Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Askanya: Compelling Single-Origin Haitian Chocolate
--Dr. Ruth Westheimer
The island of Haiti was one of the first countries to commercially grow cacao, though it wasn't a very successful endeavor. However, throughout the centuries, cacao has continued to be cultivated in Haiti and there has been more success in recent years, with the potential for much more. Their cultivated cacao trees tend to be older, and more desirable varieties, such as Criollo and Trinitario. Criollo, which is difficult to grow, constitutes only about 5% of the world's production and is most often used in high-end chocolate. Trinitario is a natural hybrid, being hardier to cultivate, and can also have a superior flavor.
In 2015, Haiti produced only about 4500 metric tons of cacao, which is approximately 0.1% the of global supply. This low amount is due to a number of factors, including natural disasters like the Haitian earthquake of 2010 which decreased cacao production by about 36%. Over 90% of the cacao beans cultivated in Haiti are exported in their unprocessed state as it is difficult to ferment the beans in Haiti. There are only a small number of fermentation facilities, and it is those facilities which elevate the quality of chocolate. 90% of the cacao beans also come from small, family run farms, which, on their own, generally don't have the power or finances to market their products.
The Fédération des Coopératives Cacaoyères du Nord (FECCANO) is a cooperative of about 3000 cacao farmers, most from northern Haiti. Back in 2009, the Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, an international, non-profit dedicated to helping small farmers, started educating FECCANO in cacao fermentation techniques as well as helping to open four fermentation facilities on Haiti. They worked with FECCANO in other cacao matters too, such as helping them garner fair trade and organic certifications. FECCANO now has been able to export some high-quality chocolate, earning more money for its many farmers.
Locally, you might have enjoyed some Haitian chocolate from Taza Chocolate, which produces an 84% Dark Chocolate Bar sourced from Produits Des Iles SA (PISA). However, there is a new product on the market, a Haitian bean-to-bar chocolate that is produced solely in Haiti. And it is amazingly delicious.
Les Chocolateries Askanya is Haiti's first and only bean-to-bar chocolate company, located in Ouanaminthe, a town in northeastern Haiti. Their motto is "Grown in Haiti, Made in Haiti, Enjoyed Everywhere." The company was founded in 2015 by three entrepreneurs, including Corinne Joachim Sanon Symietz, her husband Andreas Symietz, and Gentile Senat. Corinne, a Haitian native, was previously an engineer and business consultant, but had a dream of returning to Haiti and starting a business to create jobs. In the end, the founders decided to accomplish this goal by creating a chocolate factory.
The name of their company derives from one of the founder's German hometown, Aschersleben, which in a Latinized form is Ascania. This is also the name of a legendary king in Roman mythology and the founders wish Askanya to become known as the Queen of Chocolate in Haiti. Askanya initially spent time investigating cacao through FECCANO, and now it has become their only cacao supplier.
Currently, Askanya produces three different, single-origin chocolate bars: Paradis, Wanga Nègès and Minuit. They are available in 55 gram bars (about $6 each) and bite-size 10 gram bars (12 for $12.50). The colorful wrappers for their chocolate bars celebrate the native flora and fauna of Haiti, including the bird of paradise (Paradis), night butterflies (Minuit), and hummingbird (Wanga Nègès).
The chocolate is available across the U.S., from New York to California, Illinois to Washington, D.C. Locally, Askanya was previously available by mail order through New Leaf Chocolates in Arlington, but the company has temporarily shut down. There is no other Massachusetts location selling Askanya but you can order them online and get some shipped to you. I received some media samples of the three different bars and found the chocolate to be quite impressive.
Les Chocolateries Askanya and you won't be disappointed.