Following the path of many other favorite comfort foods in recent decades, chocolate in the U.S. has been elevated from the simple Hershey chocolate bar to a position of reverence associated with wines. Buzzwords like “single-origin,” “grand cru,” “terroir” and descriptors for chocolate’s nuances, like “floral” and “smoky,” have entered our chocolate lexicon. The parallel extends far enough that there’s even such a profession as “chocolate sommelier.” And like other formerly sinful indulgences, the more health studies we conduct, the healthier chocolate appears. It’s high in antioxidants, reduces bad cholesterol and lowers blood pressure, the studies say. In the end, maybe it’s just the happy thoughts we associate with chocolate that are so good for us.
All this is good news for Hawaii’s chocolate industry (yes, we have one!), which is poised to capitalize on the national chocolate fervor with the only chocolate grown in the United States. Hawaii has been growing cacao, the ridged football-shaped fruit in the colors of a fiery sunset, from which chocolate is made, for the past 150 years, but only recently has locally grown chocolate become available to chocoholics. “Cacao has the potential to be the next ‘Kona coffee’ for the state of Hawaii,” says Nathan Sato, president of Malie Kai Chocolates.
Original Hawaiian Chocolate
Original Hawaiian Chocolate (OHC) is currently the only company to grow and process its chocolate entirely in Hawaii, and the owners, Bob and Pam Cooper, do it all themselves. OHC offers milk and dark chocolate and a single variety dark chocolate made from Criollo beans. Of the three main varieties of cacao—Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario—the Forastero variety is the most common and the Criollo the rarest and highest quality. Tasting this single-estate, single-variety chocolate is putting the world’s rarest chocolate in your mouth, given the scarcity of Criollo beans and Hawaii’s small-scale chocolate production. Once the novelty melts away, though, we find ourselves reaching instead for the dark chocolate blend that tastes of berries and the milk chocolate bar with creamy, caramel undertones.
Malie Kai Chocolates
Malie Kai Chocolates and Dole produce Hawaii-grown chocolate from Waialua Estate, but the chocolate is processed by Guittard Chocolate Company in San Francisco. Since Hawaii is so new to chocolate production, these companies have decided to leave the processing to the experts. The expert touch is noticeable—where OHCC’s chocolates are slightly grainy, Malie Kai and Dole’s chocolates are completely smooth in texture. They are, however, less chocolaty and sweeter than OHCC’s. Still, Malie Kai’s dark chocolate (more semisweet than bittersweet) and Dole’s Waialua Estate dark chocolate are bars we’d happily trade our Hershey’s for.
The rest of these chocolates are not made from Hawaii-grown chocolate, but provide some variety from the usual chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to bring back to friends and family on the mainland—or more likely, for your own indulgence.
World-class chocolates are tucked away in The Shops at Dole Cannery, where the Padovani brothers create chocolates with various fillings like Kau orange caramel, passion ganache and Kalamansi soft caramel. It makes over 40 different chocolates, each with its own whimsical shapes—Tahitian vanilla soft caramel in the form of a miniature lobster, Hawaiian ginger ganache like a tiny bundt cake and Hawaiian Kona coffee ganache as—what else—a coffee bean. A favorite is the Kiawe honey ganache, in which the kiawe honey is distinctive and its sweetness tempered by the dark, bittersweet shell. We also enjoy the Kona coffee ganache, which attests to the perfect marriage of coffee and chocolate.
Honolulu Chocolate Company
Is it just me, or do dried fruits dipped in chocolate somehow seem gaudy and dated? Maybe it’s because I only notice them at Disneyland, or because I’ve passed them up for the splashy chocolate fondue fountains we dip gargantuan strawberries in. Whatever the reason for previous snobbery, I’m ready to start anew. The chocolate dipped apricots and ginger at Honolulu Chocolate Company remind me why classics like these stick around while other chocolate pairings come and go. And the glistening, lacquer-like, chocolate-dipped candied oranges are sublime in their simplicity. If friends still insist on receiving chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii, Honolulu Chocolate Company’s are finer than the usual suspects, with crisp, fresh macadamia nuts enrobed in dark chocolate.
Big Island Candies
This confectionery in Hilo supplies the ever popular chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies. We also like the chocolates that remind us of classic childhood candies, but a touch more upscale. The Hawaiian macadamia nut wafer bark is like a gourmet Kit Kat bar—crisp and nutty, and the Mika Mints are dark chocolate covered mints similar to Peppermint Patties with an extra blast of heady mint. Fight the tourist busloads in their factory kitchen and watch ladies behind the glass dipping shortbread cookies, or just order online for chocolates that arrive fresh and miraculously unmelted.