I am a runner, and as such subscribe to the common runner's theory that rewards, especially food rewards, are totally justified and can even be seen as part of a training routine. This is where chocolate comes in. So when I learned of a chocolate handmade in Rhode Island that could also be beneficial to your health instead of adding to a sugar addiction, I wanted to learn more. I had the chance to talk with owner (and fellow chocoholic) Paula Charleson to find out how she managed to combine treat with health...
How did you come up with your unique approach to chocolate making?
I guess the question starts with why. I am a lifelong chocoholic and got to the point a few years ago where I started to pay more attention to how to fuel your body with nutrients. I was someone who was eating candy bars every day. So one day I thought I would start experimenting and see if I could come up with a chocolate variation that didn’t have a lot of sugar in it. Eventually I came up with a recipe that I liked, and my family and friends also liked it. I really didn’t start out with the intention of having a company but the reaction was so positive that I then spent about 6 months perfecting the recipe. I experimented with all kinds of different things other than cane sugar as a sweetener - agave, maple syrup, stevia - I tried all of those things and ended up settling on honey because it was the only one that did not compete with the taste of the cocoa. It mellows out the bitterness and it is more densely sweet so you don’t need a lot of it. From there I kept working everyday on how to get the least amount of honey possible and still have it not be bitter. I finally got to the place where it was good and then got it tested by a lab to determine the sugar content. The results showed that my 1.5oz bar of chocolate had 6 grams of sugar which is next to nothing in a chocolate bar. So after perfecting the recipe and doing some tasting demos, I then approached Whole Foods in Cranston, RI and in two months it was on the shelf! I knew that if Whole Foods liked it, then it would be popular among my intended customers.
People often associate chocolate with something they love, but is also bad for them. Are there any aspects of chocolate that are in fact good for you?
It is important to differentiate between chocolate and cocoa. Cocoa is both cocoa powder and cocoa butter, both of which have a lot of health benefits. They are high in antioxidants, stimulate different parts of the brain, high in magnesium, help with heart disease, help to increase blood flow, can lower LDL and are considered a good fat. Cocoa is a great food for your body in many ways. What happens with chocolate, especially here in the US, is varying amounts of cocoa powder and cocoa butter are combined with other things like sugar, dairy and soy lecithin, in order to make it sweeter, improve shelf life and improve profits (by requiring less cocoa be used). So now you have all these other things in the chocolate that have no health benefits at all and aren’t good for you. Most chocolate you see in stores, (unlike mine and other small batch and hand crafted producers), starts with a compound that is melted down and then made into new recipes. Some of the biggest chocolate companies you know, don’t actually make chocolate. They buy it in a big block and then melt it down. What they are using starts as a compound of cocoa and these other ingredients already in it - this is where the percentage of cocoa you see on the package comes from - 60%, 80%, etc. I decided to make something from scratch instead. So with four ingredients - cocoa powder, cocoa butter, honey and vanilla, I came up with Cocofuel.
You read a lot about the health benefits of chocolate, but my issue with this is that eating even a little bit of regular commercial chocolate (with all the additives) can set off a sugar addiction. So now you can’t stop eating it and you are constantly fighting a battle of wanting more. That to me is the biggest issue with chocolate and that was me a few years ago - I was addicted to chocolate and couldn’t say no. After eating Cocofuel, I now find most chocolate much too sweet and have retrained my taste buds to dislike the artificially sweet flavors that I used to crave. Without the sugar addiction, I eat better and my cravings are gone. People always say to me, “I’m a chocoholic! I would eat the whole thing!” but I am here to tell you that you can retrain your taste buds, be satisfied with less and continue to enjoy chocolate! There is no going back!
How does the New England region influence your products or business?
Two things - First, we in New England have somewhat sophisticated palates and are spoiled with incredible foods. New England is a great test market because the people who are trying it know good food and know what it tastes like. So I was able to test in this sophisticated market. Secondly, New Englanders are incredibly supportive and they love local food. When I do tastings in person and people find out I am the owner they are always so supportive and will often buy from me. Many people buy because I am a local product.
Of the different bar flavors you make, which is your favorite and what are some of your favorite ways to eat them?
I consider all my varieties my children! The different bars have a range of 6 - 10 g of sugar (Almond Butter 6g, Coconut 6g, Cranberry 8g, and Toffee 10g), and I tend to like the three with the least amount of sugar - Almond Butter, Coconut and Cranberry. I use the Toffee bar for making a healthy version of chocolate chip cookies or banana bread. I see a lot of customers using the bars for baking, especially the Toffee because it is closest to a chocolate chip without the sugar. I also will take a bar of the Almond Butter flavor and melt it, pour it over a banana, top with nuts, freeze for 20 min and then have it as a dessert!
You can buy Cocofuel at select Whole Food Stores and at
Photos: Melissa DiPalma