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Nama Kiss: Raw, vegan, organic, scrumptious fudge

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Ah, fudge. It's so decadent and seductive. Who can resist a meltingly creamy bite of magically transformed chocolate, with its rich whole milk (or canned condensed), slabs of butter, scoops of sugar and globs of corn syrup?

Well, what did you think was in it? The average 1-inch square of fudge packs nearly 150 empty calories, and that's not counting the nuts, marshmallows or other add-ins that make you drool outside the fudge shop window. Yes, we saw you.

For many of us, especially during this season, the splurge is worth it because, darn it, you're worth it. As you reach for another piece, and another, your mind pleasantly drifts to Yule logs and mistletoe. But soon enough, the feeling of warm nostalgia turns to one of sugary regret. Why does this happen every year? Why can't someone make healthy fudge?

"Fudge does not have to be bad for you," says Andi Wolfgang, a calm and culinarily centered soul who produces raw, vegan, organic fudge at Raleigh's Nama Kiss. The tempting nibbles weigh in at about 87 calories apiece and are soy- and gluten-free.

"Personally, I don't like traditional fudge. It's so sweet, I feel like I'm eating a bowl of sugar," Wolfgang says as she preps a batch of her "superfood" fudge, whose primary ingredient is dried reishi mushroom powder.

Reishi figures prominently in traditional Asian medicine, and increasingly its curative value is being acknowledged stateside as well. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's website notes that it is used as an immune stimulant by patients with HIV and cancer. It also may improve lower urinary tract symptoms in men and have mild anti-diabetic effects.

"Sometimes, when I tell people there is reishi in there, they wrinkle their nose. They are convinced they won't like it," Wolfgang says. "But I've never had anyone tell me they didn't like it because it had mushrooms."

A completely unscientific poll based on a scant nibble of reishi fudge tasted by a pair of male carnivores led to comments like "creamy but mushroomy," while two mostly vegetarian females found an entire square to be "mind-blowingly scrumptious." Nama Kiss claims its product contains natural aphrodisiacs and beneficial life-force energy, so perhaps you need the full dose to truly feel the love.

Wolfgang, who is more of a pescetarian these days, first embraced a raw vegan diet when she was living in Tokyo and studying Japanese. Her sister Angi joined her there, and their cooking became so popular that they starting teaching classes. An impressed client invested in a restaurant to feature their foods.

The sisters next experimented with making sweets, and another investor sniffed a marketing success. "That's how Nama Kiss started," says Wolfgang, noting the Tokyo branch now operates independently.

Angi married a Japanese man and continues to make her home in Tokyo. When Andi returned to the U.S., she followed her parents from Pennsylvania to Raleigh, where they bought a home. Their father, Larry Wolfgang, is amused that his girls have made international headlines for selling raw vegan fudge.

"Hey, I've even done the vegan cleanse," he says proudly. "I thought it was kind of crazy at first, but I've got to admit: I feel better. Eating healthy foods really makes a difference in your life."

That's the reaction Wolfgang wants to inspire in people who figured there'd never again be a place for fudge in their careful diet.

"Much like the boost you get from exercise, the raw ingredients and natural tryptophan gives you a high that doesn't crash," she explains as she pours a glossy stream of velvety fudge from a blender into a pan to set. "We probably tested at least 2,000 variations before we finally settled on this."

Nama Kiss currently offers reishi and dark-chocolate sea-salt fudge but also makes other varieties to order. Prices range from $7.50 for 1/8-pound (four pieces) to $28.50 for a half-pound. The price reflects the high cost of quality ingredients and the fact that every batch is hand crafted.

Because its only "stabilizer" is pure cocoa butter, Nama Kiss fudge is sold chilled but is best enjoyed at room temperature. It will hold a few days on the counter and at least three weeks in the refrigerator.

Except for hot summer months, it's safe for shipping to family and friends who seek treats that meet their dietary preferences. In fact, Nama Kiss is offering a 30 percent discount through the holidays to those who email their orders to andi@namakiss.com.

Jill Warren Lucas blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Kiss and tell."

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