Inside Mirzam: Dubai’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory

The “Monsoon” collection is one of Mirzam’s earliest creations and its blend of mango, coconut and chili is inspired by historical trade relations between the Gulf, India and Sri Lanka. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Inside Mirzam: Dubai’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory

  • Dubai’s first ‘bean-to-bar’ factory continues to deliver the goods

DUBAI: Just entering Mirzam in Dubai’s AlSerkal Avenue is a feast for the senses. Dubai’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory has been running for around four years, picking up several international awards along the way for its wide variety of delicious treats — from a cup of rich hot chocolate to chocolate-enrobed dates and 28 kinds of beautifully designed and wrapped chocolate bars. Hungry yet?

The Mirzam factory is an intimate and elegant experience: you can observe chocolate makers working diligently behind a glass wall and adventurous chocolate lovers can test out flavors from around the world through small samples. According to Kathy Johnston — a New Zealander with the enviable job title of Chief Chocolate Officer — Mirzam is a unique blend of chocolate-making and historical research.




In an attempt to promote talents from the region and beyond, Mirzam has collaborated with emerging artists to design charming and colorful wrappers. (Supplied)

“We specialize in looking at the history of the maritime Spice Route and the history of trade that started from this region with Arabs that (sailed) all over the world. They used the stars for navigation — ‘Mirzam’ is the name of a star,” Johnston tells Arab News. “They came back with these stories of monsters and all sorts of far-flung ideas. We (try to connect) our collections and recipe development back to the history of this region.”

That means that in any bite of Mirzam chocolate, you might find any number of unusual ingredients: Saffron, cardamom, damask rose, star anise, fennel, pumpkin seeds, and more. The “Monsoon” collection is one of Mirzam’s earliest creations and its blend of mango, coconut and chili is inspired by historical trade relations between the Gulf, India and Sri Lanka. 




“You have to really want to make good chocolate to agree to do it this way,” says Johnston. “It's a lot more complicated than people realize.” (Supplied)

The “Winter in Morocco” collection is another delightful series, drawing inspiration from the bustling souks of Marrakesh and a particular caravan route from West to North Africa, where salt was a staple commodity of traders. Aside from the collection’s French Maldon sea salt and dark chocolate bar, there is also a white chocolate bar infused with orange blossom and roasted almond — which the company bills as a nod to a popular Moroccan drink called Haleeb bil Louz. 

To date, the “Emirati” collection is Mirzam’s most successful product, reflecting popular foods from local culinary culture, including Ragag — a thin, crispy bread — and Aseeda, a sweet pumpkin pudding. 




Once they receive the cocoa beans coming from places like Vietnam and Madagascar, they are sorted by hand. (Supplied)

“We have five Emirati recipes that are not very well-known outside of the UAE or the Middle East,” says Johnston, who has lived in the Emirates for 30 years. “We feel really proud that it’s our top-selling collection. These are recipes that we grew up with. One of our original objectives was to create a product that was genuinely, locally made and inspired.”  

In an attempt to promote talents from the region and beyond, Mirzam has collaborated with emerging artists to design charming and colorful wrappers — each with a story to tell. Some are creatively designed maps, some are charts of the night sky, others are based on geometric patterns. “People really like our wrappers. We get a lot of people who come in and take them,” Johnston says with a laugh.  

Mirzam’s chocolates, Johnston says, do not contain additives. That’s where the bean-to-bar concept comes in. “You have to really want to make good chocolate to agree to do it this way,” she says. “Otherwise what comes out of your brand isn’t very good – it needs flavoring and other stuff to make it taste good. I think that it’s a lot more complicated than people realize.”




In any bite of Mirzam chocolate, you might find any number of unusual ingredients: Saffron, cardamom, damask rose, star anise, fennel, pumpkin seeds, and more. (Supplied)

Once they receive the cocoa beans coming from places like Vietnam and Madagascar, they are sorted by hand — any damaged beans are removed. After the cocoa beans that have made the grade are roasted, they are then tossed in a large winnowing machine, breaking the beans into small dark-chocolate nibs, which are mixed with raw cane sugar and cocoa butter and ground into chocolate liquid. After the liquid has been tempered, the chocolates are placed in decorative molds and wrapped by hand. The end result is, in its own way, a work of art. From conception to execution, making Mirzam chocolates is a painstaking process.

“It comes from years of being obsessed with food and tasting all sorts of weird stuff that you come to understand how important the history of the Spice Route is,” Johnston says. “There is such a beautiful history and side to the Orient and the Middle East that I think people need to know more about.”  


Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

We speak to a hair expert on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care. (File/Instagram)
Updated 30 March 2020

Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

DUBAI: As salon-goers face the closure of spas, salons and barbershops, we speak to Haneen Odeh, founder of UAE’s Snob salon for her take on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care.

Many men and women who rely on salon visits to keep their lengths healthy could be left wondering what to do between now and their next visit to a professional hair stylist. But just as important is what not to do (read: DIY trim job) to avoid ruining your hair and having to impose your own personal period of self-isolation once the pandemic is over due to a ruined haircut you tried to pull off in the bathroom mirror.

Don’t bleach your own hair
“For those who usually go to the salon to dye their lengths blonde, roots may be starting to show now. And while it might be tempting, I would strongly urge to not bleach your own roots. Lightening dark hair is a very complex multi-step process that requires years of experience and professional grade products only available at salons. Bleaching your hair incorrectly might result in burning and damaging your hair. Instead, opt for a root spray such as the L'Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up Concealer Spray. Otherwise, you can always conceal your dark roots with a headband or try wrapping your hair up with a scarf.” 

Do deep conditioning treatments
“Use this time to nourish your hair with a deep conditioning treatment. A lot of people simply apply it in the shower on wet hair for a few minutes and call it a day, but that way means that your lengths aren’t getting the full benefits of the product. Think of hair like a sponge, when it’s wet, it’s already full of water and cannot absorb anything more. So to make sure the product is fully absorbed into your locks, towel dry your hair after shampooing and then apply the treatment. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes and then rinse. You’ll see a huge difference.” May we suggest The Let It Go Circle hair mask from Davines, which is designed to boost hydration and revitalize dry and brittle strands?  

Don’t pick up the scissors
“When you’re bored, it might be tempting to pick up the scissors but, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t trim your own bangs or make any big changes to your hair cut on your own. It will inevitably go wrong and you will end up paying more to get it fixed in the long run. Try out some new hairstyles instead. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube so experiment a little and get your hair professionally cut once it’s safe to do so.”

 Don’t over wash
“The more you wash your strands, the more you strip the scalp of its natural oils, and that in turn makes the scalp produce even more oil, which causes you to wash your hair more often — and the cycle goes on and on. Now is the perfect opportunity to give your lengths a break and cut down on the washing. Your hair might get oily, but once the adjustment period is over, you will notice that it will require less frequent washing.”

Do try scalp treatments
“Too often, we pay attention to the lengths of our hair and give our scalp no attention. But caring for your scalp improves the overall health of your tresses, stimulates hair growth and gets rid of dandruff due to product buildup. Scalp treatments range from serums to salt scrubs, so pick a product that suits your hair needs. Le Labo's basil-scented Scrub Shampoo uses black sea salt and menthol to clear away dirt and cool scalps down.”