My chocolate obsession is a life-long craving I have had since I was very little and one that was definitely encouraged by my chocolate-loving father. I remember as a small child going to seven-eleven with my dad on a regular basis to indulge in the five cent candy bins. Contributing to my chocolate craze is that my birthday falls just before Halloween and therefore I always had Halloween/costume themed birthday parties that never were without a piñata filled with candy and chocolate. My favorite chocolate as a kid was Reese’s peanut butter cups, created in 1928. As a child of the 1980s and 1990s, bulk chocolate was what I indulged in and the only chocolate I knew. Now, in my thirties I continue to crave chocolate but my taste for it has evolved over the last 20 years, as has the market for chocolate. Nowadays, I tend to purchase my chocolate at higher end grocers and specialty stores. Until taking this chocolate class, I knew very little about the history, culture and politics of chocolate and knew nothing about the supply chain. Gaining valuable insight from the Harvard Extension School chocolate course, I now have some tools to analyze chocolate in terms of its quality. For this project I will analyze the ‘Chocolove’ chocolate company and my go-to chocolate bar in recent years, the Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar, which contains 55% cocoa content and claim’s to be of premium quality. I will examine this particular bar according to ingredients, bean quality and certifications to determine if this bar warrants the ‘premium’ label and meets the ethical standards being disseminated by the industry.
In the U.S. for a product to be called “chocolate”, it must contain a minimum of fifteen percent liquor (Williams and Eber p170). Chocolate liquor, also called cocoa mass, is both the cocoa powder and the cocoa butter combined after the bean is harvested, fermented, dried, roasted, and grinded. Many times, additional cocoa butter will be added to the liquor in making chocolate. In evaluating the ingredients of the Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar made by Chocolove, let us first look at the ingredients section on the wrapper. In this particular bar, the ingredients are broken down into three key components: Dark chocolate (cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla) almonds, sea salt. Dark chocolate is a product of the prepared cacao beans that come from the cacao pods, a large colorful fruit found on the cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao). One point of confusion for me prior to taking this course was the difference between Cacao and Cocoa? Many premium chocolate bars list their cacao percentage on their labels, but Chocolove lists its cocoa content. To clarify, cacao refers to the raw material that comes from the cacao tree while cocoa is the Anglicization of the word cacao and refers to the commodity once it is processed, as learned in our lecture by Carla Martin. In recent years, the use of the word cacao has increased as a way to connect the product to its historical links and to differentiate it from bulk commodity cocoa.
The Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar is 55% cocoa and therefore well above the minimum standard to be considered chocolate. It is also located in the “fine” and “premium” chocolate section of the store, suggesting to me that they must be of higher quality than the bulk chocolate made by the largest chocolate companies, namely Hershey, Mars, Ferrero and Nestle. When determining whether a chocolate is of premium quality, a definition for premium is needed. According to Williams and Eber there is no universal standard for premium chocolate and it can be whatever one claims it to be but it is widely understood that premium chocolate is linked with its cacao origin and percentage (p 168), as I have suggested above. In researching the source of Chocolove’s cacao, I discovered that the company is a chocolatier, rather than a chocolate maker. As a chocolatier, they buy finished Belgian chocolate and then melt it, re-temper it, add inclusions (nuts, fruit, etc.), pour it into molds, pop it out and wrap it in fine paper. In comparison, a chocolate maker makes their own chocolate from dried cacao beans and then proceeds to add other ingredients, etc.
Chocolove purchases its chocolate from Callabaut, a century old Belgian chocolate company that supplies premium quality chocolate to chefs and chocolatiers around the world and whose website says its chocolate is made with the best, sustainable beans of West Africa. For much of the 20th century, “the place of manufacture became more important to appreciating chocolate than the place of origin” and thus (Leissle, p22) Belgian chocolate, where this product is made, stood out as desirable quality to consumer’s rather than the place of origin, say Ghana. In other words, chocolate’s flavor/style was organized by its place of manufacture which can be described as follows: “French (dark, heavy roast), Swiss (extra cocoa-butter creamy), Belgian (soft milk), British (caramel milk), and American (milky, slightly sour Hershey flavor)” (Leissle, 22-23). During the height of this period, other notions of chocolate quality developed as well, such as Emma Robertson’s finding that it was believed that “the best qualities of cocoa come from the West Indies, South American and the East Indies” (p 74) rather than Africa which may be linked to racial discrimination due to the African ownership of these cacao farms vs. the white owners of the non-African cacao producing areas. Toward the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, single-origin chocolate has emerged as the leading quality in a craft chocolate market. Craft chocolate is a whole new dimension, whereby small-scale bean to bar chocolate production using vintage equipment is the newest and greatest thing (Martin and Sampeck, p53). While Chocolove is housed on the same shelves as craft chocolate companies, craft chocolate is in different class, entirely, and at a much higher price point.
The other factor to consider in quality, are the other ingredients in the bar. In this case, sugar, soy lecithin and vanilla are added. The type of sugar used in this bar is non-GMO beet sugar from Europe as claimed on Chocolove’s FAQs (https://www.chocolove.com/faq/). Chocolove uses this information as part of a marketing tool that appeals to individuals who are health conscience about the ways in which foods are grown. In evaluating the amount of sugar added to this bar, the nutrition panel is very helpful, as it states the number of grams per serving size. As a caveat, one should be aware that there are no guidelines or rules for how companies determine a serving size. In this case, there are three servings in this 3.2 ounce bar. Each serving contains 11 grams of sugar. One must do a bit of math to determine the amount of sugar in the entire bar, which happens to be 33 grams or eight teaspoons. Recent Food and Drug Administration guidelines suggest limiting added sugar to less than 50 grams a day and less than 10% of your daily caloric intake (http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/11/sugar-is-the-devil). Upon realizing that this bar contains 30 grams of sugar, more than half of the FDA suggested daily limit, I am displeased with this finding as I tend to consume the entire bar in one sitting. I would guess that other chocolate bars with higher cocoa content would contain a lot less sugar, but in comparing other Chocolove bars with 65% and 70% cocoa content, this is not the case. They also contain high amounts of sugar.
I will also examine Chocolove’s sustainability and socially responsibility. They showcase an entire page of their website on this subject and have an additional “Chocolove social website” where one can go to more thoroughly engage in their programs and certifications. Chocolove works with several organizations and is engaged with a number of ways, but it is important to point out that these engagements do not affect the taste of Chocolove’s chocolate bars.
Fair trade, “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade” (Sylla, p64-65). This certification is highly sought after by ethically conscience high-end chocolate connoisseurs. Chocolove offers three of its 30 distinct bars as Fair trade chocolate and do so because of the demand for it. At the same time, they decisively educate their consumer that manufacturer’s of fair trade chocolate can legally mix non-fair trade chocolate into their bars as long as there is a ‘mass balance’ system in place. This is just one of many of the issues with the fair trade certification. Other findings shared by Carla Martin in Lecture suggest that little money reaches the developing world, there is a failure to monitor systems and that the burden lies on the consumer among other troubles.
IMO for Life is another certification held by Chocolove, and their bars are labeled with this certification, which states, “This bar is made with cocoa certified by IMO as for Life which means it was farmed in a socially responsible and ethical manner. All of the cocoa bean derived ingredients are certified for Life”. The Sea Salt and Almond Dark Chocolate bar is 45% for Life certified content. This labeling can be traced directly to the farming coop in the producing country. Chocolove’s factory has also been inspected and certified. Chocolove is a contributor to the World Cocoa Foundation, funds projects at the USDA and belongs to the GGC program, all of which are working toward educating farmer’s, improving working conditions, and preserving cacao. They are transparent in their work and seek to engage in layers of sustainability and socially responsible practices. Additionally, Chocolove states their commitment to the consumer and to their employees, whom they offer competitive wages and health care benefits fully paid.
In using the knowledge learned in class, I have analyzed the Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar in terms of quality, ingredients and ethical practices to discover that Chocolove is a Chocolatier rather than a chocolate maker and therefore does not fit in the craft chocolate category, but can still fall under premium chocolate, depending on how one defines it. Additionally, Chocolove may not know exactly how its cacao is sourced but does claim to use quality beans and practice sustainable practices. More research will have to determine if the company is truly socially responsible or is just claiming to be, as so many companies do. Lastly, I learned how much sugar this bar and that alone may deter me from purchasing it on a regular basis. Instead, I may open my wallet and my mouth to finer, darker, less sweet options in the future.
Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture.
Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.”
Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.
Williams, Pam and Jim Eber. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate.