The Slow Melt: Unwrapping Flavors And Stories Within The Chocolate We Love
Journalist and author Simran Sethi has written extensively about the food and drinks that people love: bread, wine, coffee, beer. And now, in her new podcast, The Slow Melt, she explores the story of chocolate - how it captures our senses, reveals its flavors and tells stories from around the globe.
For Valentine's Day, WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke to Sethi about her new show.
Why did you choose to focus on chocolate for this particular project?
Chocolate holds so much. It holds all these relationships, it holds this kind of understanding that we don't necessarily already have, from the botanical perspective, it holds all these flavors that can be revealed if we move away from sort of the most familiar models. We want our Twix or our Snickers or whatever to taste like one thing, but there's this kind of multitude [of flavors] that we can find here [in other chocolate]. And you know it is really a passport to the world. Cacao is grown in a thin equatorial belt 20 degrees north and south of the equator. But typically it becomes chocolate in places like Europe and North America. So all of a sudden I could see chocolate as what I describe on the podcast as this thick, delicious lens through which to see the world.
You've revealed that you almost always have chocolate on you. What are you enjoying today or this week?
It is very close to me at all times, and I have to say I want to debunk right here this notion that the only good chocolate is dark. I am obsessed right now with good milk chocolate. Good is subjective. It belongs to all of us. Whatever your definition is. But it's so comforting, you know. And what milk chocolate really is, it has the ingredient of milk powder in it. We don't work from the liquid substance when we're making chocolate. And I'm really obsessed with some of these dark milk chocolates that have a higher cocoa content.
Soma Chocolatier in Canada is the one that I'm gnawing on right now. The cacao was sourced from from Brazil, from the rain forests of Brazil. There's a bar made by Fruition - they cure the chocolate in bourbon barrels so it has that really nice bourbon flavor. And then there's one by Nathan Miller out of Pennsylvania and he actually makes a buttermilk chocolate which I really like - there's a nice tang to it. And then closer to home we've got Brasstown in Winston-Salem. Videri out of Raleigh and French Broad in Asheville. I highly recommend a field trip for everyone to the French Broad chocolate lounge where you can pick up a lot of these chocolates. So there are many opportunities to kind of savor the the ones that I keep close at hand.
People might be happy to hear that there are some really interesting health benefits of chocolate. I wonder if you could outline a few of those.
Absolutely. You know, I can't go so far as to say chocolate is a health food, but certain kinds of cocoa and chocolates really are, because cocoa beans are rich in compounds that are called flavonoids. They're known for their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so they help reduce the chances of coronary heart disease. They increase the strength of our blood vessel walls. Coco also contains tryptophan which is used by our bodies to make serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which is also connected to heart function, but it also regulates our moods and our sexual arousal. So there's this extraordinary thing that happens with chocolate - it actually does kind of elevate our mood and brings us a little bit of joy.
You've said in your podcast that your relationship with chocolate has been a long-lasting, very steady one. How is it most different now from when you first had it and fell in love?
I am so humbled by the people who grow cocoa. Ninety percent of them are subsistence farmers, so they're operating on really thin margins, and 70 percent of our cocoa is grown in West Africa in Ivory Coast and Ghana. And I realized I had this relationship with chocolate first, and right now, increasingly, we have this relationship with chocolate makers. I hadn't taken it all the way back to the people who had worked so hard and taken such risks to actually grow it. And that, to me, is what's been so heartening is over these last two years, having the opportunity to travel to various origins and meet these these growers.