Hershey Bars or Fran’s Truffles? Snickers or Bonbon’s? Although many of us love chocolate and hold it near and dear to our hearts, there seems to be a general consensus that there are levels of quality, taste, and cost in regard to chocolate. While Hershey Bars and Snicker’s seem delicious and are great for satisfying our sweet tooth, how come they simply don’t hold the same weight and impressiveness as say Norman Love’s chocolates? Why are some chocolates seen as more exquisite, luxurious, and tasteful and others viewed as cheap everyday snacks?
It all lies in the strain of cacao bean the chocolate derives from. Theobroma cacao is the name of the plant that chocolate comes from and the fruits of this plant are called cacao pods. Within the pods are cacao beans (the seeds of the pod) that are surrounded by a fruity, tasty, white pulp. These are the beans that go on to become chocolate through a process that includes fermentation, roasting, husking, grinding, and sweetening/flavoring with sugar, vanilla, peppers, fruits, and other additives.
However, there isn’t simply just one Theobroma cacao tree. Like many other plants, there are different strains of this tree and each strain is grown in a different region of the world, needing its own type of particular care, eventually producing its own variation of the taste we know as chocolate. Because of this difference in taste and quality, there are two names that describe the types of cacao in the world: bulk cacao and fine/flavor cacao.
Bulk Cacao makes up 95% of the cacao in the world, including most industrial chocolate (Martin). Often called the “wrinkle in classification” bulk cacao mostly comes from the beans of Forastero trees; these beans are very big and require large amounts of water to grow, and as a whole have less flavor than their fine counterparts (Martin). They are grown globally with West Africa being the largest producer (Presilla, 123).
On the other hand, fine cacao mostly comes from Criollo trees which are called “the holy grail of pure cacao.” These cacao pods originated in Mesoamerica and are now mostly grown in present day Venezuela and Peru (Martin). It is from fine/flavor cacao that most high quality and gourmet chocolates are made. Because of their superior quality, fine cacao is sold at a much higher price than bulk cacao earning $15,000 per ton versus $3,000 respectively (Martin).
Why then would anyone want to 1) eat bulk cacao and 2) grow bulk cacao?
Part two of the question is answerable. Originally the chocolate industry reflected more equal cacao production in terms fine vs. bulk in the early 1900s (50-50 ratio). However, the last 100 years has lead to fine cacao being produced now at only 5% of the market. The reasoning behind this has to do with our current economic systems. Many economic systems, especially capitalism, drive quantity over quality, favoring mass production of cheap goods over small production of fine goods. Mass production of cheap goods allows one to have greater access and control of the market, target people from low and middle socioeconomic classes, and fulfill demand faster. This sort of system is the one that drives the bulk cacao industry as bulk cacao beans are larger, produce higher yields, and are more disease resistant. On the other hand fine cacao requires a much more intensive labor process, more handling and care, and larger amounts of supervision as it is much more susceptible to disease and has an overall lower yield with smaller beans (Coe & Coe, 26). Because fine cacao is much more delicate and fragile and isn’t as easily or globally grown, many cacao farmers and businesses pursue bulk cacao. In an industry where there are no machines—nearly 100% manual labor—and where farmers lose up to 50% of the crops to disease, fine cacao is simply not favored and ends up losing out big time.
As a consumer though this is a critical issue. Since we are the ones who truly eat most of the chocolate produced (many of the people who produce cacao don’t eat it in the typical ways we do) should we be fine accepting a lower quality product for the profit of businesses. Should we allow business to dictate what is in the market and what are our options? Or should we instead push for a solution to the problems found in growing fine cacao, rather than accepting a mediocre version, especially in an era where research in genetics, agriculture, crop health and resistivity are achieving major feats and could pave the way for making fine cacao much more easier to produce?
Or do we care more about the availability and accessibility of chocolate than the taste, leading us back to the question “why would anyone want to eat bulk cacao?” If the answer is yes, then what does that say about our culture and us as people, where the emphasis on food is no longer taste?
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 26-27. Print.
Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 7:Sugar and Cacao.” Harvard Emerson Hall, Cambridge. 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.