Za’atar, that typically Middle Eastern spice sprinkled on everything from pita bread to white cheese, is not what comes to mind when you think of a chocolate competition. Yet at this year’s International Chocolate Awards in London, Tel Aviv chocolatier Ika Cohen took a joint gold medal for her za’atar flavored truffle. Ika’s unexpected chocolate innovation shared first place in the “flavored dark ganaches and truffles” section with wild blueberry chocolates from Denmark.
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Usually prepared out of ground thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, salt and sumac; Za’atar is a bright green powder that smells and tastes like the last thing you would want to combine with chocolate. However, the za’atar truffle Cohen submitted to the competition impressed the judges enough to stand out among the other 950 contest submissions and was awarded a rare joint first place prize in the truffles category.
Cohen herself may have a knack for creating interesting chocolate because she’s actually quite new to the art. Before she founded her popular Tel Aviv chocolate shop, Ika Chocolate in 2011 (whose stock is totally out for anyone interested in buying), she completed her degree at Hebrew University in marine biology. Following a trip in the South Pacific, Cohen fell in love with sweets, and chocolate in particular, deciding to ditch the fish and follow her heart to Paris, where she studied the art of chocolate making under Michel Chaudun and Jacques Genins. After trying her hand at some of Israel’s finest confectionaries, Cohen opened up shop and since has never looked back.
This isn’t the first time that Cohen has submitted and won at the prestigious International Chocolate Awards; she took a gold medal at the semifinals in May, her lemon praline bonbon was a semifinalist at the 2012 competition, and her Earl-Grey tea-infused chocolate receiving silver at the semifinals that year.
Evidently a woman of many talents, Cohen’s international win proves that even when it comes to chocolate, sweet isn’t always the way to go.