Tag Archives: chocolate maker

Made with a Feminine Touch: Beth’s Chocolate and the Larger History of Women Creating Chocolate

In the chocolate industry, there are just a handful of companies that produce over 60% of the world’s confections. They are nicknamed ‘the Big Five’ and are as follows: Hershey’s, Mars, Kraft, Nestle, and Ferrero (Martin, Introduction, Slide 5). These companies produce some of the candies we all know and love such as Hershey’s Kisses, Snickers Bars, Cadbury Eggs, and Kit Kats, just to name a few, and they were all founded by men. In fact, they are still run by men with the exception of Hershey’s who just elected its first female CEO in 2017. What does this mean for women? Have they never created chocolate because of gender and cultural barriers, or rather, are they just not recognized at the forefront of its production? In this article, I will argue the latter. Just last month, I had the pleasure to meet Beth Kirsch, a chocolatier in Newton Massachusetts and owner of Beth’s Chocolates. Beth is among a new wave successful female chocolatiers and chocolate producers in the 21st century, but we can find women making chocolate in almost every time period that chocolate has appeared.

Meet Beth

Beth Kirsch had an unusual route to chocolate. She spent the majority of her adult life as a children’s media producer for PBS, winning three Emmy’s for the series Between the Lions (Kirsch, Beth Kirsch Chocolatier). Beth always loved chocolate, however, and one day in 2012, she attempted to mold a chocolate bar into the shape of an Eiffel Tower; it was an utter disaster. The chocolate stuck to the mold, and when it finally did come out, it tasted terrible. Beth immediately decided she would learn to work with chocolate. She enrolled in a three-hour class at ChocoLee Chocolates, and it was here that she learned the process of tempering. A year later, she took a three-month internship at EH Chocolatier in Somerville, and after that, she enrolled in an online course at the Vancouver based Ecole Chocolat to earn a professional chocolatier certificate. Then, in 2016, she traveled to France to become a master chocolatier through the Valrhona Ecole Du Grand (Pyenson). With all this knowledge, Beth was able to make those chocolate Eiffel Towers she had once desired and much more. She decided to launch her own confectionary business from her newly certified kitchen, and thus, Beth’s chocolates began.

Beth is a chocolatier; she does not create her own chocolate from bean-to-bar but buys bars from others to use in her confections. Beth specifically likes to use Valrhona, a fine cacao chocolate brand from France that is known for its exceptional flavor and ethical sourcing (Kirsch, ‘Chocolate Tasting and Seminar’). By melting down these bars, she can add her own additional ingredients, re-mold them, and then decorate them into something else entirely- into Beth’s chocolates. For example, in the image below, you can see one of Beth’s most popular and award-winning bonbons called Fig-In-A-Box. To make this, Beth first creates a fig puree, adds aged balsamic vinegar, transforms the concoction into a French pate de fruit, hand dips it in Valrhona dark chocolate, and finally, brushes it with gold stripes (Kirsch, Chocolates: Fig-in-a-box). The chocolate coating itself may not be her own, but she invents the unique combination of flavors and the delicate design. Some of her other popular bonbons include Pomegranate, Cappuccino, Cognac, Ginger 3 Ways, Passion Fruit, and Salted Dark Caramel. In 2018 alone, Beth’s Chocolates won ten different awards, a huge achievement considering how new her company is (Kirsch, Beth Kirsch Chocolatier).

Beth’s Fig-in-a-box Bonbon (http://www.bethschocolate.com/product/fig-in-a-box/)

 Looking at her path into chocolate, Beth rose to prominence with the help of many women. She first took a class at ChocoLee’s in Boston, which was founded by Lee Napoli, a gifted female pastry chef and former chocolatier. EH Chocolatier, where she interned, is also run by two women, Elaine Hsieh and Catharine Sweeney. In my own conversation with Beth, I asked her about her experience as a female chocolatier (Kirsch, ‘Chocolate Tasting and Seminar’). She explained to me how in France where she once trained, almost all of the chocolatiers are men and the profession is like an exclusive gentlemen’s club. However, in the States and particularly Boston, she has seen an incredible opportunity for women to create chocolate confections for two reasons. Firstly, Beth pointed out how you can become a chocolatier with little to no formal training, although it certainly helps. Secondly, you can become a chocolatier at any time in life, even after pursuing a career in an entirely different field. Indeed, she began experimenting with chocolate confections after working in television for most of her life. Elaine and Catherine from EH Chocolatier had been a doctor and a Harvard administrator respectively. I turned to the FCCI to corroborate Beth’s information and was pleasantly shocked by howmany chocolatiers were women. According to the FCCI website, there are currently fourteen chocolatiers using fine cacao in the United States; of those, nine are independently run by women and an additional two are co-operated by a man and woman duo (Martin, ‘Map’). In the map below, you can see specifically where these various chocolateries are dispersed across the United States; just as Beth had mentioned, many are clumped together in New England- eight out of the fourteen to be exact.  Women’s current role as chocolate creators is not a new one, but rather, a more formalized one. If we turn to the history of chocolate, we can find them creating it in every era and often for men. 

U.S Chocolateries as registered with the FCCI (Me via Mapline)

Turning Back the Clock to Find Women Making Chocolate

In colonial times, women primarily created and served chocolate as a beverage. Chocolate consumption originated in the Olmec civilization, a people who occupied the modern-day Gulf of Mexico from 1400 to 400 BC (Leissle, 29). The practice then spread to the Mayan and Aztecs societies, both of whom enjoyed their chocolate as a drink made from crushed seeds. Farmers would grow, harvest, ferment, dry, and roast the cocoa beans, much like we do today, but from there, a woman would grind the beans on a stone, add water, add additional flavors like corn maize, and finally and most importantly, pour the beverage from one vessel to another in a highly symbolic fashion to produce a foamy head on it (Coe and Coe, Kindle location 872). It could then be served to a prominent Mayan or Aztec, perhaps a king, merchant, or warrior. We can find abundant evidence that women were primarily made these chocolate beverages in much of the art from this time period. For example, the Princeton Vase featured below is a piece of ceramics dated between 670-750 A.D. It depicts a Mayan god sitting on his throne, surrounded by female figures which are assumed to be his concubines. One of these women stands behind him in the bottom right corner of the image, pouring chocolate from one vessel to another to generate the highly desired foam. As captured by this vase, chocolate may have been consumed by mostly men in the Mayan and Aztec societies, but it was women who were responsible for its creation.

The Princeton Vase (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Princeton_Vase#/media/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg)

In the Baroque Period, women still prepared and served chocolate drinks to men, but now, to European ones. This trend first appeared in New Spain when poor Spanish settlers would often marry native women. When these Aztec housewives would cook for their husbands, they brought many of their customary dishes and ingredients into the kitchen. This often included a chocolate beverage prepared in much same manner it was among their own people, but now, combined with old world spices such as cinnamon and sugar (Coe and Coe, Kindle location 1583). These hybridized drinks were later transported back to Europe, and by the 17th century, some of the first Coffee houses started to appear in England. Despite their name, coffee houses served a variety of foreign, imported beverages, but coffee, tea, and chocolate were the most popular among them (Coe and Coe, Kindle Location 2425). As can be seen in the image below, these were male-dominated spaces where men would convene to talk politics, culture, and most importantly, sip a cup of coffee or chocolate or tea while doing so. However, if you look at the far left side of the image, there is one single woman behind a bar; she is preparing the actual chocolate. So, although women were not welcomed as patrons, they appeared in coffee shops in subtler forms as owners, waiters, or cooks. In fact, 20% of coffee shops during this time were owned and operated by a woman (Cowan, 147). Women helped make chocolate accessible, solidifying and gratifying the European craving for it.

Drawing of a 17th Century Coffee House (https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=752544&partId=1)

Following the Industrial Revolution, women continued to serve chocolate as a beverage while also learning how to incorporate it into new foods. Throughout the 19th century, a variety of new machines were created to transform the cocoa bean into something else entirely. Two of the most important products that emerged from this context were Dutch cocoa powder and solid chocolate bars (Martin, Slides 60-69). A variety of cookbooks and cooking classes soon appeared that attempted to teach women how to bake with these new chocolate varieties. In America, for example, celebrity chef Maria Parloa alongside the Walter Baker Chocolate company published the 1909 pamphlet Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes and Homemade Candy Recipes that detailed a variety of different chocolate preparations from the classics like hot chocolate, chocolate milkshakes, and chocolate pudding, to more unique dishes like chocolate eclairs, cake, cookies and even jelly (Martin, ‘Brownies’). Just a few years prior, another famous chef named Fannie Farmer published her 1906  Boston Cooking School Cookbook that included one of the earliest mentions of brownies (Martin, ‘Brownies’). The recipe, which is included below, called for two squares of Walter Baker’s chocolate as well as chopped walnut meat, something that might surprise a modern audience today. These cookbooks did not just teach women how to prepare chocolate in new ways but encouraged them to serve chocolate more frequently overall. These women were helping to transform chocolate from an occasional indulgence to an ever increasing part of the American diet.

Fannie Farmer’s Brownie Recipe (https://archive.org/details/bostoncookingsch00farmrich/page/n563)

By the late 20th, and early 21st century, artisan chocolate bars began to emerge to differentiate themselves in taste and quality from the Big Five companies; many of these businesses are owned by women. For example, one chocolate that Beth Kirsch herself buys is Castronovo chocolate, founded by Denise Castronovo in 2013 in Florida. Castronovo directly sources fine heirloom cacao beans from South American farmers, and then roasts, winnows, grinds, refines, conches, tempers, and wraps the bars in her own factory packaged under her own last name (Balmaseda). Castronovo is one of the only women to have been recognized at the prestigious International Chocolate Awards, and as of today, she has a staggering 26 awards (Thomson). Another female-run bean-to-bar company is ‘57 Chocolate, founded in 2016 by sisters Kimberly and Priscilla Addison out of Ghana. In the 10-minute interview below, they discuss how they started the company to prove that Ghana is not just a country for growing and exporting cacao beans, but one that can create artisan chocolate itself. They are leading the way in this crusade, sourcing fine beans from local farmers and transforming it from their kitchen into truly Ghanaian chocolate bars (Addison and Addison). In fact, as mentioned in the interview, many of their bars feature different adinkra symbols, which were historically designed and used by indigenous Ghanaian tribes. Female chocolate makers are vastly outnumbered by male ones, but they are nonetheless present all over the world, and more are entering the profession every year.

Kimberly and Priscilla Anderson on ’57 Chocolate (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0SdUC6ajbU)

Back to Beth: One Woman Among Many

Beth Kirsch is just one example of a woman involved in the chocolate industry, specifically as a self-employed chocolatier. However, she is far from alone. As history has shown, women have always been involved in preparing chocolate, in different places, in different forms, and for different people. These women were often overlooked by society, but they always existed, and as the saying goes, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Now in the 21st century, we can clearly see more and more women entering the chocolate industry as bean-to-bar makers or chocolatiers. Finally, they have the formal title they lacked for so long. Now, it is the job of other organizations to start recognizing their chocolate, awarding it, and bringing it into public knowledge. As previously mentioned, all of the ‘Big Five’ chocolate companies were started by men, but maybe in the future, we can see the rise of a sixth company, this one run by a woman.

Works Cited

Addison, Kimberly, and Priscilla Addison. “Our Story.” ’57 Chocolate, 2018, http://www.57chocolategh.com/about.

Balmaseda, Liz. “Tiny Chocolate Factory in Stuart Wins Huge International Awards.” Feast Palm Beach, 17 July 2015, feastpb.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2015/07/17/tiny-chocolate-factory-in-stuart-wins-huge-international-awards/.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Cowan, Brian. “What Was Masculine About the Public Sphere? Gender and the Coffeehouse Milieu in Post-Restoration England.” History Workshop Journal, vol. 51, no. 1, 2001, pp. 127–157., doi:10.1093/hwj/2001.51.127.

Kirsch , Beth. “Beth Kirsch Chocolatier .” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/about/.

Kirsch , Beth. “Chocolate Tasting and Seminar.” Women of Winthrop Speaker Series. Women of Winthrop Speaker Series, 24 Apr. 2019, Cambridge , MA.

Kirsch , Beth. “Chocolates: Fig-in-a-Box.” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/chocolates/.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin , Carla. “Introduction .” AAAS119x. AAAS119x, 30 Jan. 2019, Cambridge, MA.

Martin, Carla. “Brownies.” US History Scene, 10 Apr. 2015, ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/. Accessed 30 Apr. 2019.

Martin, Carla. “Map .” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, 2019, chocolateinstitute.org/resources/map/.

Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao .” AAA119X. AAA119X, 20 Feb. 2019, Cambridge, MA.

Pyenson, Andrea. “From Children’s Media to Chocolate Making.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 1 Dec. 2015, www2.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2015/12/01/from-children-media-chocolate-making/LIjH0TgDtHhGanjmoZHxYL/story.html.

Thomson, Julie R. “Surprise! Florida Makes Some Of The World’s Best Chocolate.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 3 May 2017, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/best-chocolate-florida_n_59088cf5e4b05c397682bc33.

Multi-Media Works Cited

British Museum. “Interior of a London Coffee-House.” The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum, 2019, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=290256001&objectid=752544.

Farmer, Fannie. “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1906 .” Internet Archive, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 2006, archive.org/details/bostoncookingsch00farmrich/page/n563.

Kirsch, Beth. “Fig-in-a-Box.” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/product/fig-in-a-box/.

Ostrover, Olivia. “U.S Chocolatiers.” Mapline, 30 Apr. 2019, app.mapline.com/map/map_4f4f4836.

Pyenson, Andrea. “From Children’s Media to Chocolate Making.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 1 Dec. 2015, www2.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2015/12/01/from-children-media-chocolate-making/LIjH0TgDtHhGanjmoZHxYL/story.html.

RAW AFRICA, director. The Two Sisters Reviving Ghana’s Chocolate Market with ’57 Chocolate . YouTube, YouTube, 23 Feb. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0SdUC6ajbU&t=204s.

Robicsek, Francis. “Category:Princeton Vase.” Category:Princeton Vase – Wikimedia Commons, University of Virginia Art Museum , 2019, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Princeton_Vase#/media/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg.

Functional Chocolate: Health Claims and Marketing Campaigns

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

 

How are functional foods different from healthy foods?

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

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

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

 

Functional foods share these characteristics:

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

 

Demand for Functional Foods

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Chocolate as a Functional Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additions to Functional Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

 

Raw Chocolate

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

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

image
Cambridge Naturals’ Yes Cacao Selection

 

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

Chocolatl More Than Chocolate

Righteously Raw Chocolates

Gnosis Chocolate

Addictive Wellness Raw Chocolate

Perfect Fuel

Stirs the Soul

Ohio Functional Chocolates

Great Bean Chocolate

Sacred Chocolate

 

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

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

Examples of ‘naturally healthy’ chocolate brands:

Coracao Confections

Hu Paleo Chocolate

Eating Evolved, The Primal Dark Chocolate Company

Pure7 Chocolate

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

 

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The European Cacao Encounter

The European Cacao Encounter

Chokola’j (verb) /cho-koh-lahj/
To drink chocolate together. (Quiché Mayan)

 

It’s possible that one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments is the production of chocolate. I know, I know, that’s probably an overstatement. But chocolate is up there, along with pizza, Peruvian chicken, and mashed potatoes. It’s something that you crave after first taste. It’s something that is so pervasive it reigns over the taste buds of millions of people across cultures. It is something that has been so normalized that we rarely stop to think about its story. Where did it come from? How did the world come to appreciate chocolate? Why is chocolate such a major part of our lives and economies? Through the cacao tree, the genius of American Indigenous peoples, and European enchantment and oppression, we have (drumroll, please) today’s chocolate!

 

Chocolate is the combination of cacao seeds and additives such as vanilla, flowers, cinnamon, sugar, honey, chiles, allspice, or milk. Depending on the chocolate maker’s mission, the additives vary greatly in order to achieve a particular taste. The Maya would add vanilla, achiote, ground ear flower, pepper, and other spices. The Aztec were known to add maize, chiles, huitztecolli-flower, and ground ceiba seed, among other things. (Coe & Coe Kindle Locations 866, 905, 1244, 1252) When Europeans entered into the chocolate game, they added sugar, milk, alkalized the cacao powder, and found different ways to froth chocolate drinks. (Coe & Coe) The bottom line here is that none of these mouth-watering combinations and preparations are possible without cacao.

 

As I mentioned earlier, cacao comes from the cacao tree. This tree grows green pods on its trunk and branches. Inside the pods are jelly slash leechy slash gooey pulp that surround seeds. Those seeds are it. The cacao tree’s pods are cut open, the pulp removed, and the seeds are shed of pulp. They are then fermented, roasted and ground into powder, to be mixed with whatever flavors the chocolate maker desires. Researchers trace the cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao, to the Amazon basin. By way of travel and trade, the tree made its way to Mesoamerica, where civilizations as early as the Olmecs (1500-400 BC) began to process the cacao into powders, drinks, and foods. By the time Europeans arrived in the Americas, Indigenous peoples had long drunk, eaten, and traded with cacao and chocolate—it was highly valued and highly integrated into society.

In 1502, Christopher Columbus and his crew found themselves in Guanaja, an island in the Caribbean. During one of their encounters with the Indigenous in August of that year, Ferdinand observed:

“They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.” Ferdinand Columbus (Coe & Coe 109)

And that’s where it ended for Columbus. Neither of the Columbus men would come to recognize the power of these “almonds” until the Spanish conquistadors spent time in Mesoamerica—exploring, plundering, living, becoming enchanted, and detailing their journey into Mesoamerica. Spanish exploration became Spanish subjugation, and that included a religious domination. Dominican friars were among these early European religious figures in the Americas. These friars were markedly different in their approach to the Indigenous, as they often took time to get to the know people and observe their every day lives. In Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, friars led by Bartolomé de las Casa were able to form a relationship with the Kekchi Maya and they would soon agree to accompany the friars back to Spain. In 1544, this delegation of Kekchi Mayas brought with them many goods, including plumes, clay gourds, plants, foods, and beaten chocolate. (Coe & Coe Kindle Location 1835) Chocolate arrived in Europe.

 

Europeans became hooked. Overtime, they would destroy the homes and livelihoods of the Indigenous people that showed them how to live in the Americas, that gave them new foods and medicines, and their precious chocolate. By the 1500s, Indigenous slavery for the production of chocolate was well underway. The Spanish added African slave power to their chocolate enterprise, and the industry boomed. By the 17th century, this slavery-powered business pumped European courts, homes, and businesses with as much chocolate as they could get their hands on. It is important to note that the cacao tree does not bear fruit outside of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator. (Coe & Coe Kindle Location 221) There was nowhere else they could build this empire but on the back of the people from this equatorial band in which cacao was born. So when we eat chocolate today, we should remember that this delectable treat that we crave during get-togethers, the holidays, after break ups, on cold days, or really, any day of the year, was made possible by Indigenous genius and Indigenous and African exploitation.

On the backs

Coe, Sophie D.; Coe, Michael D. (2013-06-28). The True History of Chocolate (Kindle Location 1667). Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.

Mintz, Sydney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking Penguin. 1985.