There are people in the world who find the concept of peanut butter and jelly disgusting. Frankly, they are wrong, but it's important to consider regional variations in taste and palate.
That being said, creating a beef and chocolate candy seems universally suspicious at best—and that's precisely what is happening in New Zealand.
Senior scientist Mustafa Farouk, who works for the AgResearch institute, has partnered with Auckland-based Devonport Chocolates to create a confection made with 50 percent beef. Using the institute's own proprietary procedures to create a "chocolate butter" out of the beef—rendering it largely flavourless and textureless—the mixture is finished at Devonport Chocolates to create a product that Farouk promises is nearly impossible to differentiate from the regular stuff.
We caught up with Farouk to see why and how he's doing this.
MUNCHIES: How did this idea for beef chocolates originate? Mustafa Farouk: One of the things that I do is look at how I can add value to meat: What can we surround that meat with so we can make it and all the nutrients and goodness in meat more valuable to the consumer? We started thinking, How is meat going to be consumed in the future? It is possible that meat will be consumed in a completely different form than it is consumed today—how can we get meat proteins and other nutrients in meat and combine it with other popular, familiar products, so that we can get a product that would be acceptable to the consumer?
We know that chocolate is one of those things that everybody loves, and we thought, well, chocolate may be a good product to start with.
So, was there a consumer demographic in mind for this product?? Well, the initial thinking was to see what could we do for those people who are living in retirement homes—people who are much older, because some of them have chewing problems, some of them have swallowing problems, and they generally don't like to eat steaks or anything that is [tough]. But then, as we developed it, we realized that the chocolate is going to be very high in protein and it's also going to contain high vitamin B-12 because of the meat, high iron content, zinc, [etc.]. So, we thought that product can also be good for toddlers and youngsters. We thought also people who are very active—mountain climbing, biking, on the trail—they are also the kind of people that can enjoy this type of product. When you look at it then, it can cover almost all the consumer demographics.
What is the portion size and nutritional value of one of these chocolates? We are just running that analysis now so that we can get a complete analysis of the nutrients in the product. Up to 50 percent of the chocolate is meat. So, if you calculate on that basis, you can see that you can have up to 25 percent extra protein over your normal chocolate that doesn't have meat.
How do you actually process the meat to form the "chocolate butter"? Well, what I can tell you is that we start with very lean bull beef. New Zealand is a major producer of bull beef because bulls are a byproduct of the dairy industry, and their meat is lean compared to others.
We are trying two textures: one that is smooth, like what you would find in a lot of the chocolate that you buy. The other one, you feel that you are biting into something that has some body to it, not as smooth as chocolate.
At the end of the day, you have a product that looks smooth. You're not able to see the meat fibers themselves, and because of the nature of the chocolate itself, you are not able to get the taste of the meat.
In some of the chocolates we have added our native New Zealand spices; one of them is called horopito. It is like a chili. So, when you bite into our chocolate and swallow it, then that spice will hit you in the back of your throat, and then you can't tell that there is any flavour at all different from the chili and chocolate flavour.
Was there any initial interest in leaving the beef flavour in the meat, or was it disagreeable when mixed with chocolate? Well, I love eating beef, but a lot of people, when you tell them that you are putting beef in chocolate, their first reaction is to say, "Yuck." So, right now, once we find what is acceptable [to consumers], then we can vary the taste.
I'm sure there are people who would love to get that beef taste in the chocolate itself. But, in the meantime, we are masking that flavour because we know with the general consumer it is hard to accept that combination.
Did Devonport Chocolates help devise these recipes and suggest these spices? What was their role? We are not chocolatiers; we are scientists. So, they are the ones who have the chocolate experience. We produced the butter, and then they turned it into a really nice-looking chocolate that there's no one way anyone can tell [is] 50 percent meat.
With these new ways that you are experimenting with processing and texturising meat, do you have other products that you are working on? We have already done a "meat-lover's" ice cream. You try that ice cream, and you'd never know that there is meat in that product at all. There is no dairy in it, and therefore for people who are lactose intolerant can eat that ice cream and enjoy it. We also produced mousse and have also produced spaghetti with meat.
Right now we are one of the major exporters of lamb and venison, so it is quite possible that rather than exporting just chunks of meat in a box, we will be exporting these products overseas.
Thanks for talking with us.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.