BEAN to BARCODE: collecting, preserving, and producing premium chocolate from the wild

 

 

Chocolate is a billion dollar a year industry, and with an ever growing global demand, consumers are not only hunting for “something sweet”, but rather for premium chocolate that is produced and processed ethically and sustainably. There is a growing desire to locate, collect, and produce premium chocolate, but how do companies and consumers know that the chocolate they are purchasing is in fact “premium” chocolate? Many chocolate companies are addressing these social and environmental concerns by not only focusing on a quality product, but also the welfare of the people working in production and identifying wild populations to assist in protecting the land on which they grow. One company takes these social and environmental concerns very seriously, and works to connect scientists, chocolatiers, and consumers in a network that supports the production premium chocolate. Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve encompasses four major values: Quest, Race, Pursuit, and Experience. By focusing on these core values, Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve not only sets out to connect people with a quality, premium product, but it also addresses the future of the plant (Theobroma spp.) populations in the South America by documenting occurrences in the wild and sequencing the DNA (barcoding). Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve is an example of a company putting their “money where their (chocolate covered) mouth is” and in doing so, provides a network of support that allows for the distribution of the knowledge of chocolate “Bean to Bar” for future generations.

What is Premium Chocolate? The revenue generate from chocolate production is a billion dollar a year industry, but how is premium chocolate defined? Is it simply the packaging? Is it related to the origin of the beans? Is it the way in which it is processed? The answer is “all of the above”. “Like wine, chocolate is an agricultural product whose character and flavor are dependent on genetics, climate, soil and processing practices to yield a finished product. The higher the quality and care taken along the route from bean to bar, the better the finished product will taste.” (Fine Chocolate, 2017).  There are therefore five factors that determine “fine” or “premium” chocolate: origin and processing, production practices, ingredient quality, technical expertise, artistry and presentation. In accepting these criteria, it is the job of companies selling their products to make sure they are selling premium chocolate, but rather the whole supply chain from the field to the lab to make sure they are producing, processing, and selling a product worthy of the label “premium”. In doing so, the entire industry is not only looking to produce a quality product, but rather to create a quality process that looks out for the interest of the people and the planet.

Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve – established in 2016; the story of cacáo-into-chocolate, however, begins much earlier… rooted sometime around ~10millionBC. (“The Story”, 2017)

Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, established in 2016 and launched in 2017, is co-founded by Mark Christian, the Director of HCP (Heirloom Cacao Preservation), and the creator of C-Spot™ (The Independent Consumer Guide to Premium Chocolate). C-Spot™ is dedicated to chocolate and describes two major points in its philosophy 1) “Other than the Christmas tree, no tree on Earth brings as much hope & joy to a troubled world and 2) cacao can play a role in creating a model for ethical capitalism that builds networks between the producing South & the consuming North based on mutual respect.” (“Philosophy”, 2017). Where C-Spot™ provides the public with multitudes of educational materials by describing the history of Theobroma cacao and the science of preservation (The Chocolate Atlas), a database of available chocolate products with statistics and reviews (The Chocolate Census), provides information regarding how to appreciate chocolate through taste (The Laws of Chocodynamics). Through the philosophy expressed by C-Spot™ and the efforts in preservation by HCP and the USDA, Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve builds on this expressed philosophy to bring the taste of their efforts, and vision of conservation, to the people themselves.

Video#1: HCP Google Hangout sponsored by HCP Co-Founder Pam Williams (Ecole Chocolat) and featuring her and fellow co-founders Dan Pearson (Maranon Chocolate) and Lyndel Meinhardt (USDA-ARS), as well as Jim Eber the HCP Director of Communication.

Landmarks Wild Chocolate Reserve: four major values

 “In establishing Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve™, this network recovers & protects humanity’s inheritance: the original prime root varietals – the crowns jewels / rock stars – of chocolate. It creates value to improve the livelihoods of forest families. A financial bulwark against cutting down the Amazon via logging, mining & drilling for cattle grazing, soybean farming, resort hotels & the like which contributes to climate flux & defacing the Earth’s surface. It impels still other forest communities to literally come out of the woodwork in pointing out these rarest treasures of cacáo trees to fortify the network so when a groundswell of wild reserves are landmarked the odds of deforestation are reduced if not eliminated.” (“The Story”, 2017)

Mark Christian developed the Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve label that uses DNA analyses (genetics) to not only identify wild beans, but also to assist in the preservation of the lands from which these wild varieties reside, and have resided for thousands of years. “The goal is to build a network in the region that can help fuel the specialty chocolate boom with the rarest flavors on Earth – and offer incentive to protect them.” (Gewin, 2017). Volker Lehmann (a cacao trader and owner of Tranquilidad chocolate) said “he even hopes that by engaging enough Amazon communities to sustainably harvest wild cacao, Christian’s label can help them secure World Heritage Site status, protections given to cultural or natural places that have outstanding value.” (Gewin, 2017).  This would be a huge step forward for conservation and preservation of the land for which Theobroma cacao is native, and for the many other important flora and fauna species that reside in the Amazonian rain forest.

World Heritage sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria: (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/)

  1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  3. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  4. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
  5. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  6. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
  7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Value#1: “Quest: Recovers & protects humanity’s inheritance: the original prime root varietals – the crowns jewels / rock stars – of chocolate.” (“The Story”, 2017)

This first value, QUEST, describes the importance of finding populations of Theobroma from the “original prime root varietals” of the species. This description floods the consumer with images of the ancestral beginnings of not only the plant, but also of the people who were the first consumers of cacao, the natives of the Amazon. Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve focuses its efforts on searching for new plants and protecting new “Landmarks” in the hotspot of Cacao’s biodiversity (see image below).

originImage#1: (permission to use image granted by Mark Christian: image above courtesy of Samantha Madell) Species richness of genus Theobroma

Focusing on the center of genetic biodiversity of Theobroma cacao allows researchers to locate, sample, and preserve important wild lineages. Working not only to collect, process, and sell wild collected cacao beans, but also by contributing to the science and study to isolate DNA, maintain propagules (seeds and clones), allow for taste testing, and to share these wild strains with farmers around the world is required in order to produce cultivars that are resistant to witches broom, and that still produce the flavors that we have all grown to love. “Geneticists Raymond Schnell, Dapeng Zhang, & Motamayor of the USDA Agricultural Research Service are in the deep stages of identifying by busily fingerprinting the DNA of 3,000+ cacáo clones that should solve both the relationships & origins puzzle. By combing the genome of the tree for genetic markers linked with specific traits — such as fruit quality, environmental adaptation, & disease / pest resistance – they’ve developed filters to make corrections for common sequencing errors. Thousands of such genetic markers called SNPS (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) stand additionally as signposts pointing out the degree to how much or how little cacáo types are interrelated.” (“The Strains”, 2017). This research, by the USDA, not only assists with conservation work in the field, but also allows for research to understand the genetics of an extremely valued plant, and find ways to grow and produce viable cultivars that are disease resistant without sacrificing flavor.

“The ability to understand the genetic makeup of a single cacao bean is important to cacao research and to the fine chocolate industry in general.  We now have the ability to open a bag of cacao beans and identify the genetic makeup of those beans.  That information can be used to profile the cacao types that are represented in that bag of cacao; to authenticate them to a particular type, or identify adulterations and this ability could improve the sourcing and quality of cacao”. (Japhet, 2016)

DNA Barcoding allows researchers and farmers to identify and track the specific plants that are producing healthy plants, but also identifying specific plants (individuals) that produce premier flavors. HCP and the USDA have rigorous protocols for samples, testing, sequencing DNA, and taste testing new plants (or existing plants on farms). To read the protocols please follow this link http://hcpcacao.org/wp-content/uploads/HCP-Protocols-Submission-Through-Site-Visit.pdf.

AmazonImage#2: (with permission from Mark Christian; Photo by Mark Christian February 1, 2011) Rio-Amazon

“In its natural habitat, cocoa grows in the understory of evergreen tropical rainforest. It often grows in clumps along river banks, where the roots may be flooded for long periods of the year. Cocoa grows at low elevations, usually below 300 meters above sea level, in areas with 1,000 to 3,000 mm rainfall per year.” (“Theobroma cacao”, 2017)

“Rare & Wild Landmark Varietals

These landmarks shelter pure genotypes & rare flavor-cacáo. Their guardians – re: Bromans (tenders of Theobroma cacáo trees) — row, trek, hack & sweat their way thru jungle to pick wild cacáo.

Each tends to our most ancestral cacáo trees on mother Earth. Millennia in the Making.

Time-honored; time-tested; timeless.

Carefully selected & tenderly handpicked, then left undisturbed.

The kind of treasure you bring out by the rucksack, cargo pants pockets & a trunk. GL getting it all the way home.” (“Landmarks”, 2017)

genus-theobromaImage#3: (with permission from Mark Christian; photo by Mark Christian March 10, 2013) Species richness of genus Theobroma. Left: observed species richness in 10 minute grid cells and a circular neighborhood of 1 decimal degree; Right: modeled species richness in 2.5 minute grid cells.

Value#2: “Race: It creates value to improve the livelihoods of forest families” (“The Story”, 2017)

This again brings an image of indigenous people from times long past. The consumer may imagine as though they are consuming a piece history, and at the same time know they are literally helping to supporting indigenous communities of the present day. “Improving livelihoods for indigenous families in the Amazon means the global community can benefit from the abundance of the rainforest without destroying it.” (“The Story”, 2017)).  These factors allow the consumer to feel as though they are assisting with a bigger issue other than satisfying their need for chocolate. The Landmark™ label promises major social and environmental returns for those working to collect and process cacao from the wild.

Best organic

Bests Organic

Wild cacáo from the rainforest…
because nobody perfects like Mother Nature

Image#4: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Best Organic”, 2017

Fair Trade

Beyond FairTrade

Well-Paid
Direct-Line
Reciprocal Integration

Image#5: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Beyond Fair Trade”, 2017

Bargain Fare

Bargain Fare

‘Mindful Money’ investment
in affordable luxury

Image#6: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Bargain Fare”, 2017

 

Value#3: “Pursuit: A financial bulwark against cutting down the Amazon via logging, mining & drilling for cattle grazing, soybean farming, resort hotels & the like which contributes to climate flux & defacing the Earth’s surface.” (“The Story”, 2017)

The consumer is saving the forest! This value tugs at the hearts of those who wish to save the ever shrinking Amazon rainforest. There are many reasons why people are driven to protect such a valued asset, but the people who need the most convincing are the people who occupy the lands in and near the forest in the Amazon. As stated above, the Amazon is shrinking due to human activity, but with little regard to the huge loss that follows. The indigenous communities of the Amazon have a vested interest in land preservation, and many groups are turning to collecting and selling wild cacao, and even farming cacao plants, as a way to conserve the rainforest. “In Ecuador, one tribe has swapped hunting for growing cocoa. Another in Brazil has started managing its fish stocks. And one in Peru set up an indigenous local government to protect its environment from oil, mining and logging companies.” (Lopez, 2015). The indigenous communities are in need of protecting their traditional way of life, but also must deal with the reality of climate change, deforestation, and the competition between natives and corporations looking to profit from the declining resources of the forest.  “To combat the problem, an indigenous women’s group, the Association of Waorani Women of the Ecuadoran Amazon (AMWAE), created a program that gives cocoa trees to local women if their husbands stop hunting.” (Lopez, 2015). With more indigenous groups turning to the collection of wild cacao, and the farming of “premium” lineages, it is important that a mark ™ exists that promotes and supports these important efforts in the wild. This support not only assists in the protection of the land, but also supports the people who are part of this amazing environmental network.

Value#4: “Experience: It impels still other forest communities to literally come out of the woodwork in pointing out these rarest treasures of cacáo trees to fortify the network so when a groundswell of wild reserves are landmarked the odds of deforestation are reduced if not eliminated.” (“The Story”, 2017)

 Landmarks Wild Chocolate Reserve promotes Luisa Abram Chocolate Bar which is described as follows:

“Taste Adventure… Taste Straight from the Jungle

All across the world, people are re-discovering chocolate.

Most chocolate today is just flavored-sugar wrapped up in a candy bar. A ghost of the real thing.

The choice of chefs, chocolatarians & savvy sharp consumers like you, Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve™ re-introduces the original authentic chocolate.

For those who demand the finest & the wildest, Landmark™ sets the standard from pod-to-palette.

Comparable wines, single-malts, smokes, caviars & like specialties run $100+… yet this chocolate is every bit as elaborate & worth it as all those for but a fraction.” (“Chocolate Bars”, 2017)

rio-purus-70Image#7: (with permission from Mark Christian) Rio Purús Wild Cacáo 70%

Landmark™ Chocolate Wild Reserve provides detailed information for each bar of chocolate they highlight for sale on their website.

The Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve provides education for consumers and producers. There is a sense of pride expressed by those who use the label, and a sense of accomplishment in sticking to the values set forth. Luisa Abram takes her job seriously, and is working to make purchasing cacao beans from the collectors easier, and she also states that she does not work with people only looking for a profit.

Luisa Abrams:

“These people need a market to come to them,” he said. “They have no way of going to the market.”

Still, connecting the market to the jungle is rife with complications. In 2014, Luisa Abram and her father, Andre Banks, sourced her first cacao beans from a community in the Purus valley. But, the young Brazilian recounted, they had to abandon a promising deal with a community near the border with French Guiana because the middlemen were motivated only by profit.

Abram today sells a chocolate that is “81 percent wild cocoa” and bears the Landmark designation. She both wants to find new sources to explore her country’s flavor possibilities as well as to empower communities to help preserve the land they live on. “The Amazon is getting chopped up,” she said. “We are racing through time to preserve it.” (Gewin, 2017)

Video#2: (with permission from Mark Christian) Luisa Abram Purus Conclusion

The importance of companies such as Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve cannot be stated lightly. It is with the creation of a growing network, providing education and support that the movement for the preservation of the plants, flavor, and business will continue into the future. This network is able to work closely with the people who collect the cacao pods (fruit); focus on the sustainability and preservation of the land; understand and grow the science behind the discovery and preservation of wild populations; and maintain the historic evolution and preservation of the taste of chocolate for future generations in a way that the message is translated in various forms that all are able to understand. From the BEAN to BARcode, companies like Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve are making a difference in the world of chocolate, and it tastes great!

References:

C-Spot, “Amazonia”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/)

C-Spot, “Philosophy”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/about/philosophy/) Accessed May 2017

C-Spot, “The Strains”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/) Accessed May 2017

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) “Fine Chocolate” http://www.finechocolateindustry.org/differentiate.php Accessed May 2017

Gewin, V., “A ‘wild’ label aims to help find and preserve rare cacao sources in the Amazon”. Washington Post February 2017. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/02/14/a-wild-label-aims-to-help-find-and-preserve-rare-cacao-sources-in-the-amazon/?utm_term=.0eec26056dfb) Accessed May 2017

 Japhet, S., “New Discoveries: The Importance of Cacao DNA”. Heirloom Cacao Preservation, March 18, 2016. Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “Chocolate Bars”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/#) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Landmarks”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/landmarks/) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Strains”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Story”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/the-story/) Accessed May 2017

 Lopez, P., “Amazon peoples change ancestral ways to save forest”, PHYS.org December 22, 2015 (https://phys.org/news/2015-12-amazon-peoples-ancestral-ways-forest.html) Accessed May 2017

 Plants of the World Online, “Theobroma cacao”, Kew Science, 2017. (http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:320783-2) Accessed May 2017

 Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009.

 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. “The Criteria for Selection”, 2017 (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/) Accessed May 2017

Wikipedia, Theobroma cacao, 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma_cacao

 Multimedia Sources:

 Image#1: Species richness of genus Theobroma https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/

 Image#2: Rio-Amazon by Mark Christian, February 1, 2011 https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/

 Image 3: Mark Christian March 10, 2013, “Genus-theobroma”, 2017  https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/

 Image 4: Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Best Organic”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image 5: Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Beyond Fair Trade”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image 6: Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Bargain Fare”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image#7: (with permission from Mark Christian) Rio Purús Wild Cacáo 70% (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/#)

 Video#1: “Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative”, 2017 http://hcpcacao.org/2015/12/20/the-hcp-video/

Video#2: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Luisa Abram Purus” (https://wildchocolate.org/the-story/)

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