antioxidants, great for the brain, boosts your immunity and has the highest vegetable source of vitamin B12. I say if it’s green then put it in the chocolate! Seeing as most Americans have sub par diets I wanted to enrich my bars with as much nutrition as I could.
Tell me about you best seller Superchoc. It has an incredible 22 ingredients from Siberian Ginseng and Royal Jelly to ginko biloba powder and reishi mushroom extract!
Superchoc was the very first bar I developed. I wanted to pack in as many superfoods and herbs for the most possible nutrition and healing into something that still tasted like chocolate! The cacao works synergistically with all the other ingredients, acting as a vehicle to allow all the nutrients to be absorbed by the body. People have very powerful reactions to it. I even had a woman cry in front of me when she tried it!
Seeing as your chocolate is so full of nutrients and vitamins, could someone just snack on them instead of eating vegetables?
They could definitely get some of what they need but they should see a health counselor like me to help them find a way of getting some real vegetables!