Reaping the Benefits of Chocolate, in the Raw

With the scientific name Theobroma, which translates to “food of the gods,” cacao lovers have every right to expect a lot from chocolate. And according to Jinji Fraser, owner of Pure Chocolates by Jinji, raw chocolate is divine. “Chocolate is a blank canvas,” says Fraser of the deceptively decadent health food. “It’s such an incredible ingredient on its own that you can literally do anything with it. I like to add variety and have fun with what I’m doing, and chocolate provides space for that. It’s really truly limitless.”

Working from a background in both kitchens and nutrition, Fraser has always aimed to integrate mindfulness and pleasure. If her years of holistic nutritional counseling have taught her anything, it’s that people are more inclined to eat healthfully if they can still feel like they’re indulging now and then. “As I was working with clients who were making the transition from refined foods to more holistic ones, I started to develop recipes,” Fraser says. “I decided to go with chocolate first because it made the journey a little easier for people if they knew they could still have their favorite things while going along this path.” Partnering with her father, Guy, in 2012, Fraser set about applying her nutritional acumen to creating feel-good/look-good treats.

With more antioxidants than red wine or goji berries, serotonin-boosting alkaloids and caffeine, and a nuanced flavor that reflects its terroir as elegantly as any fine wine, chocolate is truly a super food. And according to raw food proponents, when cacao is processed at a temperature that doesn’t exceed 118°F, the tropical beans’ nutritional integrity is maintained. This careful treatment also preserves the fresh flavors of the raw bean, a difference that is similar to the way green tea is different from black tea. “[Cacao has] so many different layers and notes that I believe are loudest before it’s heated,” says Fraser. “It has a much greater vibrancy.”

Pure Chocolate by Jinji, made from fair trade Ecuadorian beans, has a distinctively fruit-
forward brightness anchored by a full, rounded body, making it well suited to a wide variety of flavor pairings. “I take a very broad approach in terms of taking risks with spices and flavor combinations that I think are pretty unique to a sweet application,” she says. Her complex, flavorful sweets combine raw chocolate with energizing and nutrient rich additions such as spices, dates, lavender, ginger, nuts, honey, and seeds. Fraser is part of a small but passionate movement of raw chocolatiers across the country, many of whom come from holistic heath backgrounds, some studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. From Not Your Sugar Mama’s in Massachusetts, where Bennett Coffey and Kyleen Keenan are sourcing Direct Trade beans and lucuma powder from Satipo, Peru, , and The Chocolate Conspiracy of Salt Lake City, Utah, to the quintessentially West Coast ethos of Sacred Chocolate in Novato, California, you could travel from coast to coast sustained by a raw cacao high.

Fraser traveled the globe and tasted beans from Central and South America and Africa before deciding on Ecuador for her source, both for the quality of the beans and for the cooperative set-up of the fair trade farmers she tasted with. “Ecuador resonated with me. I knew that because I wanted [the cacao] raw, it was important to have certain notes—not be flat or overly aggressive, but kind of playful.” Freshly harvested beans are fermented within their surrounding pulp for seven days before drying in the sun, which takes another three to five days. At this point conventional beans would be roasted, but Fraser has her growers skip that step and go right to the winnowing, removing the dried cacao nibs from their shells. At her facility in Baltimore, Maryland, Fraser pulverizes the nibs to a fine powder and combines them in a melanger with additional cocoa butter and natural sweeteners, such as coconut palm sugar and lucuma powder.

The melanger warms the cacao through friction to about 95°F, gently releasing the harsher aromatics and reducing the particle size down to less than 20 micrometers—smaller than can be detected by human taste organs—ensuring a smooth flavor and a silky texture. At this point, the chocolate is ready to be tempered and used as any conventional chocolate product would be.

Since her early days doing free tastings and pop-ups, Fraser has moved on to a stand alone retail shop and a presence in more than 15 other locations across Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. Her store front in Baltimore’s Belvedere Square Market (and her online shop) have options ranging from chocolate barks, truffles, and fudge to chocolate-dipped fruit and pots de crème. Pastry chefs who want to bake with Fraser’s tempered raw chocolate can expect a rich, smooth flavor with a floral quality and lots of bright fruit tones, all tempered by an underlying smokiness thanks to the barest touch of mesquite added with the sweeteners. 2012 Philadelphia Rising Star Pastry Chef Davina Soondrum embraces just this kind of potent “brown gold” for special occasions, when she wants to dish out “decadence and romance to the tongue, [with] a surge of antioxidants to course through the blood, and a reminder of why people fall in love.”

Fraser’s business leaves a small ecological footprint, thanks to fair trade policies and minimal mechanized processing. “The people who are growing for us are sending their kids to school and have healthcare,” Fraser says. “It’s a really beautiful thing to know that you’re producing something you can really be proud of.”

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