Jacqueline Monahan



By Jacqueline Monahan

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Sweet Mysteries - Chocolate Tasting at Ethel M Factory in Henderson

If the taste of chocolate is your idea of heaven, you can find that heaven right here on earth.  The Ethel M Chocolate Factory in Henderson, the one sitting next to the large three-acre garden of botanical cactus, the one that opened in 1981 because recently retired Forrest E. Mars, Sr. was bored, the one that is named after his mother, Ethel, who started the business with her husband Frank, out of their kitchen in Tacoma, Washington in 1911.

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Yes, the M stands for Mars.  Think Snickers, Twix, Milky Way, and Three Musketeers.  Mars is the “M” in Ethel M’s, but her namesake factory creates specialty premium chocolates, the kind that features various gourmet fillings enrobed with white, milk, or dark chocolate, and, according to the company’s website, “infused with a precise blend of love, art and science…the result is always something magical.”

These days, the magic continues with chocolate tastings, available by appointment and to walk-ins hourly.  The $14.99 fee can be reduced to as low as $8.00 with a four-pack Groupon.

The Mars factory has an elegant, spacious tasting room (by appointment or walk-in request) that can accommodate guests who wish to indulge in a form of chocolate immersion therapy. Tastings are hosted hourly everyday from 10am - 7pm and last from 30-45 minutes.

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Ethel M’s slogan, From Bean to Box, encompasses the history of cocoa (or cacao as it’s known at this stage) its growing, harvesting, drying, fermentation, winnowing (breaking off the shell), roasting, grinding, processing, refining, tempering, and production.

An actual cocoa pod is passed around the room.  Its color is dark brown and it has a shape reminiscent of a small, shriveled football.  The fascinating journey of this homely pod on its transformation to creamy chocolate is detailed through lecture and slide presentation.
If you’ve ever noticed that some chocolates have a shinier exterior than others, your Ethel M Chocolatier guide will explain that molded chocolates are shiny, while enrobed chocolates (fillings atop a screen-like conveyor belt get covered with chocolate as they pass a certain point) have more of a matte finish.  Watching the enrobing process, one of the participants was heard to exclaim, “That’s how I want to die!”

As the tasting begins, participants are given samples of differing sizes, colors and textures (after the lecture) and asked to guess the flavor and note the sensual particulars of each piece. The scent, notes, and ‘chew’ of the variety are written down on the provided chart.

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Tastings choices include Classic (white, milk, and dark chocolate) All Milk Chocolate, All Dark Chocolate, Nuts for Nuts, Happy Hour (a variety of liqueur-filled pieces) and Seasonal (festive and holiday flavors like eggnog).  Accommodations are made for allergy and ingredient sensitivities.

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Your humble correspondent attended a Classic tasting that was changed at the last minute to include two liqueur pieces.  Score!  We weren’t told what they were, but had to appreciate their mystery flavors and textures, noting them on our chart.  Next came the reveal, usually surprising.

We were treated to Vanilla Truffle, Bourbon Liqueur, Rum Liqueur, and Prickly Pear Satin Crème chocolates, covering white, milk, and dark varieties.  All three start with the same cocoa pod, but different processes and ingredients result in either the sweetest white variety (officially recognized and standardized in 2014) the creamy milk variety, or the bold, dark chocolate variety.

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A certificate proclaiming that each participant has earned the title of Ethel M Chocolatier is presented, good for 20% off in the gift shoppe visit that is sure to follow.  Even if you don’t make a purchase, there’s the wall of candy to admire, and the lady who gives out free samples to visit.

The spacious gift shoppe offers products (even sugar-free varieties) in pre-packaged or individual selection boxes and bags, packed by the helpful candy counter personnel.  Select your own mix from the glass cases with their seductive rows of confection.

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Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn


Ethel M 1634

Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Don’t forget the self-guided tour to watch automated machines, aided by candy engineers that look more like surgeons, give candy varieties curvy rides on conveyors belts to their final destination.  A chocolatier staff packs each and every box by hand.  All candy is preservative free and cold shipped from the solar powered factory.

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Ethel M 1631

Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Come for the candy and stay for the tasting.  You just might learn something.  And this is one lesson that’s easy to swallow.

For further info.


Prickly Pear Satin CrèmePrickly Pear DC


Bourbon Liqueur



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