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February 13, 2011, Updated February 13, 2012
There are many high-end chocolate shops in New York that sell $3-per-piece chocolates. Do they makes those in-house or import them? Is their chocolate any better than Hershey’s? To learn more, last May we spoke with nearby chocolate guru Jacques Torres, who has his largest chocolate shop on Hudson Street (near Houston Street).
It was a slow Sunday when we spoke with Mr. Torres, not as a formal interview but rather just as a customer. We did not even realize that we were speaking with Mr. Torres until well into the conversation. He is quite humble, you see.
We began by asking whether his chocolate is made from sucrose or corn syrup fructose. He said they use four types of sugar: sucrose (cane and beet), a modified sucrose, and fructose corn syrup (the bad one?). He blends in fructose because it makes the chocolate mold and cut better with less stickiness.
Recall, sucrose is made of glucose and fructose in a disaccharide. Pure fructose is found in some vegetables like corn and grapes, whereas sucrose is in other warmer climate crops like pineapple and sugar cane. In general, complex sugars are better than fast burning glucose or fructose. Carbohydrates like potatoes, wheat (pasta) are all just complex sugars. The more “complex” the better, is a rule of thumb.
The controversy brewing now is that fructose, the ingredient in softdrinks, candy, cereal, and other sources you would never suspect, such as hamburger buns, may be processed by the liver differently and lead to belly fat and obesity more than less processed sugar. Also, fructose has become an insidious staple of our diet, in part, because it is subsidized (thanks to corn lobbyists).
If you do indulge in sucrose, unrefined brown cane sugar is probably better for you. Of course, avoiding sugary drinks on a routine basis should be a goal if you drink a soda every day now.
The other major component of chocolate is the fat source. It can either be true cocoa butter, or much cheaper vegetable oil as used in most mass produced candy, such as Hershey. A video plays in Mr. Torres’ shop showing the entire process that they use to make their end-user-chocolate from raw beans.
Before buying your chocolate, do not assume that just because the store has a French or Belgian foreign name they use the best ingredients, or even make the chocolate themselves. We surveyed by phone some of the best chocolate shops listed in Zagat. Almost none of the employees had any clue what type of sugar and ingredients they used. Also, almost none of the gourmet shops actually make the chocolate. They import it.
We rate Jacques Torres as the best chocolate in New York City because he uses real sugar, butter, and makes all of his chocolate in his Willy Wonka-like factory behind glass windows for all to see. Also, he is just a darn nice guy. There is a reason that The White House chose him to provide the pastries for an event last year.
(By the way, across the street from his TriBeCa store resides the Weinstein brothers who have produced many of the “Best Picture” Oscar movies.)