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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

‘Chillies and chocolates are an eternal combination’: Poonam Chordia, India’s first female chocolate taster

Innovations like local flavour infusions, combination of textures, single origin cacao profiles, changes in roast profiles and fermentation are all having a huge impact on the flavour of chocolate, said Poonam Chordia

Written by Jayashree Narayanan | Pune |
April 19, 2021 12:30:02 pm
poonam chordiaPoonam Chordia has been trying to make bean and bar chocolates a staple in India. (Source: Poonam Chordia)

The chocolate industry in India is undergoing massive innovations. From its types to the taste and preference, chocolate is no longer limited to just one type of cacao bean.

Understanding how flavours of cacao are impacted by genetic variety (genotype), climate, bean composition, soil type, age of the cocoa tree, post-harvest treatments of the beans such as fermentation and drying, processing such as roasting, refining, conching, tempering as well as storage and transportation, make bean to bar chocolates a balanced mix of both science and art.

Throwing light on the innovation in the industry, sustainable chocolates, and more, is India’s first female certified chocolate taster Poonam Chordia, who is also the co-founder of  Kocoatrait Sustainable Bean to Bar Chocolates, with husband Nitin. Poonam, who first explored bean to bar chocolates (where the entire process of making chocolate is carried out by the same chocolatier) during a tasting trip in Europe, is out with a new offering of nine handcrafted spice-infused ‘The Spice Collection’ chocolates in association with Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, culinary consultant and chronicler – emphasising on the possibility of spices and chocolates.

“During the lockdown, Rushina started a very successful spice trail as part of which she is doing amazing work with spices and its applications in various cuisines. We happened to connect and it was an instant idea to work together to develop a range of chocolates that could bring the best of both worlds together (Indian spices and Indian Cacao). India is well-known for its spices and Indian Cacao needs to have this kind of association to be brought to the limelight globally and to the audiences in India. Hence this collaboration was a very easy decision to make for both of us,” said Poonam.


Could you tell us about bean to bar chocolates?

In India, chocolates have forever been associated with satisfying a sugar rush. With the introduction of speciality bean to bar chocolates, consumer options have increased. Expectedly, many bean to bar chocolate makers would try hard to introduce flavour variants to attract the audience and to be able to differentiate but not all the pairings or combinations are going to be acceptable. The consumer is the final deciding authority. However, from an industry perspective, these varieties and offerings will get the focus, attention and visibility that bean to bar makers need to achieve.

How do chocolate infusions work?

We believe that we should not be reinventing the wheel. Hence, we first eliminate any flavours that are available in the market. We then select the flavour combinations that pair well with the flavour of that batch of cocoa. This is an interesting process as we must roast our cocoa differently for most flavour pairings. Eventually, we must decide the ingredients and percentage of the chocolate recipe and technique of flavour infusion. We use a scientific flavour compounds pairing technique and this helps us decide which flavours would work better than others. Overall it is a very interesting, intuitive, learning and discovery exercise that takes 4-6 weeks before we can finalise any specific flavour infusion into our chocolate.

What are the innovations happening in the chocolate industry — in India and the world?

Most of the innovation is happening in the bean to bar chocolate category in India and globally. Innovations like local flavour infusions, combination of textures, single-origin cacao profiles, changes in roast profiles and fermentation are all having a huge impact on the flavour of chocolate. On the packaging front, we are seeing a huge effort by both mass-market chocolate producers as well as bean to bar chocolate makers towards sustainable packaging.

Do chocolates and spices go hand-in-hand?

Chocolates and spices are not a new combination. Chillies and chocolates are an eternal combination enjoyed for centuries together! However, there are many spices that are a natural fit with chocolate. Few examples are pepper (both white and black), sweet spices like cinnamon and cardamom and complex spices like mace. All these make for delicious combinations with chocolate.

Chocolate and spices, chocolate innovations, chocolate types, poonam chordia, chocolate processing,, indianexpress, There are lots of innovations happening in chocolates. (Source: Poonam Chordia)

Are there any flavours that have remained best-sellers?

I think texture plays an increasingly important role in consumer choice and the ever-popular Fruit and Nut chocolate is one that no one can ever dislike. However, with the evolution of the bean to bar category, there are some other favourites like Dark chocolate with salt and chillies which intrigue people.

How do you ensure your chocolate making process is sustainable?

Becoming sustainable and zero (or low) waste chocolate from the roots starts at the farm. A cacao farm by design is zero waste because all the leaves and 80 per cent of the fruits’ outer shell go back into the soil as manure.

We work with only organically grown ingredients. During chocolate processing, by design, there is little to no wastage of chocolate. At the packaging stage, for our chocolate wrapping, we use upcycled material with no wood pulp to ensure that we are paper, plastic and tree-free — biodegradable compostable and recyclable – hence zero waste.

Currently, we have saved 150+ kgs of single-use plastic from entering the landfill by using our wrapping material. This is how we measure our current success.

Chocolate and spices, chocolate innovations, chocolate types, poonam chordia, chocolate processing,, indianexpress, Nitin and Poonam Chordia (Source: Poonam Chordia)

Isn’t always being around chocolates highly overwhelming and tempting?

We have always restricted the consumption of chocolate. We try to make it interesting by pairing various flavours, beverages like tea/coffee etc with chocolates and keep it interesting. However, we must admit that it can get overwhelming at times. We crave for savoury food a lot after a chocolate tasting session. Our go-to food is potato crisps and pizza after an intense round of chocolate tasting/evaluation.

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