Growing up with an Ecuadoran mother, the topic of chocolate could be controversial, to say the least. According to my mother, no chocolate was as good as the chocolate in Ecuador. My mother found the chocolate in the U.S. to be too processed and sweet. Essentially, she was a fan of dark and bitter chocolates before the rest of the U.S. developed a taste for it. As a child, when I asked her to make chocolate chip cookies, my mother opted for the Baker’s chocolate chunk recipe (using their unsweetened baking chocolate) over the more popular Nestlé® Toll House recipe (which calls for their semi-sweet chocolate chips). The Baker’s recipe was quite good and continues to be a favorite of mine.
I, along with my sister-in-law Carrie and our friend Julie, learned first-hand what makes Ecuadoran chocolate so superior when we sampled Pacari® Chocolate during a recent girls’ trip. Pacari chocolates are single-sourced chocolates produced entirely in Ecuador, made exclusively with a cacao bean native to the Andean nation, the Arriba Nacional.
The Arriba Nacional cacao bean is considered to be a ‘fine aroma’ cacao bean, of which only five percent of all cacao bean varieties hold this unique distinction. Unlike other dark chocolates that tastes more bitter as the concentration of cocoa increases in the product, dark chocolate produced from the Arriba Nacional bean, tends to have a smoother taste. Ever the rule-breaker, the Arriba Nacional may be held in high regard among chocolate connoisseurs for its exceptional taste, but its pedigree hails from the Forastero cacao bean family—beans generally used in bulk for mass-produced chocolate. What makes the Arriba Nacional shine so brightly among other Forastero beans?
“I think the Arriba Nacional’s fine flavor comes from Ecuador being on the equator, and the Andes [mountain range] that crosses the country creating a number of microsystems that other countries in the equator line, such as Africa, Indonesia or Vietnam, do not have,” explains Galo Pazmiño, president of Pacari’s U.S. distributor, SamiChakra, and a native of Ecuador. “You have different microsystems in Ecuador, because the Andes will act as a cold wall creating very interesting microsystems along the coast. The other thing that affects conditions for chocolate growth is the convergence of two different marine currents, El Niño, which is very warm and the Humboldt which is very cold, creating a lot of microsystems, different soils and environments along the coastal region in Ecuador. So, you go from a rainforest region up north in Esmeraldas which is very humid and green to a very dry region down in Santa Elena, Guayas and Manabí. Depending on where the farm is located, Arriba Nacional has different flavors and notes.”
Pacari celebrates the diversity of the regions where Arriba Nacional is grown and harvested by offering a line of single region chocolate, of which Julie, Carrie and I sampled the Manabí bar made of 65 percent cacao. The other regions commemorated in the single region chocolate line are Los Rios, a province in the Western region of Ecuador, and Esmeraldas, a province in the North and where a majority of the cacao used in Pacari Chocolate is harvested. While we paired the Manabí—as well as all the chocolate we sampled that night—with a Beringer Main & Vine Red Moscato dessert wine, Pazmiño recommends a Pinot Noir. (More recommended pairings follow the article’s conclusion).
From Pacari’s Raw line, which is a blend of beans harvested from around the country, we sampled the Raw 70% Organic Chocolate Bar. Minimally processed for maximum nutritional content and flavor, Pacari combines the chocolate at low temperatures to maintain the antioxidants believed to promote vascular health intact. We rounded out the tasting with three flavored chocolates: the Organic Chocolate with Passion Fruit, the Organic Chocolate with Cuzco Salt & Nibs and the Uvilla Cubierta con Chocolate (Chocolate-covered Golden Berry).
Of the flavored chocolate we consumed, the chocolate-covered golden berries absolutely captivated us. While the chocolate and the golden berries made for a sweet treat, the fact the none of us had ever heard of a golden berry—let alone ever had one—we happily lingered over the chocolate-covered golden berries. A quick Google search conducted by my sister-in-law revealed that the golden berry is native to South America and considered a “superfruit” for its rich nutritional attributes. Golden berries contain linoleic and oleic acids, two essential fatty acids that aid in insulin sensitivity and fat oxidation. Golden berries are also high in antioxidants and vitamin C.
Committed to sustainable and organic farming, Pacari only uses small-scale cacao growers who are certified organic growers. The harvest of golden berries by Pacari illustrates the chocolatier’s commitment to organic farming, as well as social responsibility and economic equity.
“These golden berries come from a special women community north of Quito, in Ibarra” explains Pazmiño. “The community of women started as a very small grower and then with the help of Pacari they became more technology-wise, so to speak, and now they are growing organic golden berries for us.”
Every bite of Pacari Chocolate is a validation of my mother’s long-held belief that the chocolate from her native Ecuador is indeed among the finest there is. And while I may never be the chocoholic that many of my friends profess to be, I can appreciate a manufacturer committed to elevating Ecuador’s national treasure for all to enjoy.
For the past 15 years, I’ve been pairing my dark chocolate with a glass of red. While there’s nothing wrong with that pairing, Pazmiño offers a more nuanced approach in his recommendations for pairing Pacari chocolate with alcoholic beverages.
The first thing Pazmiño advises is to taste the chocolate as if you were tasting a glass of wine. Pazmiño recommends absorbing the chocolate senses and try to identify some of the notes in the flavored bar.
“Dark chocolate is meant to be enjoyed whether we can guess what’s in it or not,” says Pazmiño. “So, you know, go slowly so that the chocolate coats your mouth. Play with it in your mouth. Let it melt.”
For pairings Pazmiño offers the following recommendations:
- Chocolate flavored with herbal teas, pair with a white wine, like a Sauvignon Blanc that more acid.
- Chocolate flavored with lemon verbena or lemongrass, pair with a white wine.
- Dark chocolate, 65 to 80 percent cocoa enriched, pair with a Pint Noir or Malbec.
- Dark chocolate, 70 percent cocoa, pair with a Merlot
- Dark chocolate greater than 80 percent cocoa enriched, pair with a Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dark chocolate, 100 percent or more, pair with a bourbon, which is very sweet or with a tequila, which is dry.
For more on chocolate, including a description of Forastero, Trinitario and Criollo cacao beans, see my post from Feb. 28, 2018, Our Night of Wine and Chocolate.