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Home / Doug's Chocolate Republic  /   Review: Valrhona Guanaja

Valrhona Guanaja 
Posted: 22 June 2011    7.5 
Valrhona Guanaja At first glance at the front of the bar, you're told it's bitter and elegant. And it is. Valrhona doesn't try to hide the bitterness. They show it off!     
Avg price/gram: USD 0.10   Cocoa %: 70  Size: 20g  France chocolate 

Wan Hyuk Park, Korean citizen resident in Thailand, a young man smelling of garlic and chilis who, nonetheless, fancies himself (mistakenly) as an object for the ladies, returned to Thailand from Australia with several bars of chocolate for me to review.  Wan Hyuk knows as much about chocolate as I do about Korean movie stars.  When I left the matter in his hands, I got a Peppermint Crisp.   I did have to mention for him to bring back at least one premium brand. "You mean Cadbury?" he asked.   "No, something like Valrhona," I answered off the top of my head. 

Wan Hyuk didn't do any further research.   To him, something like Valrhona meant Valrhona.   I actually wanted something premium indigenous to Australia, as long as it wasn't overrated Haigh's.  But I cannot complain.  Valrhona is a well regarded French brand I'd heard a lot about.  Back in my California days, I used to buy Valrhona's unsweetened ground cocoa powder to make hot chocolates, and it turned out quite well in those concoctions.  I was eager to try the real deal and see if it deserved its glorious reputation and state as such, or not, on the Chocolate Republic.

Luckily, the chocolate bars are well sealed in foil because Wan Hyuk left these bars in the same bag he was carrying back three tupperware loads of this funky Australian kimchi he wanted his Ma to try.  The wrappers still smelled like cabbage though. 

Three Valrhonas were brought to my sampling table.  The Guanaja was the smallest and the darkest, and I selected this to sample first in order to get a pulse on Valrhona's standards.    In my opinion, it's harder to create a balanced dark than a balanced milk; there's more cocoa flavor in the darks and if the bitterness isn't dealt with creatively then darks in the 70% cocoa solid range can be very unpleasant tasting experiences.  

The bar is made from a combination of Criollo and Trinatario beans. 85% of all the cacao beans cultivated are Forastero. Forastero has the best yields, and it's the bean of choice for mass production. That Hershey and Cadbury bar you just wolfed down is Forastero. Less than 5% of all cocoa is the rare Criollo, leaving around 10% of the beans as Trinatario, a natural hybrid of Forastero and Criollo originating in Trindidad.  The inclusion of the relatively rare Criollo could be some justification for the high price tag.   

At first glance at the front of the bar, you're told it's bitter and elegant.  And it is.  Valrhona doesn't try to hide the bitterness.  They show it off!   They sell this 70% guanaja blend as couverture in Europe and describe it as a "palette of bitterness," as something to be desired.  Gotta slap Valrhona on the back for this one.  It reminds me of the marketing behind one of the world's most expensive coffees, Coffee Luwak. Valrhona isn't dodging the bitterness issue. They're telling you to embrace it.

The new fashion in chocolate tasting nowadays is to embellish one's reviews with such flowery language that readers might mistake you as a fine wine critic.  "The [wine/chocolate] tasted of tobacco and wormwood, with hints of lingon, lime, and chili and back notes of tobasco."  This bar is well known for the intensity of its flavors, and as a lark, I read three other reviews on this bar just to see if there was any consensus exactly what this bar tastes like.  Nope.  Depending on who you believe, the bar tastes like melon and sour cream or cherry with hints of flowers.  Let's agree to disagree and just say that there's a lot of different flavors moving around your palette as you bite in.  Don't count on a boring uniform dark chocolate taste.   You can get boring for a lot less cash.

I couldn't dig up any solid facts on the exact country from which Valrhona sources the beans for this.   Some mistakenly believe the beans come from Honduras because Guanaja is an island off the coast of Honduras.  Well, Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington in Welcome Back, Kotter hailed from Brooklyn, not Washington, DC or Washington state.  It's just a name, folks!  The Guanaja beans come from South America, and I assume some of the crop come from Ecuador, the same place the beans are sourced for the Jivara

The Valrhona Guanaja is like a fine, fine wine, best appreciated in small amounts and on special occasions.  Too much would be a very bitter memory.         

If you liked reading this, consider savoring these reviews:
 Sarotti No. 1 Dark With Cocoa Kernel Splinters from Germany -- 75% cocoa solids
 Jacques Grand Cru 72 from Belgium -- 72% cocoa solids
 The Complete Chocolate Republic Index

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  Valrhona from France makes it dark. The Guanaja is dark chocolate from the criollo and trinitario beans of South America. Come to the chocolate republic with Doug of Doug's Republic