Za'atar spice mix Za'atar spice mix The spice blend za'atar, an unusual but award-winning addition to chocolate. (Photo: Quanthem/Shutterstock)

Gold-medal chocolate gets its flavor from an unlikely source

Chocolatier creates a buzz by adding za'atar, an Israeli spice blend, to her ganache.

Ika Cohen is steadily adding to her pile of awards for her chocolate creations.

Two years ago at the International Chocolate Awards, she brought home a bronze medal for her lemon praline. Last year, she earned a silver medal for her confection made with Earl Grey tea. And, at the 2014 awards in Florence, Italy, the chocolatier earned top honors. She won the gold medal in the flavored dark ganaches and truffles category for her za’atar ganache.

Za’atar is a spice blend found commonly in the Mediterranean region containing thyme, oregano, sumac, marjoram, sesame seeds and salt. It's usually used to flavor meats, vegetables, rice or breads, and it's not commonly found in sweets.

Cohen entered the contest independently because there was no specific Israeli round in this year’s competition. Her gold was won in the European Open competition for countries that don’t have their own round. Judges for the competition are drawn from experts, food journalists, sommeliers and pastry chefs from Italy, Europe and around the world.

In an interview with TLV1, she said that after winning with lemon one year and Earl Grey the next, it was suggested that she use a product from Israel to infuse into her chocolate. Enter za’atar.

Cohen was skeptical about using za’atar in chocolate, but she was surprised to find she could create a “very harmonized, very balanced ganache with an infusion of za’atar.” She didn’t create the chocolate independently; fellow chocolatiers Dub Zolty and Dorit Triokis worked with her to create the combination that caused a buzz at the awards.

ika cohen of ika chocolate Ika Cohen of Ika Chocolate. (Photo: Shiran Carmel)

Cohen’s passion for chocolate came after she graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a degree in marine biology. She explains on her shop's home page that while traveling, she focused on chocolate because it gave her great pleasure and decided to pursue chocolate making.

She worked with the best chocolatiers of Paris and studied at Ecole du Grand Chocolate – Valrhona, the Ecole Gastronomique Bellouet Conseil, and at the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy. Eventually, she made her way back to her home country of Israel where she worked as a chocolatier in a renowned restaurant and wrote the chocolate chapter of an award-winning cookbook.

In 2011, she opened her own chocolate shop in Tel Aviv and started winning prizes in the International Chocolate Awards for her creations.

A video of Cohen in action:

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