Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Askinosie Chocolate Factory Tour

One fun activity we chose to do in Springfield, Missouri (on our visit this summer) was touring Askinosie Chocolate Factory. I had been wanting to take the kids to do this for years because we love factory tours, and we really love factory tours that include vegan food. We had wanted to do it during our chocolate unit in homeschooling (since we were only a few hours away in Arkansas) but never made it.

The tour, given by this cordial, knowledgeable young man, started with a history and background of the company and Mr. Askinosie (who left his job as a criminal defense lawyer to make chocolate). These are the candybars they sell in their store front and in local establishments. Most of them are vegan, but several are not. They are pricey at $8.50/bar.

Hi, cocoa pod!
I wish I would have typed this soon after our visit because the details are a little fuzzy, but this is one of the first steps in the chocolate making process. Let's just take a moment to think about how wonderful chocolate is and how grateful I am that machines like this exist

We first got to sample cacoa nibs, which obviously the kids didn't enjoy plain. I told her to smile because that would be rude to make a face, and this was as much as she could muster.
They are the first small batch chocolate maker in the U.S. to press their own cocoa butter, and they are apparently the first small-batch makers of natural cocoa powder.

I asked him several questions about the "may contain milk" label, and I felt satisfied by his assurance of cleaning practices. This was very good for me to see it in person because I am someone who is sometimes too grossed out to eat something that says "may contain milk" no matter how much I know it probably doesn't. (I am really trying to get past my OCD on this.)

Although they are not organic certified or fair trade certified (so the farmers do not have to go through the required financial obligations), they claim to be directly involved with the growing practices and pay above fair trade prices: "We go to great lengths to make sure the farmers do not use chemicals and pesticides; not only do they sign a contract, we visit these farms yearly and can personally verify their practices. We also make sure that our beans are shade grown and that the cocoa trees are intercropped with other trees and crops. Our cocoa beans are not certified, however, in part for the same reason we aren’t Fair Trade certified—the certification process for the beans is very expensive and our farmers can’t afford it. Though we are not certified organic, our beans can be traced completely back to their origin. We have the name of every farmer who contributed to each crop."

Another nice thing this company does is called Chocolate University. They involve local elementary and middle schools in different worthwhile programs. Local high school students get the opportunity to travel to Africa to learn about not only chocolate growing and Direct Trade practices but ways to inspire their own community and become more socially responsible. Factory Tour proceeds go toward Chocolate University.

At the end of the tour, we got to taste test many of the different bars (and they will let you taste test any of them before you buy, I believe). The kids expressed mixed reviews because they do not all love dark chocolate as much as I do. They LOVED the tour and expressed how much several times afterward.

We wished we could have afforded to try some of the other products, such as hot chocolate mix. I was also interested in purchasing a rice bag that had been harvested by schools in Tanzania or the Philippines - 100% of the profits are returned to the local schools for their lunch programs.

Askinosie Chocolate is located in old downtown Springfield. I enjoyed driving around the area on our way out, reminiscing, since I hadn't spent time here in 15-20 years - seeing certain places I recognized such as the spot where an old movie theater existed when I was a little girl and the area where my dad worked on the railroad. I thought the area was neat, and I want to go back and explore more when I have time.
Our chosen bars: dark chocolate from the Philipines and the toasted hemp seeds bar. The hemp seed bar had a bit of the texture (a plainer, healthier texture) of a rice crisp chocolate bar, which was nice.

An interesting fact is the strings that tie up the packages are made by women from a local shelter. They make the strings from the bags (see below) that hold the cocoa beans shipped to the factory.
We walked a few doors down to see the building where they store their cacoa beans.  
If you like DARK chocolate, then you would like Askinosie chocolate. I'm not an expert review-er, and my taste buds aren't so refined to tell you that it has a "fruity,"  "woody,"  "sharp," "earthy," "clean," or "acidic" flavor like other reviewers online. I can say that we really liked the special touch of "askinosie chocolate" spelled out on the bar.
Thank you, Askinosie Choclate, for the fun tour and for making vegan chocolate in a seemingly very nice way.