The country of Brazil is known for many things, including samba, sandy beaches, and of course, beautiful women. True, the country has all of these things in abundance, but beneath the surface there exists many more wonderful attributes. I discovered Brazilian chocolate on my first visit to Brazil, in June of 2007. Newly married, my husband took it upon himself to introduce me to his culture and heritage, and so one of the very first places we went was his neighborhood candy and newspaper shop. I recall the selection being enormous, and I tried many different types of candy, but it was the chocolate that kept me coming back daily for more. My favorites at this time were all made by a company called Garoto, under the parent company Nestle (they own Garoto but operate separately).
Garoto, a bean-to bar company that was established in 1929, is today one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in Brazil, along with Barion and Mondélez. These three companies own nearly 75% of the market share in Brazil. The remaining 25% is shared between several smaller, premium chocolate companies, including Kopenhagen and Cacau Show. It is only in the last ten years or so that premium chocolate has become desirable for the Brazilian market, and only very recently has organic and fair trade chocolate even been introduced to the country. And this is for a country that produces over 350 thousand tons of cocoa per year, is home to more than 50 thousand cocoa farmers,and is in the top four chocolate producers in the world (Brazil Business, 2015).
To get an idea of the role chocolate played in Brazilian culture, I interviewed one of my closest friends in Brazil. Her replies were originally in Portuguese; for the purposes of this post I have translated her replies as accurately as possible.
What chocolates do you remember most from your childhood?
Yes, well, we ate a lot of candy when I was a child! My mother had an account so we could have anything from the little store. My favorite was Baton, which means lipstick in Portuguese…a chocolate in the shape of a lipstick. It was the best thing to have this chocolate on Sundays…we would watch the races on TV, do you know Ayrton Senna, Formula 1? And enjoy Baton, Serenata de Amor, Diamante Negro…and it was family, and tradition. Every time I eat this chocolate now I remember those Sundays.
What chocolates do you and your family enjoy today?
My children will eat many of the same things I have liked…for me now these things have too much sugar, they taste too sweet. I prefer very dark chocolate, maybe 70% cacao or more. My husband also, he really loves 90% cacao but this is very difficult to find, usually only when we travel outside of Brazil to USA we can find this at your supermarkets. Whole Foods has many, many chocolates we love! But my children, they do not like American chocolates…I think the taste is strange for them, unfamiliar.
Several years after my first trip to Brazil, I had the opportunity to return for three months. Progress marches on in all respects, but with regards to the chocolate market I noticed how things had changed…all of my same favorites were there, but there were a couple of new and popular places in the large shopping centers that everyone was recommending. The first one I visited was Kopenhagen, a premium chocolate shop.
It was obvious that they were trying to sell the upscale premium chocolates to a more discerning consumer. The menu included such things as European Hot Cocoa (a very thick melted chocolate drink), handmade truffles, and my personal favorite, a chocolate and marshmallow concoction called Nha Benta.
I also visited a place called Cacau Show, which specialized in many different flavors of bonbons displayed in a tower. Whereas Kopenhagen focused primarily on the consumer, Cacau Show catered more to the gift market, offering a large selection of colorful prepackaged options in every price range.
But why had it taken so long for premium chocolate products to become popular in Brazil? According to Dartmouth History Professor Timothy Walker, it all goes back to the slave labor in Brazil’s past. Up until the early 19th century, nearly all cacao was produced by slaves. After the abolitionist movement, production declined steeply, even exploitative labor proctices were still a widely occuring problem. Chocolate became an expensive commodity at this point and national consumption declined. This began a push towards exportation, and today accounts partly for why approximately 90% of Brazil’s cocoa is exported. (Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil, 2007).
I asked my friend if she knew about this part of chocolate’s history in Brazil; she replied that she knew a little, but not much, and that it wasn’t really something she thought about on a daily basis. She seemed interested in exported and imported chocolates, so I continued the interview.
Have you had chocolate from other countries? If so, how does it compare in your opinion?
Yes, I have had Swiss chocolate, American, and British. The different types have different tastes…Swiss is very creamy while American is too sweet…and the British also. Brazilian chocolate to me tastes very rich and smooth.
Do you give chocolates as gifts? If so, what kind do you buy?
It’s common to do this…we give welcome gifts all the time, usually wine or liquor, with chocolates. For this we go to an expensive place, Kopenhagen or Cacau Show in the shopping mall…sometimes a bakery for special bonbons. It’s an important thing in Brazilian culture, this giving of chocolates. It means friendship and respect…and if you receive chocolates you must offer to share, it’s good manners.
During my most recent trip to Brazil last year, I noticed that in addition to the traditional and premium chocolate offerings, there were several new players in the cocoa game. Amma Chocolate, Nugali, and Harald, just to name a few. Amma specializes in “tree to bar, organic chocolate making” with an emphasis on sustainble farming practices. Their website offers a welcome transparency about their processes.
Nugali and Harald, by comparison, offer single-origin chocolate, mainly for domestic consumption, that has the distict terroir of Brazil. According to Bill Nesto, writing for Gastronomica, terroir is complicated to explain, but easy to taste. Generally speaking it is the particular combination of factors that combine to represent the chocolate’s particular origin (Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate, 2010). Brazilian chocolate, explains a Nugali representative, has an underlying flavor reminiscient of banana, with a tiny hint of citrus (Single Origin Brazilian Chocolate, 2015). I asked my friend if she had any interest in these newer products.
Do you look for products that have organic or fair trade labels on them? What does that mean to you?
I like to buy organic chocolate when I can find it…it is a newer thing here, organic products…and it is much more expensive, maybe triple the price of ordinary products…but I think it’s better for my health. I have seen Fair Trade on some types but I don’t really know what that means. But again, very expensive for many Brazilian people.
Do you consider chocolate to be healthy, as in, do you feel that it offers you some health benefits?
Yes the antioxidants I have read about I feel are good for me…this is partly why I prefer dark chocolate. I have a nutritionist…she says to eat one square of dark chocolate per day. But also, my trainer at the gym says no sweets so I don’t know! I don’t know if there are any other benefits. I believe the commercial chocolates in the supermarket have too much sugar to be healthy. But also, there is a benefit to my mind…chocolate makes me happy, so I like to do what makes me happy. I don’t think a little sweets will hurt me in the long run. I think my trainer is too strict about this, so I don’t mention it!
Dark chocolate has health benefits that go beyond antioxidants, according to recent studies. In particular, consuming chocolate has shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, including fighting diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health, 2012). Furthermore, consumption of theobromine (a main component of chocolate) has shown promising reductions in the risk of preeclampsia, a dangerous medical condition that can affect pregnant women (Chocolate Consuption in Pregnancy, 2008).
Has any of the information I’ve shared with you today changed your views on chocolate, or changed the way you will buy it in the future?
Of course; I am always interested in healthy improvements to my life. I will share this about chocolate with my pregant women friends…that is very good news, and a good reason to eat more chocolate. I would like to learn more about Fair Trade also. If I can I will look for more organic chocolates in the future. And try to get my children to eat more dark chocolate, though that won’t be easy!
In conclusion, the gourmet chocolate market is a new and emerging sector in Brazil, one that I will be interested in watching in the coming years. Hopefully on future visits to the country I will continue to find and explore the many wonderful ways that Brazilians put their particular zest for life into the very chocolate they make.
Photo Credits (In order of appearance)
Brigadeiro with Brazilian Flag: CC Image via FreeImages.com
Garoto Chocolates: Garoto.com.br Official Website
Kopenhagen Storefront: Kopenhagen.com.br Official Website
Kopenhagen Hot Cocoa: Kopenhagen.com.br Official Website
Cacau Show Storefront: Cacaushow.com.br Official Website
Amma Website Screenshot: Ammachocolate.com.br Official Website