Oded Brenner is a modern Willy Wonka. In the 1990s, he co-created an international chocolate empire, Max Brenner Chocolate, which includes a 7,000-square-foot emporium on Broadway in New York City.
Brenner left that company in 2012 and a few years later began exploring a different side of chocolate. A trip to Jamaica in 2015 ignited a passion for cocoa, which is more than just the beans that are turned into chocolate.
Brenner saw that people made juice, liquor, and flour from the cocoa fruit and used the entire pod rather than just the beans. He was in awe of how little he knew about cocoa, despite having worked in chocolate for 20 years.
“It is the most unknown fruit behind the best known fruit,” summarized Brenner.
Brenner told me that traditional chocolate production wastes most of the fruit. On the contrary, he said, in Ecuador they drink cocoa water and eat the nuts from the ears.
“In fact, the entire pod is edible, but in our quest for traditional chocolate, all the other parts of the fruit go to waste,” he said.
Brenner now promotes unsweetened fruit as having high antioxidant properties. The cacao fruit, he says, is packed with potassium, magnesium, iron, and thiamine B1, among other things. Water is full of natural electrolytes.
Brenner has created Blue Stripes Urban Cacao, with an online store and a store in New York’s Union Square neighborhood, to tell both sides of the chocolate story. On the one hand, it has the decadent, luxurious and refined experience of chocolate truffles and fine chocolatier bonbons. On the other hand, you have the rustic, unrefined jungle experience of the colorful cacao fruit.
When I met Brenner and learned about his line of sustainable and equitable cocoa products for the farmer, I started with the fruit itself. It was the first time he had held a cocoa pod. It was deep red in color, about 10 inches long, and shaped like a ridged soccer ball. I opened it and tried it. It is filled with white sacks that contain cocoa beans, and around the seeds is the pulp or fruit.
The fruit is slightly sweet and slightly acidic, and has a nice, thick texture, similar to passion fruit. The seed inside, of course, is the cocoa bean, which is traditionally fermented and roasted to make chocolate.
Next, I drank the cocoa water and it was inside; I felt hydrated and refreshed.
I fell in love with the Blue Stripes cacao and tahini bars. With Brenner’s help, I created my own recipe for Dark Chocolate Tahini Cups, inspired by his focus on all the cocoa fruit:
DARK CHOCOLATE TAHINI CUPS
These homemade chocolates were inspired by Oded Brenner and his focus on all the cacao fruit. They are satisfying and delicious like a good cup of espresso. Slightly bitter, creamy and explosive with a dark chocolate flavor. Remember to have all the ingredients at room temperature before mixing, or the chocolate will cool too quickly and you will not be able to pour it.
Makes 24 small “cups”
1 cup – Blue Stripes Urban Cacao 100% cocoa chocolate chips
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons – room temperature tahini (no salt)
3 tablespoons – Date syrup (for sweetening)
1 teaspoon – Pure vanilla paste, such as Nielsen-Massey
⅛ teaspoon – Ground cardamom
Fresh grated nutmeg, about 1/16 teaspoon
A pinch of fine-grained sea salt
Maldon Sea Salt
Candied ginger, sliced (optional)
Unsalted pistachios (optional)
Place a mini cupcake tin with mini cupcake wrappers.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave to melt chocolate. Meanwhile, mix in the tahini, date syrup, vanilla paste, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt. Add the melted chocolate slowly and mix well until completely combined.
Divide the mixture among the 24 mini cupcake papers. Immediately sprinkle each with a little Maldon sea salt. You can stop there or add the candied ginger and walnuts. If adding, place a couple of pistachios on top of each cup of chocolate and then a sliver or two of the candied ginger.
Place the uncovered cups in the refrigerator to set. Remove when hard and place in an airtight container, separating the layers with parchment paper.
I like these cups both cold and at room temperature. Enjoy!