Your day is about to get sweeter. Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller (of the French Laundry, Bouchon, Per Se) has crafted insanely delicious chocolate that you can actually feel good about eating.
You've probably heard about the health benefits of cacao, but did you know that 60 to 80 percent of the bean's antioxidants, not to mention some of the aromas and flavors, are typically lost in the chocolate making process? It took seven long years, but Keller, in partnership with his longtime friend and Italian olive oil master Armando Manni, has crafted chocolate that's full of antioxidants without sacrificing taste in the way that sugar- or gluten-free treats often do.
Chef Thomas Keller checks in on the K+M Chocolate Factory in Napa.(David Escalante Photo)
"At the end of the day, we want our chocolate to taste really good," says Keller. "We want people to eat it and go, 'Wow this is really good chocolate. I'm getting some extra benefits out of it, but without that, I'd still eat it.'"
Keller and Manni launched K+M Extravirgin Chocolate in 2016 and now have a line of dark and milk chocolates made from premium beans sourced directly from small growers in remote locations of Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, and Madagascar. The chocolates are handcrafted in K+M's Napa factory by head chocolatier Chi Bui using a highly scientific, innovative, and first-of-its-kind method.
Manni had previously worked with researchers from the University of Florence in Italy to develop his line of healthier olive oils; that product also loses antioxidants and its extra virgin quality during production, and even more as it sits in the bottle and is exposed to oxygen. When he and Keller teamed up to make their chocolate, they enlisted the help of the university once more.
(David Escalante Photo)
This required customized machinery that could very gently process the cacao beans into chocolate, so that it maintains more of their antioxidants and natural flavor profiles. But before the beans even reach the factory, they undergo an intensive inspection process to ensure that they reach K+M's sky-high standards of taste and quality. The beans are first evaluated for aromatics and flavor by Bui, and then sent to the University of Florence to be tested for their antioxidant and volatiles potential.
Beans that pass both checkpoints are then purchased and sent to the factory where they are hand-sorted before being roasted. Just like wine grapes, the duds are discarded.
On the recipe side, K+M has switched out the commonly-used cocoa butter for a small amount of Manni's antioxidant-rich, extra-virgin olive oil (it's the only one in the world to maintain its extra virgin quality and taste for up to three years, versus the standard 12 months). Then to really develop the complex flavors from the cacao, they age the chocolates for a few months.
David Escalante Photo
"Olive oil gives it the signature mouthfeel like cocoa butter, but also lowers the temperature that it melts in your mouth so that the flavors are released earlier. It brings out the flavors of the cacao beans and creates an increased viability of antioxidants," says Bui. "The aging process balances out the flavor profile. Not many people do it, but we do it because we want to optimize the flavor."
Bui also says that while they haven't done a scientific study yet, in one test done at the factory, the K+M chocolate had roughly 3.2 times more antioxidants than the other chocolates tested.