After Hours: Move Over, Spinach: Chocolate to the Rescue!

Chocolate has been enjoying near-mystical status for some time now. Many people, half-jokingly, half-seriously, ascribe curative properties to it bordering on the magical. A few canny chocolatiers have embraced this mystique and taken it way beyond jokes about emergency chocolate. (Although those are around, too; see, for example, Bloomsberry & Co.)

NewTree offers bars for rejuvenating, harmonizing, soothing and comfort (enhanced with black currant; lemon; lavender or bitter orange; and cinnamon, respectively). Ecco Bella's "health by chocolate" line supports healthy skin (contrary to what your pediatrician told you as a teenager), boosts bone strength and counters the symptoms of menopause.

And now, Dagoba Organic Chocolate has joined the fray with an apothecary line of dark chocolate bars and cacao elixirs that feature beneficial botanicals, otherwise known as medicinal herbs. Founding alchemist – that's actually the title on his business card – Frederick Schilling spent about three years finetuning the formulas before the line launched last November (right after Dagoba's acquisition by The Artisan Confections Company, a subsidiary of The Hershey Company that also owns Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker and Joseph Schmidt Confections). The line consists of five bars (very dark, with 74% cacao content) and six elixirs, each blended with herbs, fruits and oils targeted to specific purposes, such as clarity, energy and eros.

Don't shy away because of the medicinal component. Dagoba has a track record of successfully imbuing chocolates with extraordinary flavors (lavender, rosemary), and the apothecary bars don't let healthful properties get in the way of taste. The bars impart harmonious and restrained flavors, with only enough sweetener to make the high cacao content palatable, without even a hint of cloying aftertaste. The flavors themselves are only faintly herbal, more like a memory than an immediate experience. And, to be honest, they are more difficult than most flavored chocolates to identify and distinguish. If you have several and separate the foil-wrapped bars from their boxes, it takes concentration to pair them properly. (A ginger-lemon flavor burst does identify the clarity bar, if you're paying attention.) None of these bars ask for, or even lend themselves to, quick devouring. Even though chocolate historically has an embarrassingly short life after entering my custody, I found myself instinctively doling out the apothecary bars medicinally in half-inch pieces over the course of weeks.

And the elixirs? They are glycerin-based tinctures, made without use of alcohol at any stage, including extraction. Sweet but sugar free, they can be added to tea or water or taken straight as drops. Think of it as a real-world counterpart to Popeye reaching for his can of spinach in times of need. Besides, there's plenty of precedent and appreciation for this type of product in certain segments of society. Many a purse or briefcase harbors a dropper bottle of Rescue Remedy, a blend of botanical essences that people turn to when stressed or low on energy. Taking a couple of drops of liquid cacao instead couldn't help but perk things up. Not to mention get the conversation going.

Dagoba's apothecary line is still gaining distribution throughout the country. It's available at some Whole Foods Markets, niche health food stores, spas and yoga studios. The reliable source at this point is the company itself, through its online store.

© Kathy Biehl 2007. All Rights Reserved.