Celestial Chocolate

Sylvia Smith

Photography by Richard Duebel

Sublime, fantastic and celestial are adjectives often used to described the flavour of chocolate, but in the case of Mirzam celestial is a doubly significant. Stars in the night skies guided Arab sailors navigating along the treacherous spice routes. Those sailing in difficult waters would look up to the brilliant points in the sky and calculate the direction of travel from the position of the celestial bodies.

The star Mirzam or beta (β) Canis Major, was often combined by the Arabs with the star beta (β) Canis Minor (Gomeisa) and these two beta stars together were called The Announcers, heralding the coming of Sirius, the biggest star in the sky. In Arabia they were imagined as two dogs. One can imagine barking dogs on a hunt, announcing that the prey is in sight or barking dogs bringing some potential danger to their master’s attention. Dovetailing the love of hunting hounds, the owners of Mirzam have extrapolated on the star motif.

As with the countless stars so with the chocolate. There isn’t just one type of cocoa bean. Mirzam the chocolate makers use antique maps as a guide to source their cocoa and ingredients all of which are inspired by the produce of exotic lands along the maritime spice route. It’s an interesting use of history and tradition in an industry that often produces overly sugary confections that contain little of the raw ingredients that were sought after by the traders of old.

Weaving the region’s maritime trade as a theme with good quality ingredients also brings a special nuance to the chocolate itself; the artfully-designed wrappers which feature storybook stars and spooky sea monsters anticipate an exotic and thrilling experience.

Designing your own wrapper was one of the ways the Dubai-based chocolate firm engaged with visitors at Dubai Design Week so linking history with the decorative arts. Encouraging visitors to put paint on their brushes and let their imaginations take them to distant lands, chocolate took on its own history and became for a while the compass for new adventures of the mind.

Particularly compelling is the move away from the commercial chocolate branding where getting the chocolate bar’s name in the largest of letters is the priority. Replacing a word with beautifully crafted images is a real treat for children tempting them to trace the journeys of their ancestors. Mirzam is expensive but worth it.

Choc Facts:

It’s the world’s favourite sweet treat – and it all began in Mesoamerica where fermented drinks made from cocoa beans date back to 1900 BC

The Aztecs believed the cacao seeds were the gift of the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency.

Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree.

After its arrival in Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added and it became a court favourite. Its popularity gradually percolated down from the ruling classes to common people

By the 20th century chocolate was part of US ration for soldiers at war.

Some of the industry’s biggest players have warned that chocolate supplies could soon be running low. Why? In addition to disease look no further than the rise to the rise of the chocolate crisp – and other chocolate anomalies.

When economic reforms began in China in the late 1970s, there were 1 billion people who had never tasted chocolate.

It’s suggested that 200 million people in China have now tasted chocolate and buy it regularly. In the long term China is likely to become the world’s largest market.

Ever heard of Barry Callebaut? No? It’s the world’s largest chocolate company. Based in – you guessed it Switzerland.

Almost 50% of new breakfast cereals now have chocolate in them.

White chocolate isn’t technically chocolate as it contains no cocoa solids or cocoa liquor.


It takes approximately 400 cacao beans to make one pound (450 gr.) of chocolate.

 

All you need is love. But a little chocolate doesn’t hurt!

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