Setting yourself a goal within specific parameters may seem limiting, but I’ve found it to be an eye-opening and fun challenge! Last year I wanted to alphabetically feature new-to-me chocolate brands & I succeeded even though “Q” and “Y” were the most difficult to obtain. This year, I’m featuring unusual and/or unique inclusion ingredients in alphabetical order. If it wasn’t for this project, I don’t think I would have ever known about the existence of bay nuts and that they were edible!
When I visited the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle last November, I wasn’t really on the lookout for unusual inclusion ingredients quite yet (I was just toying with the idea of that theme at that point; but by the time I left the festival, I knew that I had stumbled upon a great idea…still need to find “U” or “X” – so let me know if there are any makers I should try!)
If you’re like me, you like to chat with other festival attendees to compare notes on interesting finds and “not-to-miss” goodies! My ears perked up when I heard someone mention a bay nut bar from Firefly Chocolate. My next stop was to their booth to taste this for myself. I remember it being creamy and unusual; but after eating chocolate for a couple of days, I had a bit of “palate fatigue” (yeah, it’s a thing), so “B” week on Eating the Chocolate Alphabet was the ideal way to savor and fully appreciate it!
One of the first things that you notice about the packaging is the precise percentages and origins of the three (and only) ingredients used in this bar: 40% cacao beans from Belize / 30% bay nuts from Mendocino (California) / 30% coconut sugar from Indonesia.
From their website: Firefly Chocolate buys cacao primarily from Maya Mountain Cacao (MMC) in Southern Belize. MMC works directly with 309 indigenous Maya farming families in 31 communities located in the foothills of the Mayan Mountain Range. Firefly roasts and conches the beans at the lowest temperatures possible, inspired by the raw foods movement. While California Bay Laurel trees are plentiful, they are not cultivated, so all the nuts used in this bar were wild harvested. Traditionally the nuts are roasted in ashes which produces an aroma like popcorn. To learn more, check out this link: https://fireflychocolate.com/product/wild-harvested-bay-nut-chocolate-bar/
After reading that bay nuts are related to avocados, I did some research & found this photo. It wasn’t until recently that I learned you can roast and eat avocado seeds (pits) – maybe other chocolate makers will be inspired?
Upon opening the tri-fold cardboard packaging, the copper embossed sticker on the narrow rectangular glassine pouch caught my eye. Initially I thought it was a bee, but I’m now pretty sure that it’s a firefly (though I’ve never seen one in person, during daylight with their wings outstretched). 😉
Removing the 12-rectangle bar from the inner packaging, I noticed that my fingerprints were easily transferrable to the surface, so I had to be careful not to mar the otherwise pristine finish. I wonder if the low percentage of cacao caused the bar to melt easily in my hands.
The aroma reminds me of roasted coffee, but the taste is reminiscent of slightly burnt popcorn kernels. One thing that really surprised me was the instant refreshing/cooling sensation I get when I put a piece in my mouth. It’s like menthol without the menthol flavor. There is a nice sharp snap to the bar and the mouthfeel is creamy, though a little grainy probably due to the beans being stone ground and the use of coconut sugar. Coconut blossom sugar is a natural sweetener with a low glycemic index that is gaining popularity for those trying to avoid refined sugars.
For years, I’ve been seasoning soups and stews with California bay leaves (though I like Turkish bay leaves too), but I never realized that this tree also produced nuts. I knew about acorns, but bay nuts was something completely new to me. So, as I was taking photos of this bar, I decided to “stage” the chocolate amongst some dried leaves waiting to fulfill their destiny in some culinary creation.
Just this morning, I posted a “teaser” photo to Instagram letting people guess today’s unique ingredient. One person immediately guessed bay leaves, but I don’t think anyone has guessed the bay nut yet!
To learn more about Jonas Ketterle’s mission of “inspiring awe and wonder,” as well as the vision and values for this first bean-to-bar chocolate company in Sonoma County (California), I encourage you to visit: https://fireflychocolate.com/ I certainly like learning something new & hope you do too!