All posts by eleanorsarahau1

Functional Chocolate: Health Claims and Marketing Campaigns

One step into Cambridge Naturals, a community natural health store in Cambridge, MA, and the market for organic, fair-trade, vegan, bean-to-bar, local, non-gmo, paleo, environmentally friendly and ethically sourced chocolate products is on full display. A meeting with the store’s manager & grocery lead adds another term to the list of qualities their consumer base is looking for when they step into the store – functional chocolate. This trend shows a probable correlation between what customers are willing to spend on chocolate that makes health claims, based on the way the cacao is processed and additional ingredients added that are promoted to provide nutritional benefits. The functional chocolate trend begs the question – are these health claims regarding various methods of cacao processing and healthful additives substantiated by scientific research, or are they merely a marketing gimmick? This article will analyze recent research on the health benefits of chocolate as a functional food, look at fermentation and processing differences from a nutrient perspective, and consider additional benefits of medicinal additives to chocolate in order to best answer this question.

 

How are functional foods different from healthy foods?

In a study published in the Academic Food Journal/Akademik (2014) that looked at the development of functional chocolate, the differences between health foods and functional foods were defined as the following:

“Functional foods are a new category of products that promise consumers improvements in targeted physiological functions” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).

Whereas, “conventional ‘healthy’ foods are typically presented as types of foods contributing to a healthy diet, e.g. low-fat products, high-fibre products, or vegetables, without emphasizing the role of any single product” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).

 

Functional foods share these characteristics:

  • Health benefits that can be linked to a specific product
  • Well-defined physiological effects are directly connected with particular components in the specific product
  • Scientific evidence about health effects that is used to develop specific functional products
  • There is novelty for the consumer with the promised benefits
  • Modern technology is often needed to manufacture the functional foods due to specific components being added, modified or removed (Albak, et al., 2014).

 

Demand for Functional Foods

The market for functional foods exists in large part due to the rising popularity of healthier products by consumers (Albak, et al., 2014). One contributor to interest in healthy products is their use as a remedy to detrimental lifestyle factors that can contribute to unyielding high levels of inflammation in the body (Jain, Parag, Pandey, & Shukla, 2015). In the book, Inflammation and Lifestyle (2015), the connection between diet and inflammation is emphasized.

“Our diet is one of the leading sources of these chronic illnesses, and changing the diet is the key to prevention and cure. A number of dietary factors, including fiber-rich foods, whole grains, fruits (especially berries), omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins (e.g., C and E), and certain trace minerals (e.g., zinc), have been documented to reduce blood concentrations of inflammatory markers. The best way to correct and eliminate inflammation is to improve comprehensive lifestyle and dietary changes rather than taking pharmaceutical drugs, the latter of which can cause unintended harm in the form of damaging side effects” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 143).

The authors provide this graphic to illustrate what an anti-inflammatory diet pyramid looks like in terms of specific food groups. Note that dark chocolate is positioned on the top of the pyramid.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.51.38 PM
“Anti-inflammatory edible’s pyramid” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144)

An introduction to the benefits of superfoods and their role in an anti-inflammatory diet are explained in the publication. “An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is low in processed foods and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, sprouts, nuts and superfoods. Maca, spirulina, purple corn, wheatgrass, coconut butter and raw chocolate are a few of the health promoting superfoods that are gaining international interest” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144). The inclusion of “raw chocolate” in the category of superfoods versus “chocolate” warrants further examination and will be explored later in this article, but the position remains clear that evidence supports the protective benefits of chocolate as a part of a healthy diet.

 

Chocolate as a Functional Food

Under the category of functional foods as previously defined, chocolate, as will be further described, fulfills all the requisite characteristics. Even though the term functional food is relatively recent, the practice of consuming chocolate for its specific health benefits is centuries old. “Chocolate has been consumed as confection, aphrodisiac, and folk medicine for many years before science proved its potential health benefiting effects. Main compounds of cocoa and chocolate which contribute to human health are polyphenols that act as antioxidants and have potential anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergenic, and anticarcinogenic properties” (Ackar, Djurdjica, Lendić, Valek,… & Nedić, 2013, p. 1). The studied physiological effects of chocolate include “reported health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate particularly focus on cardiovascular diseases (but also showing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects), including increased blood flow at the brachial artery and the left descending coronary artery, decreased blood pressure, decreased platelet aggregation and increased HDL cholesterol” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Numerous research discoveries have shed light on the complex nature of how these protective benefits of cacao are reduced or encouraged by different methods of sourcing, processing and consuming chocolate (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008).

Polyphenols are found in many food sources including, “vegetables and fruits, green and black tea, red wine, coffee, chocolate, olives, and some herbs and spices, as well as nuts and algae” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). However, “chocolate is one of the most polyphenol-rich foods along with tea and wine” where, “results [have] indicated that dark chocolate exhibited the highest polyphenol content” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2194). In unfermented cacao beans, there are three main groups of polyphenols, “flavan-3-ols or catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Differences in cacao genetics or varieties and country of origin show varying levels of polyphenols by up to 4-fold (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008). “Criollo cultivars contained higher levels of procyanidins than Forastero and Trinitario beans. In addition, crop season and country of origin have impact on polyphenols in cocoa beans” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Findings regarding polyphenol level by country of origin are contentious but include, “highest phenolic content was in Malaysian beans followed by Sulawesian, Ghanian and Côte d’Ivore” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2201) and “cocoa beans and processed products from Ecuador showed the highest levels of anthocyanins, followed by Nigeria and Cameroon” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Due to additional factors besides country of origin and genetic variation influencing the polyphenols in cacao, inclusion of the effects of processing cacao on flavor and polyphenol content is important to understand health claims made regarding the finished product, chocolate.

Processing cacao beans (namely the stages of fermentation and drying), and roasting in the chocolate making process greatly affect polyphenol content of the finished product (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015). “Due to these factors, the ratio and types of these components found in cocoa beans are unlikely to be the same as those found in the finished products” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 841). For functional chocolate enthusiasts driving market trends, the balance between healthy and protective benefits of polyphenols and the effects on their levels through processing are of particular interest. “All these processes are needed to develop characteristic cocoa aroma. Polyphenols give astringent and bitter aroma to cocoa and contribute to reduced perception of “cocoa flavour” by sensory panel. However, nowadays processes are conducted in such manner to preserve as much polyphenol as possible with maintaining satisfactory aroma” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). The debate about the purpose of chocolate is hereby noted between the sensory experience – the aroma development, especially in the roasting stages, versus consumption for health effects with less regard to smell, taste and gustatory pleasure.

The search for a sweet spot between these poles is a lucrative area for producers and retail establishments. As described earlier, development of functional food into specific products uses scientific evidence about health effects, where modern technology is often needed to manufacture those products, in order to observe targeted physiological effects or functions (Albak, et al., 2014).

“Generally, as cocoa beans were further processed, the levels of anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols decreased. The largest observed losses of phenolics occurred during roasting. A progressive decreasing trend in polyphenol concentration was observed in the other processed samples as well. Despite the original content of polyphenols in raw cocoa beans, technological processes imply a significant impact on cocoa quality, confirming the need of specific optimisation to obtain high value chocolate” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840).

In order to preserve antioxidant quality through dark-chocolate products with “high flavonoid contents…these chocolates are produced by controlling bean selection, fermentation, and reduced heat and alkalization treatments” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2201). Although one of the most detrimental effects of processing on polyphenol and antioxidant levels is alkalization (or dutching) of cocoa powder (Ackar, et al., 2013; Jalil, et al., 2008), even the fermentation process significantly reduces flavonoid levels by up to 90% (Jalil, et al., 2008). However, in the search for the sweet spot between flavor and health benefits, fermentation presents a way to reduce bitter compounds due to the presence of flavonoids and polyphenols (Jalil, et al., 2008) and enhance flavor before roasting or further processing like alkalization. For example, some “manufacturers tend to remove [flavonoids] in large quantities to enhance taste quality… the manufacturers tend to prefer Ghanian cocoa beans, which are well-fermented and flavorful than that of Dominican or Indonesian beans, which are considered as less fermented and have low quality cocoa flavor” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2203). In Crafack’s study (2013), besides genetic flavor potentials of cacao beans, fermentation is cited as the most important factor influencing cocoa’s flavor potential.

“A properly conducted fermentation process is considered a prerequisite for the production of high quality chocolates since inadequately fermented cocoa beans will fail to produce cocoa specific aroma compounds during subsequent processing” (Crafack, Petersen, Eskildsen, Petersen, Heimdal, & Nielsen, 2013, p. 1).

In a later study by Crafack (2014), microorganism differences between fermentation practices are shown to produce variations in cacao flavor profiles. “Despite the importance of a properly conducted fermentation process, poor post-harvest practices, in combination with the unpredictable spontaneous nature of the fermentations, often results in sub-optimal flavour development…A microbial fermentation process therefore seems essential for developing the full complexity of compounds which characterises cocoa aroma. In conclusion, the results of the present study show that the volatile aroma profile of chocolate can be influenced using starter cultures” (Crafack, 2014, p. 1). Further research that builds on Crafack’s findings was published by Kadow (2015), explaining the role of multiple factors in the country of origin that characterize the fermentation process.

“During this in most cases spontaneous fermentation of the fruit pulp surrounding the seeds, the pulp is degraded by yeasts and bacteria. This degradation results in heat and organic acid formation. Heat effect and tissue acidification are the key parameters guiding flavour precursor formation. Accordingly, not microorganisms themselves but exclusively their metabolites are necessary for successful fermentation” (Kadow, Niemenak, Rohn, and Lieberei, 2015, p. 357).

This study aimed to further the development of standardization and mechanization of cocoa fermentation for the benefit of cacao production quality purposes. On the ranges of heat tested from fermenting heaps of cacao beans, 30 °C to a maximum of 50 °C was obtained after 24 h of fermentation at the inner part of the heap (Jespersen, Nielsen, Hønholt, and Jakobsen, 2005).

Finally, as an interesting note about polyphenol changes in cacao during fermentation, although “unripe and ripe cacao pods contain solely (−)-epicatechin and (+)-catechin. During fermentation, levels of both of these compounds were reduced, but (−)-catechin was formed due to heat-induced epimerization” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). These findings warrant more studies on the changes that happen during cacao fermentation, where although certain protective antioxidant levels decrease, other chemical compounds are formed due to the process of heat due to microorganism metabolites and acidification to the bean tissue.

After fermentation, the beans are dried to reduce water content for safe transport and storage of the cacao before further processing by chocolate manufactures. “During drying, additional loss of polyphenol occurs, mainly due to nonenzymatic browning reactions” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2) where “high temperatures and prolonged processing times will decrease the amount of catechins” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p.2203). The dried cacao is then shipped to the chocolate manufacturer where roasting is often performed. The roasting and generally the further processing of cacao degrades the levels of polyphenols by triggering the oxidation process (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015).

Conching is a process of agitation of chocolate mass at temperatures above 50 °C that is used to refine both the cocoa solids and sugar crystals to change the taste, smell, flavor, texture (mouthfeel) and viscosity of chocolate (Chocolate Alchemy, 2016; Di Mattia, Martuscelli, Sacchetti, Beheydt, Mastrocola, & Pittia, 2014) Different procedures for conching exist, including Long Time Conching (LTC) and Short Time Conching (STC). A study by Di Mattia (2014) done on these two conching processes and the implications for bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity found interesting results. The publication stressed the importance of time/temperature combinations as process parameters “to modulate and increase the functional properties of some foods” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, pp.367-368). In the study, STC consisted of “a dry step at 90 °C for 6 h and then a wet step at 60°C for 1h,” while LTC involved, “a dry step at 60°C for 6 h and a then wet step at the same conditions (60 °C, 6 h)” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p. 368). The results of the analysis on phenolic content, antioxidant values defined as radical scavenging properties showed, “that the conching process, and the LTC in particular, determined an improvement of the antiradical and reducing properties of chocolate” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372). Recommendation for further studies was suggested to “optimize the conching process for the modulation of the functional properties,” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372) but the results remain in favor of longer time and lower temperature processing to preserve health benefits in chocolate during the conching phase.

From the perspective of chocolate makers, assessing combinations of ingredients/additives that can either help or hinder protective compounds in chocolate – including polyphenols and bioavailability, is important. Jalil, & Ismail’s review (2008), considered, “both bioavailability and antioxidant status [important] in determining the relationship between cocoa flavonoids and health benefits” (Jalil, et al., 2008, pp. 2194-2195). Studies focused on epicatechin from chocolate found the polyphenols, “rapidly absorbed by humans, with plasma levels detected after 30min of oral digestion, peaking after 2-3 h and returning to baseline after 6–8 h. In addition, cumulative effect in high daily doses was recorded” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Interestingly, an argument for the benefits of chocolate’s sweetened and rich composition – if cocoa butter and some type of sweetener is used in processing – is explained where the “presence of sugars and oils generally increases bioavailability of polyphenols, while proteins, on the other hand, decrease it” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Milk chocolate lovers may be disappointed to find that, “milk proteins reduce bioavailability of epicatechin in chocolate confectionary…[with] reported inhibition of in vivo antioxidant activity of chocolate by addition of milk either during manufacturing process or during ingestion” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2).

Additional health properties of cacao found especially in dark chocolate, apart from polyphenols, may have a role to play in reports of chocolate cravings and their use as functional food. Theses beneficial components include “methylxanthines, namely caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2197) “peptides, and minerals” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200). “Theobromine is a psychoactive compound without diuretic effects” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2198). “Cocoa is also rich in proteins. Cocoa peptides are generally responsible for the flavour precursor formation” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2199). Lastly, “minerals are one of the important components in cocoa and cocoa products. Cocoa and cocoa products contained relatively higher amount of magnesium compared to black tea, red wine, and apples” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200).

A well supported rule of thumb for finding high antioxidant capacity functional chocolate is to look for the percentage of non-fat cocoa solids (NFCS) in chocolate products to determine total phenolic content (Jalil, et al., 2008; Vinson, & Motisi, 2015)  “Dark chocolates contain the highest NFCS among the different types of chocolates” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204) However, due to percentages of cocoa solids on on chocolate labels including polyphenol-free cocoa butter, the accuracy of this measure is not always correct and can lead to overestimating polyphenol content in certain types of chocolate (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204). That said, a recent study by Vinson and Motisi (2015), performed on commercial chocolate bars found “a significant and linear relationship between label % cocoa solids and the antioxidant assays as well as the sum of the monomers.” From which they concluded that, “consumers can thus rationally choose chocolate bars based on % cocoa solids on the label” (Vinson, & Motisi, 2015, p. 526).

Additions to Functional Chocolate

In health food stores like Cambridge Naturals and Deborah’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, MA, the presence of functional chocolate with additional health boosting ingredients is prevalent. The validity of these claims to improve focus, enhance libido and energy, and other desirable improved physiological functions, based on herbs, powders and additional superfoods mixed with cacao, is intriguing. A study by Albak and Tekin (2014), found that mixing aniseed, ginger, and cinnamon into the dark chocolate mix before conching, “increased the total polyphenol content while they decreased the melting properties of dark chocolate after conching” (Albak, et al., 2014, p. 19).

Other resources that further elucidate specific findings on these superfoods, herbs and spices include:

Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395. This publication includes information on gingko, turmeric among other additives to functional chocolate and how protective vascular effects are formed.

Ruscigno, Matt, and Joshua Ploeg. Superfoods for Life, Cacao:-Improve Heart Health-Boost Your Brain Power-Decrease Stress Hormones and Chronic Fatigue-75 Delicious Recipes. Fair Winds Press (MA), 2014.

Wolfe, David. Superfoods: the food and medicine of the future. North Atlantic Books, 2010.

 

Raw Chocolate

Some consideration for the popularity of raw chocolate, which is used as the base of many functional chocolate products, deserves attention. As explained, there are many reasons chocolate can be considered a functional food, especially due to specific health promoting compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids, peptides, theobromine and minerals present in cacao and in chocolate. Unfortunately, overwhelming scientific evidence points to the detrimental effects on these compounds from processing, especially by heat. “Flavanols largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate. In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy” (Crowe, 2015).  Raw chocolate, by the standards of raw foodism, means that food is not supposed to be heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit in order to preserve enzymes. This seems tricky to prove especially when chocolate makers receive cocoa beans from various countries of origin where fermenting and drying practices are not under their direct supervision. Some companies remedy this issue with bean-to-bar practices that ensure they have seen and approved the process that cacao beans undergo before shipment to the company’s own processing facilities, where low temperature winnowing, grinding and conching is under their complete control. The bean-to-bar method (See Taza’s Bean-to-Bar and Direct Trade process) also provides assurance that cacao is ethically (sometimes for organic and wild-crafted cacao if so desired) sourced. These initiatives often promote more sustainable and  better processed cacao, which means higher quality cacao for both the farmer, manufacturer and consumer. For these reasons, the popularity of raw cacao seems to fit into the development of functional foods where the consumer is able to enjoy a sometimes more bitter, medicinal tasting chocolate in the anticipation of a powerful physiological boost and a clearer conscience due to sourcing methods.

In the case of Yes Cacao, their Karma MellOwl botanical chocolate bar contains 41% cacao butter, and 59% botanicals which results in a deliciously complex, albeit golden colored bar due to the cocoa butter and turmeric content. Non-fat cacao solids which provide the main anti-inflammatory benefits of cacao are missing, but are replaced with other superfoods, spices and adaptogenic herbs like lucuma, maca, yacon, lion’s mane mushrooms, gingko, turmeric, pine pollen, cinnamon, bacopa, and gynostemma. The creators of the bars deem them functional medicine, as they combine cacao solids and sundried cane juice as a base for superfood and medicinal enhancements. In this video, Justin Frank Polgar recommends that Yes Cacao bars are eaten daily as a staple enhancement for ideal human functionality.

image
Cambridge Naturals’ Yes Cacao Selection

 

Other raw chocolate companies that are focus on functional chocolate using additional superfoods, spices and herbs include:

Chocolatl More Than Chocolate

Righteously Raw Chocolates

Gnosis Chocolate

Addictive Wellness Raw Chocolate

Perfect Fuel

Stirs the Soul

Ohio Functional Chocolates

Great Bean Chocolate

Sacred Chocolate

 

Trends in functional foods heading in the direction of ‘naturally healthy’

From the perspective of growers, producers and consumers who want a high quality, healthful and good tasting chocolate product, the scientific findings that support the ideal balance between flavor and preservation of health promoting properties of cacao, are significant. The ideal way to conserve protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits warrants consideration with the changes in polyphenol content during processing of cacao from raw bean, through fermentation to roasting, conching and mixing with other ingredients. Raw chocolate seems a good way to navigate this balance. Meanwhile, mass produced commercial chocolate companies or “big chocolate” continue to move their products in the direction of high quality premium chocolate and adopting new manufacturing processes in order to preserve cacao’s protective effects. The overarching trend uniting premium, natural and healthful ingredients is referred to in the food industry as naturally healthy foods. “This idea of using food to manage health may, in part, help explain growing consumer interest in fresh, natural and organic products”(Gagliardi, 2015). The melding of healthy, natural and functional foods to chocolate production reflects consumer preferences and industry recognition of the role diet plays on health and provides insights into the future of food. For now, medicinally enhanced, raw, naturally healthy, and functional chocolate seems light years ahead of other natural foods on the market today.

Examples of ‘naturally healthy’ chocolate brands:

Coracao Confections

Hu Paleo Chocolate

Eating Evolved, The Primal Dark Chocolate Company

Pure7 Chocolate

Author’s Note: While researching and writing this article the author happily consumed a great deal of functional, raw and medicinal chocolate and can attest to the powerful effects that far surpass conventional and even ‘premium chocolates’.

 

References:

Ackar, Djurdjica, Kristina Valek Lendić, Marina Valek, Drago Šubarić, Borislav Miličević, Jurislav Babić, and Ilija Nedić. “Cocoa polyphenols: can we consider cocoa and chocolate as potential functional food?.” Journal of chemistry 2013 (2013).

Albak, Fatma, and Ali Rıza Tekin. “Development of Functional Chocolate with Spices and Lemon Peel Powder by using Response Surface Method: Development of Functional Chocolate.” Academic Food Journal/Akademik GIDA 12, no. 2 (2014).

Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395.

Bordiga, Matteo, Monica Locatelli, Fabiano Travaglia, Jean Daniel Coïsson, Giuseppe Mazza, and Marco Arlorio. “Evaluation of the effect of processing on cocoa polyphenols: antiradical activity, anthocyanins and procyanidins profiling from raw beans to chocolate.” International Journal of Food Science & Technology 50, no. 3 (2015): 840-848..

Crafack, Michael, Mikael Agerlin Petersen, Carl Emil Aae Eskildsen, G. B. Petersen, H. Heimdal, and Dennis Sandris Nielsen. “Impact of starter cultures and fermentation techniques on the volatile aroma profile of chocolate.” CoCoTea 2013 (2013).

Crafack, Michael. “Influence of Starter Cultures, Fermentation Techniques, and Acetic Acid on the Volatile Aroma and Sensory Profile of Cocoa Liquor and Chocolate.” (2014).

Crowe, Kelly. “Chocolate Health Myth Dissolves.” CBCnews. January 05, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/chocolate-health-myth-dissolves-1.2879898.

Di Mattia, Carla, Maria Martuscelli, Giampiero Sacchetti, Bram Beheydt, Dino Mastrocola, and Paola Pittia. “Effect of different conching processes on procyanidin content and antioxidant properties of chocolate.” Food Research International 63 (2014): 367-372.

Gagliardi, Nancy. “Consumers Want Healthy Foods–And Will Pay More For Them.” Forbes. February 18, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nancygagliardi/2015/02/18/consumers-want-healthy-foods-and-will-pay-more-for-them/#10fddf09144f.

Jain, Parag, Ravindra Pandey, and Shiv Shankar Shukla. “Inflammation and Lifestyle.” Inflammation: Natural Resources and Its Applications. Springer India, 2015. 143-152.

Jalil, Abbe Maleyki Mhd, and Amin Ismail. “Polyphenols in cocoa and cocoa products: is there a link between antioxidant properties and health?.”Molecules 13, no. 9 (2008): 2190-2219.

Jespersen, Lene, Dennis S. Nielsen, Susanne Hønholt, and Mogens Jakobsen. “Occurrence and diversity of yeasts involved in fermentation of West African cocoa beans.” FEMS Yeast Research 5, no. 4-5 (2005): 441-453.

Kadow, Daniel, Nicolas Niemenak, Sascha Rohn, and Reinhard Lieberei. “Fermentation-like incubation of cocoa seeds (Theobroma cacao L.)–Reconstruction and guidance of the fermentation process.” LWT-Food Science and Technology 62, no. 1 (2015): 357-361.

Vinson, Joe A., and Matthew J. Motisi. “Polyphenol antioxidants in commercial chocolate bars: Is the label accurate?.” Journal of Functional Foods 12 (2015): 526-529.

Zhang, Dapeng, and Lambert Motilal. “Origin, Dispersal, and Current Global Distribution of Cacao Genetic Diversity.” In Cacao Diseases, pp. 3-31. Springer International Publishing, 2016.

Do You Know Your Cacao Farmer? Looking Beyond Fair Trade Certified with Direct Trade Initiatives and ‘Bean-to-Bar’ Companies

Imagine this scenario: you’re looking through a magazine at the Doctor’s office one day and you see this ad –

ice-cream-fair-trade-cocoa-600-93572

And it makes you think, “Isn‘t that interesting… I know Ben and Jerry’s was bought by Unilever and ever since I’ve stopped buying their ice cream, but if they’re using Fair Trade ingredients maybe I will pick-up some on my way home – this decision makes me feel better about buying this delicious product again.

If you identify with this thought process you might think of yourself as a socially conscious and ethical consumer. You wouldn’t be wrong to think this but you probably haven’t heard the intricacies of the Fair Trade debate or of any other alternatives to this often idealized one-stop solution.

Let’s start by digging deeper into the public relations information promoted by the Fair Trade Certified™ organization reflected in the Ben & Jerry’s advertisement.

To see how companies market their products as having a value added benefit to farmers, producers and consumers using these standards, check out this article on What is Fair Trade by Cocoa Couriers a specialty chocolate website that sells a variety of Fair Trade Chocolate from around the world.

But there are some draw backs to Fair Trade as Maricel Presilla explains: “the Fair Trade Federation price system is meant to ensure just compensation to cacao farmers in developing nations, but it doesn’t guarantee substantially higher income for any individual farmer… organic or Fair Trade cacao can be mediocre (or worse) in quality. Moreover, the certification programs involved in such campaigns introduce layers of bureaucracy between grower and consumer that can cut into a farm’s profits.”1

To delve deeper into the underside of Fair Trade, take a look at this Introduction of Ndongo Sylla’s The Fair Trade Scandal. In her book she explores the very messy world of International Trade Regulations by WTO, effects of neoliberal globalization, and the history of Fair Trade and its relations to new buzz words like sustainable. Here Sylla examines the business of poverty and how it relates to advertising:

“Fair Trade nevertheless seeks to change the world by extending the empire of commodities further. How can it do so? Poverty itself has become a commodity. Poverty is being labelled. Through this label, it is the idea and the approach that are being sold. The label gives poverty a visibility it did not have before. It gives it an identity. A seal is applied on commodities produced by the poor – in fact by a minority among the poor – so that consumers of the North can distinguish between the ‘Fair’ approach and others. In theory, this label guarantees that the higher price paid will be put to good use and benefit impoverished workers. But Fair Trade needs advertising in order to attract clients, as all sellers do. Marketing and awareness campaigns are necessary to promote its cause.”2

After reading, you might feel more educated on the subtleties regarding why Fair Trade was created and what issues it faces, while also feeling more confused than ever. So what’s the alternative, isn’t buying a Fair Trade product the lesser evil? Yes, and no: increasingly some companies and growers are realizing the pitfalls of Fair Trade certifications and addressing them with new trade models. Companies like Taza Chocolate are using the terminology ‘bean-to-bar’ and ‘Direct Trade’ to label these decisions. Here is what Taza has to say about their Direct Trade Certified Cacao:

Direct Trade Certified

Taza makes stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all. From farm to factory, we do things differently. We do things better. We are chocolate pioneers.

It starts with Taza Direct Trade. We said no to predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices. We created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. In fact, you can
see exactly what we pay them, in our groundbreaking Annual Cacao
Sourcing Transparency Reports.

Taza Direct Trade means more money for farmers, the best cacao for us, and seriously good chocolate for you.3

With this information about Direct Trade initiatives in mind, why don’t we see more advertisements that invite consumers to learn about this alternate business model and support companies that are implementing better trade practices and providing higher quality products? Would this advertisement catch your eye?

CacaoGrowersWantToKnow-DirectTradeMeme

Did this advertisement I created make you think more than the Ben & Jerry’s ad regarding what you can do to educate yourself about direct trade models and get you interested in Askinoise, a company that the growers are advocating for?

If so, you might also consider:

  • What are the benefits of having direct relations with the growers of my food?
  • How can I support companies like Taza, Choba Choba and Askinosie who partner with and compensate their growers with ‘a stake in the outcome™‘ of their product?
  • How can I go beyond advertisements and learn more about the products I buy and the impact of their claims?

By asking questions like these you have the power to unlock real change in the cacao supply chain and other commodities by supporting companies with solutions to: Tariff barriers, global indexing of the global North vs the global South perpetuated with unethical and disastrous results that feed binaries of exploiter/exploited and do little to change the economic models that feed this inequality.

To Askinosie Chocolate, answers to these issues looks like these reasons for Direct Trade from their website:

Because you get better chocolate

Because it’s better Farmernomics

Because we all get better communities

So, why do we practice Direct Trade? Very few chocolate makers do, after all, and almost none go to the lengths we do to be involved every step of the way. It’s certainly not cheaper, easier or simpler, and it definitely doesn’t carry less financial risk for us. We practice Direct Trade because we think it’s the right way and the best way.4

Choba Choba, another company moving beyond Fair Trade shares this video that explains how they have imagined change in the supply chain:

Chobachobameme1.jpg

What can be done to keep building more company, supplier alliances like these? Support organizations like TechnoServe who bring these partnerships together.

Additional Resources for Further Understanding Chocolate Trade Solutions:

Try some Direct Trade and Bean-to-Bar chocolate!

 

References:

1 Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate. pp. 133.

2 Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “The Fair Trade Scandal.” Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich (Pluto (2014).

3 “Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. <https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade&gt;.
4 Askinosie Chocolate. A Stake in the Outcome. Web. 8 Apr. 2016. <https://askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html>

Images:

Choba Choba. ChobaChobaBlog1. 2014. Http://chobachoba.com/a-chocolate-revolution-is-about-to-star/a-chocolate-revolution-is-about-to-star/. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.
Askinosie Chocolate. A Stake in the Outcome. Web. 8 Apr. 2016. <https://askinosie.com/learn/a-stake-in-the-outcome.html&gt;.
Unilever. Ben & Jerry’s: “FAIR TRADE COCOA” Print Ad. 2010. Amalgamated New York. Coloribus. Web. 8 Apr. 2016. <http://files1.coloribus.com/files/adsarchive/part_1661/16612555/file/ice-cream-fair-trade-cocoa-600-93572.jpg&gt;.

Sugar Consumption in British Society: A Sweet and Sordid Rise to Capitalism

An intense and complex bond has made the supply and demand of sugar through the 17th-21st centuries grow to what was once unimaginable proportions. From the wealth of empires built upon commodities grown in ‘Colonial Crown Jewel’ territories, to the growth of industrialized cities, the infiltration of sugar and it’s industry has been there to support and serve as catalyst for the vast changes that have given way to our modern capitalistic societies.

Although sugar cane and its derivatives had been introduced to Europe around 1100 CE, it Sugarwasn’t until the 18th and 19th Century that massive changes in British consumptive patterns of sugar could be linked to the momentous alterations in British politics, economy and society. Sidney W. Mintz explains in Sweetness and Power, “what turns out to be most interesting about the British picture is how little it differed from eating habits and nutrition elsewhere in the world” (Mintz, p. 13). That Britain, like 85% of the world’s population in 1650, would have been struggling to meet their caloric needs mainly through starchy grains, sets the stage for demand – demand for cheap calories to meet growing population needs (Mintz, pp. 13-14). However physiological caloric needs were only one part of the equation that led to sugar’s popularization. Here Mintz explains:

“The history of sucrose in the United Kingdom reveals two basic changes, the first marking the popularization of sweetened tea and treacle, from about 1750 onward; and the second, the opening up of mass consumption, from about 1850 onward. During the period 1750-1850 every English person, no matter how isolated or how poor, and without regard to age or sex, learned about sugar. Most learned to like it enough to want it more than they could afford. After 1850, as the price of sugar dropped sharply, that preference became realized in consumption. A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed to a virtual necessity by 1850.” (Mintz, pp. 147-148)

SUAGARCANECUTTER1830

Sugar Cane Cutter 1830.

What underlies these changes in sugar’s consumption in Britain and other colonials powers during 1650-1850 that Mintz recounts, was the rise of slave labor to power the production of sugar and other luxury crops like coffee, cocoa and tobacco. The proliferation of wealth on the backs of slave labor by European nations and The Southern United States alike produced a demand for commodity crops which proved fundamental to the development of capitalism.

“The English people came to view sugar as essential; supplying them with it became as much political as an economic obligation. At the same time, the owners of immense fortunes created by the labour of millions of slaves stolen from Africa, on millions of the New World stolen from the Indians – wealth in the form of commodities like sugar, molasses, and rum to be sold to Africans, Indians, colonials, and the British working class alike – had become even more solidly attached to the centers of power in the English society at large. What sugar meant from this vantage point, was that all such colonial production, trade and metropolitan consumption came to mean: the growing strength and solidity of the empire and of the classes that dictated its policies.” (Mintz, p. 157)

To properly describe the inclusion of sugar into the diets of the common English man it is therefore imperative to look at the political and corporate powers that were instrumental in changing their diets based on psychology tactics marketed to consumers by corporate entities and their ties into opportunistic economic and legislative power plays. Mintz comments,

“tobacco, sugar and tea were the first objects within capitalism that conveyed with their use the complex idea that one could become different by consuming differently. This idea has little to do with nutrition or primates or sweet tooths, and less than it appears to have with symbols. But it is closely connected to England’s fundamental transformation from a hierarchical, status-based, medieval society to a social-democratic, capitalist, and industrial society…. But the ever rising consumption of sugar was an artifact of interclass struggles for profit – struggles that eventuated in a world-market solution for drug foods, as industrial capitalism cut its protectionist losses and expanded a mass market to satisfy proletarian consumers once regarded as sinful and indolent.” (Mintz, pp 185-186)

As a consequence, “Britain’s annual per capita consumption of sugar was 4lbs in 1704, 18lbs in 1800, 90lbs in 1901 – a 22-fold increase to the point where Britons had the highest sugar intake in Europe.” (Britain is built on Sugar, 2007) These statistics bridge the incredible economic and social shift that occurred within a few centuries, wher51rsi4-TAGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_eby sugar’s demand grew due to it’s perceived value as a luxury, industrialization further pushing for need of cheap calories and most disturbing, the slave trade’s colonial heritage that ushered in modern Capitalism.

As Eric Williams opens with in Capitalism & Slavery, “Every age rewrites history, but particularly ours, which has been forced by events to re-evaluate our conceptions of history and economic and political development.” (Williams, vii) Within his book Williams illuminates further the “contribution of slavery to the development of British capitalism,” (Williams, viii) and just how much this history has been swept under the proverbial rug so that the benefits of industrialization and capitalism become synonymous with progress and betterment for all in the tomes of history.

References:

Capitalism & Slavery Book Cover. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51rsi4-TAGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Britain is built on sugar: Our national sweet tooth defines us. (2007, October 12). Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/oct/13/lifeandhealth.britishidentity

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power. New York: Viking, 1985.

Sugar Cane Cutter 1830. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2016, from https://myweb.rollins.edu/jsiry/SUAGARCANECUTTER1830.jpg

Sugar Skulls. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.foodactive.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/sugar_skull_18s-890x395_c.jpg (Originally photographed 2013, December 23)

Williams, E. E. (1994). Capitalism & slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

The New Old Way to Enjoy Mesoamerican Cacao

I remember when I first learned about spicy chocolate bars. About 12 years ago I found a Vosges Haute Chocolate dark chocolate chili bar at Whole Foods. I also heard about the movie Chocolat with Juliette Binoche. I quickly put two and two together, rented the movie, and with my grandmother, proceeded to savor chocolate in a way I never had before. You can’t really gobble down chocolate with a kick to it. It satisfies more of the senses and begs to be savored – held on the tongue until it melts and not chewed. While Vosges is now flanked by many other fine chocolatiers in creating spicy chocolates, I was amazed to find out that early Mesoamerican cultures did not consume chocolate in this fashion at all. Even though many companies who offer spiced chocolate try to make claims that their chocolate is made in traditional Mayan or Aztec ways, it wasn’t until after the Spanish brought cacao back to baroque Europe that refined and sugar sweetened chocolate bar as we now know it now came to be common place.

If chocolate as we know it did not exist back in Mayan and Aztec culture, why do we link spiciness and chocolate at all? Let’s start with the Mayans. Even though the Olmec civilization has been discovered to be the first users of cacao beans from the cacao tree, the recipes and evidence we have from Mayan culture shows they “brought chocolate making to a high art”(Presilla p. 12). Everyone drank cacao in Mayan civilization. There were fancier fired vessels that only the upper class had access to but gourds were mainly used to drink cacao. Cacao fruit pulp was drunk “in both fresh and fermented forms”(Presilla p. 12) and cacao beans were mixed with various herbs, grains and fruits as another type of drink. Achiote (also known as annatto) paste was commonly added to ground cacao beans and gave their frothy drinks a bright red color. There was also “ear flower” a blossom that gave cacao a spicy and fragrant taste in addition to vanilla, honey, allspice, maguey sap, and yes, dried chiles that were added to water and ground cacao paste.

image
Ingredients Mayans Added to Cacao

The other dish that Mayans consumed on a regular basis as more food than drink was a corn gruel called atole. Either ground lime-treated corn or fresh corn was mixed with water, cacao, ground seeds and spices like allspice. Another way cacao was eaten with food was possibly in the form of what we commonly know as mole, a spicy chocolate sauce served with protein dishes. This usage of cacao and chili peppers may have existed as far back as AD 450. Trace evidence found in tamale vessels showed evidence of cacao and capsaicin (chemical marker of hot peppers) with turkey bones (Presilla p. 15).

The Aztecs adopted many of the Mayan traditions with cacao but they put their own spin on some key aspects of its usage. The Aztecs forbade commoners to drink it and it was reserved for Aztec nobility, and the merchant class. Aztec warriors also were allowed to eat cacao but they were given small wafers or disks that were easy to travel with and then could be turned into liquid when desired. Aztecs still ate the cacao corn gruel but they reserved lower grades of cacao to add to such dishes.(Coe p.85) Many people automatically put the word “hot” before chocolate when they think of drinking the liquid concoction, and the Mayans were no different. The Aztecs however, liked theirs cool (Coe p.84). They also embellished upon the flavoring that the Mayans had added to their cacao drinks. Ground seeds like that of sapote, maize, chili, honey, allspice, achiote, vanilla, “ear flower” among other edible flowers like “string flower,” “popcorn flower” and “heart flower” were added in various combinations to make Aztec cacao drinks (Coe pp. 86-94).

When I learned of how the Aztecs and the Mayans took their cacao, I was glad to learn that refined sugar was a modern addition. Yes, both civilizations would sweeten their beverages with substances like corn, honey, and fruit nectars, but on the whole their drinks were on the tart, tangy, spicy, sour and savory side. When I fell in love with spicy chocolate, I also fell in love with that more bitter aspect of cacao. The aspect that on the whole producers have tried to hide from the modern consumer. Mass produced hocolate is often very sweet and to many that is a pleasant taste over cacao seed’s natural bitterness, but how much do we lose in terms of cacao’s complexity and nutrient properties when it is diluted with milk solids, vegetable fats and sugars? I think we lose a lot. While I’m glad there are options like the Guajillo & Chipotle Chili Super Dark Chocolate Bar from Vosges, I’m even happier there are people interested in traditional Mayan and Aztec recipes online.

Here are some top pics to check out:

Mayan Chocolate Drink

Lord Chocolate Drink Recipe

Mesoamerican Hot Chocolate

If you’re interested in learning about the “true history of chocolate” further, I would highly recommend watching this video with Michael D. Coe.

Sources:

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

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013 [1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Images:

Chocolate Cup Image

Mayan Cacaco Ingredients