Welcome to Delivery Rank's special edition of "Flavors Unleashed," where we explore the delectable world of chocolate and its boundless possibilities. We are thrilled to have with us a true visionary in the realm of chocolate. Joining us today is none other than Justin Frank Polgar, a man who has not only revolutionized the way we indulge in chocolate but has also become known as the Minister of Chocolate. Justin is the founder of Yes CACAO, a remarkable brand that has taken the concept of chocolate to new heights by infusing it with powerful botanicals.
In some ways, chocolate has been choosing me my whole life. I've always loved chocolate, and seemingly separately, had a passion for foods that make us feel. Most people have coffee or wine as an easy reference point for this feeling I'm talking about. I had been learning about these superfoods since I was twelve or thirteen, and anytime in school I had an opportunity to deepen my understanding about the history of these foods, I took advantage of it. From ginseng and spirulina, to turmeric and ginkgo, I was fascinated! The biggest challenge with these magical mood altering foods was they often tasted horrible. Enter chocolate... I was working at a Chinese Medicine School and these very talented doctors often spoke about how it was difficult to get patients to take their prescribed herbs. I had just learned that chocolate was a vasodilator, meaning it opened the blood vessels and enhanced absorption of whatever we combine it with. There was an Aha moment, and I could almost hear Willy Wonka's flute play a victory ditty. It was that moment that I saw a huge opportunity: to use the highest quality chocolate as a delivery system for healthy botanicals.
The first flavors that I made were custom batches. I would sit with a client and based on the challenge or goal they had, I would create a 20-30 day supply of chocolate, customized with botanicals specifically for them. Today when we R&D new flavors, the best ones are focused on an individual. This process usually involves imagining the superhero powers of the person, and picking the functional botanicals that match with the goal. There are hundreds of amazing plants with medicinal and therapeutic benefits; our secret sauce is creating a cascade of flavors that wow the palate, and then wow the mind and body. As for incorporating feedback from customers, we love the questions that start off, "... would it be possible to..."–we think anything is possible with chocolate.
We rely on long established relationships, and obsession with quality from our sources. We work with super passionate farmers and wild harvesters. Whenever I have the opportunity, I visit the source and spend some time learning what drives their Why. Recently I visited our vanilla farmer in the Waipio Valley of Hawaii, Coe Botanica. It's great to hear what he's working on as far as biodynamic techniques and curing. These experiences remind me of Why everything that goes into a chocolate bar matters. The wild harvested cacao we get from Ecuador is unparalleled in quality. It's truly some of the rarest cacao in the world, and it's processed to preserve that magic.
The chocolate industry has several challenges, and some of those have been persisting for over 100 years. The top challenges in my awareness are:
The chemicals and pesticides sprayed on the trees and in the soil (even organic certified farms). Less than 1% of cacao is even grown organically.
Hybridized gmo cacao like CCN-51, which creates a more homogenized (and bland) chocolate flavor that can be grown in any cacao region. It makes farmers dependent on fertilizer and chemical companies, and neglects the signature flavors of region-specific terroir.
Heavy metals are a persistent challenge, and there's a lack of understanding of their source. Some are naturally occuring, and others result from manufacturing run-off, or the manufacturing of the chocolate itself.
Price is a challenge too! Chocolate is one of the most labor intensive gourmet foods to grow and produce, and the price needs to reflect that. If you're paying $2 for a chocolate bar, there are corners being cut... usually payment to farmers.
And slavery is still an issue. Even with children.
I could speak at length about all of these challenges. Ultimately it inspires me to continue holding YES Cacao to the highest standards.
Shhhhh, this is top secret. We have some collaborations in the works with some stellar companies. What I can say is that we'll be coming out with new SKUs starting in the late summer and early fall. It may have to do with drinking chocolate... or non-traditional pairings with chocolate.
I keep in touch with friends and peers in the food and beverage space. It's the deep dive conversations where magic comes about. As far as media, podcasts continue to be my favorite way to learn about where innovation is pointing.
If you would like to find out more about Yes CACAO, visit https://www.yescacao.com/