Genuine chocolate from ‘temple of the gods’
That was a revelation for Frederick Schilling, a ski bum, songwriter and chef from Colorado, who says he never used to like sweets. But one day Mr. Schilling tasted France’s Valrhona chocolate, which fascinated his senses. After a bit of experimentation at home, rave reviews from friends convinced him to establish Dagoba Organic Chocolate in 2001. Since then, his company’s products have leapt to the top of gourmet chocolate lists in America and beyond.
Instead of competing against stalwarts like Godiva, the famed maker of Belgian chocolate, Mr. Shilling specialized in organic chocolate, which was then considered relatively new on the culinary scene. Organic brands like Green & Black’s, Rapunzel, Newman’s Own and Vivini first entered the market in 1998.
Named after a sanskrit word meaning “temple of the gods,” Dagoba made sure to have its products certified by the next best thing ― the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and International Certification Services Inc, which prints a small seal on each bar, certifying it as organic.
Mr. Schilling explains that a lot of work goes into earning that label ― and providing a healthier product for consumers. “Cacao pods don’t fall like apples and pears when they are ripe, so each pod should be cut by hand using a machete. The processing and distribution of organic cacao is labor-intensive,” he said.
Also, instead of spraying cacao pods with fungicide or kerosene (which apparently works just as well), organic farmers manually remove and discard diseased pods.
Although cacao is grown in the equatorial zone of the world, where countries are poor and labor is relatively cheap, Mr. Schilling is determined to reward those economies fairly for their contribution to his business. “We support fair trade through a strategic alliance with the most recognized fair trade label in the United States, TransFair USA, to offer Fair Trade Certified organic products,” Mr. Schilling said.
Wearing a dark chocolate-colored suit, he pointed out, “There are different living standards in the world and some people might not care. But, it’s the ethics that we feel we should support.”
Dagoba Chocolate primarily uses Forastero beans from Central and South America, but recently Mr. Schilling began importing an exquisite variety from Madagascar.
On their long journey to North America, beans have traditionally been sprayed with methyl bromide, a general purpose fumigant that damages the ozone layer in addition to being bad for children and other living things. However, organic beans are transported in refrigerated packages ― a costlier process akin to the way fresh produce is distributed.
When Mr. Schilling’s organic bars finally reach consumers, they provide not only a gourmet indulgence, but a number of health benefits.
Genuine chocolate contains a big dose of antioxidants ― chemicals that prevent the formation of free radicals, which can damage cells and are associated with aging and disease. Unprocessed cocoa powder and dark chocolate have some of the highest antioxidant content of various foods according to the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity scale developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to George Nemecz, an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Campbell University School of Pharmacy in North Carolina, cocoa powder inhibits lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation better than green tea.
Mr. Schilling is quick to point out that chocolate is high in polyphenol, an antioxidant, as well as magnesium and iron.
His products are also good for external use.
“Cacao butter extracted from chocolate is really good for skin,” he said pointing at creamy lumps of the stuff he sells as a beauty product. But it’s also available in his chocolate bars, unlike most chocolate products.
“Because cacao butter is expensive, candy makers replace it with cheap substitutes such as sugar, palm oil and hydrogenated oils, which are bad for your body.”
Dagoba’s chocolate products are sold with 37, 59, 72 or 87 percent chocolate.
“Most chocolate bars you find in stores are not chocolate but just candies,” Mr. Schilling said.
Next time you come across something called chocolate, be sure to check if it’s real.
The origin of chocolate
Long treasured by Mexicans and Aztec Indians as a mystical substance to enhance the body and mood, chocolate was reserved for the elite in ancient times. Europe’s first encounter with chocolate came when Columbus returned to Spain with triumphant finds from the New World; Among them were a few cacao beans, but they were unpopular. Later, during his conquest of Mexico, the great Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez discovered a drink called “xocolatl,” a warm liquid served in golden goblets to royal guests. Cortez and his countrymen took the drink home, and this time, it was served hot to Spanish aristocrats, enhanced with newly discovered spices such as cinnamon, chili and vanilla. It was the Court of France that then made drinking hot chocolate fashionable all over Europe. By the 19th century, an English company developed a chocolate fondant, and later a technique to add milk to chocolate, popularizing the treat.
Ski bum turned exclusive chocolatier
The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with Frederick Schilling, founder of Dagoba Organic Chocolate, last week at Cafe de Vert in southern Seoul. Mr. Schilling, 35, spoke about his multifarious career and passion for chocolate.
Q. How did you get into chocolate?
A. I studied music in school and owned a music store near a Colorado ski resort. I was a ski bum. I also ran a small catering company on the side. I knew the music industry there. Then I started my own rock band ― whose name you don’t wanna know ― in which I was a lead vocalist, and toured around the country. Then one day, I quit and got into chocolate. I cook a lot at home. I never liked sweets, but when I sampled Valrhona chocolate, one of the finest chocolates from France, I loved the rich taste. My favorites to this day are Michel Cluizel and Valrhona. At first, using Valrhona chocolate, I began making dishes and then started making my own chocolate at home. I would throw parties and ask guests to sample my chocolate. That’s how I started a company four and a half years ago.
How did the business take off?
I went to the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City where I had a tiny booth to show my chocolate. A journalist from Food and Wine Magazine took photos of my chocolate and took some samples. The next thing I knew, the magazine’s Christmas issue introduced Dagoba as “the best organic bar.” When the San Francisco Chronicle, famous for its food reviews, conducted a blind tasting for chocolates in 2002, our milk chocolate beat out my heroes, Valrhona and Michel Cluizel! Dagoba now makes thousands of products, which are sold all around the world. My father, who retired from IBM, and my mother, a church minister-turned-counselor, soon joined me, and they oversee the domestic market.
Have you been to a cacao plantation?
Yes, it’s an out-of-this-world experience to walk into a cacao plantation in Venezuela. Cacao pods hang like lanterns. Cacao trees can naturally grow up to 20 meters, but in plantations they are kept at human height. A cacao pod is quite large, hard and heavy, so if the falling pod hits you, it could be lethal. Because the white pulp inside the pod tastes sweet, you can just rip the pod’s hard skin open and munch it right on the spot. Each pod yields about 25 to 30 beans inside, and if you crack the bean open and crush the dark brown center ― that’s chocolate. You can chew those little “nibs.” Chocolate nibs are now a favorite ingredient among creative chefs who incorporate wonderfully rich chocolate flavor into their dishes.
Chocolate is an aphrodisiac.
True. Real chocolate, not a lump of sugar and palm oil with chocolate flavor, is good for you. Chocolate also contains the highest level of polyphenol, nature’s antioxidant. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s ORAC rating, dark chocolate has the highest antioxidant content at over 13,000. Broccoli and grapes are much lower.
Chocolate is also a vasodilator, which means it opens up blood vessels, allowing more oxygen to be absorbed into the body. So in the morning without the help of a caffeine kick, you can feel awake. I eat and drink chocolate all day. For my own chocolate, I use one heaping spoonful of Xocolatl and another spoonful of unsweetened chocolate powder, add hot water and whisk. Xocolatl originates from Aztec culture. It’s a traditional chocolate drink made with chocolate powder, chili and cinnamon. I drink half a gallon every morning.
by Ines Cho
With reporting by Cho Jae-eun
More in Features
Kakao TV launches this month, takes on Netflix
[TURNING 20] In a sea of hate, change flourishes
Criticism of sex ed books for kids raises more questions than answers
When it comes to sex ed, this Danish author says just talk about it
The traveling grandma who's 'alive and kicking it'