Try Beetella, the new, healthier chocolate spread from Essence Foods
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
Norfolk-based Essence Foods launch tasty beetroot-based chocolate spread. Charlotte Smith-Jarvis found out more...
I was brought up on Nutella. I dread to think of the number of times I've snuck to the cupboard and, while noone's watching, stolen a spoonful (or two), eaten unadulterated from the jar. It's my guilty pleasure.
So when headlines broke last year that this supposedly nutritious (well, it has nuts and milk in it) chocolatey lava of goodness could potentially be carcinogenic, my heart ached a little.
In Italy, where the spread's habitually smothered over pastries and bread of a morning, Nutella was ripped from supermarket shelves, prised out of the fingers of the country's inhabitants, for whom the chocolatey cream is as ubiquitous as our buttered toast and tea.
Sarah Savage of Essence Foods, known for her gorgeously original Norfolk-made preserves, watched the news unfold with interest, and it set her on a whole new path of discovery.
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'I decided I was going to make a healthy alternative to other chocolate spreads, because palm oil really isn't very good for you. And they're packed full of sugar. I thought, okay, you can't just say 'don't eat it', you've got to offer something different, let's see if we can do that. It's been one of the hardest things I've ever developed – and I've done product development for supermarkets over the years. It was so tough. But I really wanted to make something my kids would eat, that was nice, but relatively healthy.'
Out in the depths of the Norfolk countryside, at her purpose-built kitchen on the family farm in Reepham, Sarah set to work concocting what's now known as Beetella – launched at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival at the end of September.
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Packed with goodness, including beetroot (hence the name) Sarah now thinks Beetella can hold its own against other chocolate spreads in both the health and flavour stakes – and her friends, family and customers agree.
'The hardest thing in getting it right was the texture and flavour. Those are the two main parts. It's really hard to make it have a lovely texture in your mouth, rather than being flat. Often healthy, fruity spreads taste thin and aren't unctuous in any way. It was about giving richness without packing it full of cream and butter, and also about getting that beetroot and grape juice in without it feeling like a fruit spread. I think we're there now. When we've gone to shows people have really loved it.'
A key ingredient in the spread is beetroot powder, with beetroot hailed by many studies as being one of the most beneficial vegetables for health.
'It's a phenomenal ingredient,' Sarah smiles. 'I was chatting a while ago to a local farmer who grows a lot of it, and it was silly cheap for these fantastic bunches of Norfolk beetroot. I thought it was wonderful, but he said they dig a lot of it back into the ground because people don't buy it. I thought, we need to get more beetroot into people! But you have to try and make it taste nice. And that's one of the things that got me started with Beetella.'
Beetroot powder imparts a deep and intense flavour into the chocolate spread, enhancing its cocoa flavour. Combined with it are organic grape juice, water, agave syrup, GMO free glycerine, pure cocoa powder, 74% high grade dark chocolate, natural vanilla, cocoa butter and coconut oil. No nasties, fillers or unnatural additives – and no palm oil.
There's a chocolate orange version too. Plus a vegan spread made with coconut milk and a touch of organic brown rice flour.
'It's so smooth,' says Sarah proudly. 'And one of the things I love about it is because the fats are from cocoa butter and coconut oil, as soon as you get it on heat, it collapses a bit and becomes really lovely – we have it on our porridge.'
Sarah is hoping to spread the joy of Beetella across East Anglia, and beyond, with a dream to expand the brand nationally. She already supplies seven local Waitrose stores with her preserves, Jarrold is taking the Beetella product, and it will soon be available in all the outlets where you find Essence jams – including the Essence Foods website.
You'll also be able to try a sample at Woodforde's Christmas Fair and the Holt Hall Christmas Fair later in the year.
'I want people to buy it and enjoy the flavour,' Sarah adds. 'Think about what you're buying that's got palm oil in it, because it's really not good for you. Wholesome ingredients are much better.'