Tag Archives: cacao

Constructing Taste: The Memetic Transmission of Chocolate’s Consumption

 

Taste, here, is an autonomous force that affected, rather than reected, discourse.”

Marcy Norton, in discussion of chocolate’s evolving composition (p. 691)

 

Tangibly, what we might intend by ‘chocolate’ is a broad, non-essentialist, amalgamated foodstuff; it is composed of myriad ingredients, none of which need necessarily be present in order for it to be known as such – with the possible exception of that core ingredient, Theobroma cacao (pictured above); it is “chemically complex, containing many potentially pharmacologically active compounds” and yet there is little in the way of consensus in the sciences or in the humanities as to what precipitates its elevated status among foodstuffs (Benton, p. 213) – a status complicated all the more by the great uncertainty as to what one actually intends by ‘chocolate’. There is ongoing research into the fundamental effects of neurochemicals contained in cacao, the actual content of which, in white chocolate for instance, may be negligible; how chocolate in its tangible form, or indeed as a psychosocial construct, might influence brain chemistry is likely to remain a research area fraught with moral hazard, given the normative judgements, claims, and aspersions more than likely to be elicited from competing interest groups in Big Food, consumer groups, democratically elected governments looking to legislate on nutrition, et cetera… These are particularly shaky foundations on which to attempt to construct some sort of accorded or objectivised truth, and indeed there continues to be a stark lack of consensus in scholarly circles with regards the neurological effects of cacao (Benton, p. 205). Thus this essay takes the behaviour of chocolate consumption, in a rather general and somewhat specious manner, as a behaviour transmitted socially and as that alone, not intending to cast any normative judgements thereupon but to deconstruct various intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of ‘chocolate’ the concept and the object of consumption which might single it out. The objective is thus chocolate decentred, debased, and a formless tool for memetic analysis of our consumption habits.

 

Model of Transmission

            A behaviour born in the Amazonian basin millennia before Christ (Coe, p. 24), the spread of cacao consumption, in its broadest sense, would suggest a powerful intergenerational, and indeed intercultural, process of transmission. A foundational view of human ethology is the Platonic understanding of behavioural acquisition by the unending and omnipresent process of mimesis, or emulation (Stanford) – one learns of a behaviour by witnessing it and repeating it after assimilation and simulation in the brain. One can similarly understand this process as the memetic transfer of cultural information, the transfer of a meme (the intellectualised unit represent of the behaviour) from one individual to another and thus its transmission (see video below). One experiences this first-hand in the raising of a child, or simply in the development of close relationships, as humans are preternaturally disposed to mimesis of the bodily comportments of others – one can likely divine whence one inherited one’s own particular tastes, idiosyncrasies, and predilections (perchance chocoholism?).

 

https://video-api.wsj.com/api-video/player/iframe.html?guid=5C1154F8-36EB-4797-AFE9-C60226055FB1

Richard Dawkins on the ‘Cultural Meme’, Wall Street Journal

In this context, and a conception of his contemporary capitalistic society, the sociologist Thorstein Veblen posited that emulation is the chief determinant of taste – that one inherits tastes from the powerful classes, assimilating their mores out of a Dawkinsian survival instinct (Veblen, pp. 112-17). Chocolate still enjoys a status as a treat or luxury, some of that New World mystique and allure often lavished on its marketing, whilst the average individual in a western nation consumes roughly 10lbs or more per annum (Forbes). Veblen would argue that this alliance of one’s behaviours, and by extension one’s identity, to the trendsetting classes, ie. the colonial elites who first adopted the drinking of chocolate as a delicacy, would be out of prudence in a competitive social environment and thus serve a specific function. This is a view in line with that of cultural sociologist Pierre Bourdieu that taste is the conformity of subjective pleasures to social hierarchies (Sulkunen, p. 112). It would not be a stretch to link these conceptions of memetic transmission as subservient to socio-political order, and not simply informative thereof, to the Marxist or otherwise materialist understandings of the exigences of economy and how profit incentivises, ie. differential rates of taxation, which have dictated the relative fortunes of chocolate, or rather cacao, and other drug-foods such as coffee or tea (p. 185-186).

molten chocolate

Molten chocolate, muthscandy.com

Cultural historian Marcy Norton criticises the ‘functionalist’ perspectives detailed above for their invention of the rational consumer – who behaves according to economic and biological, perhaps genetic, imperatives. Norton similarly dismisses certain more qualitative explanations which suggest ethical, normative explanations for shifts in consumption behaviours. She holds that it is not the purpose of objects but their actual use that is of import, whilst supposedly attempting to address the ‘why’ as opposed to ‘how’ chocolate consumption evolved (Norton, pp. 661-664). Yet, the more post-structuralist aspects of her thinking, with regards eschewing qualitative understandings of the consumer, marry well with conception of the sociocultural functionality of taste as transferred memetically, albeit confined to the Cartesian lines of economic and biospherical exigence. Thus cultural-functional, emulative, materialist, and indeed psychopharmacological models (to be explored below) can be triangulated in the, unconnoted, notion that behaviours such as chocolate consumption, and indeed the very conception of ‘chocolate’ itself, are cultural information diffused by memetic transfer.

Yet, establishing an inoffensive theoretical model for how chocolate-related concepts and behaviours, or simply chocolate-related ‘memes’, are transferred offers no insight into what information is actually coded therein. In like cultural contexts to that in which this author has lived, chocolate is likely far more readily associated with the image of molten chocolate above, at least symbolically; that is, to the complex, recombinant form that has evolved over centuries, been embellished upon almost so much as it that normalised silky, conched, tempered form – as opposed to molten, note, though recognisable all the same – is still systematically erred from today. It is almost so wholly abstracted from the base plant as to render cacao, pictured below, all but unrecognisable to the average consumer. In order to understand the social transmission of chocolate consumption, one must look at the polymorphous conception of chocolate that is coded, in its intrinsic and extrinsic complexities.

sliced cacao pods

Sliced cacao pods, public domain

Content of Transmission

The experience of cacao consumption is not only a product of that behaviour’s transmission, but necessarily its precedent. Consumption of a foodstuff is the exemplification of a subjective experience and, as such, despite the fact that the behaviour may be replicable, and indeed often enacted socially and thus easily transmitted and replicated with a degree of specificity, attempts by researchers to construct metrics thereupon are doomed to be disappointingly lacking in insight (eg. Stuckey, pp. 136-137). Strictly gustatory experience, ie. taste only as experienced via the tongue in exclusion of other senses and neurological activity, has fewer variables at play and indeed the great sweetness and fattiness of some chocolates has been shown, though clearly not then representative of large swathes of that which falls under the moniker ‘chocolate’, to stimulate reward circuitry in the brain – ie. prefrontal activity indicative of mesocorticolimbic dopamine activation (Benton, pp. 213-215). Yet even one’s taste buds, the transductive receivers which convert molecules to electrical signals and neurochemicals that communicate information to the gustatory cortex (whose role is explained in the video below), do not work in isolation of other senses. They also vary, and not only from person to person, ie. in their combined constitution. In the individual’s own lifetime their taste buds evolve unto adulthood (Stuckey, p. 21). This only nods towards the potential epigenetic influences of tastes, themselves received and thus reinforced or augmented by memetic transfer – a good example would be how a child may have a sweet-tooth, partly due to exposure to high levels of cortisol in the womb, or to displays of stress in early life which predisposes a calorific diet, who in later life develops more savoury tastes and so alters the memes, and indeed genes, they would otherwise have transmitted to their own progeny (Cornell; NCBI). One can clearly see the application of this analogy to patterns of chocolate consumption and the potential for individuation thereof.

The Science of Taste – KQED QUEST

In addition to the strictly gustatory elements to the ‘taste’ of chocolate, there are the important effects of trigeminal nerve stimulation, ie. sensation of texture, pain or spice, and temperature, which are crucial to pleasure in eating. Additional elements, elaborated upon in the video above, concern not simply the olfactory, and other sensory data, but cognitive and emotional memories and associations – “enjoyment of emotions as summoned through imaginary or illusory images [as] central [to] pleasure” (Colin Campbell in Norton, p. 663). The totality of these elements together with ‘taste’ itself forms what is distinguished in the video therefrom as ‘flavour’.

In the consumption of a foodstuff there is major influence of other pre-coded aspects of human psychology, not simply immediate, tangible phenomenology – food developer Barb Stuckey argues that the sound of tempered chocolate cracking, qualitatively, is a key element in the presentation of, and in turn key to the preconceptions and thus eventual satisfaction a consumer has for, a chocolate product (Stuckey, p. 140). These ad hoc influences on one’s perception of a particular chocolate, if not ‘chocolate’ conceptually or behaviourally, add a great deal of complexity to the relationship of individuals to that particular object of consumption. And one’s enjoyment, indeed investment in, the momentary experience can be almost completely distracted, voided, or drained of pleasure (and thus likely otherwise altered or influenced) by dramatic ongoings in the environs – as described by Stuckey with regards how a couple’s spat at the next table utterly precluded her from investment or pleasure in her meal (pp. 132-133).

Given that the complexity of ‘flavour’ as a concept and experience is not limited to the concept or experience of chocolate alone, chocolate’s special status as an indulgence and yet in ubiquity, its elevation culturally, and enduring appeal have suggested some peculiarity thereto. As detailed at the start of this essay, there is not an agreed scientific explanation, indeed while there are a number of psychoactive chemicals such as phenylethylamine and methylxanthines caffeine and theobromine, as well as the serotonin-producing reservatrol and tryptophan, they all appear in far too low quantities to wholly explain widespread archetypes of the ‘chocoholic’ or the archetypal behaviour or ‘craving’ chocolate (Benton, pp. 209-212). A more comprehensive explanation is that the high correlation between pleasurable food intake and the release of endorphins, peptides which act on opioid receptors, is true of chocolate consumption (pp. 212-213). If one couples this with the dopamine activation described above then one can understand a major aspect of repeated chocolate consumption as dependent on one’s perception of chocolate as opposed to the inherent nature of the product itself – thus the great influence of information culturally conferred with regards to chocolate.

Multisensory factors do not end with those extrinsic elements of the experience, ie. the cultural context in which one consumes chocolate or the packaging and presentation, but extend to the temperature of the room one is in, the ambient noise-level, present company, weather, and so forth – and early experiences, within context, write scripts for future experiences in the associations they entail (Psychology Today). If one were to use the analogy of coffee and coffeeshops, the texture of the mug used, even the colour of that mug (Flavour Journal), the cultural construct of drinking from a mug at all, or indeed the fundamental construct that coffee, as opposed to maté or indeed chocolate, should be the warm beverage chosen; these are all examples of the complex psychology at play, influencing our perceptions and the manner in which we code concepts and behaviours memetically transmitted. In turn, those codifications inform the memes we pass on to others, here as pertains to our consumption patterns, in which the effects of theobromine content or ‘the catchy song playing in the background on the radio in the trendy coffeeshop where first I tried a white hot chocolate’ fade to one of legion infinitesimal inputs that construct the meme as it is held in the individual.

 

The counterpart to Plato’s mimesis, however, was diegesis, or ‘narrative’ (Stanford Online), and while this essay was intentionally aimed at deconstructing some of the intrinsic and extrinsic elements of chocolate as it is conceived and experienced, admittedly in a roundabout and haphazard fashion, it has been at the cost of any narrative sense as to what chocolate really is. Indeed, if one is to utterly debase and decentre one’s concept of what exactly a product is or should be – as has hopefully been achieved in this essay thus far – one is able to open consumers up (or is oneself opened up, dependent one’s role in the power dynamic in play) to the wholesale transfer (or adoption) of metanarratives. As so often becomes of highly mature consumer industries, as they slip towards conspicuous consumption and what one might term becoming ‘Veblen goods’ (pp. 33-48), there is developed a sense of ‘terroir’ and producers attempt to directly control the memetic transfer of conception as well as ritual, ie. all the multisensory facets to the psychological experience of consumption as detailed above. Thus there is the attempt to tailor experiences, alter transmission and construct the product, in this case chocolate, directly as opposed to leaving the interplay of transient socioeconomic, cultural, and biospherical factors reach equilibrium unaided.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving”. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006 (3rd Ed).

Mintz, Sidney W.. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”. The American Historical Review, pp. 660-691. Vol. 111, No. 3. 2006. Print.

Sulkunen, Pekka. “Society Made Visible: On the Cultural Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu.” Acta Sociologica, pp. 103-115. Vol. 25, No. 2. 1982. Print.

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Weinberg, Bennett A. and Bonnie K. Bealer. The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. London: Routledge, 2002.

 

 

 

Web Sources

 

“Does the colour of the mug influence the taste of the coffee ?”, BioMed Central

http://www.flavourjournal.com/content/3/1/10

“Kids under chronic stress more likely to become obese”, Cornell University

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2012/01/study-stressed-kids-more-likely-become-obese

“The World’s Biggest Chocolate Consumers [Infographic]”, Forbes

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2015/07/22/the-worlds-biggest-chocolate-consumers-infographic/#1fab80ed4484

“Epigenetic diet: impact on the epigenome and cancer”, NCBI

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197720/

“Why do we crave chocolate so much?”, Psychology Today

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/comfort-cravings/201402/why-do-we-crave-chocolate-so-much

“Plato’s Aesthetics”, Stanford Online

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-aesthetics/

‘The Science of Taste – KQED QUEST’, YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HxAB54wlig´

Ethnography on Chocolate: Socioeconomic Visual Culture, Mesoamerican Origins, & Contemporary Perspectives

The purpose of this small-scale ethnography is to examine the social significance of chocolate from a cross-cultural perspective. Through interviewing various members of my local community that were born in different regions of Mexico and Central America, I document here their experiences and observances of chocolate.

Experienced through consumption or non-consumption, and observed through their emic perspective, there are underscoring themes exposed amongst the roles in which chocolate has played throughout each of their own lives. Within the context of those personal relationships with chocolate, an interaction between social and economic functions of their state and country may be contemporaneous to their outlook. Although this simultaneity is not always the circumstance, motifs emerge as their uniqueness transpires. Effectually, their contributed insight has actualized a microcosm of chocolates’ socio-cultural diversity and likenesses.

While conducting the interviews with members of my community, the aim was to first listen to their observances, and to then ask questions of clarification to assist in their thought process. The framework of my Q&A was designed this way to acquire a qualitative study, so that this retelling would reflect the individual perspectives of each subject, synchronously providing a glimpse into the societal experience. To depict those experiences through a cultural historical lens, that of which illustrated itself during most of the interviews already, I asked questions about their culture as a whole and how they thought chocolate was generally regarded in their own communities.

This study is not meant to define those relationships, but to highlight multiplicities within these individual cross- cultural accounts. Over reflections of my own and of the human subjects in this ethnographic study, I hope to provide sufficient ­imagery of historic milieu within the functional roles chocolate has played in personal experience and in society.

Origins

Theobroma Cacao, or the Food-of-the-God’s Cacao, is widely accepted by botanists and scholars as indigenous to Mesoamerica. Evidence of its cultivation is indicative of the role it played in ancient civilizations like the Mixe-Zoquean-speaking Olmecs (1500 BCE – 400 BCE). At the famed Olmec archaeological site in San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, evidence has been found of the term “Kakawa” used by the Olmec as early as 1000 BCE (Coe & Coe, 1996). See on the map below, San Lorenzo is west of present day Guatemala, and north of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

 

San Lorenzo on the map 2
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán is a famed archaeological site, well known for the massive Olmec stone heads excavated there

 

We find in the archaeological record, the ways in which early civilizations illustrated cacao, or “Kakawa” on their pottery. This being a significant attribute to understand the role chocolate played in their livelihoods and rituals. According to Maricel Presilla in her book, The New Taste of Chocolate, “it was the Maya who brought chocolate making to a high art… building on the foundation left behind by other Mesoamerican cultures”, like that of the Olmecs and other sibling tribes (2009).

 

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Buenavista vase, Buenavista del Cayo, Belize

 

See this Classic Maya vase from the seventh century portraying the Maize God in an “unending dance, symbolizing both the creation of the universe and also his cycle of death and rebirth” (Takushi, Pioneer Press).

Maya Classic period (250 – 900 CE) vessels show quite literally the function of cacao as it was for drinking, as well as the relative role it played in Mayan life though various representations of the divine.

This is one of the many Classic period vessels that was found to contain cacao residues inside. We know it was used to hold chocolate because cacao is the only plant in the region with both the compounds Theobromine and Caffeine, “a unique marker for the presence of cacao in pre-Columbian artifacts” (Cheong, 2011). To verify the vessels were used to hold chocolate was an important piece to the archaeological record. It provided contextual knowledge when deciphering the imagery or glyphs depicted on the vessels.

Affirmed in the glyphs of drinking vessels from this period, there is evidence of “well established cacao-chocolate terminology”. On the Buenavista vase shown above, we see “tree-fresh cacao” inscribed.  From the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS) of the glyphs you see banded around the top of the vessel, the characters that make the Maya name for cacao, “Ka-Ka-Wa” were deciphered. What strikes me the most about this piece is the seemingly relative “tree-fresh cacao” to the Maize God’s cyclical existence. (Presilla, 2009)

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Buenavista vase closeup: Maya glyphs depicted translate to “tree-fresh cacao”, “Ta-Tsih-Te’el Kakawa” (Prescilla)

I particularly find this vessel so interesting when we look at the role of chocolate in culture because it reflects a cyclical ideology of their ecological relationship to their land; in the sustenance it provides, the concept of time through death and rebirth, and their Gods all-encompassing role within those cycles.

Field Study

A few years ago in 2013 I came to know a few young men and women from the northern Mexican state of Sonora – (follow the link to read a brief history of Seri Indians of Sonora). They were working and studying here on visa’s while we were employed at a busy restaurant in the heart of downtown Boston. What better place than behind the bar to nose around and pick into people’s lives for cultural insights! Just kidding on the nose-picking… but seriously, even minute conversations with guests created thought-provoking observations. During their multiple terms of residency in Boston over the years, these talented intellectual Sonoran natives and I connected on Mexican – American culture alike, and apart. Upon reaching out to ask if anyone would be interested in participating in this modest ethnographic study, my request was received most graciously. They have all elected to omit fully identifying information, so for the purposes of this study, I will refer to them by their first name only. Below I have included their perspectives on the role chocolate has played throughout their lives.

Andrés began by explaining Mexico as a large country where the culture is full of diversity. “Every state has their own culture about everything – food, traditional parties, our dialect and slang”. With that being said, in the state of Sonora where he lives he doesn’t use chocolate and cacao the way he knows it is used in the southern states of the country like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, and Tabasco. Andrés has observed the influence of cacao beans in southern Mexico because the cacao growing region produces a lot of recipes that involve cacao and chocolate.

When I asked what he knows about Mesoamerican uses for cacao, he remembers learning from childhood that they used it as currency, and he understood they sometimes would use it in beauty treatments. On that note, I recollect a fortuitous conversation about skin care had between myself and a female of Mexican ancestry I met while servicing wedding hair and makeup to her cousin’s bridal party, circa summer 2015 in East Boston – Indeed, I am not only an aspiring Anthropologist, also a Cosmetologist. My thoughts are usually occupied by anthropological inquiry on a daily basis, which inevitably grants unique opportunity for cultural discussions with the people I meet. Although not a part of this ethnography, she let me know back then about her family recipe for a skin care regimen that contains cacao. Her grandmother and her aunts would grind down cacao beans into a powder, “cocoa powder” minus the hydraulic press. They would mix the antioxidant rich powder with other grinded down local herbs, add water to create a paste-like texture and apply generously to the skin.

“Lather. Dry. Rinse. Repeat.” – she persisted. Yum.

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The Spa At Hotel Hershey seems to know just how to indulge all the senses with chocolate

 

For the purposes of this study, I was curious about chocolate in spa treatments, as I have heard echoes of the luxury before. Take a look at The Spa At The Hotel Hershey or examples of just a few contemporary accommodations created for chocolate in the beauty industry.

Andrés expressed to me that Sonora being just below Arizona, his culture is more- so “American” than the way Mexicans live in the south. It is in his experience and observation the misconception of Mexican culture as being one. I think any educated person understands culture, language, economy, etc. vary across spaces of human population. Yet, for those who generalize a nation’s people by its borders, Andrés and his community experience the bias. He grew up with a collection of influences “by the things Americans do”. For example, one of his earliest memories of eating chocolate was during Halloween. They’re also heavily influenced by “spring break madness”, as he defined the season. He grew up consuming chocolate predominantly made by the big corporations, like Mars. His notable favorites being the Snicker and M&Ms. “In the south they don’t have that influence, they don’t experience American Halloween as we do”.

Carlos V chocolate bars are the Nestlé- proclaimed “# 1 chocolate brand in Mexico with over 70 years in the market!… Because of its unique and mild flavor, it is considered the reference of chocolate for Mexicans.” The Aztec stylized imagery first designed to brand the chocolate before it was bought by Nestlé sometime in the 1980’s was created by Fabrica de Chocolates La Azteca, S.A. de C.V. Jason Liebig on his blog, Collecting Candy chronicles his findings in the L.M. Kallok Confectioners Collection of antique packaging. Most notable about the evolution of the branding is first the Aztec styling alongside the “Imperial Coat of Arms” for “by the grace of God, Carolus V Imperator (emporer)”. Then with the English labeling introduced we see a change in the ingredients as well (which was apparent of each label seen in Leibig’s compilation from the beginning to the end. “A tie-in with the film Toy Story, which tells us La Azteca was still the brand’s sole owner as late as 1995″ is interesting where we see Quaker Oats leaving its insignia on the label by the late 1990’s.

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Not one of the Sonoran’s I interviewed has tried a Carlos V chocolate bar but they have all heard of it at some point in their life through advertisements. Eduardo attests to Andrés’ personal account of diversity from the southern regions in Mexico. Dia de los Muertos is “not celebrated as much as the south, but we do things like going to the cemetery”, Andrés says. Eduardo told me that they celebrate Dia de los Muertos on November 2. “We celebrate in memory of the people who are no longer with us and usually at the tombstones we put special things they liked when they were alive. Chocolates is usually one of them”. Both Andrés and Eduardo did not have a definitive sense of the historical reason for chocolate being placed on gravesites, but they both know it as a long- standing tradition and ritual in celebrating their deceased ancestors. Fernanda, another Sonoran native, added some insight to this practice of memorial. She told me that usually the graveyards are managed by local churches or publicly owned so in contrast to the majority of graveyards that are privately owned in the US, the families play a greater role in gravesite maintenance of their deceased. In this way, chocolate serves a social function in their celebrations.

Interpretations

Shown below, Dr. Martin presented in class this semester some of the ways Maya and Mixtec society visually depicted the functions that cacao played within their cultural practices and belief systems. Royal marriages necessitated the use of currency in the negotiation, so we see in the Codex Nuttall how cacao was a part of the price for the bride. Eduardo remembers learning in school that Mayans used to used the cacao “as a coin to buy everything, from goods to wives”. A relative topic for further study would be in the ways chocolate was introduced to the elite. Diffused out of Mesoamerica first by the Spanish, the Europeans assimilated to its royal regard and used chocolate in the women’s dowry through royal inter-marriages – that of which played a great role in spreading chocolate throughout Europe.

Another example (seen below) comes from the Madrid Codex where we see cacao being exchanged, portraying a give-and-take linkage between their concepts of cyclical time (lunar goddess) and their environment (rain god). I find this imagery especially expressive to their belief of the divine relationship to their human existence and sustenance on earth. Lastly, from the Codex Nuttall we see a royal funerary procession in “Twelve Movements”. Within the tomb depicted at the bottom right of the artwork lies a “vessel of foaming cacao beverage… to ease the soul’s journey to the underworld”. (Martin)

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Eduardo recounts drinking cups of hot chocolate since he can remember. While traveling south to Puebla state he tried their “typical meal, mole, and it’s made of cacao”. What he knows about the Maya and cacao is how they used to prepare beverages and meals like the Puebla “mole”. “We have different tribes and culture but we learned about it in school and I experiences it myself while traveling south. Cacao is still a huge deal in south Mexico.”

 

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“Mole” Ingredients. Presilla, 2009

 

See the dozen or more ingredients to make the traditional “thick, baroque sauce, mole” from Xalapa, Veracruz (Presilla), north of Puebla state in Mexico. Presilla notes that each ingredient is “processed in sequence, each at its own time” (2009).

As the mole is diverse in ingredients, and rich in unique Mesoamerican culture, so too – as these contemporary perspectives have illustrated, are the people of the region diversely interwoven with it’s history and unique place on Earth’s sphere.

***

 

Sources:

Campbell, Lyle & Kaufman, Terrence. 1976. A Linguistic Look at the Olmecs: American Antiquity, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 80-89 Published by: Society for American Archaeology http://www2.hawaii.edu/~lylecamp/LC%20Lx%20look%20at%20Olmecs%20JSTOR.pdf

Cheong, Kong (Powis, T.; Cyphers, A.; Gaikwad, T.W.; Grivetti, L.) 2011. Cacao use and the San Lorenzo Olmec: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 108(21):8595-600 · May 2011 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51110764_Cacao_Use_and_the_San_Lorenzo_Olmec

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

Johnston, Bernice. 1997. The Seri Indians of Sonora Mexico. The University of Arizona Press http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/onlinebks/SERIS/HISTORY.HTM

Liebig, Jason. 2012. Carlos V – Building a history for the King of Chocolate Bars http://www.collectingcandy.com/wordpress/?p=2958

Martin, Carla. 2017 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. February 1st, pp.23, 47, 53, 57

Mintz, Sidney. 1986 [1985] Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books

Morton, Marcia and Frederic. 1986 Chocolate, An Illustrated History Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY

Nestlé. 2017. https://www.nestle.com.mx/brands/carlos-v

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology: Harvard University. 2017. https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/node/287

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

Smithsonian Institute. 2017. Olmec Stone Heads photo: http://anthropology.si.edu/olmec/english/sites/sanLorenzo.htm

Takushi, Scott (Pioneer Press). 2013, December 17. Museum of Belize and House of Culture: NEWSEUM Blog Spot: Belize’s Maya Collection on Displayhttps://mobnmoc.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/belizes-maya-collection-on-display/mayaex1/

Unknown photographer; featured image. 2016, October – November. Nexos. https://americanwaymagazine.com/cacao-route

Unknown photographer; chocolate as beauty regimen image. 2017. The Spa At The Hotel Hershey. http://www.chocolatespa.com/treatments/signature/chocolate.php

From Gene to Bean to Bar: A Tour from USDA Research to Castronovo Chocolate

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Photo of Display at Castronovo Chocolate literally from beans to bars.

I spent a day and a half visiting both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Miami and Castronovo Chocolate, a 700 square foot chocolate factory, 2 hours north of Miami located in Stuart Florida. This posting tells the story of the morning with Mike Winterstein, an agricultural research technician at the USDA and of the afternoon and following morning, spent with Denise Castronovo, an artisan chocolate maker and the owner of Castronovo Chocolate.

It is my opinion that both the USDA and Castronovo are part of solution to problems we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

First Stop: USDA Agricultural Research Subtropical Station

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Photo: Mike Winterstein is the Agricultural Research Technician at the USDA Agricultural Sub Tropical Research Service,  He is from Long Island New York, moved to Florida in 1974, as a farmer, and joined the USDA in 1994.

As a grower, Mike maintains plants, going out into the fields and taking care of them from planting to germinating etc.  Indoors, he also formats and stores data, maintaining data on the USDA websites.  Mike works with other researchers verifying collections.  The USDA genome research is publically available.  You can order a species, 13,000 are available, from the USDA for the cost of shipping and the phytosanitary certificate verifying the plant is free of all pathogens ($50 ) The big five crops for the USDA are wheat, rice, soybean, corn and cotton.  However at the station in Miami the primary crops being studied are avocado, mango and cacao, and interestingly also sugar cane.  To paraphrase, Mike, “Even though cacao is not really grown in the US, yes, some is in Puerto Rico (Mayaguez has the main cacao collection) and Hawaii, the research and the storing of the genome and plants are important because lots and lots of jobs in the US are tied into chocolate from the manufacture, to the infrastructure, to the advertising/marketing to the consumption.”

The research at the USDA is funded primarily by the US Government.  CRIS the Current Resource Information System https://reeis.usda.gov/reports-and-documents/cris-reports/cris-overview. Is the “documentation and reporting system for ongoing agricultural, food and nutrition, and forestry research.”

The research is funded through farm bills, approved by Congress and thus is really funded by the US taxpayer.  The USDA is a government agency, funding for research changes (due to changing taste and politics), research is at the mercy of the government.  In the new farm bill you can look up the research being done on specialty crops. Here is the link for 2017 http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/fy17budsum.pdf and a link for programs possible being dropped in 2018 http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/path-to-the-2018-farmbill-stranded-programs/  and another link  from the Council of State Governments for 2018 as proposed by President Trump:  http://www.csg-erc.org/blog/2017/04/10/first-look-president-trumps-usda-budget-2018/

The History

The USDA in Miami started with “The Boys”. (See photo) Walter Tennyson Swingle, (1871-1952)  who graduated from Kansas State at age 16 and had an obsession with chasing citrus (there was no citrus industry yet in Florida, but there was a potential for the crop. http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/wtswingle/. Swingle taught himself Mandarin Chinese and German and went looking for crops that could be successful in the US.  He persuaded Henry Flagler, the man who brought his railroad to South Florida, thus opening Florida for development, to give the USDA an acre of land along Biscayne Bay for a lab to study plant disease.  Swingle also persuaded Mary Brickell to give 6 acres to use as a plant introduction site.  The donation was not accepted, but a lease was negotiated.  Plant Explorer, David Fairchild, the same David Fairchild who brought the cherry trees to Washington, D.C.’s tidal basin, is another major player in the history. He sought a piece of land for its climate, not just for the land.

Where the USDA sits today is not shielded by barrier islands.  It receives the warm gulf stream, and because there are no barrier islands, the Atlantic Ocean retains the warmth of the gulf stream, creating a climate fit for cacao.  The land, it is believed,  has always been frost free (important for all subtropical fruits and vegetation).

Viktor Emmanuel Chapman was the first aviator to be killed in France in WWI on November 15, 1918. He trained on this same sight, what is now known as Chapman field with America’s first “Fly Boys” who flew, before the US entered WWI, for the French Foreign Legion in the American Escadrille.  The history of the USDA station at Chapman field in Miami and the breadth of agricultural research currently being done at the USDA subtropical agricultural research center is fascinating and complex.

For more detail of the history see: https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-area/miami-fl/subtropical-horticulture-research/docs/a-century-of-research-with-usda-in-miami/

1 The Boys

The USDA Mission in Miami is to:

1. Introduce a broad genetic base for tropical and subtropical horticultural crops believed to have economic potential in warm humid regions of the United States or its territories.

2. Evaluate the introduced populations for their genetic structure, horticultural variation, and botanical characteristics.
3. Preserve a diverse sub-set representing a broad genetic base for each crop.
4. Distribute the material to research scientist, botanical gardens, nurserymen and parks as is appropriate.

The National Germplasm Repository (NGR) is one of eighteen such repositories in the NPGS. The NGR-Miami shares responsibility with Mayaguez – Puerto Rico, for maintaining the U.S. clonal collections of mango, avocado, banana and plantain, tropical citrus, annonas, sugarcane and related grasses, palms, Tripsacum, and a few other relatively minor tropical crops.

Germplasm Holdings: 

The NGR-Miami maintains approximately 6000 accessions. Most the holdings (3500) are in the major fruit and grass collections. The remaining 2500 accessions are ornamental, chemurgic, and spice introductions from tropical and subtropical areas of the world. These plants are a unique collection and requests for material come from many scientific disciplines. Small quantities of germplasm are distributed to bona fide scientists for research purposes.” Not true anymore:  the germ plasm is available to landscapers, botanists, landscape architects, nurseries, as well as bona fide researchers.

Cacao is held at the NGR Miami and has been important both to deal with diseases:  witches broom, frost pod, bitofera, pests, parasites, fungus, etc.  benefitting cacao producers worldwide, but also because “significant quantities of milk, sugar, peanuts, almonds, and other materials produced in the U.S. go into the making of chocolate products. The station is one of two quarantine facilities for cacao in the western hemisphere that serve to keep diseases from moving into the area”.  The station also does research for Mars with Mars scientists.  They have sensors monitoring trees for nitrogen, sunlight, humidity etc. monitoring conditions to be able to help cacao farmers in Indonesia.  The cacao is grown in an area that was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp -think the Depression and the New Deal) cement walls that look like Mayan ruins absorb the heat keeping the area warmer.

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Mike will hand pollinate a cacao tree, by collecting pollen at the beginning of the day., The next morning he takes the anther’s off, so the tree can not self pollinate, and he brings the pollen, using a Q-tip or tiny paint brush from another tree.  He said  that when he brings the pollen he sees a little spurt.  Wire mesh to keep rats and mice away are around the trees.

Kathleen Martinez, a researcher at the USDA doing Mars research, took me inside the lab.  I was not allowed to photograph inside.  I was shown how leaf material is organized for genome sequencing.  Kathleen explained pipeters, fill tips, DNA samples, working in small quantities, then working on a plate, sequencing 96 samples on 32 plates , PCR amplifying samples, like 96 little needles into a capillary system, with florescent probes, Single nucleotyde polymorphism genotyping, looking for one single change in the genotyping, 96 samples and 96 markers ,fluidigm EPT.  She talked about raw data, XX meaning homozygous, XY meaning heterozygous, allele.  Basically, taking a physical trait linking that trait to a genotype associating it to a phenotype to predict the physotype.  I was shown how the researchers use the centrifuge to remove the cell wall to get clear DNA, some scientists use the plate method and do 40 samples in a day.  Extractions are done all day long.  I was shown the lypholizer, how the water is removed from the fresh leaf keeping the leaf material for long term storage minus 80 degrees C.  Leaves being worked with regularly are stored at minus 20 degrees C.  The autoclave sterilizes all equipment with heat.  Everything is reused.  Tips are cleaned in bleach.  UV cross linker sterilization washed with ethanol then the UV cross linker sterilizer microwave.

Cacao bred to be resistant to disease that tastes well, horrid, CCN51, is now being bred again,  for flavor. I do not know how much research is being done on flavor at this site.

 “The next time you drive by Chapman Field or enjoy a fine bar of chocolate, ponder the centuries of work that have gone into the making. Agriculture is always a struggle and it never ends.  The climate will change, diseases ravage, breeding lines narrow and humans crave something new.  Behind that fence along Old Cutler [road] is a battleground on which the survival of one of mankind’s most iconic crops depends”

Richard Campbell in Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume

Plant_Science_HD2Photo from USDA website

From Gene to Bean to Bar: Visiting Castronova Chocolate

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The timing of my 2nd visit to Castronovo Chocolate was serendipitous:  I got to see the cacao beans arrive. The driver who delivers them brings them inside and is thanked by Denise with one of her chocolate frozen drinks.

Denise Castronovo is a fine chocolate maker.  Originally from Massachusetts, she went to Lehigh University for her Bachelors and Masters in Environmental Science and Economics, then for 2 years she did her PH.d coursework in Ecology in the Botany Department at the University of Georgia. During her undergraduate years she had visited Costa Rica to study the rainforest. In Florida, she started her own mapping technology consulting business.   She has always been interested in sustainable development and conservation.  At the time she was in Costa Rica, eco-tourism was beginning to grow.  Her studies in Economics linked conservation and the environment.  She was interested in monitoring reforestation using aerial satellite imagery.

In her home life, Denise wanted healthy eating for herself and  for her family, (husband and two young children).  She became interested in superfoods, foods high in anti- oxidants, acai, goji berries.  When she went to Whole Foods and bought cocoa nibs she  became amazed by the flavor notes and chocolate and decided to learn all about chocolate.   All her life was excellent preparation for the opening 5 years ago of her chocolate factory and store.

What Denise is successfully creating and growing parallels the societal changes reflected in the American Artisan and Craft Chocolate time line by Carla Martin, Ph.d Chocolate, The Politics of Culture and Food, Harvard Extension. And just as in France, in American society  today it appears that the food movement is valuing artisan craft makers, (perhaps the consumers are of a certain economic level)  turning to slow, small batch chocolate, that we too are part of a changing culture of chocolate consumption. (See Carla D. Martin-Kathryn E. Sampeck)

Denise’s mission is to raise awareness of chocolate by offering unique varietals of chocolate and flavors, heirloom varieties that are endangered,  to create a market that will preserve the diversity of cacao.  see http://hcpcacao.org    On her website she has written: “Reclaiming the craft of bean to bar chocolate making. At a glance, all chocolate-making looks the same: beans are cultivated and fermented, roasted and ground, sweetened and sold. Large-scale chocolate manufacturers have optimized this process for mass production. The unfortunate result: flat, uninspired, expressionless chocolate – the taste has been engineered out of the bar!
We salute the few, craft chocolate makers that are taking time and care with each part of the chocolate making process, releasing the full potential of the bean; those who are supporting careful farming and fermentation, the ones who ensure farmers are paid a fair wage through an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and those who skillfully grind, roast, and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence.

We at Castronovo Chocolate are in relentless pursuit of discovering the absolute depths of the chocolate experience knowing full well we may never get there. But along the way, we can all enjoy a bar of the most flavorful chocolate you can find.

Denise receives positive feedback from her customers.  She loves to watch them try a truffle at the store, because most have never had anything quite like the ones she makes. One customer has told her that her truffles are better than any he ever had in Brussels.

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She is succeeding as shown by the numerous  international awards she has already won. As she said modestly “I am winning awards with Bonnat, how incredible!”

International Award-winning Chocolate

Sierra Nevada Dark Milk 63%

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Dominican Republic Dark Milk 50%

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Academy of Chocolate Silver Winner Castronovo Sierra Nevada 72%

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Academy of Chocolate Gold Winner Castronovo Chocolate Maya Mountain Belize 72%

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Academy of Chocolate Silver Winner Castronovo Chocolate Lemon White with Lemon Salt

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Academy of Chcocolate Bronze Winner Castronovo Chocolate Amazonas 72%

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 The Process

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photo of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier Chocolate Map with Descriptions copyright 2012-2015

For a complete description of the chocolate making process see http://expertenough.com/973/chocolate  Both are much like Denise’s process.

Denise with her two employees, wearing gloves, sorts the beans, the beans go on trays.   She roasts them in a convection oven (not in a coffee roaster). A roast of 15 trays is approx. 5 1/2 pounds.  She has a loss (shrinkage) of about 30%. Next she winnows the beans which crack and separate the nibs and shell.  The vacuum suction takes the lighter weight nibs to the bottom.  Again she handsets, making sure there is no shell.  Shell is dirty, having bacteria.  The beans roast at 250 to 270 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.  killing the bacteria.  She does her grinding and mixing in a melanger.  For milk chocolate sugar is added and milk powder.  Her melanger has 2 big granite wheels and a granite bottom.  She does about 90 pounds of chocolate in 3 -4 days.  10,00 in a year.  Refining, Conching and TemperingIMG_0200

Tempering – creating stable crystals.  Denise uses the seeding method.

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an example of a badly tempered bar.

Denise mentioned how clean the beans are from Honduras.  Obviously leaves, twigs, rocks especially are not good for the juicer.  One can hear the rock in the juicer and must pull it out!

Everything in the shop smells so good, the aroma hits you as soon as you enter the door. All the volatile compounds come out mellowing the chocolate.   Denise has a chocolate library, pours the chocolate into hotel pans, pours it into blocks and then uses air conditioned cooling.

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Sample Packaging.

Castronovo chocolates may do more flavored bars in the future, she does 2 right now with coffee.  But the focus will remain on single origin bars.

BEANS

Some of her beans are sourced from the wild.  Her beans from the Sierra Nevada and Honduras are wild.  Beans in her Patenemo, Venezuelan bar are not quite as wild, as they are grown by subsistence farmers.  She sees herself as a small fish in a big pond, but by joining with other craft makers there will be an impact. source: http://www.castronovochocolate.com

If you take the time to look at each Castronovo chocolate bar, read the label: you will see the % of cacao, the type, where it is sourced, a story about the cacao and its origin and flavor notes, and a batch number.

The flavors of chocolate begin with the farming, with the soil, the climate, the elevation, the tree, perhaps the spacing, and then with the process: the harvesting, the fermenting the addition of sugar (or not) or milk (or not) and all the steps leading to the bar . Certain beans, the varietal of chocolate will grow better in one place than another. The difference between a single origin chocolate maker and large companies, is the same as the difference between agriculture and viticulture for wine.  Agriculture seeks standardization, uniformity, high yield and consistency on as large a scale as possible.  With single bar origin done well, the taste brings a sense of connection to the place from which the bean came.  It is “perhaps the most elusive of these concepts and the most difficult to ascertain.  It is the sense you get from …aroma and flavor that could not have come from just anywhere but rather the embodiment of a single piece of earth.  Connectedness makes a thing different and therefore worthy of appreciation. ”

Acknowledgement:

Both Mike and Denise are incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, passionate and generous.  Thank you both for the time you spent with me, guiding me through your factory and your fields and for the information and  the chocolate Denise fed me!  I am enormously grateful.  Thank you Kathleen Martinez for showing me the lab and for making the chocolate genetics research more understandable.

Disclosure:  Next blog post, I would like to make a comparison between wine and chocolate as my husband is a 30 year wine industry consultant, specializing in artesan vintners.  participating in this course through learning about chocolate, and now enthralled with the history, politics, culture, and taste of chocolate (and other foods) has heightened for me the parallels between wine and chocolate.

Sources:

Campbell, R.  Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume 8.

Castronovo, D. , Castronovo Chocolate Factory, Stuart, Florida, conversations and texts May 2017. and website: http://www.castronovochocolate.com

Kiel, K. & Ornelas, K.,200, “North America from 1492 to the Present- Recent Developments in Foodways” The Cambridge World History of Food, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, p. 1320.

Leissle, K, Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 22-31 Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22 .

Martin, Carla D. and  Sampek, Kathryn E , The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. DOI: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.

MacNeil, K. , The Wine Bible,  2001, Workman Publishing, New York.

Martinez, K., Subtropical Research Geneticist, USDA ARS, Miami,  Florida, lab research tour, May 2017

Sethi, S. 2017, “Origin Made Chocolate: The Bars to Beat”, Wall Street Journal, web Feb 9, 2017.

Williams, P. & Eber, J., 2012,”To Market to Market: Craftsmanship,Customer Education, and Flavor Raising the Bar The Future of Fine Chocolate, pp 143- 209, Vancouver, BC Wilmor Publishing.

Winterstein, M. USDA ARS, Miami,  Florida, conversations and emails, May 2017

Websites:

Council of State Governments, http://www.csg-erc.org/blog/2017/04/10/first-look-president-trumps-usda-budget-2018/

Expert Enough Blog http://expertenough.com/973/chocolate

Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund http://finechocolateindustry.org/hcp

Jean Marie Auboine Handcrafted Chocolate Map https://www.jmauboinechocolates.com//

UM Walter Swingle information http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/wtswingle/

USDA Agricultural Research website https://www.ars.usda.gov

USDA GRIN System: http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/

USDA Station History:https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-area/miami-fl/subtropical-horticulture-research/docs/history-of-chapman-field/

USDA https://reeis.usda.gov/reports-and-documents/cris-reports/cris-overview.

The Devolution of My Favorite Chocolate

Chocolate is the extraordinary and laborious product from cacao, processed into a gem for indulgence to all who enjoy eating it! As I reminisced about the early years of my life living in my beloved Venezuela, I thought fondly about the piece of chocolate that every Venezuelan loves to have: the medium-sized, lustrous ball of rich milk chocolate with a hazelnut inside that is an icon to Venezuela’s history of chocolate and culture – Toronto, made by Savoy. Sadly, the Toronto is no longer as exquisite as it used to be; its quality started decreasing in the 90s.  Savoy is an established chocolate company in Venezuela. In this country, the quality of the chocolate industry has gradually declined when the political and economic faces of the country started to change more notoriously and up to this day, they are still carrying severe consequences. How is it possible that for Venezuela, a country that produces the best cacao in the world, the quality of manufacturing chocolate is decreasing?

I believe that this is a political issue and to understand it, it is important to refer to the political history of Venezuela in the last twenty years. There has always been corruption in the Venezuelan government. However, Venezuelans have endured very radical challenges in the political, social and economic areas since the late president Hugo Chavez took office in 1998 who was followed by his successor Nicolas Maduro. It has been with this duo and their political and economic policies that have broken the foundation, the base, the pillars and the structure that sustain the country and its citizens. Many of the main issues that are seen today are caused by the dramatic massive inflation rates that soar every day, aggravated by the devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, el bolivar (1B). The threat of a steadily devaluating currency brought fears of massive capital fight and flight to quality (BBC2013).  In theory, the government offered businesses the purchase of the “preferential dollar”, which in other words is American dollars at a much lower and fixed rate than what is sold in the black market. However, when businesses submitted the requirements to obtain the currency to import materials and goods, the actual truth came out: there is no such preferential dollar. This policy was built on lies so that business owners were forced to purchase dollars in the black market so that they could supposedly import the goods as well as purchase materials and ingredients for production.

Although Venezuela’s oil revenue was so lucrative during the Chavez administration and his predecessor’s administration, Carlos Andres Perez, Chavez proclaimed cacao as a very strategic national product in 2010 (Sputnick 2010). Yet, the economies of these two products are incomparable because of their quantity production, time and revenues.  Venezuela is known as the country with the best cacao of the world and owning the most precious and the most sought of all: the criollo. Maricel Prescilla, author of The New Taste of Chocolate, states “it is one of the most harmonious and symphonic cacaos. Even the lowliest cacao in Venezuela is fine cacao” (2015). The criollo cacao is cultivated mainly in the town of Chuao which is comprised of a small village of fishermen and it is reachable only by boat from the coastal shores of Choroni. In the class Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food at Harvard Extension School, Dr. Carla Martin lectures students about the unique experience of this farm where the process of criollo cacao is still processed as it was done in the 1500s and 1600s, all through manual work. It is important to know that Venezuela has various regions of cacao farms and not all these farms are equally the same. They vary in climate, geography, care, irrigation, geology and soil conditions that interact with the plant’s genetics. This concept is called Terroir; different terroir, different flavors in chocolate (spring 2017).

I recently spoke with Mr. Victor Guama, a cocoa worker in one of Chuao’s cacao farms. During the phone conversation, he informed me about the process used on this cacao, which is mainly done by women. It is also very important to note that Chuao has many cacao farms where the employees have been and continue to be comprised of generations of families. It seems that they are born to carry on the tradition! He happily says that his mother worked in the cacao fields for forty-four years and his aunt has been working there for thirty-three years. I can sense the pride in his voice when he said that they “are so proud to work for the best and finest cacao in the world, especially when it is produced in our hometown of Chuao, Venezuela. It is very hard work, and we care about it.” In the farm, there are approximately 124 women who harvest the cacao pods, extract the seeds and pulp, begin the fermentation cycle, put them to dry in the sun, and sort and bag the beans so that they can be transported by the 10 men who do the heavy lifting in the farm. Sophie and Michael Coe, authors of The True History of Chocolate write “through fermentation and drying , the cacao’s pulp-surrounded seeds are converted into nibs ready for roasting and grinding into chocolate liquor (105)” Interestingly, Victor also informed me that 75% of the cacao production is sold by contracts to Europe, especially in France and 25% stays in Chuao to make artisanal chocolate. Victor proudly talks about the excellent quality of the criollo cacao harvested in this area, pointing out that the key of its fine quality and distinctive flavor is due to the irrigation system done with the water coming down from the river. Surprisingly, he also said that as cacao workers, the previous administrations before president Chavez never provided job security and benefits to the workers, but Chavez did. Sadly, Chavez’s successor, president Nicolas Maduro eliminated them. These cacao workers are uncared for and underprivileged because the income they receive does not compensate the amount of work and hours they put into the process of the best cacao in the world, especially during the current regimen and difficult time that Venezuela is going through.

Whether or not Savoy produces its own cacao is unknown, however, since 2012 they offer Plan-Cacao Nestle as an integral support program to cacao producers that encircles the producer, family and community as it is shown in its website. Although it presents a list of objectives, it projects vague information. Savoy claims in its website that they make their chocolates with the best cacao in the world, but this claim leads to unanswered questions such as where the cacao comes from.

I would look at Savoy’s history. Savoy opened its doors in Caracas, Venezuela in 1941 by three Swiss brothers.  In 1988, Nestlé, a transnational corporation, acquired Savoy and substituted the original crown logo above the name of Savoy for the Nestlé logo on all the packaging. The Savoy company is considered a Venezuelan patrimony and is the primary chocolate company.  Even with the decline in quality in recent decades, Savoy chocolates continue to be loved by consumers. Although there is a significant difference between the chocolates that were manufactured more than twenty years ago versus those that are manufactured today, I believe that the problem is not the cacao itself, but more so the quality of the manufacturing process of the various products. It is here where the politics of food plays a very important role in the production and quality control of Savoy manufacturing because the true ingredients are not available. Regardless, there are very noticeable characteristics in the chocolate that a fine Venezuelan chocolate bar should not have which are shown in the image below such as white marks and a bland brown color.

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Image One

           Through the years of the industrialization of chocolate, Savoy is well known for the following products: Cri-Cri, made of crispy rice covered with chocolate, Bolero, a crunchy corn covered with chocolate, and Ping-Pong, the classic crunchy peanut covered in chocolate. Yet, the most popular of all the products is Toronto. It is the one that most Venezuelans, especially those living out of the country, remember with excitement and nostalgia.  It is the one that brings memories of relationships between family, friends, school and communities to our lives. It is the one that is always well-received as a gift from relatives and friends coming from Venezuela. I clearly remember the original Toronto as a very rich, fine milk chocolate bombón with a very smooth texture and an impressive satin look that had a deep brown colored hazelnut inside. It melted in my mouth as I ate it, leaving a very pleasant and savoring flavor in my mouth. It was my favorite chocolate! Sadly, this was then. The new Toronto made today from the 90s is tasteless, dry on the outside, and greasy on the inside. It has a boring, bland brown color, breaks into pieces when in my mouth, and its size continues to shrink. Again, a fine piece of Venezuelan chocolate should not have traces of white marks inside as shown in the image below- it almost seems as if the chocolate is old.

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Image Two

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OugG5n6jC9g

          There is a large difference between the two eras of Savoy’s chocolate making. My daughter’s generation enjoy and love the new Toronto! When I narrate to them the Toronto of my time, which I used to eat with so much pleasure, they cannot make a connection because they have never tried it and most likely never will. A Savoy retail store located in what used to be a very popular commercial and residential area of Caracas called Boulevard Sabana Grande, used to sell bags of “recortes de chocolate” or “chunks of chocolate.” They were sold by the kilo in clear cellophane bags wrapped in a bow at the top. My job’s office was on the same street side where this Savoy store was and I never failed to buy several bags every quincena or 15 days. Savoy has a long-lived trajectory of a great market and loyal customers who are very proud of these chocolates. Savoy’s trademark, “Con Sabor Venezolano” or “With Venezuelan Flavor” still lays under the oversized Savoy billboard above a building that overlooks the main highway in Caracas, Venezuela. This Savoy sign is equivalent to what the Citgo sign means to Boston!

savoy highway   savoy billboard

                                 (a)                                                                            (b)

    Image Three

Savoy remains the chocolate choice of the Venezuelans. They are proud to have an industry that has continuously worked for 75 years, especially since Hugo Chavez expropriated thousands of international investments and production companies in the country, including our own oil companies.

The journalist Ileana Magual from El Universal newspaper writes “One of the icons and jewel in the crown of Venezuelan gastronomy is the cacao, known to be the best in the world. Talking about Venezuela is talking about our unbeatable cacao, our gold vegetable. It used to be shipped, turned into a beverage, and used as an offering and currency by our first settlers who called it ‘the money that grows on trees’” (2015). I hope that the future of the Venezuelan cacao will never vanish because it is a heritage of the land with fertile soil and infinite roots in the trees.  As Marisel Presilla writes “where there is cacao, there is life. No tree has more to teach us than cacao, when we take the trouble to see it in its own environmental and biological context (7).” Cacao is the gross domestic product that makes the economy of cacao communities and their generations work for the love of cacao. Based on my research, I do not believe that Savoy uses Venezuelan cacao made in places such as Chuao, however, it could be possible that their chocolates would improve in quality if they did. I wish that my daughter’s generation and the generations to come will someday experience the delightful pleasure of eating the real Toronto just as I dream of Venezuela returning back to the versatile and stable country it once was. Until then, I will continue searching for the chocolate that reminds me of all the fond memories from my childhood in Venezuela!

 

 

 

Works Cited

S.D., Coe, 2013; M. D., Coe,  2013.  The True History of Chocolate. London, Thames   & Hudson, Ltd

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of      Cacao with Recipes. New York: Teen Speed Press, 2009. pg., 7

 

Prof. Carla Martin.  Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Personal Communication.  Harvard Extension School. Spring 2017.

 

Victor Guama. Telephone interview.  May 6, 2017.

 

 

 

Multimedia Sources

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. 2013, March 6. Analysis: How Hugo Chavez changed Venezuela. Retrieved from

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-15240081

“Chávez Proclama Cacao “Producto Estratégico” Para Venezuela” 1-11-2010. Retrieved from

https://mundo.sputniknews.com/economia/20101101147829658/

Dreier H., and Marquez V. 2015, April 29. Venezuela produces some of the world’s best chocolate. But profiting from it is another story. Retrieving from

https://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/04/29/export-freeze-sows-bitterness-in-venezuela-chocolate-trade

Magual, Ileana. 2015, May 19. Venezuelan cocoa, the best in the world. Retrieved from

http://www.eluniversal.com/aniversario/anniversary/150519/venezuelan-cocoa-the-best-in-the-world

Image # 1  Carré Savoy. Retrieved from https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/9d/13/4a/9d134af30b854da562d9ba74314b3802.jpg

Image # 2   Toronto Savoy. Retrieved from http://www.cuandoerachamo.com/wp-content/uploads/historia-del-toronto.jpg

 

Image # 3  Savoy billboard

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/logopedia/images/3/3e/Sede-caracas-2000s.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20160213204241

Chocolate Lessons: Knowledge Gleaned from Chocolate Bars Sold in the Natural Foods Aisle

On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year or a little less than a quarter pound of chocolate per week. A typical chocolate bar ranges from 1.5-3.5 ounces. Therefore, 12 pounds of chocolate equates to enjoying 55-128 chocolate bars (depending on its size) per year! It is safe to say, for better or for worse, chocolate has become an integral part of the American diet.

Historically, chocolate was consumed for medicinal purposes, primarily as a source of nourishment and energy. Today, the developed world struggles with being simultaneously over nourished and malnourished from an imbalanced diet. Nevertheless, chocolate health claims persist, usually in reference to darker chocolates. Beneficial properties of cocoa include antioxidant, cardiovascular, and psychological enhancement, which are linked to its polyphenol, flavanol, and caffeine content (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson, 2013). These health claims are not present on chocolate bar labels, though.

In the last couple of decades, food packaging has actually become quite informationally dense. How can you sift through all of the information on chocolate labels to know what’s really important? Additionally, what can we learn from a chocolate bar’s packaging, besides its nutritional content? The goal of this blog post is to help decipher the various symbols, certification meanings, and key words that appear on chocolate wrappers.

Ultimately, you, as the consumer, have to decide what is important to you and what you are looking for in your chocolate purchases, not only in terms of taste but also social responsibility. Equipping yourself with the knowledge to know what to look for, and what symbols, certifications, and other words on chocolate packages mean, makes informed chocolate purchases a much smoother process and ensures you have the best chocolate buying experience possible. Before chocolate tasting can become embodied knowledge, it requires repetition in order to pick up on flavor nuances of single origin chocolate or to be able to tell if a chocolate bar was made with over-roasted cacao beans. In the same way, learning the stories and processes behind the chocolate you are eating requires some research, occasionally beyond the label itself.

I studied the chocolate bars in the natural foods aisle of a Stop & Shop grocery store in the greater Boston area to see what information could be gleaned from the chocolate labels within this section. I did not include enrobed chocolate candies within this aisle, “regular” chocolate bars (i.e., Hershey’s) in the main candy aisle or those present in the checkout lanes. I chose to focus on the chocolate bars within the natural foods aisle because, typically, these brands offer more information and stories about cacao procurement, processing, and its impact on people or the environment, whereas chocolate produced by most Big Five brands only provide nutritional information on the back of the wrapper. The Big Five chocolate brands include well-known companies: Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle, and Ferrero (Allen, 2010).

The type of consumer who shops for chocolate in the natural foods aisle is most likely not just looking for a sugar fix because there are cheaper ways to meet that need. The intended audience includes individuals who may be interested in supporting social or environmental causes, and who are probably health conscious, even though it is still chocolate. Additionally, he or she may have a sophisticated or informed palate, and prefer quality chocolate with nuanced flavors. The natural foods aisle typically offers products that are slightly more expensive than its conventional counterparts, so the consumer is not making his or her choice of chocolate based solely on price point. Rather, the consumer possibly has a higher disposable income and is able to spend two or three times as much money on a chocolate bar from this section than on chocolate from one of the large chocolate corporations previously mentioned.

The natural foods aisle in Stop & Shop offers eight different brands of chocolate bars: Chocolove XOXOX, Green & Black’s, Divine, Theo, TCHO, LILY’s, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Alter Eco. These bars are being sold for $2.50-$3.99, with Chocolove XOXOX being the cheapest because it was on sale. Divine, LILY’s, and Alter Eco lands at the upper end of the options. The TCHO 70% dark chocolate bar usually retails for $4.29, but happened to be on sale. Still, these are moderately priced “good” chocolate bars compared to other specialty chocolate companies and retailers who sell their bars for about double the price. The juxtaposition of these brands, with a $1.00 (or less) Hershey’s chocolate bar, provides an interesting comparison in both price and taste.

The eight brands offer bars in a variety of flavors ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate with the option of added fruit or nut pieces. The white chocolate selection was nonexistent in this section at this particular grocery store. However, just for informational purposes, one brand (outside of the eight focused on here) does contribute a white chocolate peanut butter cup.

Just a few of the brands provide chocolate bars made from single origin cacao, which might be a more common provision at specialty retail stores. Both TCHO and Divine use Ghanaian cacao, and Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from Ecuador. Chocolove XOXOX states on the back of the wrapper that their Belgian chocolate bars are crafted with African cocoa beans. This somewhat vague statement only alludes to the fact that their beans do not come from Central or South America, or Southeast Asia but could be sourced from one or more of the cacao producing countries within the large continent of Africa. Additionally, Green & Black’s credits Trinitario cacao beans for giving their chocolate a rich and unique flavor profile. Trinitario cacao beans are thought to embody the best qualities of its genetic parents, the Criollo and Forastero varieties, with the hybrid cacao being both hardy and possessing a nice flavor profile (Prisilla, 2009). Likewise, the purpose of brands specifying single origin or the use of a single cacao variety suggests an increase in quality or flavor characteristics that add value to the end product. Thus, the price of these types of bars is usually slightly higher compared to mixed bean origin or variety, and especially compared to bulk cacao.

There are a few things that stand out upon taking a closer look at the packages. First, Alter Eco is the only brand that uses a cardboard packaging to house its chocolate. All of the other brands wrap their bars in a glossy paper. In both cases, the chocolate is likely sealed in foil before receiving either the glossy paper or cardboard outer wrapper. While the outer cardboard layer looks visually appealing and feels nice to the touch, it also makes the bar appear larger than it actually is. The 2.8 ounce Alter Eco chocolate bar looks bigger than the 3 ounce LILY’S bar sitting next to it on the shelf, as the image shows below. Thus, most consumers probably believe they are purchasing a larger chocolate bar if they do not read the front of the package and realize the chocolate bar is smaller by weight than some other options.

FullSizeRender-2 2
Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

Like several other brands, Theo includes a brief description about the company and their procurement and processing practices on the back of the package. Here, Theo shares it is a bean to bar chocolate company, which means the company purchases the fermented and dried cacao beans, and then carries out each of the remaining processing steps (about 10) from roasting to packaging, according to their unique preferences. Thus, the company oversees the entire chocolate making process and can tweak each batch according to its needs and the desired outcome, making it a true craft.

Green & Black’s label does not readily offer information about the company’s processing practices other than it uses fair trade and organic ingredients. Interestingly, the backside of the label does say Mondelez Global LLC distributes Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Mondelez is one of the largest global snack food companies and now owns Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies. Last year, Mondelez even attempted to acquire the Hershey Company, but Hershey declined the offer (Bukhari, 2017). Thus, Mondelez is a significant player within the global food system. This association alone may deter some consumers from purchasing Green & Black’s chocolate.

Another unexpected but perhaps pioneering find is LILY’s, whose chocolate bars are sweetened with the natural sweetener, Stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Additionally, LILY’s adds inulin, a fiber commonly used as a bulking agent. These are not traditional chocolate bar ingredients, but perhaps the fewer calories and grams of sugar allow individuals with specific dietary restrictions to still purchase fair trade chocolate. The bar also boasts that it is still “100% indulgent.”

Before dissecting the chocolate bars’ various certifications, I want to look at Divine’s commitment to its producers. In the West, chocolate consumption has long been feminized, associated with temptation and indulgence (Robertson, 2009). Women are important as both chocolate consumers and producers, something Divine has recognized. The two images above depict Divine’s pledge to support the female cacao farmers within Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-operative) in Ghana and make sure their voices are heard. In doing so, these female business owners are positioned as powerful actors within the cacao and chocolate industries, rather than being viewed as exploited workers in an underdeveloped country (Leissle, 2012). This has significant implications not only for the female producers, but also culturally, and for future standards within the chocolate industry.

This final section includes a brief discussion on food certifications. Fair trade certification is the most popular certification that the eight brands feature. Other certifications that appear on the chocolate wrappers include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, Kosher (dairy), Fair for Life, and rBST free. I was surprised I did not find the UTZ Certified symbol on any of the chocolate bars, since UTZ is the most common cacao certification related to sustainable farming practices.

Fair trade certifications can be represented in a variety of ways depending on the party providing the certification. The images above show several different certifications present on the different brands’ packaging that symbolize the employment of fair trade practices. In order for a product to be labeled “fair trade,” all members of the processing chain (including producers) must pay into the fair trade system. As a result, producers are promised better trading conditions including long term relationships with buyers, garner presumably higher wages, have better working conditions, and live overall improved lives. However, many question whether this system is as transformative as it claims to be. The terms “fair trade” and “sustainable” have become ubiquitous, and the commodification of the terms also threatens their legitimacy (Sylla, 2014).

When thinking about food certifications, it is important to remember these certifications are neither all encompassing nor meant to solve all social or environmental issues with one label. Companies are now starting to launch their own certifications rather than going through a third party certification. It will be up to the individual company to define the criteria for “fair” or “sustainable,” or any new term it deems important. Whole Foods already uses its “Whole Trade Certified” label. Consequently, continuing to be an educated consumer will be extremely imperative in order to know what the certifications represent and what the companies stand for. It is unclear whether these self-certifications will be viewed as legitimate certifications or just add to the confusion many consumers feel when reading food labels.

While the objective of self-certification is to offer more affordable fair trade items to consumers, it raises the question of whether that should be the ultimate goal of selling fair trade products, and what the tradeoffs are for making fair trade more affordable and part of the mainstream? If large food conglomerates begin to self-regulate certifications, rather than paying third party companies, who is to say the consumer will actual benefit from the money saved? Historically, when the price of goods has dropped, large corporations scoop up the difference and pocket the extra profits, rather than decreasing the cost for the consumer (Albrittion, 2013). However, consumers still have the power to vote with their dollars.

The next time you peruse the chocolate selection within a store, feel empowered to study the information provided on the packaging (and conduct further research if needed) rather than being overwhelmed by various symbols and industry jargon.

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity And Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”. In Food And Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., 342-352. New York: Routledge.

Allen, Lawrence L. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For The Hearts, Minds, And Wallets Of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Bukhari, Jeff. 2017. “Why Investors Are Bingeing On Snack-Maker Mondelez”. Fortune.Com. http://fortune.com/2017/02/22/why-investors-are-bingeing-on-snack-maker-mondelez/.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. “Clinical Benefits Of Cocoa: A Review”. In Chocolate In Health And Nutrition, 1st ed., 265-276. Humana Press.

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194

Prisilla, Maricel E. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Chocolove: Premium or not?

chocolove 2

My chocolate obsession is a life-long craving I have had since I was very little and one that was definitely encouraged by my chocolate-loving father. I remember as a small child going to seven-eleven with my dad on a regular basis to indulge in the five cent candy bins. Contributing to my chocolate craze is that my birthday falls just before Halloween and therefore I always had Halloween/costume themed birthday parties that never were without a piñata filled with candy and chocolate. My favorite chocolate as a kid was Reese’s peanut butter cups, created in 1928. As a child of the 1980s and 1990s, bulk chocolate was what I indulged in and the only chocolate I knew. Now, in my thirties I continue to crave chocolate but my taste for it has evolved over the last 20 years, as has the market for chocolate. Nowadays, I tend to purchase my chocolate at higher end grocers and specialty stores. Until taking this chocolate class, I knew very little about the history, culture and politics of chocolate and knew nothing about the supply chain. Gaining valuable insight from the Harvard Extension School chocolate course, I now have some tools to analyze chocolate in terms of its quality. For this project I will analyze the ‘Chocolove’ chocolate company and my go-to chocolate bar in recent years, the Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar, which contains 55% cocoa content and claim’s to be of premium quality. I will examine this particular bar according to ingredients, bean quality and certifications to determine if this bar warrants the ‘premium’ label and meets the ethical standards being disseminated by the industry.

chocolove 1

In the U.S. for a product to be called “chocolate”, it must contain a minimum of fifteen percent liquor (Williams and Eber p170). Chocolate liquor, also called cocoa mass, is both the cocoa powder and the cocoa butter combined after the bean is harvested, fermented, dried, roasted, and grinded. Many times, additional cocoa butter will be added to the liquor in making chocolate. In evaluating the ingredients of the Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar made by Chocolove, let us first look at the ingredients section on the wrapper. In this particular bar, the ingredients are broken down into three key components: Dark chocolate (cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla) almonds, sea salt. Dark chocolate is a product of the prepared cacao beans that come from the cacao pods, a large colorful fruit found on the cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao).  One point of confusion for me prior to taking this course was the difference between Cacao and Cocoa? Many premium chocolate bars list their cacao percentage on their labels, but Chocolove lists its cocoa content. To clarify, cacao refers to the raw material that comes from the cacao tree while cocoa is the Anglicization of the word cacao and refers to the commodity once it is processed, as learned in our lecture by Carla Martin. In recent years, the use of the word cacao has increased as a way to connect the product to its historical links and to differentiate it from bulk commodity cocoa.

Cocoa-pod-on-a-dark-wooden-table-Stock-Photo-cocoa-cacao-bean

The Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar is 55% cocoa and therefore well above the minimum standard to be considered chocolate. It is also located in the “fine” and “premium” chocolate section of the store, suggesting to me that they must be of higher quality than the bulk chocolate made by the largest chocolate companies, namely Hershey, Mars, Ferrero and Nestle. When determining whether a chocolate is of premium quality, a definition for premium is needed. According to Williams and Eber there is no universal standard for premium chocolate and it can be whatever one claims it to be but it is widely understood that premium chocolate is linked with its cacao origin and percentage (p 168), as I have suggested above. In researching the source of Chocolove’s cacao, I discovered that the company is a chocolatier, rather than a chocolate maker. As a chocolatier, they buy finished Belgian chocolate and then melt it, re-temper it, add inclusions (nuts, fruit, etc.), pour it into molds, pop it out and wrap it in fine paper. In comparison, a chocolate maker makes their own chocolate from dried cacao beans and then proceeds to add other ingredients, etc.

Chocolove purchases its chocolate from Callabaut, a century old Belgian chocolate company that supplies premium quality chocolate to chefs and chocolatiers around the world and whose website says its chocolate is made with the best, sustainable beans of West Africa.  For much of the 20th century, “the place of manufacture became more important to appreciating chocolate than the place of origin” and thus (Leissle, p22) Belgian chocolate, where this product is made, stood out as desirable quality to consumer’s rather than the place of origin, say Ghana. In other words, chocolate’s flavor/style was organized by its place of manufacture which can be described as follows: “French (dark, heavy roast), Swiss (extra cocoa-butter creamy), Belgian (soft milk), British (caramel milk), and American (milky, slightly sour Hershey flavor)” (Leissle, 22-23). During the height of this period, other notions of  chocolate quality developed as well, such as Emma Robertson’s finding that it was believed that “the best qualities of cocoa come from the West Indies, South American and the East Indies” (p 74) rather than Africa which may be linked to racial discrimination due to the African ownership of these cacao farms vs. the white owners of the non-African cacao producing areas. Toward the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, single-origin chocolate has emerged as the leading quality in a craft chocolate market. Craft chocolate is a whole new dimension, whereby small-scale bean to bar chocolate production using vintage equipment is the newest and greatest thing (Martin and Sampeck, p53). While Chocolove is housed on the same shelves as craft chocolate companies, craft chocolate is in different class, entirely, and at a much higher price point.

The other factor to consider in quality, are the other ingredients in the bar. In this case, sugar, soy lecithin and vanilla are added. The type of sugar used in this bar is non-GMO beet sugar from Europe as claimed on Chocolove’s FAQs (https://www.chocolove.com/faq/). Chocolove uses this information as part of a marketing tool that appeals to individuals who are health conscience about the ways in which foods are grown.  In evaluating the amount of sugar added to this bar, the nutrition panel is very helpful, as it states the number of grams per serving size. As a caveat, one should be aware that there are no guidelines or rules for how companies determine a serving size. In this case, there are three servings in this 3.2 ounce bar. Each serving contains 11 grams of sugar. One must do a bit of math to determine the amount of sugar in the entire bar, which happens to be 33 grams or eight teaspoons. Recent Food and Drug Administration guidelines suggest limiting added sugar to less than 50 grams a day and less than 10% of your daily caloric intake (http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/11/sugar-is-the-devil). Upon realizing that this bar contains 30 grams of sugar, more than half of the FDA suggested daily limit, I am displeased with this finding as I tend to consume the entire bar in one sitting. I would guess that other chocolate bars with higher cocoa content would contain a lot less sugar, but in comparing other Chocolove bars with 65% and 70% cocoa content, this is not the case. They also contain high amounts of sugar.

I will also examine Chocolove’s sustainability and socially responsibility. They showcase an entire page of their website on this subject and have an additional “Chocolove social website” where one can go to more thoroughly engage in their programs and certifications. Chocolove works with several organizations and is engaged with a number of ways, but it is important to point out that these engagements do not affect the taste of Chocolove’s chocolate bars.

Fair trade, “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade” (Sylla, p64-65). This certification is highly sought after by ethically conscience high-end chocolate connoisseurs. Chocolove offers three of its 30 distinct bars as Fair trade chocolate and do so because of the demand for it. At the same time, they decisively educate their consumer that manufacturer’s of fair trade chocolate can legally mix non-fair trade chocolate into their bars as long as there is a ‘mass balance’ system in place. This is just one of many of the issues with the fair trade certification. Other findings shared by Carla Martin in Lecture suggest that little money reaches the developing world, there is a failure to monitor systems and that the burden lies on the consumer among other troubles.

for life image

IMO for Life is another certification held by Chocolove, and their bars are labeled with this certification, which states, “This bar is made with cocoa certified by IMO as for Life which means it was farmed in a socially responsible and ethical manner. All of the cocoa bean derived ingredients are certified for Life”. The Sea Salt and Almond Dark Chocolate bar is 45% for Life certified content. This labeling can be traced directly to the farming coop in the producing country. Chocolove’s factory has also been inspected and certified. Chocolove is a contributor to the World Cocoa Foundation, funds projects at the USDA and belongs to the GGC program, all of which are working toward educating farmer’s, improving working conditions, and preserving cacao. They are transparent in their work and seek to engage in layers of sustainability and socially responsible practices. Additionally, Chocolove states their commitment to the consumer and to their employees, whom they offer competitive wages and health care benefits fully paid.

In using the knowledge learned in class, I have analyzed the Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar in terms of quality, ingredients and ethical practices to discover that Chocolove is a Chocolatier rather than a chocolate maker and therefore does not fit in the craft chocolate category, but can still fall under premium chocolate, depending on how one defines it. Additionally, Chocolove may not know exactly how its cacao is sourced but does claim to use quality beans and practice sustainable practices. More research will have to determine if the company is truly socially responsible or is just claiming to be, as so many companies do. Lastly, I learned how much sugar this bar and that alone may deter me from purchasing it on a regular basis. Instead, I may open my wallet and my mouth to finer, darker, less sweet options in the future.

Chocolove.com

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture.

Mother Jones. http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/11/sugar-is-the-devil

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.”

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

Williams, Pam and Jim Eber. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate.

Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

 

chocolate-medicine-birthday-cardchocolate-medicine-anne-taintor.jpg

Chocolate had used as medicine since its inception. The Aztec king Montezuma is said to have consume anywhere from 20 to 50 glasses in order to remain virile. In more recent times, scientists have been looking into whether there are some medical treasures hidden in this scrumptious treat. Naturally, scientists have been zooming in on what it is in chocolate that gives it its health benefits. Scientists now believe these compounds in chocolate, called flavanols, have antioxidant properties and could help treat a variety of conditions and fight a variety of diseases. This has led to a lot of good research being done. There have been studies done that look at chocolate’s impact in fighting heart disease, diabetes, and cancer[1]. There have been studies looking at chocolate’s effect on cognitive function, memory, and blood pressure.  However, before you run to the pantry to self-medicate with chocolate be forewarned; this research, like all medical research, in fact like all science, has caveats. This particular group of research has a good deal of caveats, though not every study has the exact same caveats. Those depend on the strengths and failings of each individual study.

There is one caveat though that applies to this entire group of research; all the chocolate in these studies is all dark chocolate, that is to say to that it is at least sixty percent cacao solids. Milk chocolate is not included and for good reason. US law states that chocolate only needs to contain ten percent cacao in order to legally qualify as chocolate, the rest is mainly sugar, fat, and a few other things such as milk. According to professor Carla Martin, lecturer at Harvard University and director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, “A Hershey’s Kiss typically contains about, I think, 11 percent cacao content”. To put that in perspective, if you had a bar of typical milk chocolate that weighed one hundred grams (about the weight of an iPhone 5S[2]), then the actual amount of chocolate in the bar would be only about ten grams, or the weight of two nickels. The fact that milk chocolate has barely any actual chocolate means that milk chocolate has barely any of those cacao flavanols that are thought to provide the health benefits. Thus, anyone, scientist or otherwise, looking towards chocolate for health benefits has to look towards chocolate with a high cacao content.

Chocolate flavanols table
Figure 1

 

There are many pitfalls a research study can fall into. One of these is having a limited and/or small sample size.  Multiple studies on the effect of chocolate on health have had sample sizes of less than a couple hundred people. One such study, the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study had only ninety participants. The study found that regular cocoa flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, but given such small sample size it is difficult to draw any large generalized conclusions for the general population, since there is a wide variety of differences across populations. Moreover, the CoCoA study limited their sample size in an attempt at prove clearer causation; because this was a study on aging all the participant were elderly, and the study also excluded Current smokers, habitual users of antioxidant supplements (including vitamins C and E), habitual consumers of chocolate or other cocoa products (daily consumption of any amount), or individuals prescribed medications known to have antioxidant properties (including statins and glitazones) or to interfere with cognitive functions (including benzodiazepines and antidepressants). This means for populations outside the participant group, the research has limited application, since the researcher did not look at how cocoa flavanol intake affects people with these additional variables. It has to be remembered that studies like this are jumping off point, they prove that there is something there that needs to be looked into, but further research is required in order to the proper applications and implications of the initial research.

Continue reading Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

Two Sides Of The Chocolate Coin

While American and European consumers associate chocolate with romance, desserts, and luxury, the disparity between end product consumer and cacao producer is significant. One perspective is that northern consumers provide self-agency and opportunity through a free market economic exchange in an environment that provides few opportunities. While western Africa currently provides 75% of the world’s cacao (Coe &Coe, 2013) the African cacao grower has to rely solely on northern purchasers as they lack the economic resources to purchase, manufacture, or market their product. With labor as their only agency, the African cacao grower is in a disadvantaged position in the food production paradigm despite their high product yield. Corporate complicity in unethical labor, slave legacy that has left southern producers turning to raw materials for economic survival, and consumer apathy created by distance from the food supply chain have culminated in producing very opposing experiences for the cacao supplier and the chocolate consumer.

Success in Cacao

With the steady increase of cacao prices, the cacao-growing region of western Africa has seen steady socioeconomic growth in the industry for decades. According to “CNN Freedom Project,” an organization focused on labor practices worldwide, in 2008-2009 western Africa supplied more than 75% of the world’s chocolate, while Europeans and North Americans were consuming a roughly equal amount (2012). In their book Cocoa in Ghana: Shaping the Success of An Economy, Shashi Kolavalli, and Marcella Vigneri observe the steady increase of cacao prices have allowed for significant improvement via more investment in production yields through transport and infrastructure. (2012). Kolavalli and Vigneri further observe that so lucrative is the cacao production in Ghana  that positive socioeconomic influences of the crop, and improvement in western Africa’s poverty, have been significant by stating,

“economic growth has been solid, averaging more than 5 percent since 2001 and reaching 6 percent in 2005–06. Coupled with the effects of greater access to education, health services, and land ownership (World Bank 2008), this rate of growth has contributed to the near halving of the national poverty rate since the beginning of the 1990s, from 51.7 percent in 1991/92 to 28.5 percent in 2005/06” (p. 205).

For cacao growing countries in Africa, maintaining this resource is critical to prevent sliding backward economically in an already impoverished environment.

Who is Eating All the Chocolate?

According to CNN’s freedom project, northern countries are driving the demand for chocolate. In this breakdown for 2008-09, Europeans and North Americans were responsible for eating an equal amount of western Africa’s entire production, which is 75% annually of the world supply. In simple terms, if you live in the northern hemisphere there is a good chance you are consuming on average between 9 to 24 lbs. of chocolate per year. (Satioquia-Tan, J. 2015)

hershey27s_chocolates_in_store
The Swiss eat 24 lbs. of chocolate per person, per year. That’s roughly equivalent to eating half of a Hershey bar every day for one year (Maxim75, 2016)

World consumption of cocoa: 2008/09
Europe – 49.32%
North America – 24.22% (United States only – 20.19%)
Asia and Oceania – 14.49%
South America – 8.68%
Africa – 3.28%

The demand from northern consumers continues to increase steadily. In his paper, Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments, Marius Wessel projects necessary agricultural growth for western Africa to maintain its current supply when he states, “The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) forecasts a 10 percent increase in the world cocoa production and a 25 percent increase of the cocoa price in the next decade. … If West Africa wishes to maintain its present world market share a 10 percent increase in production is needed in the next decade” (Wessel, M., 2015). This is significant in that considerable investment will be required to meet the growing demand, which in turn will offer more employment from land developing to harvesting; boosting the economy even further. The staggering contrast of chocolate consumption between northern consumers and southern producers however, in relation to race and geography is no accident.

A History of Disconnection

After the chocolate drink of Mesoamericans made it to Europe via Spanish colonists in the 16th century, popularity of the drink in Europe began to rise. When Spanish colonists exhausted the Mesoamerican population as a resource for labor, they turned to the middle passage across the Atlantic to Africa for labor to meet the demand (Coe & Coe, 2013). On a continent that functioned tribally with no formal governments, it was quite easy to enslave people into labor for the remainder of their life, which on average due to hard labor and dismal living conditions was about 7 to 8 years after enslavement (Coe & Coe, 2013). This of course, required massive quantities of slaves, which Africa had in abundance. In his book Sweetness and Power Sidney Mintz observes that by the 18th century, the European lower proletariat was adopting the culinary habits of the aristocracy as a way of establishing equality for people in lower social stations (p.181, 1986). The biggest promoter of chocolate consumption for the masses According to Coe & Coe in their book A True History of Chocolate was the industrial revolution when they state,

menier_chocolate_factory
The Menier Chocolate factory in Paris, France. Mechanized in 1830, and shortly after became France’s largest chocolate supplier. (Expressing Yourself, 2009) 

“The Industrial Revolution, which changed chocolate from a costly drink to cheap food, [was] the driving force in this metamorphosis” (Coe & Coe, p. 232, 2013).

Before the industrial revolution the use of people from southern countries as a commodity for labor separated them from society and cultural habits of northern countries. Even had they wished to adopt the habits of their masters, there was no means or opportunity as a consumer base. Having never been ‘folded in” to European culture, they were completely disenfranchised as a chocolate consumer base. The exclusion of southern laborers and slaves from society as citizens, also found them ignored by the industrial revolution; leaving them to lag behind economically and industrially, unable to participate as consumers of chocolate.

State of Labor Today

After northern consumers developed a social conscience for disenfranchised populations and impoverished nations, one might be tempted to think everything has changed, but it has not. Still lagging from being on the outside of the industrial revolution, Cacao farming practices have changed little in the last hundred years. In villages of working adults there is a complete disconnect to their labor once it leaves the village. In her book Bitter Chocolate, Carol Off  tells of a village where all but the chief were ignorant of where the cacao went, none knew how it was used, and only one had ever tasted chocolate. Micheal and Sophie Coe argue that it is not only adults and families working, but that millions of children are trafficked and forced into slavery from neighboring countries (Coe & Coe, 2013). Off supports this claim by observing that slavery is alive and well  particularly in the Ivory Coast where child slavery is so common, it is a sub-industry of cacao with its own economy, as farmers finance networks to traffic children for forced labor who then suffer from starvation, disease and physical abuse while working on cacao farms (Off, C. 2006). While numbers of child slavery are at times sketchy and often disputed, no one denies it exists (Off, C. 2006).

flickr_-_dfid_-_uk_department_for_international_development_-_children_pictured_at_a_unhcr_food_distribution_point_in_liberia
Children from the Ivory Coast. Due to extreme poverty many children seek out work in cacao only to be abducted and worked as slaves. (DFID, 2011)

Consumers Grow Distant

sweets_vending_machine_window
The consumer vending machine selling prepacked processed chocolate adding a further degree of separation from labor to consumer. (Whitehouse, P. 2007) 

While slaves grow cacao, consumers grow distant. Though southern laborers have not advanced industrially, this is not the case for northern consumers. The industrialization of food completely changed northern food culture. Through mechanization, transport, and refrigeration, the distance between consumer and food source has grown. Mechanization produced food en mass cheaply, allowing access to goods that were more accommodating to lower budgets, while transport and refrigeration allowed food to travel further than it had before. (Counihan & Van Esterik, 2013) The biggest game changer in food culture was the mechanization of canning and preservation. With better preservation, food sources began to change, ingredients began change, and soon we had processed and prepackaged food embraced by women everywhere for freeing their time and labor (Counihan & Van Esterik, 81-82, 2013). After two or three generations of eating processed food transported from faraway places, with lists of ingredients that are rarely inspected, consumers today know very little about their food, or even what it contains. They are not unlike their southern counterparts in this way who do not know where cacao goes, or what its use is after it leaves the village.

 

Distance Creates Apathy

Capitalist consumerism breeds competition, creating incentive to keep the consumer

cocoa_farming_in_ghana
Cacao farmer in Ghana with his crop before it is prepared and bagged to be sent to manufacturers to make chocolate. (Rberchie, 2014)

happy. As modern chocolate consumers in the north are far more concerned with inclusiveness, fair treatment, and food activism than previous generations, the power of the purchase is seemingly an easy solution to the poor working conditions and poverty that are still prevalent in the cacao industry despite its economic growth. Far removed from the supply chain, unaware consumers continue to purchase due to lack of transparency in food product, and manufacturers remain complicit in the absence of financial threat. Manufacturers however also have limited power. Even with strict purchasing policies, and government regulation it is still difficult to know if a supplier is using slaves without constant physical inspections (Martin, C. 2017), and blame shifts all along the supply chain making it easy for manufacturers to be complicit, and consumers to remain uninformed.  Lack of transparency in food sourcing, blame shifting in the industry, and distance from food sources, culminate to create a culture of apathetic food consumers.

How It All Comes Together

The dichotomy between cacao consumer and producer today began with early Europeans and European colonists who failed to view southern peoples as sovereign and instead as a voiceless labor resource. Excluded from global interaction, Southern populations failed to participate in cultural trends, shifts, and innovations that were transforming society and industry elsewhere. Non-participation in the industrial revolution left southern continents behind in what would become a global economy with no agency for economic competition; turning to natural resources and labor for economic survival in a state somewhere between hunting and gathering and industry with little opportunity for growth. While mechanization followed by technology has created decadence in northern populations as compared to southern countries, northern consumers are today ignorant of their food supply chain because of these advancements, and unaware of the poverty and labor practices of those supplying it. Lack of transparency in food products add to this distance, and northern Chocolate manufactures as well as governments are complicit in unethical labor practices, shifting blame along the food supply chain leaving those who are aware unsure of who to even hold accountable (Martin, C. 2017). While northern consumers today have more of a social conscience than their ancestors, the opposing lifestyles of the chocolate consumer and the cacao laborer have failed to come closer together over the last several hundred years due to a legacy of “othering,” and complicit corporate interests protecting their revenue stream that has created an apathetic northern food culture.

Where We Go From Here

Consumer awareness is growing. Projects like Fair Trade, CNN Project Freedom, End Slavery Now, Slave Free Chocolate etc., have been working hard to inform the public. Many consumers now seek out fair trade products when available, and appear willing to pay more for ethical practices. In their paper, Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment ,  Hainmueller, Hiscox, & Seguiera state,

“Total sales of Fair Trade goods in the United States in 2011 amounted to roughly $1.4 billion (FLO 2012) … But the average annual rate of growth in U.S. sales of Fair Trade certified goods was close to 40% between 1999 and 2008” (2014).

Fair Trade is not without its problems, as certification can be costly and marginalizes the poorest producers, but it is a start, and one of few ways to access transparency of the food supply chain in a consumer market that provides no source-to-store product information. Legislators are also working to intervene in child slavery practices. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engen introduced a protocol to reduce trafficking in the cacao industry, agreed to by manufacturers and legislators from Ghana and the Ivory Coast as stated by the ILO, “that aims to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent across the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire by 2020” (ILO, 2017). Currently Fair Trade and other transparent and ethical alternatives have not achieved mainstream mass production, making it difficult for a consumer to use the power of the dollar against corporate complicity even when they choose to. Raising awareness and creating a demand for ethical products can aid in ending consumer apathy by closing the information gap, and denting corporate revenue streams that, with some work, will promote less disparity between southern suppliers and northern purchasers.

 

Works Cited

 

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.) London, ENG.Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Counihan, C., Van Esterik, P., (Eds.). (2013). Food and culture a reader New York NY. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

CNN Freedom Project (2012) Who eats the most chocolate?. Retrieved from:                          http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/17/who-consumes-the-most-chocolate/

DFID, (2011) Children of the Ivory Coast [digital image].  Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Flickr_-_DFID_-_UK_Department_for_International_Development_-_Children_pictured_at_a_UNHCR_food_distribution_point_in_Liberia

Expressing Yourself (2009) Menier Chocolate Factory. [digital media]. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Menier_Chocolate_Factory

Hainmueller, j., Hiscox, M., Sequeira, S., (2014) Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment. Retrieved from: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/conferences/2014-launching-the-star-lab/Documents/FT_final_2_20.pdf

ILO, (2017) Africa: Child Labor in Cocoa Fields/ Harkin-Engel Protocol. Retrieved from:     http://www.ilo.org/washington/areas/elimination-of-the-worst-forms-of-child-    labor/WCMS_159486/lang–en/index.htm

Kolivalli, S., Vigneri, M. (2014) Cocoa in ghana: Shaping the success of an economy. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/AFRICAEXT/Resources/258643-1271798012256/Ghana-cocoa.pdf

Martin, C. (2017) Modern Day Slavery. Harvard Extension School. [Mar 22, 2017 Lecture].

Maxim75 (2016) Hershey Bars. [digital media] Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hershey%27s_chocolates_in_store.

Mintz, S.W. (1986) Sweetness and Power. NY, NY. Penguin Books 1986

Off, C., (2006) Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New   York: The New Press.

Rberchie (2014). Cacao farmer [digital media] Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cocoa_farming_in_Ghana

Satiodqua-Tan, J (Jul, 2015) Americans eat how much chocolate?. Retrieved from:             http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Wessel, Marius (Dec, 2015). Cocoa production in west Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments. NJAS-Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 74-75, 1-7. doi:                 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001

Whitehouse, P.  (2007). Vending machine [digital image]. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Mars_Bar

 

Chocolate and Ethics

Quality of life and ethical life choices are important factors in everything we do. Chocolate is a frequent part of our lives as well, for some, a daily part.  Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry.  When consumers spend money in a business that supports ethical business practices, it can make a difference in lives around the world.  Taza Chocolate is one such business.

Taza Chocolate.

Taza Chocolate makes stone ground chocolate from organic cacao in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Taza has been in business since 2005, and is an example of an ethical and forward-thinking chocolate business (Taza, 2017).  Taza devotes much of their time and business planning to ensure their business practices and those of their suppliers, who they refer to as partners, improves the lives of farmers, while reforming the chocolate industry from the ground up.  Taza has a wide selection of chocolate, including chocolate bars, gift sets, and even bulk chocolate so people can bake or cook with stone ground, organic, Direct Trade chocolate.

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Photo of Taza Chocolate products in public domain by Johnny Lai.

The process of purchasing cacao beans.

Obtaining cacao beans direct from growers is an important part of fair labor practices.  Historically, the cacao industry has taken advantage of its workers, ignoring abuse and slavery to achieve a greater profit.  An example of this can be seen in São Tomé and Príncipe in the 1900s.  Slavery had been officially abolished in 1870, and the cacao industry needed workers, so they began using the system of contract labor, where workers would agree to work a set number of years for a set wage (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).  Workers traveling to provide contract labor were “coerced, repatriation was all but impossible, and the death rate was as high as twelve percent” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).   In 1907, long after these abusive practices became public knowledge, “Cadbury still imported 7.4 million pounds of cacao beans from São Tomé, about thirteen percent of the island’s total exports” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).  Today, the chocolate industry is attempting to improve working conditions and payment for cacao farmers through fair trade initiatives.  There are several certifications that ensure fair labor practices in the cacao industry, but Taza’s Direct Trade is the first cacao sourcing program that is third-party certified (Taza, 2017).  Taza purchases their beans directly from growers with no “predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices,” so that farmers and their families receive more money for the cacao they grow and harvest (Taza, 2017).  Every year all five of Taza’s Direct Trade claims are certified by “a USDA-accredited organic certifier” (Taza, 2017).

 

20170309_150507
Cacao beans, taken by me, 2017e846.

Direct Trade certified claims by Taza.

The five Direct Trade certified claims Taza makes improve quality of life for cacao farmers and their families while improving the quality of cacao beans used in Taza chocolate.  The first claim is that Taza develops “direct relationships with cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017).  By visiting Taza’s partners every year and reviewing how much of the money paid for cacao beans reaches the farmers directly, other benefits farmers receive besides monetary payments, and actually meeting and speaking to farmers, Taza develops direct relationships with farmers.  The second Direct Trade certified claim is that Taza pays “a price premium to cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017).  Invoices are reviewed to verify that Taza has met this claim by comparing the price paid for cacao to the NYICE price for cacao on the same date as the invoice (Taza, 2017).  Another important Direct Trade claim is that Taza sources “the highest quality cacao beans” (Taza, 2017).  Taza staff perform a quality assessment of every container of cacao beans purchased, and complete an evaluation form indicating the results of each assessment (Taza, 2017).  A further Direct Trade claim is that Taza requires “USDA certified organic cacao” (Taza, 2017).  This is important to ensure the quality of the cacao used, and Taza provides documentation to support USDA organic certification to the independent certifier (Taza, 2017).  The fifth certified claim is a self-imposed action on the part of Taza.  It includes publishing a yearly Transparency Report.  Taza publishes every year a Direct Trade Transparency Report, so that consumers or anyone else who wants to verify their claims, has all the information to do so (Taza, 2017).  Currently, there are links to the report for the past six years available on Taza’s website.  This level of transparency in the bean to bar operation is unique in the chocolate industry.

Link to a discussion by Taza Chocolate on the difference between Direct Trade and Fair Trade.

Fair compensation to growers and farmers.

To maintain an ethical and healthy cacao industry, growers need to receive fair compensation.  Although slavery has been abolished, cacao farmers in many areas do not make a livable wage.  As recently as 2008, in a Côte d’Ivoire cacao village, people “lacked clean water, health care, and decent schools” (Orla, 2011, Location 793).  The issue of child labor was brought to public attention in 2000, when it came forward that children were being enticed by traffickers with promises of riches, and brought to cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire, where they “survived on little food, little or no pay, and endured regular beatings” (Orla, 2011, Location 807).   In fact, some officials were even “convinced that the farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cocoa groves…and police were being bribed to look the other way” (Off, 2006, Location 1893).  In 2001, the Harkin-Engle protocol was signed to help address the problem of child labor (Orla, 2011, Location 807).   In 2015, cacao farmers in Ghana earned “as little as 84 cents a day, and Ivorian farmers, 50 cents” (Soley, 2015).  Taza visits farmers that they buy cacao from every year, and “only buy cacao from growers who ensure fair and humane work practices” (Taza, 2017).  Additionally, Taza pays “at least $500 above the market price…and never less than $2,800 per metric ton” for their cacao (Taza, 2017).  In 2016, Taza purchased 233 metric tons of cacao beans, equating to at least $116,000 dollars more in the pockets of growers and farmers in developing countries due to Taza’s forward-thinking labor practices (Taza, 2017).  In 2016, Taza paid its Bolivia partner a fixed price of $5,300 per metric ton, and the partner paid 76.4% of this amount to the farmers (Taza, 2017).  This set price is paid by Taza even though the price of cacao on the world market may be much lower.  As an example, the International Cacao Organization lists the average daily price of a metric ton of cacao in December 2016 at $2,287.80 (ICCO, 2017).  Despite this price, Taza would pay its Bolivian partner $5,300 per metric ton for any cacao purchased in December, protecting farmers from the price fluctuations throughout the market.   This process ensures higher income for growers and farmers, cutting out the middleman, so they may better support their families.  With “most of the world’s cacao farmers living at or below the poverty line of $2 per day” (Taza, 2017), the chocolate industry needs to follow Taza’s actions, and customers need to spend their money with companies that are encouraging humane labor practices.

Monetary compensation is supplemented by other benefits to farmers.  Taza’s partners, in addition to paying their farmers more, also provide other benefits that cut costs for farmers and increase profits.  For example, all of Taza’s partners “drive to producers’ farms to pick up the cacao in its unfermented form” (Taza, 2017).  This saves farmers money on delivery, fermenting, and drying costs, so their profit is greater.   Taza’s partners may provide high-quality cacao seedlings, loans to buy farms, food, housing, and many other types of assistance that are meant to help farmers become more successful and live better lives (Taza, 2017).

Chocolate ingredients other than cacao.

The other ingredients used in chocolate production need the same devotion to fair labor standards and wages as cacao.  Historically, some chocolate merchants added dangerous ingredients to chocolate, such as “brick dust, chalk, clay, dirt, paraffin, talc, and other items” (Grivetti, 2009, Location 10908).  Using organic ingredients that are held to higher ethical standards is important.  The sugar industry is tied to the chocolate industry in many ways, and has a similar history as cacao in terms of the treatment of slaves.  As of 2013, the Department of Labor cited problems with child labor in the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).  The submission found violations of labor law concerning wages, hours of work, occupational safety and health, child labor, and forced or compulsory labor (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).  It is important for customers and corporations alike to work for better conditions and wages for all workers.

Taza purchases certified USDA organic cacao and sugar from farmers “who respect the environment and fair labor practices” (Taza, 2017).  The country of origin of the cacao beans is listed on many of Taza’s products, and the partners are specifically listed in the Transparency Report, so individuals can research and verify fair labor practices.  Customers can buy a product with ingredients from a specific country, and support the practices of that supplier by choosing to do business with them.  The sugar that Taza purchases for their chocolate is organic, non-GMO, and the supplier is committed to sustainability and fair labor practices (Taza, 2017).  Not only are the mills that produce the sugar energy self-sufficient, the “organic farming system has resulted in 20% higher productivity than conventional sugar cane production while reducing Native’s carbon footprint and saving water, soil, energy, and promoting human welfare” (Taza, 2017).   Although Native Sugar uses a mechanical harvester, it has retrained its workers for “other positions within the organization” adhering to the commitment to fair labor and making workers lives better (Taza, 2017).   Business practices that promote environmental sustainability are important in today’s world.  Not only is this good for future generations, it is also benefiting the company economically.

Labor in the production process. 

The production process has become highly mechanized for many chocolate companies.  Historically, laborers produced chocolate using basic tools.  Some cacao farms, like Hacienda Buena Vista in Puerto Rico, began using hydropower to increase production and change the roles of workers.  It is impressive to see, with one pull of a lever, water rushing down and causing large equipment to start processing cacao, or coffee, or corn.  The process of making stone ground chocolate keeps the historic element alive, while mechanizing chocolate production.  Taza uses “traditional Mexican stone mills, called molinos, with hand-carved stones that turn inside” the mills (Taza, 2017).  Workers pay close attention during the process to ensure quality that cannot be achieved through high production automation.

Hacienda water run equipment
Machinery run by hydropower at Hacienda Buena Vista, taken by me 2017e846

 

Chocolate recipes.

Recipes for chocolate are an important component of a chocolate company.  Many of today’s chocolate recipes contain ingredients traditionally used in different cultures.  Cinnamon has been used traditionally in cacao recipes, and Taza uses it in some of its chocolate recipes (Taza, 2017).  Chili is also an ingredient to some of Taza’s products, similar to the “ancient Mesoamerican tradition of adding chili to chocolate” (Coe and Coe, 2013, Location 3828).  Additionally, vanilla, various nuts, sea salt, coconut, coffee and other ingredients are used today to make a chocolate bar that is both traditional and current.

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Traditional chocolate ingrediates.  Taken by me, 2017e846.

Value of the product.

For consumers in developed countries today, and some developing countries, chocolate is an affordable luxury.  Taza’s chocolate is reasonably priced given the quality and commitment to the cacao community of growers that encompasses its business model.  A Taza chocolate bar or disc are for the most part between $5.00 and $7.50 (Taza, 2017).  That is a reasonable price for organic chocolate, at least given prices for organic chocolate in the Caribbean.  An artisan chocolate bar made here in Puerto Rico is approximately $10.00, and they are small bars.  Organic chocolate is a relatively affordable luxury that enriches our lives.

Conclusion.

The chocolate industry as a whole is making strides towards incorporating more humane practices into its business model.  However, large companies are slow to change.  Small, independent chocolate businesses have the ability now to make positive changes in the lives of farmers and their families, showing larger businesses a better way to operate and improving the lives of those they do business with.  Taza Chocolate is one such company who appears to look at every aspect of their business in trying to improve the lives of others while growing a successful chocolate company and delivering a high-quality products.

Works Cited

Coe, Michael D., and Coe, Sophie D.  The True History of Chocolate.  Kindle ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Grivetti, Louis E.  “Dark Chocolate:  Chocolate and Crime in North America and Elsewhere.”   Chocolate:  History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.

International Cocoa Organization website.  Retrieved from: https://www.icco.org/statistics/cocoa-prices/monthly-averages.html?currency=usd&startmonth=12&startyear=2016&endmonth=12&endyear=2016&show=table&option=com_statistics&view=statistics&Itemid=114&mode=custom&type=1

Off, Carol.  Bitter Chocolate:  Anatomy of an Industry.  Kindle ed., The New Press, 2006.

Orla, Ryan.  Chocolate Nations:  Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa.  Kindle ed., Zed  Books, 2011.

Satre, Lowell J.  “Chocolate on Trial:  Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business.”  Journal of British Studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2006.  Retrieved from:  https://oup.silverchaircdn.com/oup/backfile/Content_public/Journal/ahr/111/5/10.1086/ahr.111.5.1603/2/11151603.pdf?Expires=1494532181&Signature=Bktk0Wtwlcjwcjdb8gNc0UvvCVDVd8BNVD8Z4iKlCR9HALBUWSYbk55G2xWUJaxbqlN4Zvxkhe6860o3tEN~-8IS7dCLOuIUwFuh5pyob2uamoCVT~W-mzPbaBebkCVoWo1ywvI4HCJBf-fHA9k2e2bmNLlrGL0BxhqnMblaLW2HuEJWqY1lTAtB-4m60OXMHRyDWrsajBcFPLbHyQ8erLkEQelz2yZBq5lumwXYQ3m2M8so1i6LVviTHWrgXuokMQfgIlMrrjy6XKxoH71bHKuMAu20Ph8wNY3Rd70Q6yOIobiKhaBV6xhRrC8kjzuWuB6SCIqGldwX3B1006WE~w__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIUCZBIA4LVPAVW3Q.

Soley, Allison.  “Cacao Farmers Still Aren’t Making enough money:  Cocoa Barometer review shows young farmers no longer replacing older farmers due to extremely low wages.”  1 July 2015.  Candy Industry website.  Retrieved from: http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86817-cocoa-farmers-still-arent-making-enough-money.

Taza Chocolate website. Last accessed 10 May 2017.   https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza.

United States Department of Labor, “Dominican Republic Submission Under Central America-United States Free Trade Agreements.” (7 September 2013).  Retrieved from:  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/our-work/trade/fta-submissions#DR

 

There is No Pleasure in Guilty Chocolate!

Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering?  A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience.  We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.

Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.

The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.

  1. What is Chocolate?

Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes.  Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree.  Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed.  Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.

  1. Where Does Cacao Come From?

Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class.  Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.

Amazon Basin
Amazon basin (based on Wikipedia, Amazon basin article, by Kmusser, using Digital Chart of the Word and GTOPO data)

After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa.  Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao.  There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).

2000px-Ghana_Côte_d'Ivoire_Locator.svg
West Africa, Ivory Coast depicted in orange and Ghana  depicted in green (based on Wikipedia, Ghana-Ivory Coast Relations article)
  1. What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?

Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown.  After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).

Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price.  Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business.  Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).

In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).

The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor.  Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery.  With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.

Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children  are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will.  The child labor problems still exist today.  We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.

It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?

I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.

Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat.  The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law.  There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.

Cocoa Barometer 2015 report, USA Ed. Cocoabarometer.org. http://www.cocoabarometer.org/International_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20USA.pdf

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.

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

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. Americans East How Much Chocolate? CNBC.com, 23 Jul. 2015, 7:41 PM ET.  http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The  Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.

Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet.  A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.

Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

World Cocoa Foundation, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/program-region/africa.