In 2013, my mother and I bought a farm on the Big Island of Hawai’i. We named it Pa’ani Farms, which in Hawai’ian means to play. Among coffee, avocado, and macadamia nut trees, came a modest-sized and neglected cacao orchard. Hawai’i is the only place in the United States with a climate suitable for growing cacao, making Kona chocolate one of the rarest types on Earth. My Belgian ancestry introduced me to the beauty of fine chocolate, one of the world’s most famous set of edibles and drinkables. Pa’ani Farms, in conjunction with two nearby farms, won a 2019 Gold Cacao of Excellence Award. I attended the Paris Salon du Chocolat to accept our award for the Asia, Pacific, & Australia Region. Cocoa is primarily produced by hand and its production has never experienced widespread mechanization. Despite this limitation, the volume of cocoa produced worldwide amounts to 4.8 million tons in 2021 and over 50 million people worldwide currently depend on chocolate for their livelihood. Cocoa is primarily produced by hand and its production has never experienced widespread mechanization. Despite this limitation, the volume of cocoa produced worldwide amounts to 4.8 million tons in 2021 and over 50 million people worldwide currently depend on chocolate for their livelihood.
In my early years I took any science class I could, and I learned that every form of matter is made of chemicals. What we taste and smell when we eat is the result of our bodies reacting to these chemicals. Understanding the physical chemistry of flavor is complex because of the large number of chemicals that contribute to the taste and aroma. Flavor is the interaction between taste, which relates to non-volatile compounds, specifically sugars and acids and aroma arises from volatile compounds. Cacao, cocoa, and chocolate have more than 600 aromatic compounds that can be paired and married with many foods besides sugar. The surge in the desire and availability of small farm grown, meticulously processed, single origin cacao and cocoa makes this the perfect moment to use more of this magic bean.
Having tasted our beans fresh from roasting, I realize that many of the subtle attributes of Kona cacao and cocoa fade quickly. Within hours, and I could not detect many flavors I knew were present in Pa’ani Farms’s beans. Determined to find answers, I read obsessively about flavor, aroma, and how we perceive these in foods. I triangulated these flavor and aroma concepts, tried every method I could to optimize the cacao flavor, and fashioned a process that diminished bitterness. This process unlocked the best properties of our bean, and nuanced flavors came back, including floral, fruity, caramel, nutty, earthy, and even warm browned fruit notes. I ruthlessly tested the results on many unsuspecting friends, neighbors, and family.
All of this is the result of my study and experimentation as I researched and wrote my soon to be released cookbook, Savor Your Chocolate. It is a guide containing a set of forty-two springboard recipes about using cacao nibs, cocoa powder, cacao extract, and unsweetened chocolate in everything other than desserts, sweet snacks, and sugary beverages. Chocolate is in transition. There is now easy access to artisanal 100% chocolate and a plethora of cacao products without sugar that have, so far, failed to find a legitimate place in cuisine. The recipes are nothing new, the innovation is understanding the use of cacao and cocoa as a seasoning, a pseudo spice. Cocoa is not classified as a spice, but it does share many qualities of a spice.
My aim is twofold: I want to encourage more universal use of cacao, cocoa, and 100% chocolate by pushing beyond sugar and I want to advocate for more global respect and recognition of the quality and rare properties of the only American chocolate, Kona and Hawai’ian grown beans. As a lawyer, I must include a disclaimer: I am an amateur farmer, an improv jazz cook, and rarely use recipes as anything more than a suggestion, so the concept of writing things down, let alone measuring and testing recipes multiple times in a systematic way, was a challenge. It is only through the new processing technique, the recipes and educational information in Savor Your Chocolate, and my passion for local sourced food that I can help effect a deeper understanding of the untapped characteristics of cacao.
In Belgian (French), Bon appetit and in Hawai’ian E hauʻoli i kāu meaʻai.
Anne van Leynseele
Pa’ani Farms of Captain Cook, Hawaii
Discover a fascinating new culinary arsenal for chocolate lovers and learn why chocolate is not just dessert.
Inside Savor Your Chocolate, a groundbreaking cookbook, you’ll join international award-winning cacao farmer and culinary enthusiast Anne van Leynseele as she ushers in an enticing new world of chocolate in global cuisine.