Askinosie: The New American Chocolate Maker

Askinosie chocolate bar

Anyone who makes something as delicious as chocolate is bound to be the most popular person on the block. Not so with Shawn Askinosie. During his former life as a criminal defense attorney, he received death threats. When he had an epiphany to make high-quality chocolate (it was either that or cupcakes) in 2005, he alienated both the chocolate and law community. Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger chocolate, was unimpressed with Shawn’s science background: a lone forestry class from the University of Missouri. His colleagues thought he was crazy, running back and forth from the courtroom to the factory. When Shawn was needed at “work,” he donned the emergency suit he kept in the factory and wiped the brown stains off his face.

Fortunately for chocolate lovers like us, Shawn opened his Springfield factory this January. This is a big deal because there are very few chocolate makers in the world. Most companies who sell chocolate don’t actually make it themselves. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Chocolate making is a 70-step process.

If you grew up on Hershey’s bars, you might think, “How good can American chocolate be?” When American chocolate is bad, it’s grainy, sour and artificial tasting. But when American chocolate is good, it’s among the best in the world. Some of my favorite brands, like Dagoba, Theo and Amano, are American. Askinosie is a worthy contender.

Pure chocolate is only pure cacao solids, added cocoa butter for smoothness, sugar, an emulsifier like soy lecithin (to keep everything together) and vanilla. A few chocolate makers exclude the soy lecithin or vanilla in the name of purity. I think the chocolate usually suffers as a result (for example, Michel Cluizel is crumbly without the emulsifier and Chocovic is flat without the vanilla), but it’s a commendable effort and a sign that the brand is serious about its chocolate.

Askinosie’s single-origin bars don’t have vanilla or soy lecithin, a double whammy. When I tasted the free sample that Shawn shipped me, I couldn’t tell that anything was missing. The bars were exceptionally smooth, glossy and had strong flavors.

Askinosie Chocolate nibs

For all you chocolate nerds, Askinosie is also unique because it makes single-origin cocoa butter and nibs. When other companies add cocoa butter to their chocolate, they use whatever’s available. The problem is that the two cocoa butters can result in waxy chocolate.

For all his meticulousness, it comes as no surprise that Shawn buys cacao directly from the farmers for more than market value (most cacao farmers live in poverty). Each bar also comes with a map detailing the region and the farmer. The bars also come with individual Choc-O-Lot numbers, so you can trace their journey.

Askinosie chocolate packaging

Askinosie is dedicated to sustainability: the tie on top of the bar comes from cocoa bean sacks, and the inner wrapping is compostable.

The 70% San Jose del Tambo bar from Ecuador has a unique tart red fruit and maple flavor. Ecuador is known for mild, nutty tasting beans, so these flavors were unexpected. The 75% Soncusco bar from Mexico is even better. It’s so unusual that I’m at a loss for words, but I guess it’s like grass, hay and dirt. Although Mexico is the home of spiced hot chocolate and mole, I don’t know of any other artisan bar from there. I guess something got lost in that 70-step process.

In short, Askinosie’s chocolate is impressive but not quite one of my favorites. Part of it is a bias on the flavor. While it’s strong, it’s not what I’m used to. Also, at $40 a pound, it’s expensive. As a point of reference, Valrhona, one of the gold standards, is $15 a pound. Is Askinosie worth that much, when it leaves a slightly scratchy feel in the back of my throat and could have a fuller range of flavors? I’m not sure, but it’s  worth a try.

Askinosie Chocolate
514 E. Commercial, Springfield, MO 65803
phone: 417-862-9900
fax: 862-9904

Chocolate is available at their factory (adult tours are $3!), their website and stores in Alaska, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, Missouri, Philadelphia and Texas.

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12 Comments »

  1. cybele said,

    I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this!

    On the subject of cocoa butter added to chocolate, the Guittard Quetzcoatl bar doesn’t use any additional cocoa butter … it’s a whole bean bar. I’m not sure what Amano’s practices are. But that’s a rarity, most definitely.

    September 28, 2007 at 2:17 pm

  2. Jessica "Su Good Eats" said,

    Hi Cybele, I’ll have to check out Guittard’s Quetzcoatl, thanks! Amano adds cocoa butter. Domori often doesn’t use soy lecithin or vanilla, and their Chateau line is the “purest” without added cocoa butter either. Vintage Plantations doesn’t use vanilla, plus their 90% and 100% bars don’t have lecithin or added cocoa butter. I think the 90% is quite edible on its own. It would be divine in double-chocolate chip cookies. I’m not a fan of their “lighter” bars though.

    September 29, 2007 at 12:14 am

  3. Mark Bitterman said,

    Askinosie’s practice of making their own cocoa butter puts them in a class by themselves, but more important, the chocolate is, quite simply, delicious, unusual, and interesting. Regarding the The 70% San Jose del Tambo bar from Ecuador, I very respectfully don’t agree with the reviewer’s assessment of the flavors as providing red fruity sensations. Rather, Over the top dried fruits (raisins, dates, figues, and some dried tropical fruit as well). The new bar, Soconusco, FROM MEXICO, is totally cool, with roasted earthy, barky, and faint nutty components overlaying more dried fruits (maybe Shawn Askinosie has a nose dried fruit, or maybe its a coincidence). You can buy both of these bars, and those from many other bean to bar producers, at our shop, The Meadow (www.atthemeadow.com)

    September 29, 2007 at 1:50 pm

  4. Jessica "Su Good Eats" said,

    Mark, the reviewer who tasted red fruit in the del Tambo bar would be me. :-) I think it tasted like red plums, but I could be wrong. The chocolate was so unusual that I had difficulty pinning it down. Now that you mention it, I can see dates in there too. I respectfully disagree on the tropical fruit though. :-) Nice selection of bars you have on Amazon.com, by the way.

    September 29, 2007 at 10:21 pm

  5. Niko said,

    Any idea if they will have a table at the NY Chocolate show this fall? I can’t wait to buy some and do a review.

    September 30, 2007 at 9:45 pm

  6. Jessica "Su Good Eats" said,

    Niko, they’re not listed in the Chocolate Show program, but I suggested it to Shawn because I think they’d do well there.

    October 4, 2007 at 7:29 pm

  7. Steven said,

    Does anybody know where they get their packaging? Where can i get material like this?

    December 7, 2007 at 1:52 am

  8. Cindy R. said,

    Does anyone know where in Alaska it is sold? I live in Anchorage, and I don’t have a clue where it might be.

    December 19, 2007 at 6:17 pm

  9. Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said,

    Cindy, I’m not sure where you can buy it in Alaska, but if you go to Askinosie.com and ask, I’m sure they can help you.

    December 19, 2007 at 10:28 pm

  10. Casey said,

    Hi! Do you know of any chocolate companies that don’t use soy lecithin? Because I would like to give some as a thank you, but the person I”m giving it to is allergic to soy.

    August 27, 2008 at 10:22 pm

  11. Rob Monahan said,

    Awesome article…I am researching distributors of “soy free” and “gluten free” chocolate products when I came across it. Love the site.

    Cheers!
    ~Rob
    (a.k.a. Professor Chocolate)

    January 27, 2011 at 7:31 pm

  12. vmonk said,

    Claudio Corallo’s chocolate has ruined all other chocolate for us. I’m not exaggerating! In addition to not containing vanilla or soy lecithin, they also have the germ removed. He’s a bit fanatical about his chocolate!
    http://www.claudiocorallo.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=2&Itemid=3

    We did a chocolate tasting with his chocolates once and at the end we tasted a piece of semisweet Scharffen Berger (I love their hot chocolate). After tasting all of the Claudio Corallo chocolates, the Scharffen Berger tasted like pure vanilla!

    We like his 80% sablé bar – just sugar crystals and chocolate. We’re fans of dark chocolate and normally anything above a 70% cocoa content gets a bit chalky for me (I recall this happening with Dagoba’s bars). The 80% bar (and even his 100% bar) is smooth and delicious.

    There is only one place to get them in the US at this time – Alegio Chocolate in Berkeley, California. It’s my understanding that they used to sell his chocolate at places like Harrod’s, but he didn’t want to upgrade his packaging to meet the desires of the higher end clientele, so he lost the contract. I do wish they had nicer packaging for gifting, but for now, the chocolate is our little treat. It’s so rich that one bar will last us quite a while.

    I’ll check out the Askinosie to see how it compares!

    November 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm

1 Links to this post

  1. Askinosie San Jose Del Tambo Ecuador 70%

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