The Chocolate Life

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My name is Mark Sciscenti. I am a chocolate historian, chocolate artisan, pastry chef and herbalist. What I've written below is from my bio.
Mark's passion is chocolate. Having grown up in an archaeological family, he is fascinated by food and spice history. The creator, originator and former owner of Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, NM, he has been studying the history of chocolate since 2000, from its beginnings in Mesoamerica and Central America through the European transgression and up to the present day.
Being an excellent creative alchemist, Mark has developed historically accurate and authentic drinking chocolates based upon traditional ancient Mesoamerican information, historic European and American recipes. Most of these chocolate elixirs are complex, aromatic, rich and spicy creations. Mark is devoted to the creation and presentation of this traditional form of chocolate.
Mark has been giving lectures and educational presentations on the history of chocolate along with professional chocolate tastings since 2002 to museums, conferences, institutions, schools and business. He has lectured on the history of chocolate at among many events, the: Pangea Pediatric Conference, NYC, NY, November 2008; Northwest Chocolate Festival, Portland, OR, September 2008; Book Exp America, University of Arizona Press, Los Angels, CA, May 2008; 3rd Annual Natural Health Symposium, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, El Paso, TX, November 2005; A Maya Weekend Conference, Sedona, AZ, October 2005; at Columbia University for the 10th annual Botanical Medicine Conference at the New York Botanical Garden, NY, NY June 2005; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology for their 23rd Annual Mayan Weekend, PA, April 2005; the University of Arizona’s Integrative Medicine Nutrition & Health Conference, Tucson AZ, March 2005; “Painting a New World, Mexican Art and Life, 1521 - 1821” art exhibit. Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO, May 2004; The History of Chocolate - Mesoamerican & Historic Spanish Chocolate: “Ceramica y Cultura: The Story of Spanish and Mexican Mayolica”, Museum exhibit opening. Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM, November 2002.
Mark is a pastry chef and has been a professional and self-taught experimental baker since 1984. One of his strengths is he has an innate ability to grasp the underlying alchemy or chemistry of baking. This has translated into an ability to make sublime baked goods using alternative, organic and healthy ingredients, suitable for those with various food allergies. He has been baking wheat-free since 1995 and has created many recipes since 1989. Mark has a personal interest in recreating historic desserts, making ethnic desserts and walking the line between fine pastries and homemade desserts. In 1999 he became certified as an Herbalist. He has a BA in Liberal Arts with a focus in Human Ecology, Environmental Studies, Ecology, Biodiversity issues, Environmental Economic/Political issues, Multicultural Spirituality; Wholistic Healing Modalities; and Professional Massage Therapy. This varied knowledge base formed and informs Mark’s creativity and scientific understanding. Mark endeavors to keep abreast of the latest developments in the research of chocolate history and is actively searching for more historic chocolate recipes that he can recreate.

Please do not hesitate to contact Mark for further information and details.

I left the shop I created, Kakawa Chocolate House at the end of May, 2009 under extreme duress and am no longer the owner nor am I affiliated in any way with Kakawa. I have chosen to focus my attention on my passion, chocolate, and am moving forward with events, lectures and teaching. I will be creating a new website as soon as I find a space where I may make chocolate. Please contact me if you wish to do so! I look forward to this exploring this venue and meeting everyone. Thanks!

Tags: sunsilver_cacao@q.com

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Hi Mark,

How can I find out more about your lectures and chocolate tastings?

Thanks!

BP
If you have the chance to hear Mark lecture, go! I had the opportunity to meet Mark when he was in Portland last year about this time, and he was awesome.
Mark...

Are you familiar with a dark chocolate called Xocai? It's reputed to be the only cold-processed chocolate on the market, with the highest anti-oxidant (ORAC) values.

Terri DiPaola
Hello Terri, thanks for checking in. I look forward to meeting you in Nov.

There is a extensive blog on this site concerning the product Xocai. For me this is a mixed subject. I am not a fan of multilevel marketing corporations, and no matter what that particular company states, they are doing it for the money. As to the claim that they are the only company who makes cold processed 'chocolate', there really is no definition of what 'cold processing' means. As far as I can tell, they won't define that. When I had my shop, I spoke with someone over at Mars who stated that Mars developed cold processing first in order to increase the antioxidant properties of there candy products, and in fact they are injecting polyphenols and flavanoids to increase the ORAC values.

As to the claim that Xocai is chocolate - it's not. It is a brown melty substance with added ingredients to give it flavor. In order for cacao beans to be called chocolate it absolutely has to have gone through the proper fermentation, drying, roasting and grinding process. The critical component here is the fermentation - without that particular process the chocolate flavor compounds are not created. Raw cacao beans straight out of the pod are practically uneatable, bitter, astringent... ZERO chocolate flavor.

As to the ORAC values of chocolate, the short story is that the new chemical analyses and medical research is finding that the phenolic compounds and ORAC values of plain dark chocolate is off the charts, higher then most fruits, even the "new" fruits (acia, goji, mangstein, etc...). Some of the new research showing that one only needs to eat about 5g of plain dark chocolate - say 70%, a day to receive a good dose of health giving compounds. AS PART OF A BALANCED DIET!

Claims that processed chocolate (i.e. fermented, dried, roasted and ground...) has no health giving antioxidants is simply not true. The "cold processed" folks and the "Raw" folks are stating that 'their chocolate' contains far more phenolic compounds and antioxidants then processed chocolate when in fact research is showing that the difference between the two types is between 1% up to 20% difference (depending upon the bean source, climate, treatment, etc...). This difference in values in my opinion does not justify sacrificing flavor.

I encourage everyone to become more educated then the marketing hypesters!

Nuf said. -Mark
Mark:

To your point about Xocai being chocolate or not.

The FDA Standard of Identity for cacao nibs doesn't say anything about fermentation (the precise language is "cured, cleaned, dried, and cracked cacao beans") as a requirement for something to be called chocolate.

So, technically, I think that Xocai can be called chocolate because it falls within the strict definition for "Sweet Chocolate."

Interestingly, while there is a Standard for white chocolate, there is no standard for Dark Chocolate, and the Standard for sweet chocolate allows the use of many kinds of dairy ingredients: 163.123 (b)(4)(i ... v inclusive).

I agree with you that many (though not all) of the manufacturers of "healthy chocolate" or "raw" chocolate products totally overstate the effects of processing on antioxidant levels as well as grossly misrepresent the kinds of ingredients that "unhealthy" chocolate manufacturers use in their products as scare tactics.

:: Clay
Hi Clay,

I'm not so concerned with what the FDA standards are at the moment, just what constitutes what actual chocolate is as pertains to the processing and nomenclature. If aficionados and connoisseurs do not define what is and what is not chocolate then the field is open to all sorts of claims and ingredients.

Cacao beans, unprocessed, is not chocolate, neither in process or language - they are raw cacao beans and as I've stated, uneatable with zero chocolate flavor. No matter what companies do to these particular beans they will never be chocolate.

Cacao beans, fermented, dried is still not chocolate, and in nomenclature is considered cacao not cocoa. But it does have a flavor profile of chocolate! The nomenclature changes at the point at which cacao beans are roasted, thus cocoa. After grinding you can call it cocoa mass or unrefined chocolate. Further chocolate flavor compounds are developed.

So I stand by my claim that Xocai is not chocolate. It is a dark brown melty substance that claims to mimic chocolate but in order to have any flavor profile requires added ingredients in order to have any flavor that overpowers the bitterness of the phenolic compounds.

-Mark
Mark:

Although I understand your position here, in the end I personally am going to defer to the FDA when it comes to defining what can be called chocolate because all manufacturers are required to adhere to these definitions if they want to call their products chocolate.

I take this position even though I happen to be disappointed with the standards, but they are the only reference point for what can legally be called chocolate in the US.

It is true - unprocessed cacao beans cannot be called chocolate (that's covered in the standards of identity).

Cacao beans that are fermented and dried are also not chocolate - and that's also covered in the standard of identity. "Chocolate liquor", "chocolate", "unsweetened chocolate", "bitter chocolate", "baking chocolate", "cooking chocolate", "chocolate coating", or "unsweetened chocolate coating" is the solid or semiplastic food prepared by finely grinding cacao nibs. Cacao nibs (they are NOT referred to as cocoa in the standards), is "the food prepared by removing the shell from cured, cleaned, dried, and cracked cacao beans." I suppose that you could construe "cured" as fermented, but cured is used to refer to a wide variety of processing techniques.

From personal experience, I can tell you that unfermented, dried, and roasted beans ground and made into chocolate do have a distinct chocolate flavor but the flavor is straightforward mild chocolate with no nuances. Fermentation is responsible (at least this is my understanding from several experts from CIRAD) for the development of flavor precursors that are available to the Maillard reaction during roasting.

Your issues with Xocai (and I suspect other products in this category) appear to be related to quality which the standards (rightfully) don't address. While Xocai may legally be entitled to be called chocolate, I don't think that it is very good chocolate. If you don't think that Xocai is "really" chocolate then you should file a complaint with the FDA - however, as long as the product conforms to the standard of identity and MXI doesn't make illegal health claims benefits then there's nothing you can do about that.

That said, I do agree with you in general about Xocai. It is what I refer to as a "chocolate-like substance." I don't find that either the taste or the texture falls within the norms of what I consider to be edible and I cannot (and do not) recommend that people purchase it.

There are far less expensive ways to get the health and wellness benefits of cacao and eat something truly enjoyable.
Mark,

Thank you so much for this well written response to Xocai (on September 16, 2009 at 9:52pm). I'm so tired of their far fetched claims that are all aimed at making money for their representatives. You've set the record straight and I've copied this for my files. Thanks for taking the time to write this out! It's very helpful.
Hi Mark,
I have done a detailed analysis of ORAC on the New Sacred Chocolate website that will launch soon. You may want to check it out in about a month or so. As you may recall Sacred Chocolate is a "cold processed" chocolate.
Hope all is well.
Steve

Hi Mark, I would love to talk to you in more detail about what you are doing. I so admire it and have been called to do exactly the same and in the Southwest. The historical details I have a personal interest in but don't feel called to give info to public. But, the rest of it is on par. I know the Kakawa Chocolate House and have experienced the elixirs. Wow. My vision I am creating is unveiling a Chocolate Alchemy lounge connected to a Yoga Studio and reintroducing Chocolate Yoga. The lounge is very relaxed with comfie furniture and a small kitchen for creating elixirs and some chocolate truffles and gluten free desserts. Maybe on the desserts. I want to use the yoga studio space for the chocolate ceremonial meditations and healing sessions. This is the vision stuck in my head! LOL I am interested in acquiring ceremonial grown cacao, such as what the Chocolate Shaman in Guatemala has offered. Please contact me. Thank you!

Hello Becky, your vision sound great. If I understand you correctly, you will be in the Southwest with the yoga/chocolate lounge/studio? I see that you are based in WI.

As to Kakawa, I left in June 2009, and I know that my elixirs recipes have been changed. There is a new owner as of Fall 2011 and I have spoken with him several times (although not on the recipes) and he seems to be a nice guy. I cannot vouch for the recipes now at Kakawa as I make my own. I've been giving lectures and presentations on the history of chocolate, continue to do research and development of historic drinking chocolate (I am up to around 30 different kinds).

I encourage you to do the desserts, just use very good ingredients and quality chocolate. You will spend more but you will have unparalleled flavors.

I am in the process of writing my own wheat-free/gluten-free baking book. I have been a pastry chef/baker for over 20 years and went in that direction in 1995. I am available for consulting.

The ceremonial aspects of chocolate are ancient and the uses of chocolate in ceremony are profound. I have been giving chocolate ceremonies in private settings for quite a while now. The responses and feedback are that people have received heart gifts and deep insights, as well as a new appreciation and gratitude for chocolate.

I am interested in speaking with you about your vision and experiences.

You can reach me at my email address.

-Mark

Thank you so much for your response, Mark. I will email you today! I look forward to learning more from you!

Becky

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