How mass migration shaped Sichuan cuisine

I wrote this a while ago for a possible project. It’s some 1,700 words – a rather long read but you may be surprised.

If you were asked to describe Sichuan cuisine, what would you say?

Searingly spicy? Tongue numbing? Intense with pungent aromatics? Delicious and addictive? For most people, their last Sichuanese meal inevitably contained dishes laced with chilli, Sichuan peppercorns and garlic. It’s a simple and straightforward interpretation of the region’s cooking but it’s one I want to dispel.

Western Shu treasury fish, Kuan Alley No 3, Chengdu, China

Sichuan is the cuisine of my homeland. It’s what I grew up with; it’s my daily banquet and what my genes know almost innately. So when someone tells me that Sichuan cuisine is just spicy and numbing, every fibre in me ignites with vexation. You see, Sichuan cuisine, for me, is a complex myriad of flavours often misrepresented in simplicity.

Before I started delving into this subject, I couldn’t pin point why I thoroughly believed in the diversity of flavours except to say that most of the dishes I grew up with weren’t spicy or numbing. Of course, chillies and Sichuan peppercorns were widely available and consumed in abundance but they certainly weren’t the whole of it.

So, packing my bags for two months of travel, ostensibly on assignment, I went home to Chengdu to reconnect with my heritage.

It’s almost embarrassing to admit that I learnt much more about Sichuan’s history in the short few weeks’ visit than I ever did in the years growing up there. Many of these historical events shaped today’s Sichuan cuisine in ways that we could only speculate about. But more on that later. First, I want to try and define this fast-evolving Sichuan cuisine.

According to classical cookbooks on the subject, Sichuan cuisine is divided into 23 distinctive schools of flavours with 27 main methods of cooking. The result, coupled with Sichuan’s diverse bounty of ingredients, is a menu of dishes that runs into the hundreds, if not the thousands. Indeed, there’s a Chinese saying of Sichuan cuisine that “each dish has its own flavour; a hundred dishes with a hundred flavours”. It is perhaps this sizeable repertoire of recipes that enthroned Sichuan as one of the eight cuisines of China.

It’s hard not to wonder whether Sichuan’s cuisine is large beyond definition at this juncture but what if I were to posit that this is because Sichuan is a fusion of flavours?

Controversial perhaps but evidence of this can be found in a single ingredient – Pixian doubanjiang, a spicy fermented bean paste.

Pixian doubanjiang close up

To understand why the development of Pixian doubanjiang is deep-rooted in the formulation of Sichuan cuisine, we have to wind back through a brief history of the region.

Sichuan’s reputation as the land of abundance came into being thanks to the irrigation system built at Dujiangyan in 256BC. It managed excess water in flood season and maintained water tables in drought, creating a plain of fertile, cultivable land in the Sichuan basin. Life was relatively easy and the rich tea culture that developed became a symbol of the life of leisure that remains important today.

The long periods of peace in the region was overshadowed by two instances of enduring conflict, in the 14th century and 17th century, during which 90% of the population of Sichuan was wiped out. Well-documented migration from the modern regions of Hunan, Hubei and, to a lesser extent, Guangzhou, was made mandatory to repopulate the region. Civilians were literally bound like slaves and led into Sichuan to fill the population gap.

It’s no surprise then that Sichuan became a melting pot of flavours as the different regional cuisines fused with the indigenous offering – it’s an anthropological development that we can see all over the world. Of course, we can’t trace the invention of a specific flavour to a precise date owing to a lack of detailed historical records but evidence can be found when we examine the aforementioned classical Sichuan flavours.

For ease, let’s start with the obvious components of chillies and Sichuan peppercorns.

ingredients for gong bao ji ding

Sichuan peppercorns were, according to various accounts, indigenous to the region and have been used in dishes long before chillies. Numbing doesn’t quite describe the experience of eating these peppercorns as it excludes the nose-tickling floral intensity of the spice as heat is applied during cooking, though it does capture its after effects on the palate. Their popularity is obvious as they feature prominently in three of the classical flavours of Sichuan, alongside the salt from the wells of the region.

Meanwhile, chillies were first introduced to China from South America in the 16th century by Portuguese travellers. In fact, they still hold the designation of “pepper from the sea”. The relatively insular location of Sichuan meant that their arrival into the region likely coincided with the mass migration at the beginning of the 17th century. This perhaps explains why we see so many similarities between the cuisines of Sichuan and Hunan.

The adoption of chilli in Sichuan cuisine is widely explained by the region’s humid climate, a custom rooted in the historical prevalence of Taoism in the region. One of the key principles of Taoism is that of yin and yang – a balance of the two must be achieved for health and longevity. Accordingly, the damp humidity of the atmosphere causes yin in the body, which can be balanced by eating chillies, a source of yang.

“Ma La” is the school of flavour that embodies spicy and numbing as its top notes, with the liberal application of both chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. The classic example for this flavour is “mapo doufu”, a mildly spicy, tongue-numbing tofu dish, pungent with the fragrance of Sichuan peppercorns. You might know it as pock-marked woman’s tofu in the western world. If imitation is the best form of flattery then this dish has found infamy for, in all probability, it is one of the most reproduced Sichuan dishes in the world and perhaps why we are so familiar with the spicy and tongue numbing elements of Sichuan cooking. Certainly, no Sichuanese restaurant worth its well salt would be without the dish on the menu.

But what about those flavours I mentioned without chilli or pepper?

Take for example mandarin flavour, where the top notes are taken from mandarin peels. It’s a flavour that’s perhaps more akin to Cantonese cooking than anything else. Indeed, much of the world’s most sought after peels come from Guangzhou, or Canton by its Cantonese name. How about five spice? Some of the main ingredients in this school of flavour, such as star anise and cloves, are primarily cultivated in Guangzhou even today. Both of these flavours show the influences from Sichuan’s neighbouring province of Guangzhou, one of the homelands of the migratory population.

But these are just evidence based theories so let’s try to pin point this migration and fusion idea to our singular ingredient, the doubanjiang from Pixian.

pixian doubanjiang being made

Often dubbed the soul of Sichuan cuisine, the umami-pumped Pixian doubanjiang appears in numerous celebrated dishes, including the aforementioned mapo doufu. As well as featuring in classic dishes of other flavour schools, it’s also the basis of its own school of flavour – “jia chang”. This, we can translate to everyday home cooking. It’s a pretty broad category and one which epitomises doubanjiang’s integration into Sichuan cuisine.

According to definitions, everyday home cooking in Sichuan has a flavour profile composed of Pixian doubanjiang, local well salt and soy sauce. The complex flavour is fresh, slightly spicy with an alluring aroma akin to that of baijiu, the Chinese grain spirit. An example of this flavour is twice cooked pork, where blanched pork belly would be thinly sliced and given a second wok cooking with the aforementioned flavourings.

The process of making Pixian doubanjiang is simple but painstaking.

Broad beans and chillies, both now locally grown varieties, are put into a terracotta tank with Sichuan well salt and flour. The mixture is allowed to ferment over the course of a year or more, during which it is “flipped” twice daily.

In the early morning, the dew collected on the surface of the mixture is upended to the bottom of the tank. The exposed surface is allowed to dry out in the afternoon sun before the mixture is rotated again in the evening so that the dried surface moves to the bottom of the tank. Each time, the mixture is thoroughly combined but care is taken not to crush the beans. Over the year, the beans inevitably soften to a mulch, its form still visible, developing a nutty, spicy and pungent complexity thanks to the slow fermentation process.

Variations of this fermented bean paste can be found throughout China, usually made with soy beans, though perhaps none as widely lauded. What makes Pixian doubanjiang special is its unique combination of geography and climate with the ingredients.

In Pixian, the unique climate of the Sichuan basin fosters the perfect conditions necessary for the process of dew and sun exposure while its geography allows access to plentiful cultivable land for the beans and chillies. The ingredients used for Pixian doubanjiang are now all locally sourced but we should remember that it was immigration that first brought the chillies into Sichuan. Along with the local well salt used, the doubanjiang was a fusion of indigenous and imported ingredients from its birth.

Some legends even go as far as to say that the process of producing the bean paste itself was discovered along the immigration journey, though of course we have no proof of this. After all, fermented bean paste is not exclusive to Sichuan. What is certain is that the fusion of the different elements has led to the creation of a product found nowhere else, an ingredient which forms the backbone of much of Sichuan cuisine.

Bamboo sour soup and fish lip, Kuan Alley No 3, Chengdu, China

Going back to the question of how I would describe Sichuan cuisine, I’d have to repeat the word fusion. We have seen the incorporation of numerous influences in its classic dishes but it’s not as simple as suggesting that Sichuan cuisine is merely a mix of everything. Instead, I’d like to propose that, thanks to the raw materials, flavours and perhaps even techniques introduced into Sichuan through mass immigration and the subsequent period of integration, Sichuan has developed its own culinary identity based on its unique foundation of diversity.

Perhaps it should be called one of the world’s most integrated fusion food.

15 Mile Menu at The Kings Arms, Christchurch

A little while ago there were numerous stories in the property section about the UK’s most expensive beach shacks. On the market for hundreds of thousands of pounds and looking little more than glorified sheds, they caused quite a sensation.

The reason why I’m talking about this on food pages is because across the strait from these expensive summer homes is the harbour where chef Alex Aitken sources his fish. That row of beach-front property is some what of a local attraction and, when I went to meet the fishermen with Aitken, they were duly pointed out to me.

Mudeford coastline, Dorset

Perhaps in startling contrast to the expense of the property in the area, the food at The Kings Arms in Christchurch is remarkably good value. In fact, it holds a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide for precisely that reason.

Incidentally, the reason why I had travelled all the way to Christchurch in Dorset was to try out the restaurant’s new 15 Mile Menu. Costing just £15 for two courses, it’s something of a novelty for someone who’s used to dining at London rates. But Aitken manages to make it work.

Fishing boat in Mudeford harbour, Dorset

The two fishermen I met on the harbour, about 5 minutes drive from the restaurant, both sourced their fish on day boats. Their day was timed by the tides as it’s impossible to get in and out of the harbour when the tide is out.

The nature of the business is such that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get but Aitken works closely with the fishermen and buys up their by-catch. That is, the lesser known fish of the day. They tend to be much cheaper, which is the aim of the game.

Ten, perhaps 15 minutes drive from Christchurch and you’ll have reached Hampshire. There, just off the dual carriage way, is a pick-your-own farm where Aitken sources his vegetables. He doesn’t pick his own of course, but it’s how he manages to cut down the mileage of the fruits and vegetables he uses.

It’s helps to be hyper-seasonal when you’re working so locally and economically.

Aitken always knows what’s in season, not only because he drives past the farm daily but also because he has his own small holding, which he runs with his wife. There, he rears his own pigs and grows his own vegetables, some of which are used at the restaurant.

So just who is this Alex Aitken?

Alex Aitken cooking at The King's Arms, Dorset

He’s a man who, perhaps almost on a whim, decided to open a restaurant decades ago.

He had been a waiter with no culinary experience and his wife was on the verge of giving birth at the time. It has been no easy task but as far as culinary training goes, opening your own restaurant is a pretty steep learning curve. Aitken described how he started out by cooking everything à la minute, including the sauces. He quickly realised how infeasible this was and learnt to adapt.

He also worked on the Limewood Hotel, the site that’s later become The Pig at Limewood.

With proven experience and expertise, Aitken was drafted into rescuing The Kings Arms, of which he’s now the chef/patron. When he took over, the restaurant was making a loss in the hundreds of thousands. Now, with just over 100 covers, it’s turning a profit four times that of the loss it once made.

Well let’s talk about the food that makes this business work.

It’s simple British food, reminiscent of gastro-pubs, with butter and cream usage that would make the French envious. But there are plenty of greens on the menu too. It’s on the right side of fancy; that is to say it’s up-scale enough to be considered everyday luxury but not quite so innovative so as to alienate its loyal following. Ultimately, it’s real food – food you could identify.

When I visited, Aitken cooked up young broad beans in their shells, which we plucked from the pick-your-own farm earlier in the day, with bacon and plenty of cream. It was then followed by the last of the season’s asparagus and foraged greens, tossed with fresh cheese. From the fisherman’s fodder, we had Asian inspired crab claws, still in their shells and needing to be carefully extracted.

After tasting the day’s pickings, I tried a couple of starters from the 15 Mile Menu. Following the seafood theme, I had the crab croquettes, made with the brown and white meat of Mudeford crabs. Next came Alex’s twice-baked soufflé, a rich and cheesy rendition of the classic. Needless to say, the dishes were packed with the flavour of the season.

Finishing off the meal was a very classic sticky toffee pudding.

Actually, the end of the meal was probably a cocktail at The Bar where they also served 15 Mile cocktails made with local spirits like Dorset Black Cow vodka and the recently launched Conker gin.

The whole thing is probably as local as it gets.

The Kings Arms, 18 Castle Street, Christchurch, Dorset BH23 1DT


In Pursuit of Food was a guest of The Kings Arms, Christchurch, part of the Harbour Hotel Group. For more information on what this means, read our Editorial Policy.

Island eating in Grenada: the restaurants

(This is the second part of the Island eating in Grenada post. The first was on the island’s raw ingredients.)

Being in Grenada for the Grenada Chocolate Festival meant that there were a lot of chocolate related meals but I also had an opportunity to explore some of the local fare.

Rhodes Restaurant at Calabash

Most of the places I went to were pretty casual so I’ll start with the one fine dining restaurant – Rhodes at Calabash Hotel. It’s open for dinner only, although with its beautiful, green-canopied veranda, it should really be open for lunch too.

Under the guidance of celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, the Rhodes Restaurant is suitably European with the occasional Caribbean flavours peaking through. Actually, I was surprised about how good it was because attempting European-style food outside of Europe rarely works. But this did. The chocolate banana pudding with salted caramel ice cream and chocolate sauce was, for a lack of better clichés, to die for.

BB’s Crabback

Swinging to the other side is the ultra-casual BB’s Crabback, which of course everyone reads as crabshack the first time round. It’s a fun little lunch spot in St George with views out over the bay. Just about everything on the menu is named after one member or another of chef/patron Brian Benjamin’s family but it’s hard to pick favourites.

The crabback is basically crab meat baked in its shell with herbs and sauces but the restaurant also serves up other typically Grenadian dishes such as lambie (conch) and callaloo (a local plant with spinach-like flavour). I had a wonderful lunch there but it’s definitely not the cheapest place to go to for lunch.

Patrick’s Home Style Restaurant

The one that really impressed me was Patrick’s Home Style Restaurant. It’s a casual, home-cooking type of place with sharing portions and bad lighting, which means it’s bad for photographs but good for just tucking into the food.

Ms Karen is the chef now but the restaurant was opened by her father Patrick. There’s strictly speaking no menu. Instead, you get between 15 to 20 dishes, served “tapas style”, to share between the table. Normally this really gets my goat (yeah I said it, sharing is not my thing. And the pun too.) but the portions are so generous that no one will miss out.

I think I liked this place so much because it did feel like eating at home, but with Caribbean food obviously. We had, amongst other things, a rich and earthy callaloo soup, a garlicky green banana salad, fish cakes, crab salad, chicken salad, creole fish etc. It was a big menu, showing off the diversity of Grenada’s ingredients and the flavours that can be created within Caribbean cuisine.

Other places

I stayed at two very different hotels during my time in Grenada, True Blue Bay and Blue Horizons, and had my share of meals there. There were self-catering facilities on site for both but it’s a little impractical without a car.

Blue Horizons had a casual westernised bar and a slightly more formal creole restaurant called La Belle Creole. It’s simple food and some of it inspired by the owner, Arnold Hopkin’s mother. True Blue Bay was much more international in its offering at Dodgy Dock with anything from Mexican (the owner Magdalena Fielden is the Honorary Consul of Mexico for Grenada) to pizza.

On one of the nights, I went to the Sandals La Source Resort to try their Japanese teppanyaki offering, Kimonos. The chefs were clearly well-trained to entertain and the food was delightful but it just wasn’t Caribbean. That said, sushi is apparently very popular in Grenada because of the fresh fish.

I also popped into Coconut Beach, a French creole restaurant on Grand Anse Beach. I heard it’s more of a lunch spot because of the view but, as I had already eaten, I thought I’d just have something light and see what it’s like. Although the service was very attentive, the food sadly didn’t compare well to the highlights from the rest of the week.

Last thoughts on food in Grenada

My week in Grenada has been a diverse mix of local and international food, some of which has been surprising and others surprisingly good. I think the best way of describing it is that it’s wholesome comfort food. It’s not diet food but it’s delicious stuff. And if you wanted to stay in shape, the island has plenty of ways to keep you fit like the weekly hash.

I can’t say that I’ve uncovered Grenada’s true culinary identity but it’s certainly given me a lot of flavours to think about.

In Pursuit of Food was a guest of Grenada Tourism Association. If you want to know what this means, check out our Editorial Policy.

Island eating in Grenada: the raw ingredients

In the UK, Caribbean food pretty much consists of plantains, jerk chicken, rice and peas and curried goat. That is, if you manage to track down a Caribbean restaurant. Out on the islands however, every nation has its own culinary identity.

Spice stall at St George's market

Spice stall at St George’s market

I went to Grenada, nicknamed Greens amongst the Caribbean islands, for the Grenada Chocolate Festival but I also wanted to sleuth out its culture and food.

Tropical produce

When people think of an island, they have two contrasting ideas in mind about its food. One is a scarcity in ingredients because of the lack of space, like in Singapore where many things are shipped in. The other is a tropical bounty that would make Robinson Crusoe green with envy.

Green vegetation, Grenada

Green vegetation, Grenada

As you’ve probably gathered from its nickname, Grenada falls into the latter – it’s lush with vegetation. Not the homogeneous manicured orchards you see in other places but a diverse ecosystem of unkempt fruit trees. As you drive along the winding roads around the island, you’ll pass by branches laden with mango, papaya, cocoa, breadfruit, soursop, coconut and, not to forget the country’s most famous produce, nutmeg.

I’ve been told that a big part of it is down to Grenada’s rich, volcanic soil. It’s a sort of ferrous red that makes me wonder how tea would fare on it, having recently discovered the tea trade in Hawaii. The locals grow all sort of things likes cabbages or corn in small plots right outside their homes. There’s a certain wildness about the whole thing that gets you excited about foraging. But don’t. The majority of the land on Grenada is privately owned so that perfectly ripe fruit within arms reach? It probably has an owner nearby.

The spice isle, or is that aisle?

Grenada’s other and better known name is the spice isle of the Caribbean. This is in no small part thanks to the burgeoning nutmeg industry on the island which reportedly account for 20% of the world’s production of nutmeg. For a population of some 100,000, this is pretty substantial.

The town of Gouyave in the parish of St John has a nutmeg factory that’s open to visitors. There, you’ll get an idea of how the nutmeg fruit is processed from start to finish (though they like to keep some details secret) including how the fruit shell can be used for jellies and the core is dried and split into nutmeg and mace. You’ll also be able to buy a serious amount of nutmeg to take home. They say that a good nutmeg, with its shell intact, can keep for 10 years – that’s a lot of Christmases sorted.

Grenada doesn’t just produce nutmeg and mace though. It also produces cinnamon, bay leaves, cloves, turmeric and ginger. In fact, if you walk through the market in its capital St George, you’ll be greeted with the heady scents of the spices which are ground and packaged into pouches, gathered into bunches and sold whole or strung together and touted as aromatic necklaces.

Diverse culinary influences

Turmeric and ginger are more commonly associated with the Indian subcontinent but they’re also deeply assimilated into the local cuisine. Grenada’s incredible history of being a French and later a British colony has certainly played a large part in this. You’ll find the spices liberally used in curries, rotis and French Creole dishes, all of which are widely available on the island. And yes, you’ll be able to find the staples of plantains, jerk chicken, rice and peas and curried goat too but you’re more likely to see vendors selling BBQ grilled sweetcorn cobs on the side of the road.

Click here for the second part of this post on Island eating in Grenada: the restaurants.

In Pursuit of Food was a guest of Grenada Tourism Association. If you want to know what this means, check out our Editorial Policy.

A world of chocolate in Grenada

I travelled to the island of Grenada recently for the second Grenada Chocolate Festival. It’s not the first time I’ve been to the Caribbean, or to a chocolate plantation, but Grenada had something different to offer – Grenada was the first cocoa producing country to do the whole cocoa bean to chocolate bar process. (You can find out more about the process itself in the video further down.)

Cocoa pods in window

(I was in Grenada for a whole week of chocolate related events so brace yourself for a long post. More to come on Grenadian culture, rum and cocoa tea. Meanwhile, you can read my posts on chocolate in the Dominican Republic here.)

The Grenada Chocolate Company

In 1999, something big happened for Grenadian chocolate. An American man by the name of Mott Green, born David Lawrence Friedman, founded The Grenada Chocolate Company. Like many people, Green had this idealistic vision of producing organic, fairly traded and sustainable chocolate. The only difference was that he made his vision a reality.

Grenada Chocolate Company

Using locally sourced organic cocoa beans, The Grenada Chocolate Company created the first bean to bar chocolate made in a cocoa producing country. The beans were as fairly traded as they could come – everyone in the company was paid the same salary as part of a co-operative system. The resulting chocolates were of such high quality that they won awards from the Academy of Chocolate in 2008, 2011 and 2013. Things didn’t stop there though.

Green wanted to increase the sustainability of his business in a big way. The chocolate company relied heavily on solar power whenever possible. Green also enlisted the help of Tres Hombres, reportedly the world’s only engineless sailing cargo ship, to transport his chocolates out of Grenada for sale. (They’re available online from the Chocolate Trading Co and a few other places.)

Edmund Brown outside Grenada Chocolate Company

Edmund Brown outside Grenada Chocolate Company

It was Green’s pioneering vision which really put Grenada’s chocolates on the map and enabled other chocolate companies on the island to follow suit. Unfortunately it was also a work-related accident which ended his life prematurely.

Grenada Chocolate Festival

Back to happier thoughts and the Grenada Chocolate Festival. I know what you must be thinking and you’re right – there was a lot of chocolate during my stay in Grenada. In fact, I have probably consumed more chocolate in a week than I do in a whole year. But it’s not just about the eating of chocolate but rather, the appreciation of cocoa.

Russ at Magdalena Fielden at Grenada Chocolate Festival

Russ at Magdalena Fielden at Grenada Chocolate Festival

This second Grenada Chocolate Festival was hosted by Magdalena Fielden at True Blue Bay and took place from the 8th to the 17th of May. Fielden is the owner of the boutique resort and the Honorary Consul of Mexico in Grenada. Thanks to Fielden’s influence, Mexican chocolatier, architect and founder of the Mucho-Chocolate Museum in Mexico City, Ana Rita García Lascuráin, was in town to lead tastings and talk about the health and beauty benefits of chocolate.

According to García Lascuráin, chocolate was thought to have been good for the head, the heart and the stomach. Of course chocolate in Maya Mexico was consumed rather differently from today.

García Lascuráin demonstrated how cocoa beans might have been ground with the metate (flat mortar stone) and mano (stone pestle) before being used in cocoa tea. She also talked about the different cocoa products used in beauty treatments today. Cocoa butter for example, might be used in lip balms. We had a recipe to make this and a couple of other beauty treats but it’s hard not to feel like the finished product might taste better on toasted crumpets.

There were other cocoa related activities too including expert led chocolate tasting, yoga and chocolate meditation, hash (run, or hike) along a cocoa trail and of course visits to the plantations.

Belmont Estate, Crayfish Bay and Diamond Chocolate Factory

I visited two cocoa plantations while in Grenada – Belmont Estate and Crayfish Bay.

Belmont Estate

Belmont Estate is a co-operative of farmers who produce organic cocoa beans and other crops, like the island’s famous nutmeg. It’s where the Grenada Chocolate Company is based and sources its beans. They have a huge restaurant on site with a visitor’s centre, museum, shops and a goat dairy where they make cheese. This is the place to go to if you’re visiting with children and want to learn about the bean to bar process.

Crayfish Bay

Crayfish Bay is a much smaller farm in comparison. Right now, their beans are shipped to the UK and made into chocolate by Pump Street Bakery but the estate’s owner, Kim Russell, is also building a chocolate factory of his own. It’s a real grass-roots sort of operation where the farm manager would roast the beans in a pan over open fire. The cooled beans are then cracked, winnowed with the help of a vacuum cleaner and then ground into paste. That paste, along with sugar, coconut milk and a shot of rum makes the best cocoa tea that you’ll ever taste. It’s something that you’ll probably be unlikely to taste, unless you stay in the little B&B on the estate. That is, until the chocolate factory is completed in 2016.

Diamond Chocolate Factory

I also visited Diamond Chocolate Factory, which, from what I gather, doesn’t have its own plantation. Instead, the focus is on producing chocolate from locally sourced beans. It’s perhaps the most technologically advanced of all the chocolate producers, offering a full factory tour. It’s also producing the smoothest chocolates of those that I’ve tasted.

Check out this video I made of a shortened version of the bean-to-bar process at Diamond Chocolate Factory:

Tasting Grenadian chocolate

As I’ve already mentioned, I tasted a lot of chocolates over the course of the week. They were all dark chocolates with upwards of 60% of cocoa, each with their own distinctive character. It’s apparently a special feature of Grenadian chocolates that they contain no dairy products.

Finished chocolate, Diamond Chocolate Factory

There were two things that I noticed about Grenadian chocolates. In the main, the chocolates left a drying sensation similar to that of tannin although the flavour is perhaps closer to that of cigar or sometimes black tea. The second is a textural thing.

I’ve tried a lot of chocolates from two years of judging for International Chocolate Awards and one of the things you have to look out for is the smoothness of the chocolate (think of that Galaxy advert). Grenadian chocolates always left this slightly grainy mouthfeel, which is perhaps that tannic deposit on my palate.

I’m not sure whether this was because of the length of conching, the lack of dairy in the chocolate or something else altogether. In general, a longer conche time (emulsifying with the help of giant wheels) means a smoother and richer tasting chocolate but this can also be manipulated by adding other ingredients such as dairy and fats. Either way, there’s was a rawness about the chocolates that I’m not quite used to. But then again, just as for wine, just because you’re not used to something doesn’t mean it’s not good. By and large, these dairy-free Grenadian chocolates are much better for you than the over-processed over-adulterated stuff that we see so often.

And, as I wrap up this post, I feel like I’m missing a little chocolate in my life.

In Pursuit of Food travelled as a guest of the Grenada Tourism Authority. If you want to find out more about what this means, please see our Editorial Policy.