As I ponder the selections of chocolate available in my local Trader Joe’s , it is important to understand a bit of the history of chocolate that is included in The True the History of Chocolate by Coe & Coe .Cacao, Chocolate originated in Meso-America and is referred to as the “Food of the Gods” consumed by the elite and used in sacrifices to please the gods.
Did you know that unlike money cacao really does grow on the pods and barks of trees.The chocolate trees were scientifically named Theobroma cacao in 1753 by the “great Swedish Naturalist” Linnaeus (1707-78).
Raw Cacao beans don’t taste anything like the chocolate bars we consume. After the cacao beans are harvested the cacao and pulp are fermented once fermentation is complete the beans are laid out to dry in the sun. Once dried the beans are then sorted and roasted. After the beans are roasted they are winnowed and finally the cacao nibs that are used to make chocolate reveal themselves. The cacao nibs are naturally bitter therefore sugar and other ingredients are added when making chocolate to reduce the acidity and bitterness and increase the sweetness.
Sidney Mintz in his book Sweetness and Power reminds us that sugar and sweetness is introduced to us at a very young age , “the first non milk food that a baby is likely to receive in North American hospital is a 5% glucose and water solution used to evaluate its postpartum functioning because newborns tolerate glucose better than water.”(Mintz, 1985) The fondness for sugar influences the chocolate that we consume as “most Americans instinctively go for blends with a high West African cacao content – this is a dominant cacao in some mass-produced brands that most American have eaten since childhood that is naturally identified with full chocolate flavor. Americans gravitate towards very light chocolate.” ( The New Taste of Chocolate, p. 136) Sweetness is a preferred taste from a very young age Cacao and sugar go together sort of like peanut butter and jelly. Alone each tastes okay but together they taste wonderful.
Chocolate has always evoked pleasant happy memories for me. From my childhood I can remember the heavenly aroma of chocolate from the Lowney Chocolate Factory wafting through the air as we walked to school, the anticipation of devouring my grocery store chocolate Easter bunny after Mass and the way the chocolate icing on a Honey Dew Donuts éclair melts in your mouth in an explosion of chocolate mixed with Bavarian cream.
As I matured my love of chocolate did not waver and I stayed loyal to brands like Hersey and Nestle and for special occasions Godiva was the go to brand. Then one day in 1987 a local chocolate shop called Puopolo’s Candies opened nearby. As a big believer in supporting local business I felt that it was my duty to check out the new chocolate shop. It was heaven! The aroma and the wide assortment of chocolate confections was astounding. There wasn’t a Snickers, Milky Way or Kit Kat in the place and it didn’t matter because these chocolates didn’t require brand recognition as one could see, smell and anticipate the chocolate truffles melting smoothly on your tongue while the milk chocolate flavors come to life. I never knew exactly why I came to prefer the chocolate sold at Puopolo’s over Hersey, Nestle or even Godiva, until now.
The big chocolate manufactures like Hershey, Nestle and Godiva appeal to the masses for both taste and price of their products. The chocolate is made in huge factories using industrial equipment. Each batch of chocolate is made to taste exactly the same as the other so that there is no variation of taste, color or texture in the thousands of candy bars that are made each day. Chocolate manufactured in this manner is referred to as industrial chocolate.
Shops like Puopolo’s are known as chocolatiers’ that appeal to people who appreciate and will pay for high quality chocolate . Chocolatiers’ produce chocolate creations on a much smaller scale and create confections in small batches by melting large bars of chocolate.
The bean to bar companies are conscious of the long history of exploitation in the chocolate industry including children being used as forced labor on cacao plantations. (Off, 2006) The bean to bar companies produce an ethical and sustainable product by controlling all stages of their chocolate making including choosing and grinding their own cacao beans.
The advantage of industrial chocolate for the consumer is that whether you purchase a Hershey bar in Alaska or Massachusetts the wrapper texture, color and taste of the chocolate will be the same. Whereas the smaller manufacturers including chocolatiers and bean to bar, aim to produce small unique batches of products. Cacao beans alone are bitter thus sugar and sometimes other flavorings like vanilla and milk are added to cocoa beans to make the chocolate bars more palatable. The more cacao content in a product the more intense the chocolate flavor which to many tastes bitter.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a local chocolatiers nearby so I set out to my local Trader Joe’s to utilize my new-found knowledge and analyze their chocolate section.
Mintz states ” food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status , culture and even occupation.” (Sweetness and Power). Trader Joe’s is a slighty upscale, funky progressive full service grocery store who cater to their customers food and need to shop at a socially responsible store. Customers that shop here generally care about where and how the ingredients in their food come from . Trader Joe’s listened to their customers and according to the timeline listed on their website in 1997 they “made a commitment to eliminate artificial trans fats from all private label products (along with artificial flavors, artificial preservatives & GMO ingredients… but that’s old news by now).”
Trader Joe’s shoppers are diverse and span the socio economic scale. They want to feel as if they are being socially and environmentally responsible without spending a lot of cash. They will however spend a bit more for a product if it makes them feel like they are achieving the goals of being a responsible consumer. One such chocolate bar checks all those boxes the Fair Trade Organic Belgium Chocolate Bar is included in the wide selection of chocolate products that are displayed throughout the store. These bars were included in the chocolate bar section located at the back of the store at the end of an aisle near the milk. The majority of the chocolate bars were 3.5 ounces with price points between $1.99 for the Fair Trade Organic Belgium Chocolate bars , $2.99 for a Valrhona dark chocolate bar and for $4.99 you could purchase a milk and almond pound plus bar. There were quite a few chocolate products located in the impulse buy zone at the front of the store including dark chocolate peanut butter cups and chocolate covered almonds for $4.99 each.
As I strolled the isles I noticed some chocolate bars above the seafood section that had pretty and exotic looking labels. Upon closer inspection it is revealed that these are dark chocolate bars made with 70% cacao and delicious fillings like coconut caramel and toffee and walnuts. Along side these bars there was a 65% Dark Cacao bar that is made from single origin fairly traded beans from Ecuador. These chocolate bars highlight the cacao content to entice those that believe the claim that chocolate is good for your heart . However, James Howe advises that the claim that chocolate is heart healthy is not scientifically proven that chocolate consumption alone is the primary element in increasing cardiovascular health. ( Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health, 2012) The artwork depicts nature scenes to enhance the natural allure of these chocolate bars that are priced at just $1.89.
In spite From the lovely artwork and detailed descriptions highlighting the cacao content and country of origin of the beans it is clear from the price points of $1.89 that these are mass marketed industrial made chocolate bars covered in cleverly designed Trader Joe’s wrappers. The wrappers contain all the buzz words and images the consumer wants to see so they feel like they are purchasing socially responsible products. When I questioned the store manager about the private label chocolate bars he did not know what company Trader Joe’s bought the chocolate bars from however he assured me that they were made from the finest organic ingredients yet… only a few chocolate bars are labeled organic or Fair Trade.
The Trader Joe’s Chocolate truffles look decadent on the shiny red background of the package. They even provide directions on how to”taste these delicate truffles”. Trader Joe’s selections so far were on target for their consumers, good cacao content, some organic selections. therefore I was very surprised when the first ingredient listed in the Cocoa Truffles was vegetable oil , the second sugar and finally cocoa powder appears as the third ingredient. This was disappointing as it is not as high quality chocolate product as it appears and not consistent with the prior products viewed.
After reviewing the chocolate bar and other chocolate products at Trader Joe’s I’ve concluded that Trader Joe’s should expand their chocolate selections to include more Fair Trade chocolate products and add a few Bean to Bar and local chocolatiers products to the inventory. It would be a clear statement to Trader Joe’s customers and the chocolate industry that Trader Joe’s cares about ethics and is committed to providing their customers with more Fair Trade, organic and local chocolate products. While the typical Trader Joe’s customer appreciates a bargain , many would be willing to pay more for chocolate if they know that their purchase directly benefits the cacao farmer or the small business person. Trader Joe’s has the opportunity to make a difference in the chocolate industry if they go beyond selling private label chocolate bars and include bean to bar and local chocolate makers.
If you want to make an effort to consume Fair Trade organic chocolate the key is read the labels or find your local chocolate shop , either bean to bar or chocolatiers you won’t be disappointed.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
“Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ed. Maricel E. Presilla. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. 61-94. Print.
Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet.2006. The New Press. print.
Multimedia and internet sources
Google Images , date accessed 5/7/16. http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/chocolate/images/content_img/CacaoGod.jpghttps://madhuwellness.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/cacoa.jpg
http://www.traderjoes.com/images/fearless-flyer/uploads/article-428/95474-Trader Joes 95475_Fair_Trade_Chocolate.jpg
Hershey’s Chocolate Making Process. htttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TcFYfoB1BY-
USDA Organic guidelines. https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification