Tag Archives: cacao

Moving to Mars: Climate Change and Cacao’s Undying Lov

Two hours. That is the amount of time I spent scouring databases and newspaper articles attempting to find scientific (or non-scientific) evidence that would demonstrate the importance chocolate has in our world today. More specifically, I was looking for something titled Chocolate: The Most Significant Food in History. The best I could find was a TIME.com article titled “9 Weirdest Uses for Chocolate.” It was very insightful. However, when considering the amount of chocolate that is produced and consumed in the world each year, the picture of importance starts to become more clear. For businesses and consumers, chocolate and cacao is a great product, and in high demand. For producers and farmers, it is an important cash crop and essential to survival.

Figure 1.

Producing and Consuming

Source: http://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf

The relevance and importance chocolate and cacao cultivation have on the world economy cannot be understated. According to the International Cacao Organization (ICCO,) the world’s top ten chocolate producing companies did $80 billion USD in sales in 2017. (https://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html) Even beyond the money and global markets, there is a great deal of cultural significance that could never be quantified. The World Cocoa Foundation estimates that Cacao directly affects the livelihoods of approximately 50 million people (http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/our-work/programs/). For chocolate lovers, the news that climate change could significantly impact our access to chocolate was devastating. Major players such as MARS Inc. have made significant investments for this eventuality, and are looking to be prepared for changes in the cacao marketplace. This will undoubtedly have significant impacts on the producers of cacao and encourages a deeper look at methods to adapt the farming and production practices.

Chocolate might go away?

Despite the fear-mongering on the internet, this is not totally accurate. It is important to point out that cacao will not be going extinct anytime soon. It will, however, face a potentially sharp and significant decline in production. This means that by 2050, you may have less access too chocolate than you do at this very moment. My advice is to stock up.

Cacao trees really depend on very specific criteria to be met in order for them to grow, thrive, and produce fruit (Lecture). Cacao can essentially only be grown when the right conditions are met. Those conditions apply to which areas in the world cacao can grow in, the temperature it prefers, and the surrounding plants that shield and shade it. The picky nature of Theobroma cannot be understated.

The challenge that the world’s cacao producers are facing is climate change. Those very specific conditions are projected to be harder to meet in the very near future. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) West African countries will experience an increase in evapotranspiration (Smith, 2016). Essentially, the amount of water plants will be able to retain will decrease due to higher temperatures. This will have an impact on what areas will later be suitable to grow cacao. Figure 2 highlights the estimated change in temperature in Africa’s top cacao producing regions according to research done by Peter Läderach and his team.

Figure 2.

Temp change

Source: Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa

With 70% of the world’s chocolate finding its origin in western African countries like Cote d’Ivoire, a decrease in production from West Africa would have a worldwide impact. (http://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf) For several countries that fall within the West African cacao belt, Cacao is the number one agricultural export. Any decline could potentially result in major economic impacts for those countries (Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Schroth, & Castro, 2013; Schroth, Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Bunn, & Jassogne, 2016). It would also result in consequences for the natural habitats and cacao growing regions of these states. The research that has been done in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire has indicated that by 2050, almost 90% of the current farmland would be unsuitable to grow cacao, with only a 10% increase in suitability. This is alarming as the vast majority of cacao production in Africa, and worldwide, stems from this region.

Figure 3

cacao production

Source: Lecture slides

Additionally, this new farmland comes at a cost. That is to say, in order to capitalize on other areas that will be suitable to grow cacao, countries facing this challenge will have to sacrifice environmental conservation (Läderach et al., 2013). This still would not make up for the amount of farmland lost to the temperature increases, while contributing to the factors that influence climate change.

While a decrease in African production would have global consequences, it is unlikely that climate change will eliminate chocolate and cacao production. As cacao grows around the globe, we can expect it will continue to be around. One of the concerns currently is that it is very likely that other regions around the world will have to pick up the slack. And that is a lot of slack! With the top cacao producing countries losing close to 90% of suitable cacao growing areas, it is unclear at this point where it is possible to make up for this loss. Without an answer in the next 20-30 years, chocolate will likely be much less of a household item than it was the last 100 years.

Let’s move to Mar’s…Inc.

According to the Candy Industry’s 2017 Global Top 100 list, Mar’s Inc. is the world’s top-grossing candy company. In 2017, their net sales topped $18 billion USD! (https://www.candyindustry.com/2017-Global-Top-100-Part-4) With earnings like that, it is not difficult to understand the level of investment and commitment the company would have to the preservation of chocolate production.

mars

Source: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/794479

Mars Inc. has put their money where their mouth is…or rather, where the chocolate is. They have invested in a project run by the Innovative Genomics Institute, in an effort to ensure future production of cacao. So far they have pledged $1 billion USD to creating sustainability and reducing their footprint, and this includes the CRISPR project. The goal of the project is not to specifically save cacao production, but rather to combat diseases in humans and plants (IGI 2018). Lucky for us, Theobroma Cacao is a plant. Winning! Well, maybe. The CRISPR technology is aimed at altering the genes of plants in order to make them resistant to disease. So this might not really help West African farmers who will lose cacao growing areas. By investing in this technology, Mars Inc. hopes to expand the possible areas cacao can be grown in.

As it stands today, different diseases and insects make in very difficult to grow and produce cacao. It is estimated that about 40% of the crops in the Americas are lost to fungal infections like witches’ broom (Shapiro & Shapiro, 2015). By increasing the natural resistance of the fruit-bearing trees, the average yield would increase 3 fold. This means that places that have been traditionally very difficult to produce cacao in could now become production centers. This would effectively reduce the impacts on chocolate manufacturers if the climate predictions do create impediments to cacao production in West Africa.

In a recent story done on the use of CRISPR technology, scientists working with IGI explained the advancements they have made in changing the genes of many crops that are prone to disease. They explain that they have already used the technology to create a solution for the swollen shoot virus that plagues cacao trees. (Schlender, 2018)

Source: https://www.voanews.com/embed/player/0/4332190.html?type=video

The technology works so quickly that IGI can have plants develop the desired traits within one generation! This is very good news for chocolate lovers. Assuming everything works out. The plants that have and will undergo this process will need to be researched extensively before they can be consumed by the public. This will ensure that people eating these modified crops do not grow an extra set of toes afterward.

This past year, Mars Inc. also made a significant investment in addressing climate change, planning to cut its own carbon emissions by two-thirds. A big part of this investment will be assisting farmers in improving their yields while simultaneously reducing pressures underlying deforestation. The idea is that the more a farmer can produce from their crops, the less land they will need to do it (Madson, 2017). This investment totals $1 billion USD and has been proposed to be completed by 2050.

Other chocolate giants such as Cadbury and Mondelez have also become a part of developing solutions for creating sustainability in cacao farming. Mondelez International’s non-profit arm, Cocoa Life, is focused on improving the lives of farmers in cacao-growing regions around the world. (https://www.cocoalife.org/the-program/approach) With increased commitment from large organizations with vast resources, it is possible to combat the potential effects of climate change.

What about the little guy/gal?

While it appears that Mars Inc. has likely stumbled upon a viable solution to their future issue of supply, what about the small-holders. The potential to move cacao production elsewhere is not great news for all parties involved. It is possible that genetic modification could potentially change under what conditions cacao trees thrive. However, it is unclear if this route could help the trees overcome evapotranspiration in the projected West African environments. It is very probable that this cash crop could find a new capital in other region or regions in other parts of the world. For the millions of farmers who are vulnerable to this threat, this is a challenge they will be forced to adapt to.

There are organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance who are working toward preparing farmers, equipping them with new strategies to protect their crops. The strategy being used is called Climate-Smart Agriculture, and in principal focuses on the specific needs of the specific farm (de Groot, 2017). Cacao farmers using this tactic would conduct a needs assessment of their farm, and create a plan that directly corresponds to the challenges that are unique to them. Some of the strategies include planting shade trees, as well as developing water retaining systems to prepare for droughts. While these will improve overall yield from these farms, it is unclear at this point how these tactics will far against climate change.

The tactic of planting shade trees is, however, a recommended strategy for those who fall in the Western African cacao belt. Currently, the farming trend has been to reduce the shade on cacao farms, however, this may no longer be an option. By increasing the shade of the cacao trees, the temperatures of its leaves could drop up to 4 °C (Läderach et al., 2013). Not only could this help protect cacao cultivation in Western Africa, it also helps to increase crop diversification. If done correctly, this would make cacao farmers less vulnerable to changing temperatures and less frequent rainfall. A downside to this recommendation is the limitation on the amount of water available during the dry season. The increase in plant life means less water to satisfy the needs of the cacao trees, and potentially losing the entire crop.

Conclusion

Chocolate is important. It directly impacts the lives of people around the world, in ways that transcend taste. For some, it is a highly desired treat, and for others, it is a means of opportunity. The effects of climate change have given all sides of the cacao industry a wake-up call to the importance of sustainable farming and improving our carbon footprint. Large organizations have begun to change the way they operate in the world, by reducing their emissions and helping to improve farming practices. Climate change could result in significant impacts on the cacao industry the world over. Reducing the amount of product available for purchase, and decreasing the available wages that can be earned in regions that are the most affected. Scientists, chocolate companies, and cacao farmers are starting to come together in an attempt to better the practices in this very important industry. Each has a role to play to play in this improvement, as well as the preparation for effects climate change will play in cacao and other vital crops.

 

Sources:

de Groot, H. (2017). Preparing Cocoa Farmers for Climate Change. Retrieved May 9, 2018, from https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/article/preparing-cocoa-farmers-for-climate-change

Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A., Schroth, G., & Castro, N. (2013). Predicting the future climatic suitability for cocoa farming of the world’s leading producer countries, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Climatic Change, 119(3–4), 841–854. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0774-8

Madson. (2017, October 27). Climate change could hurt chocolate production » Yale Climate Connections. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2017/10/climate-change-could-hurt-chocolate-production/

Schlender, S. (2018). New Gene Editing Tool May Yield Bigger Harvests. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from https://www.voanews.com/a/crispr-for-bread-chocolate/4330647.html

Schroth, G., Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A. I., Bunn, C., & Jassogne, L. (2016). Vulnerability to climate change of cocoa in West Africa: Patterns, opportunities and limits to adaptation. Science of The Total Environment, 556, 231–241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.024

Shapiro, H. S., Howard-Yana, & Shapiro, H. S., Howard-Yana. (2015). The Race to Save Chocolate. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamericanfood0615-28

Smith, M. (2016). Climate & Chocolate | NOAA Climate.gov. Retrieved May 9, 2018, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

 

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Interview With A Chocolate Lover

 This interview is being conducted for the purpose of chocolate research, and to gain a deeper understanding of how chocolate affects people’s lives.  Many people enjoy the delicious, sweet substance, yet not all are aware of the history.  The interviewee will be asked a series of questions about how chocolate affects her life.  She enjoys chocolate on a daily basis, and so this interview will be beneficial to everyone. First, she will be asked about her favorite kind of chocolate, and why she chose it.  Secondly, how chocolate has affected her life, either health wise, or pleasure.  Lastly, we will discuss how chocolate has progressed, or stayed the same over the years. For example, does chocolate taste the same now, as it did hundreds of years ago?  Is chocolate as healthy now as it was in the time of the Mayans or Aztecs? The interview will give everyone a new perspective on almost every aspect of chocolate.  Without further ado, let’s begin our interview with a chocolate lover.

The interviewee was born and bred in Southeast Michigan, and is now twenty-one years old.  Her obsession with chocolate began when she was very young.  She recalls, “eating chocolate as young as two years old when my father would feed me spoonful’s of chocolate ice cream.” I laughed, responding, “Yes, chocolate ice cream is very good.  Do you still enjoy chocolate ice cream?” She replied, “Of course! Only, now I eat organic, dairy free chocolate ice cream.” At this point, it was a perfect time to move the interview toward our first question.  Obviously the interviewee has enjoyed chocolate her whole life, and it would be interesting to know what is her favorite kind of chocolate.

She replied, “My favorite chocolate comes the Endangered Speciesbrand, and my favorite flavor is Dark Chocolate, With Forest Mint.” It sounded delicious. I asked, “Why is that your favorite brand of chocolate?” Interviewee: “Well, the ingredients are healthier than something you would find in a Nestle brand for example.  This brand is a NON GMO product, Kosher, certified gluten free, and certified vegan. It also contains around 70% cocoa.”  It was refreshing to know that the interviewee had a respect for healthy, organic chocolate.  I was able to research the product, and gathered the ingredient information.  It contains, “BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE (CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, CANE SUGAR, COCOA BUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLA), NATURAL MINT FLAVOR” (Chocolatebar.com).  It also contains 5g’s of fiber, 12 g’s of sugar, and 3 g’s of protein.  The total calories per bar is 210.  The fact that the interviewee was aware of the health benefits of cacao surprised me.  Cacao is the purest form of chocolate, and to give the reader some perspective, we will explore its origins.

The following information has been qouted from my last blog post, Eat More Organic Chocolate!: “Christopher Columbus was said to have brought some back with him, after his fourth trip to the New World, but Europe was not quite ready to acknowledge its significance.  Actually, “It was his fellow explorer, the Spanish Conquistador Don Hernán Cortés, who first realized their commercial value. He brought cocoa beans back to Spain in 1528 and very gradually, the custom of drinking the chocolate spread across Europe, reaching England in the 1650s” (Cadbury).  Cacao, the ancient chocolate of the world, had just started its long journey to modern popularity.” (Wydo)

In fact, “By 1682, a British report detailed cocoa exports from Jamaica to Boston. By inference, cocoa exports into the colonies can be assumed to be used for local chocolate production, marking the beginning of chocolate production in the American colonies” (History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American ColoniesSnyder).  It became so popular in North America, that even John Adams and his wife would have some with their morning breakfast.  Snyder records, ‘“John and Abigail Adams were very fond of chocolate. In 1779, John Adams, while in Spain, wrote, “Ladies drink chocolate in the Spanish fashion. Each lady took a cup of hot chocolate and drank it, and then cakes and bread and butter were served; then each lady took another cup of cold water, and here ended the repast.” Abigail Adams, writing to John Quincy Adams in 1785, described drinking chocolate for breakfast while in London.””

Cacao has a deep and rich history.  The interviewee was read the information to give a better perspective.  In response, she said, “Wow, I thought I knew a lot about Cacao, but apparently not.  I did not know that Abigail Adams drank chocolate for breakfast in London. That is very interesting.  It seems like chocolate was a delicacy in those days.  People of high class consumed it.  They made it popular.”  Next, I wanted to move the interview towards my next question. I asked, “How has chocolate affected your life in all areas? Do you consume it for health, pleasure, or perhaps both?

The interviewee replied, “I love chocolate for many different reasons. Chocolate is not just something I eat or drink for pleasure, but something I consume for my health as well. There are many ways to consume chocolate.  You can eat it from a chocolate bar, drink it hot chocolate, enjoy some chocolate ice cream, sprinkle it on desserts, and so much more.  Chocolate is just fun to prepare. You can enjoy it so many different ways.  As I mentioned before, I only eat organic chocolate that has a high percentage of Cacao in it.  The reason for that is because cacao has numerous health benefits.  Raw cacao contains, magnesium, Iron, Flavonoids, and PEA.”

Luke: “Where did you get this information from?” Interviewee: “From a Women’s Health article. I’ll go ahead and read you some of the article now. The article reads, ‘“Raw cacao is one of the best food sources of magnesium – a mineral that many of you lack from your diet. Magnesium is essential for energy production, for a healthy brain and nervous system, for our muscles and for strong bones and teeth. Magnesium may also support a healthy blood pressure. Cacao is a source of iron, which builds the blood and helps to transport oxygen around our body, as well as potassium, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium. Cacao can also be high in flavonoids, which have antioxidant activity. Raw cacao and flavonoid-rich chocolate have been linked with heart health benefits including increasing the good form of cholesterol (HDL) in our blood, lowering blood pressure and even improving vascular function in patients with congestive heart failure. These effects are thought to be primarily due to the antioxidants contained in the cacao.In addition, cacao contains a compound called phenylethylamine (PEA for short!). PEA is thought to elevate mood and support energy, and is said to be one of the reasons that many people love chocolate! Raw cacao is also very low in sugar, and of course does not contain any milk, so is suitable for those who are milk-sensitive or following a low-sugar diet”’ (Menato).  Luke: “Yes, chocolate is very good for you! I did not know all of that information.  I actually wrote a blog post for this class, and I quoted an article written by James Howe.  I’ll read you part of the article. It reads, ‘In the mid-1990s, with funding from the Mars Company, Hollenberg set out to prove that what protected the Kuna from heart disease was chocolate. As the research has progressed since then, he and other researchers have zeroed in on a “flavanol” in chocolate called epicatechin, which, he says, may protect against diabetes and cancer as well as high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks.”’ Interviewee: “I’m glad I eat and drink plenty of chocolate! That research really makes me grateful for Cacao.  It truly does impact your health in a positive way.”

At his point in the interview, it was my intention to steer the conversation towards social issues surrounding chocolate, and it’s production.  The interviewee has a history of being very passionate about human rights, so this topic was perfect for our conversation.  First, I wanted to gauge her familiarity with the subject.  After doing research, I was astounded from what I found.

In America chocolate isn’t given a second thought. Everywhere you turn there is chocolate. From candy to desserts there is no shortage. Most often, Americans do not give a second thought to were products we use and eat come from and the effects those products have on other societies in order to produce it for our enjoyment.  Luke:“Do you mind if at this point in the interview, we discuss the effects chocolate has on society?” Interviewee: “Of course not! I love being able to talk about these things because it brings awareness to the subject.” Luke: “Let me start off by reading from an interesting news posting from the BBC. It quotes, ‘African cocoa farms are still employing hundreds of thousands of children, the BBC has discovered, 10 years after the world’s leading chocolate companies promised to tackle child labor. Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa producer with as many as 800,000 children working in the industry, often in dangerous jobs’ Humphrey Hawksley reports from Ivory Coast. Most Americans today do not know this. It’s so important that people today are educated’” (BBC News).

Luke: “Another interesting article I found from Fortune.com reads, “Child labor in West African cocoa farming first became a cause célèbre around the turn of the century when a number of pieces of investigative journalism focused the world’s attention on the plight of children who had been trafficked to Ivory Coast to farm cocoa, often from other former French colonies such as Mali and Burkina Faso, and held as slave laborers. In a documentary that aired on the BBC, filmmakers interviewed young boys in Ivory Coast who said they’d been beaten and forced to work long hours without pay. One who said he’d been working on a cocoa farm for five years was asked what he thought about people enjoying chocolate in other parts of the world. “They are enjoying something that I suffered to make,” the boy answered. “They are eating my flesh.”” (Fortune.com).”

Interviewee: “Wow.  I knew that chocolate production has posed these kinds of risk’s to kids in Africa, but I was not aware of all these facts.  It honestly breaks my heart.” Luke: “It breaks my heart too because there’s not much we can do except boycott these companies who buy their chocolate from West Africa.  However, almost everyone buys their chocolate from there.  According to the same article, around 70 percent of the worlds cacao is grown there.  This means that they produce around 60 percent of the global market in chocolate.”

Luke: “Another source reports, “Holding a single large pod in one hand, each child has to strike the pod with a machete and pry it open with the tip of the blade to expose the cocoa beans. Every strike of the machete has the potential to slice a child’s flesh. The majority of children have scars on their hands, arms, legs or shoulders from the machetes. In addition to the hazards of using machetes, children are also exposed to agricultural chemicals on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Tropical regions such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast consistently deal with prolific insect populations and choose to spray the pods with large amounts of industrial chemicals. In Ghana, children as young as 10 spray the pods with these toxins without wearing protective clothing (foodispower).” Interviewee: “That is devastating.  It really makes me rethink who I will be buying my chocolate from!”

Luke: “I hope I haven’t turned you off from chocolate altogether! The reason I bring up these issues is because we as Americans need to be more aware.  It is all about bringing awareness to the issues at hand, and doing everything we can do to help.  For example, when you go to buy your chocolate, buy brands that are committed to eco-friendly production.  This way, you know that no child is suffering in an effort to produce it.  Another thing you can do is not buy from brands that are known for importing from West Africa.  Choose another brand.  It’s all about taking small steps toward a better tomorrow.  Anyway, I was so glad you accepted my invitation for this interview. You have really brought a fun atmosphere.  I have enjoyed getting to know you and your favorite chocolate better!” Interviewee: “Thank you so much Luke.  I had fun as well. Let’s raise our chocolate bars to a great interview!”

 

Works Cited

 

  1. http://www.chocolatebar.com/products/dark-chocolate-with-forest-mint/
  2. History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies.” History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies: The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site,
  3. Menato, Francesca. “Cacao Powder Benefits | Why It’s Better Than Chocolate.” Women’s Health UK, womenshealthmag.co.uk/weight-loss/healthy-eating/2736/health-benefits-of-raw-cacao-over-chocolate/.
  4. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52., doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.
  5. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, Fortune, fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/.
  6. “Ivory Coast Cacao Farms Child Labour: Little Change.” Http://Www.bbc.com/News/World-Africa-15681986.

TAZA CHOCOLATE: HOW A SMALL COMPANY IS MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE

Taza5


TAZA CHOCOLATE

HOW A SMALL COMPANY
IS MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE


taza_chocolate_mission_large

In its origins, cacao relied heavily on the slave trade to fuel its ever-increasing demand (Martin, 2018). Despite the abolition of slavery in the mid 19th century, the modern day chocolate industry is still riddled with inherent ethical issues. In response to the persistent pervasiveness of injustices within the industry’s process, bean-to-bar brands have proliferated as a potential solution with a commitment to both the ethicality and culinary aspects of chocolate production; Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts typifies one of these companies striving to produce delicious chocolate through ethical practices and a high degree of production transparency. Founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton, Taza Chocolate produces “stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza, 2017). Taza acts as an all-around ethical, socially-conscious and purpose-driven business.

Taza’s company culture is driven by its founder, who prior to opening his own company “apprenticed with Mexican molineros, learning their ancient chocolate-making secrets” (Taza, 2017). Taza offers an easy application process opening up more opportunities in making an effort to get natives from the countries that it sources its cacao from involved in its business processes.

Taza1
Owner Alex Whitmore carving patterns into a stone for grinding chocolate

Taza, meaning “cup” in Spanish, is reminiscent of the way Aztecs ritualistically consumed chocolate in liquid form using specially designed cups or vessels for this purpose (Coe, 1996). A nod to its rich history is also found in its design and packaging displaying a cacao pod and its signature mold in the form of the Mexican millstone, a stone that is traditionally used to grind chocolate.

“Taza founder Alex Whitmore took his first bite of stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was so inspired by the rustic intensity that he decided to create a chocolate factory back home in Somerville, MA. Alex apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca to learn how to hand-carve granite mill stones to make a new kind of American chocolate that is simply crafted, but seriously good. In 2005, he officially launched Taza with his wife, Kathleen Fulton, who is the Taza Brand Manager and designed all of the packaging.

Taza is a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing. We were the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program. We maintain direct relationships with our cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao. We partner only with cacao producers who respect the rights of workers and the environment.” (Taza, 2017)


THE CHOCOLATE SUPPLY CHAIN

BUYING AND SELLING CACAO


 

Taza2.jpeg
A traditional metate

Millions of hands spanning multiple continents are responsible for the production of the key ingredient in this beloved treat, but most consumers don’t have a sense of the complex intricacies of the supply chains involved in chocolate and the economic realities of the farmers who grow the crop.

The chocolate supply chain begins with the cultivation of cacao pods. After cacao cultivation, the pods are harvested and the seeds and pulp are separated from the pod. The cacao seeds are fermented and dried before being sorted, bagged, and transported to chocolate manufacturers. The cacao beans undergo roasting, husking, grinding, and pressing before the product undergoes a process called “conching,” in which the final flavors develop (Martin, 2018). Differences in the execution of each step influence the ultimate taste and consistency of the chocolate product.

Taza4

Today, approximately two million independent family farms in West Africa produce the vast majority of cacao. Each farm, between five to ten acres in size, collectively produce more than three million metric tons of cacao per year (Martin, 2018). While some of the farms grow crops like oil palm, maize, and plantains, to supplement their income, the average daily income of a typical Ghanaian cacao farmers is well under $2 per day.

The commercial process of purchasing cacao usually involves the farmers selling to intermediaries, who subsequently sell to exporters or additional  intermediaries. With each middle-man adding their own profit layers, the supply chain lengthens as well the opportunity for the corruption and exploitation of the growers and farmers.

In response to the social and economic injustices associated with the cacao supply chain, various organizations have been established with the common mission of improving ethical and corporate responsibility of global cacao practices. Many of these organizations have established criteria for certifications with the goal of enticing companies to comply with specified ethical requirements in exchange for public acknowledgement for doing so.

“Fair Trade,” a designation granted by the nonprofit of the same name, stands out as a recognizable stamp on many shelf-brands. Self-defined as an organization which “enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth,” Fair Trade certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee farmers making Fair Trade certified goods receive fair wages, work in safe environments, and receive benefits to support their communities (“Fair Trade USA,” 2017).

Yet, while in theory Fair Trade seems to address many issues the cacao farmers face, critics of the certification point out there exists a lack of evidence of significant impact, a failure to monitor Fair Trade standards, and an increased allowance of non-Trade ingredients in Fair Trade products (Nolan, Sekulovic, & Rao 2014). So, while in theory certifications like Fair Trade offer the potential to improve the cacao-supply chain by ensuring those companies who subscribe to the certification meet certain criteria, the rigor and regulation of the criteria remains heavily debated.

 


FAIRER THAN FAIR-TRADE

BEAN-TO-BAR AND DIRECT TRADE


 

Taza6.jpeg

In contrast to Fair Trade, an alternative type of product sourcing that is growing in popularity and reputation is that of Direct Trade. Different from the traditional supply chain process, ‘bean-to-bar’ companies offer this as a potential solution for the injustices in the cacao industry. By cutting out the middle-men and working directly with cacao farmers, these small chocolate companies commit themselves to the highest ethical standards and quality (Shute 2013). The goal is that this bean-to-bar “pipeline will make for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation” (Shute, 2013).

While providing some oversight on ethical practices, Fair Trade’s supervisory capacity does little to create a relationship between the farmers and the ultimate producers or to eliminate extraneous intermediaries diluting profit from both parties. Additionally, achieving a Fair Trade certification costs between $8,000 and $10,000, whereas Direct Trade costs the chocolate bar producer nothing.

This direct connection, allows the buyer and farmer to communicate fair prices, ensuring that the cacao farmers receive fair wages, working conditions, and support (Zusman, 2016). Furthermore, the transparency associated with the bean-to-bar process motivates the companies to keep up to date on ethical practices, and encourages the cacao farmers to take extra care the cultivation of their beans.

Taza sources its cacao from its “Grower Partners” in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Haiti. Taza provides a detailed profile for each of its cacao producers which features information including the country region, number of farmers, duration of partnership, tasting notes which contribute to the terroir of their chocolate, history of the region, and pictures of the farmers with Taza employees. The thorough information Taza provides truly puts faces to the names of the farmers and displays Taza’s direct and personal engagement with their cacao producers.

 


THE TAZA DIFFERENCE

TRANSPARENCY AND DIRECT-TRADE SOURCING


 

Taza3.jpeg

Alex Whitmore, an innovator of the bean-to-bar movement founded Taza with a commitment to “simply crafted, but seriously good chocolate,” and as “a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing” (Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor, 2017).

The mission of Taza Chocolate is “To make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza, 2017). In the dual parts of their mission: “seriously good” and “fair for all”, Taza has become a leader in using the quality and ethicality of their products to empower and respect those often overlooked workers at the very front of the supply chain. Looking first at quality, Taza has seen success as a maker of “seriously good” chocolate (Taza, 2017). Their products are now available all over the country and internationally, in specialty, natural and gift stores. Fine restaurants have used Taza Chocolate in their kitchens and numerous major food publications have featured the company. But these are just outward indicators of what goes on behind the scenes. For one thing, their “seriously good” chocolate seeks to remain true to its cacao origins and acknowledge where it comes from through proper and authentic taste. While other chocolate makers may do as they please to conform to the tastes of the consumer masses, Taza Chocolate caters to the genuine recipes and processes of the geography and culture within which it was conceived.

In addition to publishing their Direct Trade Program Commitments, Taza provides access to their transparency report, cacao sourcing videos, and their sustainable organic sugar.  Seemingly, Taza exemplifies the archetype bean-to-bar company.

Taza chocolate products carry five certifications to ensure safe labor practices as well as organic ingredients, whose integrity is guaranteed by having their “five Direct Trade claims independently verified each year by Quality Certification Services, a USDA-accredited organic certifier based in Gainesville, Florida” (Taza, 2017).

“Taza is big on ethical cacao sourcing, and is the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program, meaning, you maintain direct relationships with your cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao.” (Taza, 2017)

In its Transparency Report displayed below, Taza even discloses what it pays for its cacao beans. 

Taza_DT_WebGraphics_KPIs_2017_1024x1024

Bean-to-bar chocolate companies appear to be a viable potential solution, albeit slow and on a more micro level, to addressing the issues in the cacao-chocolate supply. Because currently the consumer base does not seem to possess a critical awareness of different certifications, the bean-to-bar companies must continue to pioneer more moral standards until enough customers catch up and until demand forces the bigger chocolate vendors to take a similar approach. Until then, tackling the exploitation embedded in the cacao-supply chain falls exclusively on the shoulders of the chocolatiers equally loyal to both chocolate and social responsibility.

Taza Chocolate is undoubtedly making large efforts to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. Rather than allowing consumers to blindly focus on the end product of the chocolate itself, Taza encourages consumers to acknowledge the environment and culture from which the chocolate originates. Often forgotten farmers and food artisans are brought to the forefront instead of being relegated to the archives of unseen histories. Indeed, Taza gives growers “an alternative to producing low quality cacao for unsustainable wages” (Taza, 2017). Taza’s operations may still be in its nascent stages, but it is exciting to see even a small company lead the entire chocolate industry towards a more ethical and sustainable future.

 


References


 

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Fair Trade USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, April 04, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

Nolan, Markham, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao. “The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ. Vocativ, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., 2015. Web. 08 May. 2018. <https://www.tazachocolate.com/&gt;.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR. NPR, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 May 2017.

Taza Chocolate. “Sourcing for Impact in Haiti.” Vimeo. Taza Chocolate, 03 May 2017. Web. 03 May 2017. Video

 

Zusman, Michael C. “What It Really Takes to Make Artisan Chocolate.” Eater. N.p., 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.


Media


Taza Chocolate. (2018) Header Image

Taza, Chocolate. (2018). “Stone Ground Chocolate”

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “Alex Whitmore”

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “A traditional metate”

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “Taza chocolate making process”

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “Whitmore with farmers”

Youtube. (2012).  Taza on fair trade

Chocolatenoise.com (2018).  “Rotary stone”

Taza, Chocolate. (2018). “Direct trade”

Vimeo.com. (2006). Taza Chocolate “Bean to Bar”

HEXX Chocolate – A Super. Natural. Story on the Las Vegas Strip

Situated in the shadow of a half-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower, amidst the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, we find the unlikely presence of Nevada’s sole bean-to-bar chocolate concept called HEXX Chocolate (Feldberg). In a city where audacious and artificial are the norm – HEXX’s authentic approach to chocolate they call “Super. Natural.” is breaking the mold of industry paradigms and bridging the huge chasm between chocolate’s primary consumers in the global north and cacao producers in the global south (“Authentic”). In HEXX’s unique approach, they are taking on one of the most pressing social and ethical challenges facing the chocolate industry today – the plight of farmers in cacao producing nations and the general lack of awareness amongst consumers. By examining four key aspects of HEXX: The unique DNA of its leadership; the original way it is presenting its chocolate story to customers; its intentional cultivation of long-term, ethical relationship with its farmers; and its unique challenges, we will see HEXX molding chocolate’s present and future for the better.

HEXX’s Founders and Chocolate Makers – As Unique as Its Brand

As unique as HEXX’s presence is on the Las Vegas Strip, equally as original are its founders and chocolate makers. In the emerging craft chocolate space that has grown from a single company to 200 in the past two decades (Leissle 3; Giller), one might imagine a chocolate maker as a geeky chocolate scientist perfecting chocolate for other geeks (Giller) or perhaps a hipster with a cause (“MAST”). However, at HEXX, we find something quite different. The brain-trust and chocolate makers at HEXX are Matthew Silverman and Matthew Piekarski – established, culinary heavyweights in the Las Vegas dining scene who also lead HEXX’s 24×7 restaurant operation, which shares the same space and name (“Meet Our Chefs”).

Silverman and Piekarski
Chefs Matthew Silverman and Matthew Piekarski head up HEXX’s Restaurant and Chocolate Operations in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip (Morris).

In a town chock-full of celebrities, one could argue Silverman and Piekarski are celebrities in their own right. Silverman traces his culinary roots to the acclaimed Wolfgang Puck (Leach). Piekarski’s resume not only includes an Executive Chef stint working with Eva Longoria Parker but he has the distinction of being named “Las Vegas’ Hottest Chef” (“Chef Matt Piekarski”; Stapleton). Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary chops and earned reputations provide them a perfect platform to share HEXX’s chocolate story from their headquarters on the Las Vegas Strip, which they have been doing since 2015. In doing so, they are not only sharing the story of HEXX, but also the unique locales where its chocolate originates from and the oft-untold stories of farmers who cultivate and harvest cacao – the raw materials from which chocolate is made.

Engaging, Educating, and Expanding Chocolate’s Consumer Base

It is impossible to step-off of Las Vegas Boulevard, into HEXX’s 30,000 square foot restaurant and chocolate factory and not leave with a better appreciation for its chocolate and its origin stories (Womack).

HEXX's Logo
HEXX’s logo highlights the story of cacao farmers 20 degrees north and south of the equator (“HEXX Logo”).

That is exactly Silverman and Piekarski’s intent. From HEXX’s name and chocolate packaging to how it creatively engages customers throughout their restaurant dining experience, HEXX is educating its customers and changing their perceptions about chocolate (Piekarski). Says Silverman about the name HEXX, “The XX represents Roman numerals and speaks to the farms we source our cacao beans from, all of which are located 20 degrees above or below the equator” (Vintage View). Before unwrapping any of HEXX’s 2-oz, single-origin chocolate bars, one learns about the country and farm its cacao is sourced from and the unique flavors and terroir of the region (“Product”).

HEXX Chocoate Bars
HEXX’s single-orgin bars from different regions around the world (from left to right): Venezuela, Tanzania, Peru, Ecuador, and Madagascar (not pictured: Dominican Republic) (“About Our Chocolate”).
HEXX Dark Chocolate - Ecuador, Camino Verde Farm
HEXX’s most popular bar from the Camino Verde Farm in Ecuador (Vintage View). Its flavorings are “well-rounded with sweet marzipan and floral notes” (“Product Catalog”. It contains 73% cacao content (“HEXX Chocolate – Camino Verde Bar”).
Venezuelan Milk Chocolate Cheesecake
Venezuelan Milk Chocolate Cheesecake – one of the ways HEXX highlights chocolate throughout its menu (“Venezuelan Cheesecake”).

HEXX also sprinkles in subtle chocolate highlights throughout its restaurant dining experience – from its use of cocoa nibs as a nut replacement in muffins and salads to its use of Venezuelan Milk Chocolate in a luxurious cheesecake (Piekarski; That’s So Vegas). At the end of each meal, diners are given a petit four, which offers a taste of one of HEXX’s six single-origin chocolates. This end-of-meal ceremony not only serves as a decadent way to culminate one’s gastronomic experience but is an invitation to its patrons to learn more about HEXX’s chocolate story and more importantly connect with its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator. 

Petit Four
A petit four, emblazoned with HEXX’s signature XX, and accompanied by a “spell-binding” message similar to those inscribed on the back of HEXX’s chocolate bars (HEXX Chocolate).

While HEXX’s chocolate message to its customers is subtle and sophisticated, its commitment to its farmers is clear and direct and can be traced to Silverman and Piekarski’s own personal culinary backgrounds: “Coming from our roots as chefs we have an appreciation for the farmers and purveyors who grow and raise our food. Developing relationships with the people who grow and import our ingredients is the most important thing that we do. Knowing who grows the ingredients, how they are grown and ensuring that the people growing them are paid a fair price is at the core of our beliefs as chefs and chocolate makers” (“Direct Trade”). It is HEXX’s relationship with its cacao farmers and how it is addressing current labor issues in the chocolate industry that we will explore next.

Cultivating Long-Term, Ethical Trade Relationships

One of the most pressing issues facing the chocolate industry today is the dichotomy between the wealth generated by big chocolate companies in the global north and the extremely low and inconsistent wages of cacao farmers in the global south (Martin “Introduction”). In 2014, the chocolate industry registered over $100 billion dollars in worldwide sales (“Cocoa Prices”). At the same time, in the two highest producing cacao nations of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – responsible for 60 percent of world cacao production – farmers are paid on average $.50 and $.84 a day, respectively (Martin “Introduction”). This is far below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.90 per day and well below other global minimum wage standards (“FAQs: Global Poverty”; Martin “Introduction”).

Cocoa Barometer
Cacao farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana make $0.50 and $0.84 a day on average. Additionally wages are often irregular, creating other challenges for farmers (“Cocoa Barometer”; Martin “Introduction”).
Cocoa Barometer
While chocolate is a $100 billion dollar industry, just a small percentage of it makes its way back to farmers in cacao producing nations (“Real Cost”).

In response to this disparity, over the years a number of solutions have been developed including coalitions, government initiatives, civil society organizations and ethical trade models (Martin “Introduction”). The most recognizable of these today are the certifications emblazoned on the front of chocolate bars and other food products like Fair-Trade, UTZ, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance (Martin and Sampeck 51; Martin “Alternative Trade”). While HEXX does purchase certified beans from at least two of its six cacao suppliers, in its choice not to exclusively source certified beans, HEXX is highlighting the limitations and critiques leveled against the certification model itself – that it is not always most beneficial to farmers (“About Our Chocolate”; Martin and Sampeck 52). While certifications generate big dollars – over $3 billion in revenue worldwide – very little of it makes its way back to producers (Martin “Alternative Trade”). By some estimations, for every dollar an American consumer pays for a Fair Trade product, a meager $.03 makes its way back to farmers (Sylla 125). Of its decision not to solely purchase certified organic beans in particular, HEXX states, “Not all of our cacao beans are certified organic, because certifications can be a costly expense for our farmers, but all are produced to the same standards that organic certifiers adhere to” (“Direct Trade”). Thus, while quality is of great importance to HEXX, consideration for its farmers is paramount.

Certifications
Certifications generate big dollars but by some estimations, for every dollar an American consumer pays for a Fair Trade product, just $.03 trickles down to farmers (Sylla 125; Martin “Alternative Trade”).

HEXX’s answer to the social and economic conditions of its farmers and the less-than-effective certification model is clear: the cultivation of long-term, direct trade relationships (“Direct Trade”). Advocates of direct trade, including HEXX, argue three primary benefits: first, it enables farmers to negotiate price, resulting in generally higher premiums. Second, it incentivizes farmers to produce higher-quality beans. Lastly and most importantly, it eliminates the layers of middlemen that have historically been a part of the chocolate trade. This fosters learning and mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and chocolate makers (“Direct Trade”; Martin “Alternative Trade”).

Conventional Cocoa Value Chain
Direct trade eliminates the layers of middlemen historically a part of the chocolate supply chain (Phillips).

Their relationships with cacao farmers is something Piekarski and Silverman take very personally. While potential partners are first identified by friend and “Chocolate Sourcerer,” Greg D’Alesandre of Dandelion Chocolate, Piekarski and Silverman take it from there (Piekarski). They travel to each country to meet and establish relationships with potential partners, and see the conditions farmers work under. Piekarski describes these trips as “life changing experiences” that have altered both his business and personal perspectives. Silverman adds, “When we form a partnership with a cacao farm, we are looking to build a long-term relationship with them. There’s no way to do that without going to the farm, trying and testing their cacao beans, and getting to know the owners and operators. Plus, we need to feel good about the culture of the cacao farm. Establishing a business relationship . . . is like getting to know extended family” (“Behind the Scenes”). HEXX’s verbal commitment translates into action. While the global commodity price for cacao has hovered around $1 a pound in recent years, HEXX pays its farmers between $5 and $10 a pound, according to Piekarski.

Silverman and Piekarski - Camino Verde
Piekarski (second from right) and Silverman (far right) visiting Camino Verde in Ecuador – one of the farms HEXX sources its cacao from (“Camino Verde”).

Direct trade is not without its limitations and critiques as well. Critics, particularly as it relates to craft chocolate, point to at least three limitations: first, its reach is very limited. For instance, of the 4.8 million metric tons of cacao purchased each year, HEXX purchases just 30 tons of it (Martin “Alternative Trade”; Martin and Sampeck 55; Piekarski). Second, direct trade partnerships tend to be devoid of farms in West African countries which account for 70 percent of the world’s cacao production (Martin and Sampeck 55; Wessel and Quist-Wessel). This is true of HEXX’s partnerships as well, which are in Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Tanzania, and the Dominican Republic (“Product”). Lastly, direct trade relationships can be fragile, in part, because craft chocolate companies that favor these relationships may lack industry experience, financial stability, and face steep learning-curves (Martin and Sampeck 55). To this final critique, HEXX’s response is strong. Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary pedigree and HEXX’s business model set them apart from other craft chocolate companies. While chocolate will always be the foundation and cornerstone on which HEXX is built, its sales account for just $1 million of HEXX’s $30 million in annual combined revenue (Piekarski). This fact puts HEXX in an extremely strong position and affords them creative liberties to take risks with its chocolate brand – a luxury most craft chocolate companies do not have.

When one looks at the entirety of HEXX: The culinary and celebrity gravitas of its two chocolate makers, a $30 million restaurant behind it, and its prime location on the Las Vegas Strip, it is easy to assume HEXX holds the perfect hand in the burgeoning craft chocolate market. However, HEXX is not without its challenges. The very things that make HEXX distinct, also contribute to its biggest challenges. We will close by exploring these challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead for HEXX.

HEXX’s Challenges and Its Future

With its prime location and Silverman and Piekarski at the helm, HEXX has unrivaled access to two atypical markets for a craft chocolate company: the casual consumer dining at its restaurant and the vast number of restaurateurs in Las Vegas, whom HEXX could source its chocolate to. However, in its outreach to both groups, HEXX has faced some resistance. While chocolate is featured throughout HEXX’s menu, Piekarski said they have scaled back use particularly in some of its main dishes. While chocolate connoisseurs might swoon over a chicken mole or steak finished-off with condensed cocoa butter, not all of HEXX’s customers have taken to these flavors. Further, Piekarski said they have reached out to “every casino in town” to offer their chocolate as a source ingredient that could potentially be incorporated into other restaurants’ dishes. This has also been met with resistance. Piekarski states, “We want people to incorporate our chocolate in everything they do not necessarily because we want our brand out there but we want to supply people with a superior quality product at a cheaper price. We understand, as chefs, restaurants operate on very thin margins and this is as important for [other restaurants] as it is for us.”

Alexxa
HEXX’s Book of Chocolate Stories features Alexxa, HEXX’s “mystical muse” who is featured prominently throughout its brand. While appealing to mainstream customers, Alexxa’s presence as well as the absence of certification labels on HEXX’s products may be a hurdle for gourmet grocery stores (“Alexxa”).

HEXX’s location and popular appeal has also proved perplexingly problematic to a typical craft chocolate ally: gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods. While HEXX has been well-received at events like the Fancy Food Show – the largest food show on the West Coast – it has faced a vexing, uphill battle with gourmet grocery stores precisely because of its mainstream appeal and Las Vegas Strip location (That’s So Vegas; Piekarski). Piekarski explains, “It took us a year and a half to get into Whole Foods in Las Vegas. And we only got there because we are [local].” He continues, “Everything about what we do is not what they look for in terms of craft chocolate. People ask, ‘Where do you produce? On the Las Vegas Strip?’ And that can be the end of the conversation 7 times out of 10.” In just its third year of operations, as the only craft chocolate producer in Nevada, challenges such as these should not come as a total surprise.  And as HEXX steps out further to explore new territory, its opportunities for growth are abundant.

HEXX’s future plans include developing its restaurant presence locally, growing retail sales nationally, and forming new cacao partnerships internationally. After recent renovations to its dining facilities, HEXX is purposefully reintegrating chocolate into its food program in a distinct way, says Piekarski. Weekend diners will now find a cart-wheeling Chocolate Sommelier offering up chocolate for guests to sample, adding another chocolate connection point for its customers. HEXX also recently hired a former Mars and Hershey employee tasked with expanding its retail presence in the Northwest and Midwest, in addition to Central Markets in Texas and Carr Valley Cheese Stores in Wisconsin where HEXX is currently sold (Piekarski; “Where to Find”). Finally, HEXX is looking to extend its international reach to cacao farmers in two additional countries – Trinidad and Granada (Piekarski).

HEXX - James Beard Foundation
Piekarski (third from left) and Silverman (far right) with fellow chefs and friends presenting a 6-course Chocolate Themed Valentine’s Eve Dinner at the historic James Beard Foundation House in New York City (“James Beard”).

Conclusion

In HEXX, we see an immensely compelling craft chocolate concept, connecting multitudes of atypical consumers to the story of its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator. Through its authentic message to its customers and ethical relationships with farmers, HEXX is artfully bringing two worlds together that could not be further apart. While HEXX has faced challenges on multiple fronts during its first years, it is impossible not to be incredibly optimistic about HEXX’s industry-altering potential. With two talented and resolute chefs at the helm of its $30 million restaurant and chocolate operations, HEXX has both the gastronomic and financial chops to challenge the chocolate industry’s status-quo, transforming the way consumers see chocolate, and elevating the plight of cacao farmers in the process. In a city built on big wagers, perhaps there is none bigger and more important to chocolate’s sustainable future than HEXX.

Works Cited

“About Our Chocolate” HEXX Chocolate, 13 Jan. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/our-chocolate/#prettyPhoto/31/.

“Alexxa.” HEXX Chocolate, shop.hexxchocolate.com/products/alexxa-book-sample-pack-4-2-12-oz-milk-bars.

“Authentic. Handcrafted. Bean-to-Bar.” HEXX Chocolate, 27 Nov. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/.

“Behind the Scenes of Hexx’s Beans.” Vegas Seven, Dec. 2016, vegasseven.com/2016/12/06/behind-beans-hexx-chocolate-confexxions/.

“Camino Verde.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Hexx-Chefs-in-Ecuador-with-Keith-from-High-Road-Ice-Cream.jpg.

“Chef Matt Piekarski – A Celebrity Chef among Celebrities.” Haute Living, 16 Aug. 2010, hauteliving.com/2010/08/chef-matt-piekarski-%E2%80%94-a-celebrity-chef-among-celebrities/76371/.

“Cocoa Barometer.” Green America, https://www.greenamerica.org/sites/default/files/styles/frontpageslideshow1382/public/2017-04/cocobarom.png?itok=mzOq8F1y.

“Cocoa Prices and Income of Farmers.” Make Chocolate Fair!, 16 Aug. 2017, makechocolatefair.org/issues/cocoa-prices-and-income-farmers-0.

“Direct Trade.” HEXX Chocolate, 9 July 2016, www.hexxchocolate.com/direct-trade/.

“FAQs: Global Poverty Line Update.” World Bank, www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/brief/global-poverty-line-faq.

Feldberg, Sarah. “Hexx Debuts New Chocolate Tour and Tasting: Travel Weekly.” Travel Weekly- The Travel Industry’s Trusted Voice, 12 Dec. 2016, www.travelweekly.com/North-America-Travel/Hexx-debuts-new-chocolate-tour-and-tasting.

Giller, Megan. “Geeks Are Using Science to Make the Best Chocolate Ever.” Engadget, 17 Jan. 2018, www.engadget.com/2017/12/19/bean-to-bar-chocolate-tech/.

HEXX. “Venezuelan Cheesecake.” Yelp, 8 Sept. 2016, www.yelp.com/biz_photos/hexx-kitchen-bar-las-vegas-2?select=XwvqAqiHkq5E9kth5ewVGg.

HEXX Chocolate. “Petit Four.” Facebook, facebook.com/hexxchocolate/.

“HEXX Chocolate – Camino Verde Bar.” HEXX Chocolate, HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/product_20.jpg.

“HEXX Chocolates.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chocolate_2.jpg.

“HEXX Exterior.” Splash Magazines | Los Angeles, www.lasplash.com/uploads//4be6/598cc629ae581-hexx-kitchen-bar-review-2.jpg.

“HEXX Logo.” HEXX Chocolate, https://www.hexxchocolate.com.

“HEXX Restaurant Eiffel Tower.” TripAdvisor, www.tripadvisor.ca/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g45963-d7892832-i152216425-Hexx_kitchen_bar-Las_Vegas_Nevada.html.

“James Beard.” HEXX Chocolate, http://www.hexxlasvegas.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/JBF-2-13-2016-All-the-Chefs-in-the-Kitchen-01.png.

“Kitchen.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/DSC_2749-e1429702796581.jpg.

Leach, Robin. “Mark Andelbradt Is New Chef at Spago; Chef-Chocolatier Matthew Silverman Sweetens Hexx at Paris Las Vegas.” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 19 Feb. 2017, www.reviewjournal.com/entertainment/entertainment-columns/robin-leach/mark-andelbradt-is-new-chef-at-spago-chef-chocolatier-matthew-silverman-sweetens-hexx-at-paris-las-vegas/.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 13, no. 3, 2013, pp. 22–31., doi:10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22.

Mair, Anthony. “HEXX Restaurant Interior.” Las Vegas Review Journal, 18 July 2017, www.reviewjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/8914853_web1_4-credit-anthony-mair-hexx_dining-room.jpg.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 04 Apr. 2018. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. and Sampek, Kathryn E., The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. 2016 Jan., DoI: 10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

“MAST Brothers, the Most Hipster Chocolate Company Ever, Is Coming to LA next Month.” Time Out Chicago, 23 Mar. 2016, www.timeout.com/los-angeles/blog/mast-brothers-the-most-hipster-chocolate-company-ever-is-coming-to-la-next-month-032316.

“Meet Our Chefs.” HEXX Chocolate, 18 Oct. 2017, www.hexxchocolate.com/chefs/.

Morris, Sam. “Silverman and Piekarski”. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 3 Apr. 2014, www.reviewjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/9851452_web1_newfoods_040315sm_014.jpg.

Phillips, D.; Tallontire, A. Drivers and Barriers to Sustainable Purchasing in the Cocoa Sector; NRET Working Paper; Department of Geography, University of Newcastle: Tyne and Wear, UK, 2007; pp. 1–8.

Piekarski, Matthew. Phone Interview. 30 Apr.2018

“Product Catalog.” HEXX Chocolate, Jan. 2017, https://www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/HEXX_00037_ProductCatalog_BR_LoRes.pdf.

“Real Cost” Raisetrade, www.raisetrade.com/real-cost-of-a-chocolate-bar.html.

“Sorting Beans.” HEXX Chocolate, www.hexxchocolate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/DSC_2761.jpg.

Stapleton, Susan. “Matt Piekarski Is Las Vegas’ Hottest Chef.” Eater Vegas, Eater Vegas, 14 Feb. 2013, vegas.eater.com/2013/2/14/6479591/matt-piekarski-is-las-vegas-hottest-chef.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

That’s So Vegas. HEXXY Valentine’s Day. YouTube, YouTube, 9 Feb. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS36E7ttE4Y.

Vintage View. “HEXX Chocolate & Confexxions and HEXX Kitchen + Bar.” VintageView, 24 July 2015, vintageview.com/blog/hexx-chocolate-confexxions-and-hexx-kitchen-bar/.

Wessel, Marius, and Quist-Wessel, P.M. Foluke. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, vol. 74-75, 2015, pp. 1–7., doi:10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

What future for the Arriba terroir?

In the primary chocolate consumption markets, the demand for mainstream milk chocolate bars has stagnated amid health concerns from consumers. This new market behavior has in turn been boosting the fine or flavor cacao segment, whose beans are used to produce a less fat, high-end, more expensive chocolate. Ecuador is the first exporter of fine or flavor cacao in the world and his star cacao, internationally renowned for his specific flavor, is the Arriba cacao. This leaves us to wonder what is so specific about the Arriba Terroir? What is the country doing to preserve its traditional beans? And what developments can we expect in the production of chocolate from those beans?

Overview of the cacao industry in Ecuador

There are two varieties of cacao currently produced in Ecuador: the Nacional (fine or flavour cacao, “FFC”) and Colección Castro Naranjal 51, “CCN-51” (a bulk or ordinary cacao).

The CCN-51 was created by the Ecuadorian agronomist Homero Castro who grafted in 1965 few strains of cacao to fight against the plagues that were destroying the traditional cacao cultures. The result is a clone resistant to diseases created from the Iquitos (Ecuadorean- Peruvian 45.4%); Criollo (Amazon, 22.2%) and Amelonado (Ghana and Central America 21.5%) strains. For many years the cacao industry marginalized this variety for its acidity and astringency. The following article provides additional information on the CCN-51 origins and its current recognition on the international cocoa market : www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/negocios/cacao-ccn-51-paso-de.html

On the other hand, the Nacional has been cultivated for centuries in the areas of the upper basin of the Guayas river in which estuary the city of Guayaquil can be found. Guayaquil is still today the main export port in Ecuador in which all exports of cacao are being made. Since this time, the Nacional was known as Arriba cacao (“the cacao from above/up the river”). It is known for being exclusively produced in Ecuador, for having a very short fermentation and for producing a chocolate that is soft, with an intense savor that provides complex aromas. It is described as having « a floral profile with blackcurrants and spice» by Sarah Jane Evans, founding member of the Academy of Chocolate, in her book “Chocolate Unwrapped” (2010).

Both the cultivated area for cacao and the cacao production have increased in the past 10 years reaching 388,000 Ha [1] and 260,000 MT in 2015 [2]. Approximately 600,000 people are involved directly in the cacao production chain (4% of the economically active population and 12.5% of the agri EAP) [3]. In 2015, 87% of the total cacao exports were beans’ exports (raw product), 30% of which from the CCN-51 type, 47% from the Arriba type of less quality ASE (mainly to the USA), 23% of the Arriba types of better quality ASS and ASSS (mainly to Europe and Japan) [4].

http://www.anecacao.com/index.php/en/estadisticas/estadisticas-actuales.html

Fig. 1

The FFC market represents 6 to 8% of the total world production of cacao, and Ecuador, leader in this sector, produces 54% of this segment [5]. In 2015, the FFC Panel of the ICCO reviewed the Annex « C » of the International Cocoa Agreement 2001 and confirmed Ecuador as a 75% partial exporter of fine and flavor cacao:Fig 2Fig. 2

 The production of Arriba cacao throughout history

The Nacional cacao has been cultivated at least since the 1600s along the Daule and Babahoyo rivers’ shores when it was already known in international markets for its strong and distinctive floral aroma. Until 1890 it was the only strain cultivated in the coastal region of Ecuador (with the exception of Esmeraldas province) [6] when pods from Trinidad called « Venezuela » were introduced. Following the frosty pod and witches’ broom diseases, foreign strains were introduced in a larger quantity in Ecuador. More than 95% of the original area previously planted with Nacional cacao had been replaced by hybrid material involving foreign clones, particularly of the Trinitario types[7]. This has led to the dilution of the Arriba flavor in the Nacional cacao population.

According to Cristian Melo, Researcher Universidad San Francisco, Quito, 2011, in an interview with the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (“HCP”): “In 1997-98 El Niño event, wiped out most of the Nacional crop and prompted many growers to switch to CCN-51”.

Multiple genetic analysis and research have been conducted in the 2000s in privately-owned plantations or national parks and forests by organisations such as the HCP or the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (“INIAP”) National Institute for Agri-fishing Investigations to identify trees of the Nacional strain[8] [9]. In 2009, INIAP collected DNA samples from cacao trees throughout Ecuador, and only 6 trees (out of 11,000 samples) were genetically pure Nacional. That’s a mere 0.05% of the cacao trees that were analysed [10]. Those studies have proven that most of the Nacional cacao today is genetically a mix between many different varieties with the original Nacional strain. To highlight this diversity, a classification system of the Ecuadorian Nacional cacao has been proposed [11]:

  • Ancient Nacional (aka Antigüo Nacional): genetically pure Nacional cacao tree
  • Landrace Nacional: young plantings of genetically pure Nacional cacao
  • Heirloom Nacional: open-pollinated coastal Ecuadorian cacao trees whose DNA is at least 80% Nacional
  • Complejo Nacional: trees that are at least 50% Nacional but does not include CCN-51
  • Modern Nacional: Nacional-based clones and hybrids, as well as descendants therefrom, developed by INIAP or other agricultural institutes in the interest of increasing yields for commercial production, excluding CCN-51

The characteristics of these Nacional hybrids differ from those of the Ancient Nacional – the most visible differences being the pods’ color and shape as highlighted by the pictures below:

Fig 3Fig. 3

Differentiation of the Arriba Cacao

More generally, there are many factors that make the Arriba cacao from the Nacional hybrids differ from other types of cacao and define the Arriba Terroir, unique to Ecuador [12]:

  • Polycultures is required
  • High sensitivity to climatic changes
  • Specific soil composition (volcanic close to the Andes becoming more alluvial close to the ocean)
  • Longer Maturation period
  • Beans of bigger size
  • Less fat (for example the Complejo Nacional is assumed to have less than 48% fat while Forasteros have more than 50%)
  • Human factors during harvest have a bigger impact on the yields and quality of the beans: the Arriba beans have to be harvested in the morning and opened latest on the following day to not harm the fermentation process
  • The post-harvesting process requires natural tools such as wooden tools, jute bags, natural light to not risk alteration of the Arriba savour
  • Short fermentation period: 1-2 days of fermentation when other types of cacao require on average 6 days

Although the Arriba taste is unique and distinctive, there is much more to this product than meets the eye (the tongue?): multiple genetic passports impacting on the size and the weight of the beans, soil compositions, harvest and post-harvest processes even within the same country that constitute the complex Arriba Terroir. As explained by Prof. Carla D. Martin, Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University in her interview for Formaggio Kitchen “Chocolate and the Cost of Terroir” (2014): « To put it simply, there are many complicating variables – climate, soil type, bean variety, post-harvest conditions, chocolate manufacturing, etc. – that play into the expression of flavor from a variety of cacao of a certain origin ». It is thus impossible to propose a single quality definition (and price premium) for the Arriba cacao and the ICCO had to classify it as below (from the highest to the lowest quality).

  • ASSPS Arriba Superior Summer Plantation Selecta
  • ASSS Arriba Superior Summer Selecto
  • ASS Arriba Superior Selecto
  • ASN Arriba Superior Navidad
  • ASE Arriba Superior Epoca

All these qualities are recognised and dictate a premium on the NY and London stock exchanges.

Fig 4Fig. 4

As we can observe on this chart, the higher Arriba qualities (ASS & ASSS) have always managed to attract a premium above the CCN-51 in the past five years.

Government support for the Arriba cacao

As explained above, the Arriba cacao in Ecuador faces many challenges : scarcity of genetic content, high sensitivity to climate changes and diseases, low production rate etc. which made it difficult for small producers (49% of the cacao producers in Ecuador cultivate less than 10 Ha [13]) to sustain its production, switching to CCN-51 or other crops and putting the country at risk of losing its competitive advantage and leadership in the international cacao market for FFC. As highlighted by Susanne van der Kooij in her “Market study of fine flavour cocoa in 11 selected countries – revised version”, Royal Tropical Institute (2013): « In 2005, the ICCO downgraded Ecuador’s cocoa from being rated as 100% fine aroma to 75%, due to the introduction of- and problems with the CCN-51 variety, especially the mixing of CCN-51 with the Nacional ».

Thereafter the Ecuadorian government decided to work on the revalorisation of the Arriba Cacao and that same year the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fishing (“MAGAP”) signed the Ministerial Decree No. 70 which declares cacao as a Symbol Product of Ecuador (highlighting its importance in the history of the country, and in its social, economic and political development as well as for its unique qualities recognized internationally). Again in 2005, the MAGAP signed the Ministerial Decree No. 60 in which it is declared that the Nacional and CCN-51 beans cannot be mixed and appointing the ANECACAO as responsible body for issuing the Certificates of Commercial Quality for Cacao Export [14].

Fig 5Fig. 5

In 2012, the MAGAP launched another project of « Reactivation of National Fine and Flavor Coffee and Cacao» with the primary objective of boosting the Nacional cacao production. The project’s timeline is of 10 years with the first focus 2012-2016 being on the promotion of the cultivation and the second focus 2017-2021 being on the other segments of the value chain (such as transformation). For the first phase, the government has committed on the rehabilitation of 150,000 Ha and to increase the production from 5 to 25 qq/ha/year in order to reach a total export volume of 700,000 MT/year. The project will provide plants, technical tools, pruning to plantations older than 10 years (50% of the plantations), and promotion of cloning gardens with a total investment of 66.8 millions USD [15]. The government has made a video to promote this initiative:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKT1bfD952c

In 2014, the Ecuadorian Institute of Intellectual Property (“IEPI”) approved the first use of denomination of origin (“DO”) for the Arriba cacao as detailed in the following publication from the Institute: https://www.propiedadintelectual.gob.ec/iepi-entrega-primera-autorizacion-de-uso-de-la-do-cacao-arrib/

The government also declared an agricultural emergency in 2015 due to the unusual excessive humidity of the dry season (due to el Niño) which created an explosion of Monilla (cacao disease). The MAGAP implemented a plan that allowed the recovery of the whole country’s production particularly through distribution of kits to fight against Monilla. The ministry also started a campaign of information directed to 200,000 families of producers providing free input and technical training.

As explained above, in 2015 the government has also managed the renewal of the classification of Ecuador by the ICCO as a 75% partial exporter of fine and flavor cacao and has now the objective of achieving 85%.

Through all these actions, the Ecuadorian government have provided a strong support to the Arriba Terroir and is not only providing confidence to the small farmers to invest in further production but also to the international markets (ICCO, buyers etc) that the country will maintain its level of Arriba exports while preserving the quality of the product. Its efforts to reverse the trend that the Arriba cacao would disappear by 2025 have been working so far as described in the following article: https://www.eltelegrafo.com.ec/noticias/economia/8/ecuador-vendio-usd-750-millones-en-cacao-en-2015

 Demand for FFC

Defining the demand for FFC is a difficult task particularly « due to the niche character of craft chocolate and specialty cacao » as described by Prof. Carla D. Martin, Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, in her article “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market”, Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (“FCCI”).

The demand for FFC is multiple:

  • From the big traditional chocolate-makers which have some Premium quality products (well established for many) and that need FFC from specific origins to maintain the distinctive savour or colour of their chocolate.
  • From the craft chocolate-makers, a smaller segment that is however growing, who create gourmet chocolate for which they almost uniquely use FFC.
  • From the direct trade chocolate-makers that work directly with producers of FFC.

In general, the chocolate consumers’ demand has changed in the past years with the following criteria becoming more important:

  • The quality of the product with consumers looking for stronger or specific flavours
  • The health and nutritional properties of the aliments
  • The origin, traceability and production process (and to a certain extent the sustainability and impact on the environment)

Chocolate consumers require thus a higher content of cacao with specific origins and terroirs (where the savour and quality of the grains are critical) [16].

This extract from the article “Premium chocolate ‘leg up’: how to win fine flavor cocoa status “ by Olivier Nieburg, 2016, Confectionarynews.com summarizes the FFC market mood today:

Laurent Pipitone, director of the ICCO economic division, said at the Cocoa Revolution conference there was « strong growth in demand » for fine flavour cacao. It comes amid premiumization in chocolate within developed markets as manufacturers experience growth in dark chocolate tablets with high cocoa percentages. « We have more and more chocolate tablets and consumers willing to pay a higher price for chocolate tablets » said Pipitone. « We are far from the wine market but the wine market can be an example on how the trade can develop in future years ».

The demand for cacao in general is also expected to grow with the increase of the world population, particularly in emerging countries where the chocolate consumption is still low today[17]. This might not however benefit directly the FFC market but will certainly put pressure on bulk cacao production and prices. What is unclear at this stage is whether this effect will push all cacao prices upwards or reduce the spread between bulk and FFC, which could lead to more farmers switching to CCN-51 in Ecuador (which might consequently create a bull market for FFC too as it becomes scarcer).

Domestic transformation industry

Only 10% of the cacao beans produced in Ecuador are actually processed locally, even for semi-transformed products (butter, liquor etc). Only 1% are processed into chocolate (Bars, powder etc) [18]. These new chocolate-makers are creating a trend in the country and are led by groups such as:

As mentioned by Paul Richardson in his article « The choc of the new », The Economist 1843 (2017): «We are not talking mass-market slabs: these are chocolates that take you on a journey, carrying the palate on intense flavour-waves of citrus and red berries punctuated with earthy notes of walnuts, cedar and tobacco»

Such a culinary journey that travelling bloggers dedicated they blog on Ecuador to the tasting of 21 local bars : https://www.livingthedreamrtw.com/2014/07/the-21-chocolate-bars-we-ate-in-ecuador_14.html

Arriba cacao SWOT analysis

Fig 6

Conclusion

With a flavour appreciated by all cacao connoisseurs around the world, the Arriba cacao presents many opportunities for Ecuador (the only country in which it grows with this distinctive flavour and quality), as long as the local regulatory bodies and the main actors of the cocoa value chain maintain their current efforts of preserving the Nacional genetics and quality while increasing its production and productivity in a sustainable and environmental manner. The government intervention through its Arriba Rehabilitation Program and potentially the implementation of technology for quality control will in that respect be crucial to the future of the Arriba cacao in the world. Still very under-developed is the local transformation industry that has however started to gain ground with award-winning chocolate such as Pacari bars. If more investments are made into this industry domestically, developing more Ecuadorian high-end single origin bars, it seems safe to predict that the Arriba Terroir will soon become to chocolate what the Bourgogne is to wine: a classic!

 

Sources and References:

Fig. 1: ANECACAO website

Fig. 2: ICCO website

Fig. 3: www.nacionalcacaoconservation.org

Fig. 4: M. Acebo Plaza, Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral ESPOL, « Industria de Cacao », Apr. 2016

Fig. 5: FAO, IICA

[1] Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos (“INEC”) National Institute of Statistics and Census

[2] Asociación Nacional de Exportadores de Cacao – Ecuador (“ANECACAO”) National Association of Cacao Exporters

[3] Ramírez, Pedro: “Estructura y dinámica de la cadena de cacao en el Ecuador: sistematización de información y procesos en marcha”, GTZ (2006)

[4] ANECACAO

[5] The International Cocoa Organisation (“ICCO”)

[6] Van Hall, (1932)

[7] Loor et al. (2002)

[8] Loor & Risterucci & Fouet & Courtois & Amores & Suarez & Jimenez & Saltos & Cros & Rosenquist & Vasco & Medina & Lanaud: “Genetic diversity and possible origin of the Nacional cacao type from Ecuador”, CIRAD, INIAP, USDA, UTEQ (2010)

[9] Loor & Risterucci & Courtois & Fouet & Jeanneau & Rosenquist & Amores & Vasco & Medina & Lanaud: “Tracing the native ancestors of the modern Theobroma cacao L. population in Ecuador”, Tree Genetics & Genomes (2009)

[10] Christian, The Mother ‘F’ Tree (2012)

[11] Nacionalcacaoconservation.org

[12] E. Quingaísa: “Estudio de caso: Denominacion de Origen “Cacao Arriba””, Instituto InterAmericano de Cooperacion para la Agricultura « ICCA » (2007) InterAmerican Institute of Cooperation for the Agriculture

[13] National Census for Agriculture and Livestock 2000, Ecuador

[14] E. Quingaísa: “Estudio de caso: Denominacion de Origen “Cacao Arriba””, ICCA (2007)

[15] ICCO & MAGAP, update presentation Sept 2013 Wembley

[16] Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (“CBI”) & Euromonitor & https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cocoa-demand-innovation/chocolate-makers-innovate-to-entice-health-conscious-consumers-idUSKBN1ED1PZ

[17] M. Acebo Plaza: « Industria de Cacao », Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (“ESPOL”) (2016)

[18] ANECACAO

Meet Theo

Theo Bromine. He’s bitter, but sometimes he can cheer you up if you’re having a bad day at work. Others call him an alkaloid. His real name is Theo Bromine. Those in the cacao industry know him as one word – theobromine. Traces of theobromine can be found in cacao. Cacao is the raw product, it takes ten stages before it becomes chocolate. The effect of consuming cacao is similar to caffeine, it gives you that instant boost of energy. The origin of Theobroma cacao trees can be found in the Brazilian Amazon where cacao is a big part of Brazil’s economic and cultural history.

Cacao trees are pretty finicky. They need warm climate, hot, but not too hot. Most of the production of cacao is in West Africa – 72%, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to be exact. Because of climate change, there are elevating temperatures and a possibility that the cacao crops could be eliminated. If you’ve avoided the conversation around climate change, scrolled down when you saw the crying polar bears on social media, grimaced when you heard your neighbor bought a Prius,  and slept through a class showing of An Inconvenient Truth, now is the time to pay attention to climate change. Why? Because your chocolate consumption could be seriously affected.

cacao tree
Cacao Tree

Factors affecting the cacao industry:

Many factors, not just climate change, affect the cacao industry: droughts, floods, infestation, demand, and evapotranspiration. Rising temperatures alone will not impact cacao production, evapotranspiration (loss of moisture because of the high temperature) does. With the higher temperatures expected by the year 2050 precipitation/rainfall isn’t a guarantee. Brazil was once ranked second as the largest cacao producer, today they rank sixth. The decline in cacao production is due to the fungus that causes witch’s broom. In order for a cacao farmer to have a successful crop, trees have to be disease resistant. Hershey’s and Mars, Inc. have already classified the cacao genome which could improve the resiliency of cacao trees.

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization/NGO that assists farmers with sustainable lifestyles. Its mission is to work with the smallholder cacao farmers to help with these issues. Some cacao farmers have already taken the suggestions to switch to alternative crops, lucrative ones such as rubber and/or palm oil. What if all farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana switched at the same pace? The world could face the possibility of a million ton cacao shortage by 2020, this according to The Earth Security Group, a sustainability consulting firm registered in the United Kingdom.

Global demand for chocolate is another factor because of their interest in confectionery. The chocolate market has been trending towards higher prices over the last 10 years with the market increasing by 13% between 2010-2015, farmers’ share has decreased during this time. It is estimated that by the year 2030, chocolate will be a delicacy, like caviar, and your average Joe, or Jane, won’t be able to purchase it. Heavy marketing leads to heavy demand. How do we equate the 13% to a dollar value, try $100 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm.

Unfortunately, cacao trees cannot keep up with the rapid demands of consumers, it takes three to five years at best to produce cacao beans, the end result of this long, strenuous process is chocolate. The amount we consume (11+ pounds of chocolate is consumed annually by individuals in Europe and the United States) far outweighs the amount that is produced, leading to a shortage of chocolate. In the news lately, Necco, the company that manufactures Necco Wafers, Sky Bar, Mary Jane, and Sweethearts is filing for bankruptcy. If we are heading towards chocolate becoming a delicacy I must warn you: start hoarding all of your candy because it will cost you a pretty penny in the not-so-distant future. Call me Ms. Gloomanddoom, but remember the recent avocado crisis in Mexico, we may have a chocolate crisis next.

Global warming and climate change have been topics widely discussed for years. In a recent TED Talk with Mark Bittman, he commented that global warming is real and dangerous and reminds us that we should stop eating things thoughtlessly. This includes chocolate. Greenhouse gas, methane gas, water shortages, oh my!

How’d we get here? Well, it all started with British commodities: sugar, tea, and tobacco. These were popular due to the transatlantic movement, transporting these commodities by African slaves. Chocolate began in Mesoamerica and dates back to 350 BC. It was consumed as a hot beverage served in ghourds and as time progressed in fancy porcelain cups by the most affluent during the Baroque Age. The British didn’t like the bitter taste of the chocolate so they re-created the taste by adding sugar to it. 

Early entrepreneurs:

I would have loved to interview the early entrepreneurs like Dorothy Jones who was granted a license to operate a coffee house in Boston in 1670. Women wouldn’t be caught dead in a coffee house and she got a license. Slay girl slay. Despite my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society I was not able to locate the actual license or the coffee house, but I did find one reference to it in the Record Commissioners City of Boston records from 1660 to1701. It may be that Dorothy Jones was a vendor and did not actually have a storefront. If there was a storefront, I would have to guess that it was located in the area of what’s now known as Downtown Crossing in Boston. Newspaper Row was in that area during 1670 and it makes sense that the coffee house would be close by. To be continued.

IMG_7359
Dorothy Jones, 1670

 

The role of chocolate:

Liquid consumption of chocolate morphed into candy consumption and as time went on the global market consumed it. Pun intended. Chocolate consumes us and plays a variety of roles in our lives. Part of my research included interviews with three females, all of whom are my closest friends spanning four decades, who gave me permission to share their stories. Names have been changed. Three questions were asked of each woman: what is their relationship with chocolate, what role it played in their life, and how chocolate’s significance has changed or stayed the same over time. Analysis of the social and historical issues were revealed during these interviews. 

I begin my interview with Pepper, 40-something. We’ve been friends for 15 years, so when she said “you’ll be disappointed, I don’t have a relationship with chocolate, at all. I can take it or leave it”. I thought, um what? Was I dreaming that she ate the special occasion, Halloween,Valentine’s Day, Christmas, because-it’s-Friday chocolate our coworkers brought in and placed in that fancy bowl they bought at the dollar store. When I asked her to elaborate on her statement I mentioned the documented ties to slavery, child labor and human trafficking, and the YouTube video The Dark Side of Chocolate, she said she “had no idea chocolate was involved in so much trauma and political unrest”.

Pepper went on, “I do eat it, but I don’t crave it. I like it sometimes; hot chocolate, candy bars with other things mixed in, the very occasional Dove piece, alone, but only when it happens to be laying there… I just don’t crave it. If I have any cravings, it would be the occasional hot chocolate, but only because it comforts me and makes me feel like autumn and of course, I am addicted to mochas which are chocolate and coffee together. So in that, I suppose it does play a role. But I still drink regular coffee too”.

“I always think the cultural references to chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm are ridiculous. I’ve always thought to myself what’s the big deal, it’s just chocolate. It’s probably because I hate being stereotyped and the chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm stereotype that society and commercials seem to paint just piss me off because I like to feel like I’m more dimensional than that. It makes women seem weak and easy to manipulate and shallow”.

“If you’re telling me that the chocolate trade perpetuates and supports slavery then I’m quitting it. My husband says I now have chocolate angst, or chocolate rage”.

imgres
Stereotype

I was curious as to why Pepper immediately responded with “craving” when I asked about chocolate. I love how she mentioned hot chocolate and frothy drinks and her addiction to mochas. There’s some truth to why we love frothy drinks. In ancient times, drinks were put in vessels and buried with loved ones who have since passed on. It was said that the froth went with the deceased to the afterlife.

nha-benta-chocolate-quente-748x499
Frothy cacao drink

Culture also played a role in Pepper’s response when she said she ate chocolate “alone”, as did her anger when she felt the stereotype which reminded me of the article I read by Kristy Leissle, Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Ghanaian women were photographed, not your typical glamour-shot, but were depicted as strong powerful business leaders, not in binary terms. These pictures reflect the necessary change in the narrative. Viewers are able to look beyond the exploitative market and view these women as they should be viewed, strong and powerful leaders in a transnational community. Many of the ads you see in the United States show women eating chocolate, alone, sinfully displayed like in the movie Chocolat, and almost always with some sort of sexual undertone throughout the ad. The ancient Aztecs believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, science wasn’t quite onboard with that theory. Advertisers still link romance with chocolate.

Key words: comfort, craving, frothy drinks, stereotypes

My second interview was with Sunny, 60-something. Sunny said that she “definitely has had a relationship with chocolate throughout her childhood and adulthood and as a mom. Chocolate has been present in celebratory events, holidays & vacations. For holidays, chocolate snowmen & coins were placed in her children’s Christmas stockings, at Easter, chocolate eggs & bunnies were found on Easter egg hunts, and on Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts were given out as gifts. I have such happy Halloween memories as a kid trading candy bars” Sunny said with a beaming smile; kid’s birthday gift bags full of candy, & candy store visits while on vacation. And Hershey kisses, just because! Chocolate is present at happy events, there to cheer up, decrease stress and soothe a foul mood. At this point in my life I have less consumption/purchase of chocolate, children have grown and they are more health conscious and do not consume. I currently eat it more out of stress reduction and comfort while at work”.

“In chatting, this makes me take pause reflecting on the important role chocolate has played in my life. I think of my all-time favorite candy bar….”Sky Bar”! Sadly, I hadn’t chatted with Sunny about the recent Necco bankruptcy. She better stock up on Sky Bars or they will be a literal memory.

For Sunny, chocolate was a staple in her life until recently. It explains why she can’t pass up a Hershey’s Kiss. These sweet kisses are known as a “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty”. Once you consume them you pretty much do so for your entire life. Great marketing, for a kiss that contains only 11% cacao.

Sunny mentioned that chocolate was used a reward for good behavior with her children. More importantly she eats it when stressed and that it provides her comfort. Sunny has fond memories of chocolate, her visits to candy shops while on vacation and the role candy plays during holidays. I could see the melancholy in her eyes when she described her favorite candy bar. I think the melancholy was also related to her children growing up and that the fun role of chocolate was outweighed by her stressful days at work. Chocolate has been known to have therapeutic properties dating back to ancient times.

Key words: comfort, childhood, vacations, holidays

Raspberry Rose, 20-something was my last interview. “So I’ve never been a HUGE chocolate person. I’ve always preferred sweet candy over chocolate, but I definitely indulge when I’m craving it! Chocolate tends to play the role of a comfort food…there’s always that time of the month where all I want is some chocolate caramels and a glass of wine 🙂 it also has some memories tied to it – for example I remember when I was growing up, my mom and I loved to eat 3 Musketeers bars and none of my friends liked those so on Halloween I would take them from all my friends to give to my mom 🙂 My relationship with chocolate has stayed the same!  I definitely eat less of it than I did when I was younger, but that’s the only change”!

My thoughts after chatting with Raspberry Rose was wow, she too used the words craving and comfort and had similar feelings and fond memories of chocolate while growing up.

Key words: craving, comfort, childhood memories, halloween

Statistically, women do crave chocolate more than men. While it’s not the chocolate per se, it’s the ingredients like magnesium and antioxidants you may be lacking that make you crave it. The calming qualities that come from consuming chocolate is because of the increased levels of serotonin #instanthappiness. Culture plays a factor in cravings, it’s a trend here in the United States and frequently talked about that women crave chocolate, one major reason chocolate companies target women.

According to the article Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain by Ashtrid Nehlig, there was one chapter by David Benton devoted to The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. While many people associate themselves with being a chocaholic, there is no scientific evidence to show that chocolate is addictive. It has “drug-like” qualities though and can cheer you up if you’re sad or had a bad day at the office.

All of my friends were shocked that chocolate had ties to slavery, child labor, and human trafficking and were unaware of the cacao process. I am happy to report that  they are very interested in learning more. I  realized that I  need to spread the word about the cacao industry and this inspired me to create a podcast which should be on iTunes very soon. It’s about my three favs, Coffee, Chocolate & Cats.

Key words correlate with the research that I found. I do hope that one day the cacao farmers are paid at a more equitable rate, that we help the environment and know more about the bean to bar process, and that we can enjoy our chocolate, complicit-free.

Works cited

Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139

Emma Robertson (2009): Chocolate, women and empire. A social and cultural history. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.

Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.

Hudson, Bradford. “The Cradle of American Hospitality » Boston Hospitality Review | Blog Archive | Boston University.” Boston Hospitality Review RSS, 2012, www.bu.edu/bhr/2012/09/01/the-cradle-of-american-hospitality/

Bittman, Mark. “What’s Wrong with What We Eat.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, Dec. 2007, www.ted.com/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.

“Scientists Say Climate Change May Make Chocolate Extinct By 2050.” YouTube, 2 Jan. 2018, youtu.be/sm9kQdKOnKE.

City of Boston (1881). A Report of the Record Commissioners of the

City of Boston, Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701.

Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, Page 58

(Mass.)., Boston. “A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701.” HathiTrust, 2018, babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=bc.ark%3A%2F13960%2Ft3514s13f%3Bview.

Nehlig, Astrid. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. CRC Press, 2004.

“Challenges.” Challenges | World Cocoa Foundation, 2018, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/about-cocoa/challenges/.

CNBC’s Katy Barnato and Luke Graham. “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky.” CNBC, CNBC, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html.

“Chocolate Makers Warn That the World Is Running out of Chocolate.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 17 Nov. 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2014/11/17/chocolate-makers-warn-that-world-is-running-out-chocolate.html.

“Cocoa Bean Production” , Cargill, 2018, http://www.cargill.com/sustainability/cocoa/the-changing-world-of-cocoa

“The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery.” The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery, Brethen Voices, 2012, youtu.be/p8j2l-3TxTg.

 

Chiseled Chocolate and Other Delights: Cacao Shopping in a Haitian Supermarket

Intro:

When Boris Yeltsin visited a supermarket in the US in 1989, he was floored. The nondescript Randalls in Houston ended up being more powerful than the “screens, dials, and wonder at NASA.” The trip ended up “shatter[ing] his view of communism.” If the Russians back home got wind of American supermarkets, “there would be a revolution” he confided in his comrades (Hlavaty, 2016).

Nearly thirty years later, supermarkets continue to amaze. Visitors to Haiti, where I have lived for the past 8 years, continue to be amazed by Caribbean Supermarket, a family business founded in 1995 that has Haiti’s largest selection of local and imported goods. I had first written about Caribbean when I worked at Peace Dividend Trust (now called Building Markets) as part of the project’s Agribusiness Case Study Series.  Interviewing the procurement manager, I had discussed the store’s stockage of over 300 local products, and Caribbean’s continued push to buy Haitian goods (You can read the whole thing here). When I received the class assignment for Chocolate Class, I was interested to go back to the store to see how cacao, a historically prominent crop in Haiti, was portrayed and displayed.

As a note, Haiti tends to be a lightning rod for political, sociological, economic, botanical – well just about every type of commentary there is. A recent book about Haiti opened by quoting Ira Lowenthal, an anthropologist who has been in Haiti for 40 years, as saying: “Haiti is the most studied developing country in the world, and least understood” (Schwartz, 2017, Epigraph). As such, there are many things this post will NOT cover. The “right” or “wrongness” of having a US-style supermarket in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Whether a supermarket in Haiti is less authentic than going to a local marché (market). Whether the assignment should have been conducted in the rural zones and not the capital of Port-au-Prince. As Mr. Lowenthal suggests, there is nothing if not continued, sustained interest in the country, and I will leave such topics for further dissection by Haiti’s active local and international blogger community.

What this is then, is an overview of how Caribbean Market, situated in Petionville (a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti) that serves both upper and middle class Haitians , as well as foreigners (including diplomats, missionaries, and NGO workers), serves as a microcosm in which to view the history of chocolate, particularly the way in which chocolate was hybridized as a result of the encounter between the Old World and the New. For if supermarkets are indeed a revolution, then how does cacao and chocolate get portrayed in one situated in the only country to be created from a successful slave revolution that defeated the French, English and Spanish? Let’s find out.

History of Chocolate in Haiti:

As Sophie Coe and Michael Coe write in The True History of Chocolate, “chocolate was invented almost four millennia ago” (Coe, 2013, p. 214). As for Haiti, my previous post for Chocolate Class, described how Hernando Cortez started Haiti’s first cacao plantation in the 1500’s. While not initially successful, Haiti’s cacao production did eventually flourish from the 17th to the early 19t century, at which point Haiti was producing 10x more cacao than Venezuela. However following the Haitian revolution of 1804, there was a precipitous decline in production due to political infighting and redistribution of land that saw a smallholder farmer model replace the larger plantation systems of colonialism.  (Should you want to learn more, the rest of the blog can be read here).

Modern Haiti has worked to revitalize their chocolate industry, producing a nascent chocolate trade (Another shameless plug for my last blog), while continuing their very Mesoamerican chocolate habits of drinking what C-Spot.com called the “champagne of the empire,” and Haiti calls Haitian spiced hot chocolate (Chery). Modern Haiti also has a very complex series of trade relationships with the world around it; a former French colony,  the country’s largest trade relationships  (Trading Economics, 2018) are not with the colonizer but rather with the United States (Miami is a 90 minute flight from Port-au-Prince), and the Dominican Republic, a former Spanish colony with which Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola. Going into Caribbean, I was interested to see how all this played out in how chocolate and cacao were displayed and portrayed.

Going to Caribbean:

Entering Caribbean, one must first prove their fearlessness by battling it out for a parking spot in the often packed 75+ space parking lot. Only a fool would go on a Saturday, or even certain Sundays, so to hedge my bets I go on a Thursday afternoon. Sliding easily into a prized vacancy, I hike up the hill (Haiti comes from the Arawak word for mountains) to the store’s entrance. Hiking through the parking lot also offers an opportunity to define the audience of Caribbean. (While I could just go into Caribbean and start photographing customers, the guards are armed, and I would prefer not to start any kerfuffle.) The cars show the mix of the middle-class and upper-class Haitians and foreigners who peruse the market. As shown in the photos below, you can see older cars (such as the Hyundai Accent) that are 10-20 years old (probably valued between $5,000-$15,000) as well as the more expensive Toyota Land Cruiser Prados (which start at $75,000).

Drinking Chocolate: 

Cacao was first encountered in drinkable form – and as Amanda Fiegl writes in her 2008 article, “A Brief History of Chocolate,” for the  Smithsonian, for about “90 percent of chocolate’s long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn’t have anything to do with it.”  According to INAFORESTA’s “History of Cocoa,” the “Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate, originally in the form of a drink.” The Olmecs would grind the cacao beans and mix them with water, and then add spices, chiles, and herbs to the mix. The Aztecs and Mayans soon got in on the action, and in 1528 AD cacao was first brought to Europe (Spain) by Cortez. Cocoa then made its way to France in 1615, and England (1650), and continued to spread throughout Europe (INAFORESTA).

Thus for a country situated in Latin America, and colonized and/or invaded by France, England, and Spain (see Philippe Girard’s 2010 book, Haiti: The Tumultuous History for a complete history), it is no surprise that the drinking chocolate selection at Caribbean is plentiful. Upon entering the breakfast aisle, one encounters at least 20 different types of drinking chocolate, including breakfast drinks such as Carnation Breakfast Essentials, Ovaltine, Milo (Nestlé), Carlos V (Nestlé), Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate, Nestle Hot Chocolate, and Choco Listo, all which are produced outside of Haiti. The two Haitian chocolate options that are available are Choko Toro, and Chocolat Jeremie. The price ranges for breakfast chocolate drinks go from 110htg (a little under $2) for the local Choko Toro (3 cacao balls), to 615 htg (a little under $10) for an 18oz Ovaltine container. Those watching their weight can get a can of SlimFast Chocolate-flavored drink, but it’s going to cost you 1,800htg (~$27) for an 18oz container.

For those who don’t have time to prepare their chocolate beverage, you can purchase a ready-made, locally produced Chocolate Blast Ti Shake for 35htg (~$.50), whose packaging proudly boasts 9 grams protein and Vitamins A+D. Or if you have money (and fat) to burn, you can purchase a Myoplex Chiseled Chocolate Protein Shake for a heftier 365htg (~$5). There is also the Dutch-owned Chocomel (flavored chocolate milk) for a little over a dollar, the Nestle-owned Milo drink out of the company’s Australia division (available for the same price as the Chocomel), and Mrs. French’s AK-100 Vanilla Corn Drink Accassan,(which is a Haitian corn-based drink similar to others in Latin America and the Caribbean -see the Mangeons Lakay blog for more information).

Of particular interest in the drinking chocolate aisle is the branding. One of the local Haitian brands, Towo (which is a division of the Weiner Brand in Haiti) uses the creole word for bull (towo) to portray a product that gives one strength, or force as one would say in Haiti. The brand Towo additionally produces coffee as seen below, to further tie the stimulant properties of the cacao and coffee together.  As Marcy Norton writes in her 2006 article, “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”, for the Mesoamericans, drinking chocolate “invigorates one.”  And according to INFORESTA, historically drinking cacao was shown to be a “strengthening, restorative, aphrodisiac” (Another interpretation for the bull perhaps-Europa anyone?) (INFORESTA). The “strengthening” motto is reinforced by the Milo brand as well, which shows a soccer player forcefully kicking a ball. Other brands, such as the Colombian Choco Listo, emphasize vitamin content, additionally hearkening to the invigorating properties.

Another item to note is that there is not a lot of flavoring in the drinkable chocolate aisle, besides sugar and dried milk (and of course the depiction of chocolate itself as a flavor to enhance drinks). The chocolate flavor that harkens the most back to the pre-colonial times is instead a chocolate paste placed in the peanut butter aisle and produced by Haitian brand FnF S.A. FnF S.A makes Chocolate Butter with Peanut Butter and Honey which includes cinnamon, salt and ginger. These are flavors (save for the peanut butter) that are common in traditional Haitian hot chocolate-see recipes here, here, and here. As Norton writes, “Spanish colonists modified traditional Mesoamerican chocolate by adding or substituting spices esteemed in the Old World—cinnamon, black pepper, anise, rose, and sesame, among others—in place of the native flower spice complex, achiote, and chili peppers” (Norton, 2006). Although once again, the addition of spices is really just seen here in the Chocolate Butter. All the other chocolate items are either in their natural state (the local cacao) or complemented with the Old World’s biggest influence on chocolate-sugar (all the imported drinking chocolates).

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So should you need to slim, to energize, or to improve your health, the beverage aisle has an option for you. As Norton explains, “Europeans in the New World selected the cacao beverages that best fit their needs or temperament,” and at Caribbean, your drinking chocolate options are wide and varied indeed.

Chocolate Bars:

Chocolate bars originated in England in 1830 (INOFRESTA), and soon spread throughout the world. The Caribbean chocolate bar aisle has a wide range of these worldly chocolates- American childhood staples such as Hershey’s Kisses, M&M’s (plain and peanut), KitKats, as well as higher end European and American chocolate products such as Ferraro Rocher and Lindt LINDOR Truffles. There are also gift boxes, chocolate tins, and premium chocolates, such as multiple varieties of the Chocolove brand and Vanuatu Kakaw, a Mexican chocolate company looking to revitalize that country’s cacao industry. Prices range from $1 for the M&Ms-level chocolates to $5 for the Chocolove/Vanuatu bars. The bags of Lindt and boxes of Ferraro start at $7 and can go up to ~$30, depending on how many gold foils you are looking to unwrap (or what you have to apologize for).

However, most noticeable in the chocolate aisle is what’s not there: any Haitian chocolate. There are no bars from Haiti’s first bean-to-bar company, Askanya, and the Haitian origin tablets of Taza are nowhere to be found. Yet, it is not clear that Caribbean is to blame for this- as there have been many discussions of issues of the Haitian chocolate industries growing pains (final plug for my last blog post here). That being said the absence of any Haitian chocolate bars is noticeable, and it is the hope that the bars made in Haiti will be able to be sold side-by-side with the imports. Much of what has been discussed this semester in Chocolate Class is about a return to chocolate becoming more equitable, and away from the dichotomy that the raw product was taken from the New World and turned into something “civilized,” so being able to see Haitian chocolate bars represented in the chocolate bar aisle is an important step to balancing and re-framing perceptions.

 Other Chocolate Items:

As INOFORESTA writes, “Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses. Not surprisingly, a plethora of new chocolate products began appearing as it became more popular, including chocolate with dried fruits, with liqueurs, fondu, praline, stuffed chocolates, powdered, spreads, frostings, pastes, hard candies, soft drinks and many, many others. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet” (INOFRESTA). This we see as we explore the other chocolate items of Caribbean.

For example, there is the chocolate-flavored Kremas (a typical Haitian liquor-see more here), and a slew of chocolate baking mixes, including a wide range of Ghiradelli Brownie Mixes, as seen below. There’s also Bakers Chocolate and Nestle chocolate morsels, Hershey’s Baking Cocoa and a blend of Natural and Dutched Cocoa from The Saco Pantry, which works with Kiva to support micro-finance loans through sales of their products. These items are priced between $5-$10, of course, providing you can buy just one unit.

There are also several locally-made chocolate ice cream options (along with the assorted foreign brands such as Breyers, Ben and Jerry’s, Hagaan Daaz and Blue Bunny). One flavor, Deliciously Dark, is an Italian-style gelato made in Haiti by the restaurant Portofino, which sells the ice cream in supermarkets throughout Port-au-Prince. The Deliciously Dark flavor is shown in its current state of consumption below.

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Thus in the “other” chocolate items, there is a stronger representation of the hybridization of cacao and chocolate, offering both products that were innovations in other countries (See “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert” by Carla Martin) as well as innovations within Haiti through alcohol and ice cream.

Conclusion:

I go to Caribbean Supermarket probably 3-5 times a week to buy everything from baby formula to baby wipes to baby food (my children eat up a large part of my budget), but going through the supermarket looking specifically at the cacao and chocolate was an eye-opening experience. The types of chocolate were broad, from the numerous types of drinking cacao (from pure cacao to sugar- and vitamin-infused chocolate powder, and whatever goes into making the flavor Chiseled Chocolate) to the most “authentic” spiced cacao product, which was the Chocolate Butter with Peanut Butter and Honey. There was a wide array of chocolate bars, as well as chocolate baking mixes, chocolate alcohols, and chocolate ice cream. Chocoholics entering Caribbean are in good hands.

That being said Chocoholics with a taste for Haitian chocolate will need to consume their chocolate in something other than bar form, which is something that will hopefully change in the future. There’s been a strong effort in Haiti to improve local purchasing and local production from both the government and the private sector, and hopefully this will result in local bars and other new chocolate innovations being available at the supermarket.

Regarding price points, there are certainly products that are priced out of range for most (the $27 Slim Fast, and the $5 Vanuatu bar), however there were many products placed under a $1 that would allow the middle class and emerging middle class to take part of, to borrow from Yeltsin, the “revolutionary” supermarket experience. As Haiti continues to develop, it is expected that more supermarkets will expand and more people will have access to these products.

“In the early sixteenth century, the use of cacao in beverages was a unifying trait of linguistically and geographically diverse communities encompassing Mesoamerica, and perhaps even extending beyond its frontiers” (Norton 2006). Caribbean Supermarket shows this by having an array of chocolates from Colombia to Belgium; from Mexico to most importantly, Haiti. You have chocolates such as Hershey’s and Mars that source from the ancestor countries of Haitians in West Africa, chocolate from colonizers such as France and Belgium, and chocolate from those in which trade relationships have begun to replace the uneven relationships of the past. Walking through Caribbean Supermarket, one gets the feeling that the knowledge and issues to explore within cacao and chocolate in Haiti and abroad are endless. And who wouldn’t want to study chocolate for life?

Works Cited:

About. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.sacopantry.com/cocoa/

About us. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.caribbeansupermarketsa.com/home/about-us/

Acassan. (2013, May 17). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://mangeonslakay.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/acassan/

Café Selecto | Votre pause-café. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://selectohaiti.com/home

Chery, M. (n.d.). Chokola Ayisyen (Haitian Hot Chocolate). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://loveforhaitianfood.com/chokola-ayisyen-haitian-hot-chocolate-2/

Chocolove. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.chocolove.com/

Chokola Ayisyen (Haitian Hot Chocolate). (2013, December 31). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://mangeonslakay.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/chokola-ayisyen-haitian-hot-chocolate/

2.(2018, March 08). Chokola: Challenges and Successes in the Haitian Cacao Industry. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/chokola-challenges-and-successes-in-the-haitian-cacao-industry/

Coe, M. D. (2013). True history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson.

Fast, R. S. (2016, December 10). Haitian Spiced Hot Chocolate with Coconut, Chokola Ayisyen. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.thehungryhounds.com/blog/2016/12/10/haitian-hot-chocolate-chokola-ayisyen

Fiegl, A. (2008, March 01). A Brief History of Chocolate. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/

Girard, P. R. (2010). Haiti: The tumultuous history – from pearl of the Caribbean to broken nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

(n.d.). Haiti. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/haiti

(2018). Haiti Balance of Trade | 2008-2018 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://tradingeconomics.com/haiti/balance-of-trade

(n.d.). History of Cacao. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treesandmarkets/inaforesta/history.htm

Hlavaty, C. (2016, May 12). When Boris Yeltsin went grocery shopping in Clear Lake. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://blog.chron.com/thetexican/2014/04/when-boris-yeltsin-went-grocery-shopping-in-clear-lake/#photo-433894

Kuperberg, I. (2012, February 28). Supermarket Leads in Buying Local / Un Supermarché Donne Le Ton En Achetant Localement. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://buildingmarkets.org/blogs/haiti/2012/02/28/supermarket-leads-in-buying-local/comment-page-1/

Martin, C. (n.d.). The History of a Classic American Dessert. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/

Schwartz, T. T. (2017). The Great Haiti Humanitarian Aid Swindle. Port-au-Prince: Timothy Schwartz.

Seriously Dark Gift Box. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.tazachocolate.com/products/seriously-dark-gift-box

N., & M. (2006, June 01). Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics | The American Historical Review | Oxford Academic. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article/111/3/660/13687

(n.d.). Vanuato Kakaw® empresa orgullosamente 100% mexicana. Retrieved from http://www.vanuatokakaw.com/portal/

Welcome page. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://askanya.ht/

», H. F. (2013, December 29). Cremas (Kremas or Cremasse) -. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://haitiancooking.com/recipe/cremas-kremas-or-cremasse/

 

 

 

The World’s Most Expensive Chocolate Might Just Be Worth It

It should come as no surprise that chocolate is a main or complementary ingredient in all of the most popular, mass produced candy bars in America. Having come a very long way since its adaptation into daily life by the Mayan people, cacao is available in a seemingly unending number of varieties today. From those popular candy bars with relatively little chocolate in them to more (un)refined bean-to-bar products, there really is something for everyone in the realm of chocolate. In recent years, there has been an increase in the availability of small-batch, luxury and artisanal chocolates making it, for some, more confusing than ever to choose a chocolate bar.

Beyond the obvious question of milk or dark—or in the case of some bean-to-bar chocolates I have found a hybrid of the two—it seems as though choosing a bar of chocolate could now be compared with choosing a bottle of wine; for those unaware or lacking a specific tried and true preference or knowledge base, there may exist a great deal of uncertainty surrounding what company to choose and why. On the other hand, however, this increase in availability and attention to detail in the realm of luxury, high-end chocolate has cultivated a new attention to detail; to flavor and quality and the overall terroir of chocolate which is made evident by the popularity and prized nature of single origin chocolate bars.

Similar to the wide price range we can see with wine, the price of a chocolate bar can run the consumer anywhere between $0.50 and $500 in cost. This is an expansive range and many may wonder if those higher end chocolates are truly worth shelling out the money for only a bite or two. While not necessarily consumable by the greater public on a regular basis, as a true lover of chocolate and the finer things in life myself, I am sure some of the most expensive chocolates in the world have tastes to match the price tag while others may seem drastically outrageous. Read on for an in-depth look at two of the world’s most expensive chocolate companies and the unique but important differences between them.

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TO’AK Chocolate is regarded as one of the most expensive chocolates in the world with a price tag of $385 for 50 grams of chocolate. The story of this Ecuadorian company is somewhat of a rags-to-riches tale, its start originating in a cabin in the rainforest with no electricity. To’ak was co-founded by two Ecuadorian transplants, Jerry Toth and Carl Schweizer. It is evident early on that they approach their chocolate making with the utmost care and attention for the sacred cacao tree and with ecological appreciation for their placed-based production right down to the very name of the company; “Derived from a fusion of ancient dialects in Ecuador, the name To’ak (pronounced Toe-Ahk) means “earth” and “tree,” which together represent the true source of all chocolate. We liken this name to the French term terroir, which describes how the taste of an artisanal product (wine, cheese, chocolate) expresses the specific soil and climate conditions of the land on which it was grown” (To’ak Chocolate).

To’ak Chocolate Video

Located in the province of Manabí, To’ak began with Toth’s conservation work and his desire to cultivate an organic orchard featuring fifty different kinds of fruit trees in addition to cacao trees. While working on this endeavor, Toth and his team found several old cacao groves along the banks of a river. This heirloom cacao was harvested and they began making chocolate as it was taught to them by their neighbors. Because of the lack of electricity, in the beginning everything was done by way of the old world; beans were roasted over an open fire, de-husked and ground by hand. After doing this for a while and coming to understand the value and quality of the cacao he was working with, Toth brought in Schweizer as well as fourth-generation cacao grower Servio Pachard to further his mission to bring the fine, dark Ecuadorian chocolate to the world.

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Not only does To’ak demonstrate an appreciation and respect for their product, but also for the environment around them; it is clear that they understand the importance of giving back and replenishing the resources they use in order for them to be successful in the preservation of cacao into the future. “To’ak is working with a coalition of local cacao growers, conservationists, and international universities to save Ecuador’s historic Ancient Nacional cacao from the brink of extinction. Cuttings from DNA-verified 100% pure Nacional trees have been grafted onto seedlings and planted in a protected plot of land in the nearby Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, managed by the rainforest conservation foundation Third Millennium Alliance. Within three years, each of these young trees will be able to provide enough cuttings to reproduce dozens of additional pure Nacional seedlings each year, which will then be distributed to any local cacao grower who wants to help save this historic variety from extinction. We call it the Noah’s Ark of Ancient Nacional cacao” (To’ak Chocolate). To’ak also pays their growers the highest price per pound in Ecuador, a direct indication that they have responsible business practices not only in regard to the environment but also in regard those that they employ. It should be noted that To’ak chocolate is based entirely out of Ecuador, from harvesting to packaging, it is providing a wealth of opportunity and safe jobs.

To’ak currently offers 5 different chocolates for sale on their website, all of them available in a 50-gram portion. When you purchase from To’ak however you are not just getting a bar of chocolate. “Each of our editions contains a 50-gram bar of dark chocolate with a single roasted cacao bean in the center. The chocolate bar is accompanied by a bamboo tasting utensil and a 116-page booklet, all of which are housed in a handcrafted Spanish Elm wood box with the individual bar number engraved on the bottom. The design of each of these items is inspired by ancient Ecuadorian artwork, dating back thousands of years, which we proudly introduce to the contemporary world” (To’ak Chocolate)It is these touches that make the chocolate that much more of a luxury experience. Divided into two collections, Vintage and Harvest, the former aged anywhere from 2 to 4 years and the latter from the 2016 harvest. For each chocolate, they list specific tasting notes and qualities one might pick up on as well as flavor wheels.

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There are several indications on the To’ak website that they are aiming to make their chocolate an experience on par with that of tasting fine wine or whiskey, with heavy nods towards understanding and appreciation of their product’s terroir and value as it related to Ecuador and the rich history and appreciation for cacao. Despite the very steep price tag, for those who are looking to have a fine chocolate experience and are willing to pay for it, in the case of To’ak, you are getting what you pay for.

Heading in a different direction and more than a bit closer to home, we come to Knipschildt Chocolatier based out of Norwalk, Connecticut. Started by Fritz Knipschildt, Knipschildt Chocolatier has been around since 1999 where it got its start in his small apartment kitchen. Knipschildt is a chef by trade as well as an immigrant from Denmark, giving him a unique perspective on chocolate. “Pursuing the American dream founded on traditional European chocolate craftsmanship, the philosophy behind House of Knipschildt rests on this desire to constantly improve the confectionary experience to provide customers with the highest value imaginable” (Chocopologie). Since its creation, Knipschildt has branched out to include two additional brands apart from Knipschildt Chocolatier, House of Knipschildt and Chocopologie. All three brands aim to produce quality products which respect individual ingredients, process, and the people behind each step.

Unlike To’ak, the Knipschildt brand, while there are indications they use single origin cacao from places such as Ecuador, the overall brand is much less process focused and much more end result. Not only do they not show pictures of any kind of their cacao source, but there is no specific mention or indications towards the rich historical traditions of cacao. It is safe to say that this company is much more of a European chocolatier in that their attention seems to be more on highly decorated refined chocolate truffles than on bean-to-bar efforts.

Their most prized chocolate is the La Madeline au Truffle with a price tag of $250.00 for a single truffle. This truffle starts with 70% Valrhona dark chocolate, heavy cream, sugar, truffle pol and vanilla as the base for a ganache. Then, a French Perigord truffle which is a very rare mushroom is surrounded by the chocolate ganache. This is then dipped into more dark chocolate and rolled in fine cocoa powder. The end product “Is pure extravagance! Lying on a bed of sugar peals in a gold box tied with ribbon” (Chocopologie) The company also offers other truffles at much lower price points however these come with no indication of where the chocolate is coming from.

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While I am sure this truffle has a unique and incomparable taste, I find it much harder to justify spending hundreds of dollars on something that shows little to no indication of where its coming from or who its really made by. Not to mention, there is no sign that they are sourcing their cacao from places that are free of child-labor or unfair and unsafe work conditions. I think this is a huge determining factor in understanding and appreciating today. While they do indicate that they use Valrhona chocolate, a visit to the Valrhona website does not provide much additional information

Comparing these companies might seem like comparing apples to oranges, in light of all we learned in chocolate class this year my opinions and preferences are changing. When one has a true knowledge base on the subject of cacao and the intricate web that has been woven around it throughout history, it changes how they view chocolate. And while I still love and appreciate the milky European varieties, I know understand what true chocolate is. True chocolate pays homage to those who came before with a heightened level of sacred respect for cacao as an ingredient passed down from the gods. It is difficult to maneuver the protection of old-world techniques and practices in the modern world but it can certainly be done as made evident by To’ak. Of course, business is business and both of these companies examined aim to make a profit however it is their differences that set them apart. The people behind To’ak have demonstrated a heightened connection to the cacao industry and from close examination of their website, one might leave thinking they are more in the business of preservation than candy sales and I think this is very true; by selling the chocolate for a high price, they generate money to protect and preserve the cacao species so it will thrive well into the future as well as provide for local indigenous people in the moment. Buying one of their chocolate bars is almost ceremonial in the same way that sharing chocolatewas seen as sacred and to be saved for special occasions such as new life, marriage, or death in the Mesoamerican culture (Coe & Coe 2013). As Maricel Presilla said in her book, “The true appreciation of chocolate quality begins with a link between the different spheres of effort. To know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef’s creation on the plate begins with the bean, with the complex genetic profile of different cacao strains. Think how impossible it would be to make fine coffee with the coarse acrid beans of Coffea robusta. You must know also that the flavor of the finished product further depends on people carrying out careful, rigorous harvesting and fermentation practices” (Presilla 2009 pg. 4). It is with this in mind that we can find appreciation and understanding for certain higher end chocolates like To’ak.

 

 

Works Cited

“About.” Valrhona, http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/about.

Coe, Michael D., and Sophie Coe. True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013.

“Knipschildt Chocolatier.” Chocopologie, chocopologie.com/.

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

“The World’s Most Luxurious Dark Chocolate Made by To’ak in Ecuador.” To’ak Chocolate, toakchocolate.com/.

 

Chocolate: Good for the soul, but good for your health?

 

Introduction

For many people, including myself, chocolate is the ultimate treat. Like most other treats, however, I try to enjoy in moderation because although it would increase my happiness, it would probably increase my waistline as well. Sometimes, I am able to justify it because I see studies in the news saying that dark chocolate can be good for you, or that by buying this fair trade, ethically sourced, organic, and environmentally conscious chocolate will help save the world! There’s a lot of conflicting information for consumers about whether or not chocolate is healthy for you. And after taking this class, I have realized that chocolate’s relationship with health has shifted and changed since chocolate has been consumed. From early Mesoamerican medicinal uses of chocolate and Baroque Europe’s interpretation of chocolate and humors, to modern industrialization of chocolate, scientific research on chocolate, and confusing and conflicting marketing for chocolate, our understanding and use of chocolate as medicine and as a health food has evolved over time. As different societies and cultures discovered cacao over time, they had to ask themselves if “chocolate good, bad, or indifferent for one’s health” (Coe 122)? Even though we have made enormous strides in understanding medicine and health, this question is still relevant for all chocolate consumers today as we try and navigate science, research, and our own desire for justifying our chocolate consumption. Chocolate has completely morphed from a highly regarded medicinal tool to a mostly over-processed commonplace treat whose deceptive marketing confuses consumers and clouds their judgement in making healthy decisions and takes away from the health benefits that can come from consuming high quality chocolate in moderation.

 

Early History

Cacao has been seen as a medicinal tool since the beginning of its consumption with the Mesoamericans. Cacao at this time was a powerful substance that not only had “economic and gastronomic value […] but deep symbolic meaning as well” (Coe 101). Cacao had immense value in many aspects of Mesoamerican life besides just basic sustenance. The Popol Vuh, an old Mayan text depicting traditional Mayan myths, often references cacao in its various tales and sheds light on how highly valued cacao was for their culture.  Because of this immense value placed on cacao, cacao infiltrated their understanding of religion, sustenance, class, and rituals. This deep relationship with chocolate also manifested itself in their medicine, and cacao was used to help cure ailments that ranged anywhere from digestive issues to skin issues to seizures (Martin, Lecture). Chilam Balam, an eighteenth century manuscript copied from Mesoamerican

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Chilam Balam

codices, highlights the various ailments that cacao can treat and helps to demonstrate how highly valued it was in curing people from a massive range of health issues. Unlike much of modern medicine, medicine at this time was much more holistic and cacao was just botanical piece of a much larger of a health puzzle that incorporated religion, rituals, class, and botany. Like many treasured and cherished substances, cacao was often reserved for the elite and was not fully accessible to all walks of life (Lippi). Although modern medicine and science would suggest that cacao would not necessarily be a powerful medicine with lots of healing success, Maya “royal rulers consumed vast quantities of it in their banquets, and archaeology has proved that they were in better health and lived far longer than their chocolate-deprived subjects” (Coe 32). The Mesoamericans were some of the first people to value and consume cacao, and truly believed in its powers to help heal.

 

 

Cacao started to take on a new cultural and medicinal meaning once it arrived in

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Diagram of the four humor and how they balance each other 

Baroque Europe. One of the biggest changes was that “the Spaniards… stripped it of the spiritual meaning which it had for the Mesoamericans, and imbued it with qualities altogether absent among the Aztecs and Maya: for the invaders, it was a drug, medicine, in the humoral system to which they all adhered” (Coe 126). For the Mesoamericans, cacao had cultural, religious, ritualistic, and medicinal uses, whereas when it made its way over to Europe it was just used for sustenance and medicine. Further, the way in which the Spaniards used it for medicine was completely different than the way that the Mesoamericans used it. The Galenic theory of humors, which was a large driving force for understanding health and medicine at this time, suggests that the body contains four humors: hot or cold, and dry or moist (Coe 127). A healthy body must have all four humors balanced, and the Spaniards used cacao as a tool to find balance within their bodies. Philip II’s Rolyan Physician Francisco Hernandez after learning more about cacao, found it to be a powerful medicinal tool because “The cacao seed is ‘temperate in nature,’ but leaning to the ‘cold and humid’; on the whole, it is very nourishing” (Coe 122). Because cacao on its own was considered cool, it was believed at the time that drinking cacao could help cure someone when they were too hot or had a fever. However, because it was considered relatively neutral, it could be manipulated to cure other ailments but adding different spices. For example, adding a spice like mecaxochitl would make the cacao ‘hotter’ and therefore could be used to cure other ailments associated with being too cool (Coe 122). The Europeans during this period interpreted cacao as medicine in a completely different way than their cacao consuming predecessors did; by dropping the religious significance and viewing cacao as a tool to balance out the body they morphed cacao’s medical use and significance to something of their own.

 

 

Modern Day

As history progressed, cacao’s role in medicine became less and less prominent. With the development and advancement of medicine, cacao was no longer used as medicine. Further, with the widespread accessibility to chocolate due to manufacturing, chocolate completely morphed from the days of sugarless cacao beverages to the chocolate that we know and love today. Chocolate’s cultural significance slowly changed and morphed into a more commonplace, everyday treat because of various factors like accessibility, change in the way its produced, and change in what ingredients go into it. Before modern medicine developed, it made sense that cacao was used as a medicinal tool. Now, however, our society thinks about chocolate more holistically in terms of how it affects our overall health rather than a cure for an ailment.

 

One of the biggest changes for chocolate that made it more accessible was the commodification and industrialization of chocolate. It was not until the late nineteenth century that the food industry became industrialized with the development of preservation, mechanization, retailing, and transportation (Goody 72). Foods were now able to be preserved for longer with canning and refrigeration, could be standardized and have easier, consistent packaging with mechanization, were sold in closed stores instead of open markets, and could be transported all across the country for more accessibility to the masses (Martin, Lecture). These changes not only made food much more accessible to the masses, but also made it significantly cheaper and “in 1898 in the United States a dollar bought forty-two percent more milk, fifty-one percent more coffee, a third more beef, twice as much sugar, and twice as much flour as in 1872” (Laudan 41). For example, Milton Hershey’s Hershey’s chocolate was able to grow into the brand that it is today because of industrialization. After Hershey was able to find their perfect recipe that differed greatly from traditional European chocolate, they worked on “refining the process and adapting it for large scale production. By the winter, the new factory building alongside Spring Creek was covered by a roof and workers were quickly outfitting the interior. Two railroad spurs were being built to connect the plant to Philadelphia and Reading Railroad” (D’Antonio 108). Industrialization gave Hershey the ability to produce and distribute its chocolate quickly and cheaper; however, this did sacrifice the quality. Chocolate products tried to figure out how to minimize the amount of actual cacao that was in them, and the result was that “these hyperpalatable products get the bulk of their calories from a few cheap commodities (corn, soy, wheat) flavored with cheap fats and cheap sweeteners” (Kawash 26). Rather than consuming high quality chocolate with a high percentage of cacao, it was easier and cheaper to load up these products with sugar and transform much of chocolate into candy. By decreasing the cacao and increasing the sugar and fat, mass produced big chocolate has become unhealthy.

 

Chocolate’s popularity began to shift in the mid twentieth century and people began to view chocolate as unhealthy and dangerous. For most of chocolate’s history it was thought to be medicinal, healing, or simply neutral/not having much influence on one’s health, but for the first time it was viewed as unhealthy and bad for you. The temperance movement, which was very anti-alcohol and intoxication slowly began to include chocolate and people believed that chocolate could act as a gateway to other dangerous habits like drinking and gambling (Martin, Lecture). Although believing that consuming chocolate and candy would lead to a life of sin seems dramatic today, chocolate and candy have maintained a somewhat of negative reputation since. Today, eating too much chocolate or candy can be seen as a slippery slope toward obesity rather than other bad habits like drinking. Ever since people began to view chocolate as unhealthy, whether it is because of its connection to the the temperance movement or to obesity, the conversation has shifted about how to enjoy in moderation.  

 

Is chocolate healthy?

Today, however, there is a lot of conflicting information about whether or not chocolate contributes to health. I asked some of my peers and family members whether they not they thought chocolate was healthy, and there were conflicting answers. A lot of them followed up by asking what kind of chocolate was I talking about? My mom, for example, said that “it’s good if you stay away from the Hershey’s crap, but dark chocolate is good for you!” When I pressed and asked her to elaborate on how it’s good for you, she sheepishly admitted that she didn’t actually know and had just “read stuff.” Before taking this class, I would likely have said the same answer, however, there are various studies that confidently show that consuming some chocolate can have health benefits. For example, chocolate can improve cardiovascular health since there is an inverse association between chocolate flavonoid intake and coronary heart disease mortality in men and women by several studies over many countries” (Albritton 345). These kinds of studies are common, and there is no shortage of research sharing chocolate’s health  benefits. Harvard this past month even cited an article on the Harvard Medical School Harvard Health Blog suggesting that chocolate can help with vision because the “cocoa flavanols enhance availability of oxygen and nutrients to the blood vessels of the eye and brain” (Tello 2018). It is important to note that most of these studies are looking at dark chocolate, rather than the chocolate candy that comes to mind when we think of chocolate. The early consumers of chocolate clearly had the right idea in mind when consuming chocolate as medicine, and now we have scientific studies that do demonstrate chocolate’s health benefits.

 

Even though chocolate has many great health benefits, most of the chocolate that Americans consume is detrimental for their health. Marketers take advantage of these studies on dark chocolate in moderation and hope that consumers assume that it applies to the kinds of candy bars that line the aisles of supermarkets, gas stations, and vending machines. By placing chocolate in these highly visible areas, marketers are taking advantage of “impulse marketing” that “deliberately encourage consumption” (New England Medical Journal 8). Candy and chocolate manufacturers are putting consumers at risk for over consuming highly processed chocolate and not giving them the full understanding of the potential health risks of overconsumption.

Image result for nutella healthy ad
This advertisement from Nutella is deceptive and not totally honest about its healthiness.

For example, this advertisement from Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut spread, suggests to consumers that Nutella is a healthy food that kids can eat for balanced and nutritious breakfast. They even list the ingredients and tell the consumers that it’s mostly hazelnuts with just “a hint of cocoa.” However, if you look at the nutrition facts and do a little more digging, like this particular video did, it becomes apparent that Nutella is not the kind of balanced breakfast you would want your children to eat. Although chocolate does have some health benefits, consumers are more often consuming too much of the bad kind of chocolate because they’re overwhelmed with misinformation.

 

Conclusion

Overall, chocolate and cacao have had an interesting relationship with health since the beginning of its consumption. Early cacao lovers had deep cultural and ritualistic ties to cacao, and truly believed in its ability to heal and act as medicine. As time progressed, chocolate lost much of its cultural and medicinal significance and when it became industrialized it completely changed chocolate. This new chocolate was cheaper, accessible, and contained less chocolate and more sugar and fat. This lead to an increase in skepticism of chocolate’s health, and people believed that over consuming chocolate had dangerous risks for both one’s health and one’s lifestyle. Even though consuming chocolate in moderation is still a good rule of thumb for healthy chocolate consumption, modern science now shows that there are positive health benefits to consuming chocolate. However, most chocolate consumers are over consuming the over processed chocolate because of the deceptive marketing from chocolate companies. Chocolate’s relationship to health has been complicated since the beginning, and that still rings true for today. However, even though modern chocolate can have some health issues, it is a relief to know that chocolate can benefit the body just as it benefits the soul.

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” 2012. pp.

342-354.

Bodily Fluids” Wikimedia Commons. Web. 22 November 2010.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:4_body_fluids.PNG.

“Chilam Balam de Chumayel” Web. 26 August 2010. Melinda Stuart.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/melystu/6915898057.

“Chocolate at the check out is a risk for public health” New England Medical Journal, BMJ

2012;345:e6921.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition.

Thames & Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth,

Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Cooking,

Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982, pp. 154–174. Themes in the Social Sciences.

Kawash, Samira. Candy: a Century of Panic and Pleasure. Faber & Faber, 2013.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast,

Processed Food.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, University of California Press

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients5.5 (2013):

1573–1584. PMC. Web. 8 May 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”. Harvard University, AAAS

E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Martin, Carla “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.” Harvard

University, AAAS E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

“Nutella 2010 Ad” Web. 1 October 2013

http://frenzyadvertisement.blogspot.com/2013/10/is-food-advertising-linked-with.html

“Surprise, Nutella is more unhealthy than you might think.” Tech Insider, 8 June 2017,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hnDviQyJFA

Tello, Monique. “Can dark chocolate improve vision?” Harvard Health Publishing,

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-dark-chocolate-improve-vision-2018050313767.

So, is chocolate REALLY good for you or is it all a hoax?

TO BEGIN…

People love chocolate. Three words that may not *technically* be a proven scientific fact, but are, at least in my own opinion, pretty valid for those living in today’s society. It is a line that I know I hear, and even find myself saying, quite often: someone is sad or feeling down and the response comes to “get them some chocolate and they will definitely feel so much better!” What I think people often forget is that chocolate truly does have a number of health benefits, dating back to its start and discovery and leading its way into the current society that we live in. Of the many health benefits that the consumption of chocolate has been linked to in both the past and present, I would like to briefly examine its use as a positive health benefit in the past and then relate that to my main focus on our current society, where chocolate has certainly taken the name to have medical benefits that continue to grow and become more supported through scientific evidence and research.

While discussing the past and present findings and beliefs on the medical benefits of chocolate, I also hope to draw conclusions of my own on the matter based on the evidence and research that is currently available. I think this topic is certainly one where all the facts and pieces of evidence need to be considered before a conclusion can be drawn.

THE PAST

Chocolate consumption has been associated with medicinal benefits for several years. In an article written by Donatella Lippi, she talks about how the evidence of cacao that was used for medicinal purposes dates far back to Mesoamerican civilizations (Lippi).  Looking back to the past, there were notions presented on how chocolate refreshes and satisfies the body (Coe and Coe, p. 110). The Coes also talk about how texts dating back to the 1500’s showed how the Emperor had a process of keeping botanical plants to experiment with, having the hopes of finding some sort of medical connection among them. Eventually, cacao appeared as one of the successful ones, showing that it could cure infections, control cough, and lower fevers among other things (Coe and Coe). The Mesoamericans spoke of chocolate as if it were a “food of the Gods” (Martin, Lecture).  For this reason, chocolate was often times included in traditional Mesoamerican rituals. Mayan documents, often written in Dresden Codex, showed cacao being depicted by Gods during ritual activities, including marriage and death rituals (Coe and Coe, 41). Additionally, Donatella Lippi went on to talk about

 

chocolate as a Mesoamerican medicine and stated that it dates back to Montezuma and his high levels of chocolate beverage consumption in the hopes that he would remain as masculine as possible (Lippi, 2017). In general, Mesoamericans certainly recognized how cacao was a medical benefit, often believing that those who consumed chocolate would be able to live longer than those who were deprived of consuming the treat (Coe and Coe).

 

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Cacao as a “bean of the Gods”

Through the readings and lectures we have gone over in class, we have also seen how the Spaniards and Europeans believed in chocolate and its overall positive effects on mood. In The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe state that the Spaniards thought that chocolate was a “a drug, a medicine” (Coe and Coe, p. 126). This idea focused on the fact that once the Europeans brought chocolate overseas, they linked it to humoral medicine as a drug and medicine (Coe and Coe).

The link between chocolate and its effects on health started in fairly general terms; however, eventually this evolved into a long stretch of scientific studies and research that really tried to examine the specifics between chocolate and its physical and mental health benefits. In the article “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food”, Donatella Lippi opens up by talking about how “throughout history, chocolate has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments, and in recent years, multiple studies have found that chocolate can have positive health effects, providing evidence to a centuries-long established use” (Lippi, 2013). She then goes on to talk about how simply the belief of chocolate being linked to health was not enough; breaking it down to the properties of chocolate that allowed it to have positive health effects was key in understanding (Lippi, 2013). For example, dark chocolate is known to be rich in iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and flavanols (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). The flavanols are most important when it comes to the health benefits.

THE PRESENT

To open up and introduce this section, I would like to start off by proposing a question. I hope to draw some sort of conclusion on this question by the end of this blog post. Because the debate about chocolate’s actual health benefits continue to go back and forth and are still not completely determined, I think it is rather important to consider the following matters:

Is the idea that chocolate bars have positive health benefits for a person’s health really supported by actual research or is this just a bunch of hear-say with no scientific evidence to back it up? Is this claim something that people just have an idea about or is there actual proof to support its validity? What kinds of chocolate are best to consume in order to obtain these positive health benefits?

In today’s society, one thing that is essential to remember is that the link of chocolate to medical and health benefits primarily focuses on the dark chocolate variety, which contains at least sixty percent pure cacao and high levels of flavanol content, though it is noted that consumption for the purpose of health benefits should be focused on chocolate that has at least seventy percent pure cacao. Often times, this high level of flavanol content does cause the chocolate to be more bitter in taste (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). In an article written by Dr. Robert Shmerling, Faculty Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, he brings up this key point and notes that not all chocolate is the same. Dark chocolate is high in flavanol content while milk chocolate and white chocolate have much lower levels of flavanol (Shmerling, 2017). Additionally, it is important to note that “even a chocolate bar that is 70% cacao can have varying levels of flavonoid compounds, depending on how it was processed” (Storrs, 2017). Furthermore, author Carina Storrs comments that any kind of chocolate that goes through a chemical process known as “dutching” would basically lose all traces of flavonoid compounds; this frequently happens in Dutch chocolate (Storrs, 2017).

As seen in both of the figures above, “raw” chocolate decreases blood pressure and assists in the improvement of blood circulation in a person’s body. The graphic to the right lists out health benefits of dark chocolate, some of them including slowing signs of aging, reducing the risk of diabetes, and reducing stress levels. Additionally, Sophie and Michael Coe state that “dark chocolate does not cause diabetes, cavities, or acne”, which is something that people often times believe and is part of what allows people to link dark chocolate to having health benefits in general (Coe and Coe, 31). Furthermore, Sophie and Michael Coe say that there has been no direct correlation between developing heart disease and consuming chocolate (Coe and Coe, 30).

When considering the link between chocolate consumption and, specifically, brain health Dr. Robert Shmerling talks about how both short-term and long-term consumption of chocolate can be beneficial. In various completed research studies, it showed that adults who consumed dark chocolate with high flavanol content had better performances on tests of memory and reaction time (Shmerling). Studies have also found that chocolate can be a key provider of antioxidants that are beneficial for the body. Another article posted on the pros and cons of chocolate also states that “a team of researchers at Harvard Medical School found that older adults who drank two cups of liquid chocolate a day for 30 days had improved blood flow to the parts of their brain needed for memory and thinking” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). It seems that chocolate’s link to brain health mainly focuses on the ability of flavonoids to improve mental function and speaking ability. It is important to note, however, that there has not been any proven scientific research that shows that chocolate consumption can prevent dementia or other diseases that bring about a “mental decline”. Dr. Owais Khawaja, a cardiology fellow at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Ohio, says that “chocolate is a good antioxidant. It has a good effect on inflammation” (Storrs, 2017). Dr. Khawaja also states that some additional benefits as a result of chocolate’s anti-inflammatory properties include that it might help to reduce the risk of cancer and dementia.

In the video attached here, we can see a listing of the top ten benefits of dark chocolate on a person’s health and well-being. The video touches on the positive effects of dark chocolate on cardiovascular health, weight loss, and lowering levels of blood pressure, to name a few. In general from sources that are widely available, it does seem that dark chocolate has links to perhaps living a healthier lifestyle. Self-medication and stress relief are two additional items that dark chocolate has a link to when it comes to levels of improvement. Score!

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As seen in the figure to the right, dark chocolate is the form of chocolate that is known to have health benefits. As noted in the figure (and stated previously), the pattern appears to be that a cacao content of over at least sixty percent in a given chocolate item is most beneficial for a person’s health. Additionally, I believe it is accurate to conclude that heart health seems to be the most commonly affected aspect of a person’s health benefits from chocolate consumption.

In an article published in Harvard Women’s Health Watch, it was stated that ingredients in chocolate can be healthy, but “the high-calorie chocolate bars that contain it aren’t necessarily good for you” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). The three flavonoid compounds in chocolate that are known to help improve cardiovascular functions in the body are catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidin (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). These flavonoid compounds assist with lowering cholesterol rates, reducing inflammation that may be present in the body, and preventing blood clots from occurring at all. Dr. Eric Ding, a scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has completed 24 studies on the effects of flavonoids in chocolate on cardiovascular risks. In his findings, it was reported that flavonoids in chocolate reduced blood pressure rates and levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol. Additionally, rates of healthy HDL cholesterol increased, while improved levels of blood flow and and lower levels of insulin resistance were also displayed (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014).

OKAY SO, WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS ACTUALLY MEAN?

After researching and seeing the scientific evidence that is available regarding chocolate and its effects on health, it is definitely shown that consuming the right kind of chocolate with the proper characteristics can have positive health benefits for a consumer. As with anything, intake moderation is definitely significant and rates of consumption should be exercised with caution. Monitoring levels of sugar intake (i.e. selecting chocolate bars with lower levels of sugar added) is certainly important in order to limit any adverse health effects from taking place on the body. Additionally, people should proceed with caution when depending on chocolate (of the dark variety, of course!) to lower health risks. The public should recognize that researchers have been able to confirm that chocolate does have short-term benefits on heart health and other health issues but, for example, as stated by Dr. Eric Ding, “the jury is still out in terms of actual direct heart attack prevention” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014).

THE FINAL VERDICT…

So, what do I think as a result of all of this? I do believe that chocolate can have positive health effects on the body. It is important to limit intake (eating ten chocolate bars a day is still not a good idea, sorry!) and mainly consuming dark chocolate is best due to the fact that it contains the highest percentages of pure cacao. Additionally, choosing chocolate bars that are also low in sugar and fats is very important, as these two things can actually cause adverse health effects as I am sure we all know.

 

 

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100% support for this claim! 

Some scientists have recommended that the best way to get the health advantages of the flavonoids in chocolate without consuming all the negative elements as well is to purchase chocolate products that are more concentrated, such as cocoa supplements.

 

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Dark chocolate and its positive effects on health

If consumed properly, and in moderate levels, chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, does have positive health effects on a person’s health including the improvement of cardiovascular health, decreased levels of stress, and more. I know I will definitely continue eating chocolate – it is just time that I make the switch over to dark chocolate more often.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

“Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health Blog,

Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Feb. 2014. Web.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames

and Hudson, 2013. Print.

“Dark Chocolate.” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients, 5 May

2013, pp. 1573-1584., doi: 10.3390/nu5051573. Web.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. Lecture 7: Modern Day

Slavery. 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”. Harvard University, AAAS

E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Schmerling, Robert H. “Your Brain on Chocolate.” Harvard Health Publishing. 16 Aug.

2017, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/your-brain-on-chocolate-2017081612179. Web.

Storrs, Carina. “Is Chocolate Good or Bad for Health?” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 May

2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/10/health/chocolate-health-benefits/index.html. Web.