The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.
Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.
Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.
Types of Chocolate in the Tasting
(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.
(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.
(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.
(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.
Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.
(1) Direct Trade:
Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
Easy-to-read font that pops out
(2) Fair Trade:
Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso
Observations of Packaging:
“Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)
Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
Observations of Packaging:
“Typical coffee colors”
Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)
Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.
For my final project, I decided to
host a chocolate tasting with fellow students Frankie Hill and Sarah Kahn, who
will be writing their thoughts on the tasting independently. The six types of
chocolate we chose to use for the tasting were Cote D’Or’s Belgian Milk Chocolate,
produced by Mondelez International, Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey, a special take on
traditional white chocolate, Antidote’s 84% cacao dark chocolate with nibs as
well as their 100% “raw” chocolate with nibs, and finally, Taza Chocolate’s
Stone Ground 84% dark chocolate from Haiti, as well as their 80% dark chocolate
from the Dominican Republic. We thought that these chocolates represented a
variety of different tastes, textures, countries of origin and philosophical
approaches to chocolate-making, and as such, we felt it would be appropriate to
use them as units of scholarly analysis, and to use our subjects’ reactions to
the various types of chocolates as real-world context through which to frame
our analysis. These different types of chocolates are connected to various
issues in the contemporary chocolate industry, from the growth of the “fair
trade” movement, to the evolution of our modern understanding of what
constitutes “chocolate” to the surge in the “craft chocolate” industry, to the
exploitation of labor in Africa and much of the rest of the developing world.
In this post, I will be detailing the chocolate tasting subjects’ subjective
evaluations of the various chocolates my colleagues and I selected, and then
diving into my own analysis of how these chocolates connect from a historical,
economic and sociological perspective to the various issues that I have raised.
Chocolate #1: Cote D’Or’s Belgian Milk Chocolate, by Mondelez International
Cote D’Or’s Belgian
Milk Chocolate is a fairly standard milk chocolate blend produced by Mondelez,
the largest chocolate company in the world. It has been a staple of the Belgian
commercial market since its introduction in 1883 (Mondelez International, “Brand
Family”). Every aspect of the chocolate’s packaging and presentation looks
corporate and modern, from the relatively modest off-white exterior of the package
to the basic foil wrapping to the neatly lined, Kit-Kat like rows into which
the chocolate is divided, virtually identical to each other.
The general reaction to the Cote D’Or chocolate from our chocolate
tasters was unimpressive. They commented that the texture was fairly smooth,
the chocolate melted in one’s mouth at a somewhat average rate, and the taste
was largely indistinguishable from the kind of chocolate you would get in a
store-bought basket for Christmas or Easter. The taste of the chocolate seems
consistent with its presentation as the product of a large, Western corporate
conglomerate tailoring its chocolate and ingredients towards mass consumption. One
taster remarked that the bars tasted like “Kit-Kat without the middle part.” One
could say that this chocolate served as a sort of control for the experiment, a
flavor of chocolate most people in the West would already be familiar with.
Connection to Broader Themes from the Course
The most important aspect of the first chocolate, to me, was Mondelez’s
use of its “Cocoa Life” logo on the front of the packaging. Cocoa Life is Mondelez’s
proprietary branding of what it refers to as its “global sustainability program… tackling the complex challenges that cocoa
farmers face, including climate change, gender inequality, poverty and child
labor.” Mondelez’s stated goal is to have all of its chocolate sourced through
its Cocoa Life program by 2025 (Mondelez International, “Why Cocoa Life?”).
This struck an interesting attempt for a large multinational corporation, often
associated in the popular imagination with oppressive hierarchies and exploitation,
to capitalize on recent trends towards sustainably sourced chocolate. As
Kristie Leissle argues in her book Cocoa, in a chapter focusing on trade
justice, consumers in the West are increasingly aware of the abuses that can occur
in chocolate production and seek “guilt-free” sources of chocolate. There is a
movement towards not “free trade,” but “fair trade” in which chocolate farmers
and workers are fairly treated and compensated for their product (Leissle, Cocoa, pgs. 128-158). What is truly interesting
is that even traditional players in the market seem to be convinced that marketing
themselves as fair trade-compliant is now good for profits, a development which
may represent a positive trend towards greater equality in the chocolate
production industry, or more cynically, a coopting of grassroots movements for
economic justice by the usual suspects.
Chocolate #2: Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey
According to Valrhona, Blond Dulcey was the result of a fortunate accident when pastry chef Frederic Bau “absentmindedly left some white chocolate in the double-boiler for too long.” After removing the chocolate from the boiler, he “noteiced it had turned a blond color and the faint smell of toasted shortbread and caramelized milk wafted out of the pan.” Sliced up into irregularly-sized pieces, with a light beige color reminiscent of crackers, and containing 32% cocoa butter (Valrhona US), Blond Dulcey is anything but typical white chocolate, and it seemed appropriate as part of the experiment to try this unique chocolate on our tasters.
Our tasters described the chocolate as very buttery, melting easily in
one’s mouth. It was also described as slightly bitter, sweet but in a mild way,
and as tasting “like nothing” according to one of the tasters. It seems the
high concentration of cocoa butter in the chocolate, as well as the unique chemical
processes giving it its off-white color, produced the intended effect of a substance
which, while marketed as chocolate, tastes, looks and feels very different from
the twenty-first century conception of what “chocolate” is.
Connection to Broader Themes from the Course
“What is chocolate?” is a theme that
has been grappled with from the food’s inception as a grainy Mesoamerican drink
that was originally served cold and consumed by elites for a variety of
ritualistic purposes to a hot, smooth, often bitter concoction taken by
European nobility along with coffee, to the modern, mass-produced chocolate bar
consumed widely across the (mostly) Western world today (Coe and Coe). As
chocolate made its way from the New World to the Old, and then eventually from Old
World elites to the masses, its flavor profile changed, most dramatically so
with the introduction of sugar, and a variety of substances pleasing to Western
palettes changed the nature of chocolate so as to make it almost unrecognizable
from its starting point (Schwartzkopf and Sampeck). The kind of experimentation
with chocolate which led to the creation of Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey has been an
integral part of chocolate’s history, leading us to a moment in modern history
where a white chocolate bar, containing no part of the cacao plant except for the
cocoa butter harvested from the chocolate production process, can legitimately
fall within the spectrum of foods considered “chocolate.”
Chocolates #3 and #4: Antidote Chocolate’s 84% Cacao with Nibs and “Raw 100%” Cacao with Nibs
Antidote produces its chocolates with
“rich Arriba Nacional beans from the south and west of Ecuador.” The company claims
to work mostly with farm cooperatives and to use a proprietary process for its
Raw 100% bars in order to “maximize the potency of anti-oxidants, flavonoids
and holistic nutrients” (Antidote Chocolate). Its founder goes by “Red,” and
the packaging on the company’s bars gives off a very new age, hipster, pseudo-anarchist
vibe which seems common to many craft chocolate brands these days. For our chocolate
tasting session, we offered participants both the 84% and “Raw 100%” cacao
varieties. We thought these bars would provide an excellent contrast with the
earlier chocolate samples and expose our tasters to the experience of “raw”
Our tasters immediately identified the rough, crunchy texture of the
cacao nibs embedded within the chocolates, though they originally misidentified
them as nuts. They were able to distinguish between the 84% and 100% cacao
varieties, with one taster remarking that the 100% cacao tasted “like tree bark,”
and many commenting that it was “unusually bitter.” Another taster remarked
that there was a hint of fruit in the 84% cacao bar. I informed him that the
plants around which a cacao tree is grown often influence the taste of its
fruit, and that “terroir” is an important concept in the burgeoning world of
craft chocolate. All in all, our tasters, which had never tasted chocolate nibs
or anything close to “pure” cacao, were strongly impacted by the taste, though
they did not rate it highly on average.
Connection to Broader Themes from the Course
The Antidote chocolate bars represent a glimpse into the workings of the
modern craft chocolate industry. As Kristy Leissle argues, the craft chocolate
community is obsessed with the concept of artisanal chocolate (Leissle, “‘Artisan’
as Brand: Adding Value In A Craft Chocolate Community”) and constantly seeks to
differentiate itself from big, corporate, traditional chocolate by marketing
its brands as more art-like and less processed. This is exemplified by the
obsession in some craft circles with the concept of “raw” chocolate, though
there is no universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes “raw.” The “Raw
100%” antidote chocolate bar also highlights another tendency of craft
chocolate makers: evoking imagery of ancient Mesoamerican cultures in order to
add the air of authenticity to their products. Antidote’s Raw 100% bar claims
on the packaging to be inspired by Tonacatecuhtli, the Aztec god of creation
and fertility. The debate continues over whether this should be considered
dangerous cultural appropriation, or should be celebrated as a marketing move
which Mesoamerican chocolate farmers will ultimately profit from (Coe and Coe,
Chocolates #5 and #6: Taza Chocolate’s 84% Dark from Haiti and 80% Dark from the Dominican Republic
Taza Chocolate specializes in stone ground chocolate, which it calls “perfectly
unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture.”
Supposedly, its founder and CEO Alex Whitmore was inspired to create a stone
ground chocolate-factory in Somerville, MA after taking his first bite of stone
ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico (Taza Chocolate). For our chocolate
tasting session, we chose Taza Chocolates’s 84% Dark with chocolate from Haiti,
as well as the 80% Dark with chocolate from the Dominican Republic. We wanted
to stick with dark chocolate to give our tasters further exposure to
concentrated cacao flavors, and chose both Haiti and the Dominican Republic as
they less common sources of chocolate than the typical chocolate from Ghana and
the Ivory Coast, yet are connected to these two countries through shared
histories of colonialism and exploitation. We also thought that stone ground
chocolate might present an interesting spin on the concept of “raw” chocolate
as compared to Antidote’s take on “raw” chocolate.
Our tasters repeatedly remarked that there was a rougher texture to the
Taza bars than to previous chocolate samples, likely due to the larger particle
size of the chocolate due to the unconventional refining process, as I informed
them after the tasting process. They could also taste the difference between
84% and 80% dark chocolate, though only slightly, suggesting that slight
gradations in cacao concentration can be detected to a limited extent even by
inexperienced tasters. Curiously, our tasters seemed to prefer the 84% Dark from
Haiti over the 80% Dark from the Dominican Republic, even though they reported
the 80% Dark as being slightly sweeter, suggesting that country of origin is an
important factor in determining chocolate taste and quality.
Connections to Broader Themes from the Course
Taza claims to go above and beyond in pursuing ethically sourced chocolate,
paying farmers above the fair trade price for their wares (Taza Chocolate), it
still relies heavily on the racialized system of value extraction that has
historically categorized chocolate production since its inception. As late as the
early 20th century, slave labor was still being used to produce
chocolate in places such as Sao Tome (Satre). In modern times, over 70% of
chocolate is produced in Africa, with a large quantity of the rest being
produced by low-paid black labor in countries such as Haiti and the Dominican
Republic. Yet nonetheless, black workers which produce the majority of the
world’s chocolate consume only a tiny fraction, and most of the profits go to the
white owners of Western chocolate companies (Leissle, pgs. 4-7, 36-46).
Ultimately, our chocolate tasting experiment presented an opportunity to
both enjoy chocolate with friends as well as to continue educating ourselves
and others on some of the broad themes explored in the course this year. It is
my hope that people in the West and across the globe will continue to consume
and enjoy chocolate for many years to come, while keeping in mind the realities
of the global chocolate trade and never taking for granted the blood, sweat and
tears of the less powerful people who make it all possible, fighting every day
to ensure they receive justice.
“Antidote 100% Raw Cacao Bar with
Nibs.” Antidote, 2019,
“Antidote 84% Dark Chocolate Bar
with Nibs.” Antidote, 2019,
Antidote Chocolate. “ABOUT US –
Antidote Chocolate.” Antidote,
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe.
The True History of Chocolate. Thames
and Hudson, 2019.
Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and
the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.
Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn
E. Sampeck. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction: Ingested
Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn
E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 73–99.
Valrhona US. “Blond® Dulcey 32%.” Valrhona US | Retour à La Page D’accueil,
Wade, Kristine. “The Production of Chocolate.” Flickr, 3 Feb. 2017,
How Chocolate Companies Contruct and Distort the Public Understanding of Healthy Food
Chocolate in its generic form occupies an archetypal position within the American diet. Complete with a palatable mixture of milk, some type of fat, and sugar – it is appreciated as a classic form of indulgence. And within the healthy/un-healthy binary thinking that permeates the American perception of food, chocolate has traditionally fallen in the latter category. Beginning in the late 20th century, the public became increasingly aware of the role of everyday diet in determining health, and more consumers sought to understand the nutritional value of the food they purchased. Chocolate companies, in order to capitalize on consumer interests, began to look for ways to rebrand their chocolate products as health foods. As what is considered “healthy” has changed over time, chocolate in America has evolved in response. A case study of two brands, Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw, demonstrates how what companies chose to market as “healthy” changed in response to an evolving understanding of health. The marketing strategies of these chocolate companies have generated more conversation about what makes food nutritious and perhaps given chocolate a more complex position within the diet. However, chocolate companies have continually failed to provide the whole truth to consumers, and their marketing claims, which cherry-pick information from scientific studies, fuel public misconceptions about what constitutes healthy food.
Skinny Cow and The War on Fat
When cardiovascular disease became the leading cause of death in America in the 20th century, scientists and health care providers scrambled to find a cause. From their efforts emerged the war on fat. Fat, especially in its saturated form, became the most vilified nutrient as scientific studies warned others about its high caloric density and ability to build up in the form of plaques within the cardiovascular system (Keys et al.). In 1977, a Senate Committee led by George McGovern published the “Dietary Goals for the United States”, which advised Americans to eat less high fat foods and obtain more caloric intake from grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fat was deemed guilty for causing the cardiovascular health epidemic (Oppenheimer and Benrubi).
What transpired in the food industry was the reduction of fat across almost all grocery store items. “Low-fat” labels started to appear on peanut butter jars, potato chip bags, and granola bar boxes. Chocolate was no exception. In 1991, Silhouette Brands Inc. launched Skinny Cow, which produced and sold low-fat, low-calorie ice cream. Soon, Skinny Cow’s product line expanded to include truffle bars and chocolate clusters. One of the brand’s advertisements is shown below.
The premise of this advertisement was that Skinny Cow chocolate tastes just as good as other generic chocolate bars while also being healthier. Throughout the advertisement, Skinny Cow emphasized the low-calorie content of their chocolate. Furthermore, on their boxes, they highlight the calorie and fat content by printing the numbers in bolded font and boxing them in color. While there was not necessarily an explicit heart-healthy claim in how Skinny Cow marketed their chocolate, their chocolate still capitalized on closely related consumer concerns
Skinny Cow, just like many other brands at the time, conflated low-fat and low-calorie with healthy. While the health dangers of excessive consumption of fat and calories have a scientific basis, what transpired in the market presented an oversimplified view of nutrition. Fat is essential for the human development process, especially at an early age, and is crucial for satiety and vitamin absorption. However, consumers pounced at the idea of a healthy chocolate, and Skinny Cow became very successful in the market. In 2004, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Nestle, bought Silhouette Brands Inc. for $70 million (Dreyer’s Purchases Silhouette Brands – LA Times).
Righteously Raw and The War on Sugar
Statistics showed that heart disease rates declined from the 1980s to the 2000s, although at least half of this decrease has been attributed to improvements in medical and surgical treatments rather than risk factors (Ford et al.). Furthermore, heart disease continued to remain the leading cause of death in America, and obesity rates continued to climb at a steady rate.
The war on fat caused Americans to eat more carbohydrates, primarily simple carbohydrates and sugars, in place of fat (Aller et al.). Entering the 21st century, more and more people began to question the supposed “unhealthiness” of fat. Review articles criticized the poor correlation found in many studies between fat consumption and body weight (Tobias et al.). An increasing number of studies started to probe another nutrient, sugar, instead. The public response shifted to focus on reducing sugar consumption. In 2012, New York City’s Board of Health voted to ban restaurants from selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 oz. In 2014, an article titled “Ending the War on Fat” and written by Bryan Walsh was published by Time Magazine (Fat Is Good for You | Time.Com).
“New research suggests that it’s the overconsumption of carbohydrates, sugar and sweeteners that is chiefly responsible for the epidemics of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Refined carbohydrates–like those in “wheat” bread, hidden sugar, low-fat crackers and pasta–cause changes in our blood chemistry that encourage the body to store the calories as fat and intensify hunger, making it that much more difficult to lose weight.”
Chocolate companies responded similarly. In the 2000s, a number of chocolate brands, which marketed their chocolate on cacao content rather than fat or calorie content, sprang up. One of these companies was Righteously Raw, which was independently founded in 2004 by business woman Audrey Darrow. A picture of a packaged Righteously Raw chocolate piece is included below. The “Raw” part of the company’s name refers to how the company attempted makes its chocolate from raw cacao beans to increase the amount of antioxidants in the bar. The company claims that their beans are raw because they are not roasted. The “Righteous” part refers to how the ingredients of the chocolate are ethically sourced, meaning that cacao beans are only purchased from farms and growers who provide ethical working conditions for employees.
Different from how Skinny Cow marketed its chocolate, Righteously Raw, as seen on its packaging, emphasized the cacao content of its chocolate and the absence of refined sugar. From the nutritional information provided by Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw, it is evident that the fat content per serving increased by 3 grams while the sugar content fell by 8 grams.
Interestingly, the calorie content when serving sizes are equilibrated does not change significantly, meaning that the energy which was provided by sugar in Skinny Cow chocolate was substituted for by fat in Righteously Raw chocolate. Other components, such as sodium and cholesterol, did not change significantly either. This change in nutrition comes from the change in ingredients used to make chocolate. As shown on the ingredients list for Skinny Cow chocolate, sugar was the highest quantity ingredient in the bar. Looking at the ingredients listed for Righteously Raw’s 83% Pure Dark chocolate, cocoa butter is the highest quantity ingredient followed by cocoa powder.
Righteously Raw has defined “healthy” chocolate to mean chocolate that is dark and minimally processed. They manufactured their chocolate in a way which capitalized on recent popular studies that have explored the antioxidant content of red wine and cacao as having heart protective properties. In the 1990s, antioxidants began to draw public attention as scientific studies suggested they could protect against heart disease by preventing the buildup of free radical species (Antioxidant Vitamins and the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease – American Family Physician). In terms of chocolate, people were led to believe that the darker a chocolate is, the healthier it must be. This claim does have some scientific merit to it. Studies by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have reported that even the small amount of antioxidants present in chocolate have been found to have a heart protective effect in observational studies. However, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has been much more cautious in advising an increase in chocolate, even dark chocolate, consumption (“Study Strengthens Case for Heart Benefit in Chocolate”). Dr. Elizabeth Motofsky reported that
“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems. But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice.”
Thus, while Righteously Raw seems to correctly assert the benefits of antioxidants, it’s incorrect in its implicit claim that increasing its brand’s chocolate consumption will improve health.
Righteously Raw also runs into trouble in claiming that it has a higher nutritional value from the rawness of its ingredients. By definition, raw food is not heated to temperatures exceeding 118 degrees Fahrenheit in its preparation. The exact “rawness” of its cacao is questionable given that all cacao beans must first be fermented, a process which often exceeds temperatures of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. And whatever the case, farms, not companies themselves, control the bean fermentation process. Righteously Raw claims that roasting the cacao beans destroys many beneficial polyphenols within the beans. However, this claim has not been supported by scientific studies. The roasting process itself does not necessarily destroy antioxidants and in some cases can even make antioxidants more bioavailable (Scapagnini et al.) Furthermore, both the fermentation and roasting process help kill harmful pathogens that would otherwise pose a new, separate problem to consumer health. Overall, Righteously Raw in creating and branding its chocolate selected different parts of scientific studies which fit the company’s story. Despite there being scientific support to some aspects of its claims, its claims in their overall entirety remain problematic.
Beyond the scope of nutrition, both Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw address and are themselves implicated in different social issues. Skinny Cow, as demonstrated in the video advertisement and as evidenced in their femininely packaged items, specifically markets to women. The cow mascot features a measuring tape around its waist, and the company’s marketing scheme promotes the gender-specific expectation that women need a slim waist to be appealing. Righteously Raw on the other hand has arguably less gendering in its advertisements. However, its unit price is significantly higher than that of Skinny Cow and generic chocolate brands, such as Hershey’s. On the its company website, one bar of chocolate, which is 57 grams, sells for $5.99. By contrast, Skinny Cow costs around $1.85 per 60 grams of chocolate and Hershey’s costs around 80 cents for the same amount. Such a steep price difference, whether justified by ethical practices and ingredient quality or not, raises the issue of who is able to afford to eat healthy. Is healthy chocolate something that everyone has the chance to enjoy, or is it just a fashion statement for America’s well-off? While it would take several more blog posts to explore these issues in depth, these questions serve as a reminder of the limitations beyond having sound scientific studies and transparent marketing in terms of helping people eat healthy.
A Grain of Salt
America continues to have a health problem, and consumers, especially those endowed with the time and financial resources to do so, have demonstrated interest in how they can adjust their diets based on recommendations from public health officials. In the midst of massive cardiovascular health concern, there has been a dream that there exists food which consumers can eat the same way they might take pills as a cure. Chocolate, in its indulgent splendor, was and continues to be an especially appealing target for a miracle food. Companies have tried to sell this dream of a healthy, guilt-free chocolate. However, as with almost all food fads, this chocolate dream falls prey to common sense and the moderation mindset. Ultimately, while companies have been pushed by nutrition regulations and consumer interest to report more on their nutritional content, they have also cherry picked from studies and fueled misconceptions about what constitutes healthy food. Their explanations often suffer from oversimplification and generate misconceptions about nutrients, such as sugar and fat. Perhaps one good thing that this discordant conversation has produced is a more complex understanding of chocolate and its health value in the diet. For chocolate lovers and companies alike, it is likely for the better that chocolate is not strictly in the unhealthy category of food. And as for when and how much to consume of chocolate, it seems wisest with the current body of knowledge to continue to enjoy it as an occasional snack or dessert.
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Obesity is rapidly on the rise and has been classified
as one of the largest public health issues known today. Obesity is a disease
that can cause an individual to be at risk for various other health
complications such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other
chronic illnesses. In the Untied States, the population of overweight children
has tripled since 1980 causing around two-thirds of the American population to
be considered overweight (Albritton, 2010). There is a stark contrast between
the health of the population and the modernization of society. It has been shown
that as populations continue to grow and society continues to modernize and
improve, the health of individuals is on the downfall. Worldwide there has been
a six-fold increase in the number of individuals who suffer from diabetes since
1985. In India, it was noted that 11 percent of the population suffers from
obesity, whereas in Mexico this was found to be 14 percent (Albritton, 2010). This
is in part related to the large increase in sugar and sugar filled substances available
to the public. Marion Nestle, found that on average Americans consume around 31
teaspoons of sugar a day, half of this coming from soft drinks (Albritton, 2010).
Because of the Industrial Revolution and the advancement of technology, sugar (one
of the cheapest food ingredients along with salt and fat) has been used by
various companies to increase mass production.
Just as the sugar consumption has been increasing, there is a rapid increase in salt and fat consumption. Today in the United States, salt consumption has increased by twenty percent over a ten-year period. Consequently, as people increase their salt consumption they look for a substance to quench their thirst, which in many cases is satisfied with sugar beverages; thus, increasing sugar consumption. Additionally, there has been around a twenty-fold increase in fat consumption since 2005 (Albritton, 2010). Because of the rapid increase in chronic disease, the World Health Organization in 2003 enacted certain recommendations for specific dietary intakes. For example, they stated that sugars should not go beyond ten percent of an individual’s daily calorie intake. Despite these recommendations, the junk food business has catered towards children’s craving snacks causing American children to receive around twenty five percent of calorie intake from snacks and therefore a continuous increase in sugar consumption (Albritton, 2010).
Misconception of Chocolate
While most of these sugary, salty and fatty
substances come from other junk food brands rather than chocolate, many
individuals continue to associate chocolate as a primary cause for the increase
in health risks among individuals. Today, chocolate companies have transformed a
substance that was once glorified and solely consumed by the elite into one that
has become negatively viewed and mass produced. Just as in all other
industries, the influence of technology has allowed for chocolate brands to increase
their production rate by mass producing a variety of different forms of chocolate.
Consequently, individuals have shifted from consuming the rich and pure form of
chocolate to consuming a highly processed type that includes the use of more
sugar and cheaper ingredients. However, this does not mean that all types of chocolate
must be categorized as having a negative impact on an individual’s health but rather
that there must be more precaution when choosing what and how much chocolate to
consume. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate, can have a wide range of health
benefits if the consumer properly selects for the correct type, quality and quantity
History of Chocolate and Health
Chocolate was first used by the Olmec in 1100
BC. The cacao comes from the tree known as Theobroma
Cacao originally found in the Amazon basin. The name itself, originates from
the Greek language: Theo which means
god and Broma which means drink. The Incas
considered this drink to be “a drink of the gods” and therefore the elite were
the only ones who were allowed to drink from it (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg
2009). They believed the fruit provided wisdom and power
while the chocolate drink would benefit their health. The Aztec Emperor
Montezuma referred to the drink as “A divine drink which builds up resistance
and fights fatigue” (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009).
Not only did they view cacao as an energy substance but also thought of it as
having aphrodisiac properties. It was noted that the Aztec emperor would drink
a large amount of chocolate each day before engaging in sexual intercourse (Squicciarini
& Swinnen, 2016).
When the Spaniards discovered chocolate and observed the way the Aztecs used this substance, they soon realized the medicinal benefits the cacao drink could have. The Aztecs would primarily consume this drink before hard labor, in order to avoid getting tired throughout the day (Coe & Coe, 2007). As the discovery of chocolate began to spread, the literature began documenting the health benefits of chocolate. In 1592 the Badianus Manuscript stated that the cocoa flowers had the ability to reduce fatigue. In 1590, the Florentine Codex stated that cocoa could be used to treat fever, diarrhea and heart weakness (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). In 1591 Juan de Cárdenas published the treatise on New World Foods and described that if cacao was prepared a certain way (toasting, grinding and mixing with atole) this could aid in digestion and make an individual powerful and joyful (Coe & Coe, 2007). Soon after the Spanish discovery of chocolate, it was introduced throughout Europe and in 1741 Linnaeus documented the role of chocolate as a source of nourishment, a cure for illness and an aphrodisiac. In 1834 prior to the first chocolate boom, the Dispensatory of the United States stated that chocolate was nutritious and should only be consumed as a drink in the morning as a substitute for an individual’s morning coffee (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
Although the Aztecs and the Mayas mainly consumed chocolate as a liquid drink, the Industrial Revolution popularized chocolate as solid bars. In 1847 Joseph Fry created the first chocolate bar and soon after the first chocolate boom occurred between 1880-1940, when there was a spike in income and more people began purchasing and consuming chocolate (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). The creation of two key inventions during this time, Hydraulic press and Dutch-process, allowed for diversity in the chocolate making business. The Hydraulic press was used to strip away the fats from the cocoa and produce cocoa butter from the beans. The Dutch-process introduced the alkalization of the cocoa which could change the color of the chocolate products made (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). These key inventions allowed for the creation of different forms of chocolate, which large chocolate companies would benefit from in order to expand their specific brand. Chocolate was soon created in the form of cereals, cakes, ice cream and even lotion. However, chocolate bars continued to be among the most popular type of chocolate consumed in the American economy.
Not only were chocolate bars consumed by children but also by soldiers during the American Civil War. With the new packaging and production of chocolate bars, the soldiers were able to easily and quickly consume this new food product. Similar to the Aztecs, the soldiers took advantage of this energy dense food product. During the war and specifically in times of emergency, the chocolate bars would help provide soldiers an easy and efficient way to sustain themselves throughout battle (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
Biochemistry of Chocolate
In addition to energy, chocolate has been
studied to provide a large range of health benefits including cardiovascular benefits,
insulin resistance, lipid levels, antioxidant effects, mental health benefits
and many more. In an interview with Marissa Zarco, MS RDN she noted the key
reason for such health benefits comes from the micronutrients found in chocolate
specifically flavanols. Mrs. Zarco explained that the flavanols found in chocolate
exhibit a vasodilating effect on the human body and therefore can have a positive
effect on cardiovascular diseases and blood pressure.
Flavanols are a subcategory of polyphenols
which are found in plants and have been proven to alter the function of
different pathways in the body. Flavanols are made up of two aromatic rings which
are bound together by a three-carbon chain (Farhat, Drummond, Fyfe, Al- Dujaili,
2014). Flavanols can be subdivided into monomers which are called epicatechin and
catechin and polymers which are known as procyanidins. The monomers are more
common in various different types of fruit and the procyanidins give cocoa the bitter
taste (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009). Flavanols
have the ability to reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular effects
through vasodilation, antioxidant effects by reducing reactive oxygen species
and improving platelet levels etc.
Specifically, flavanols activate nitric oxide
concentration levels, which can help combat reactive oxygen species and prevent
oxidative stress. When the body has too high a concentration of reactive oxygen
species such as oxygen free radicals, the body will go into oxidative stress
and cause for the development of severe diseases. Therefore, a high flavanol
diet will allow for an increase in the nitric oxide concentration which can
lead to vasodilation, prevent cell adhesion and platelet aggregation. However,
not all types of chocolate contain the same amount of flavanol content because of
the reduction in the flavanol levels that occurs as the cocoa beans are
processed. (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009).
Three Factors to Consider
When choosing which chocolate to buy, an individual must consider three factors: type, quality, and quantity of chocolate. When choosing the type of chocolate there are usually three options: dark, milk and white chocolate. An individual should aim to choose one that has the highest amount of cocoa with the lowest amount of sugar (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). In order to create the different types of chocolates, they must undergo manufacturing steps and therefore some are richer in flavanols, cocoa nibs, milk or added sugars compared to others.
Dark chocolate compared to milk and white chocolate has the highest number of cocoa solids and lowest amount of sugar and is rich in flavanols. Milk chocolate has a small amount of cocoa solids mixed with a milk substance whether it be condensed or powdered. Lastly, white chocolate is the least pure out of the three, this type of chocolate has no cocoa solids and is instead made up of twenty percent of cocoa butter in addition to a milk product (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
The quality of chocolate is assessed by the
number of ingredients, the proportion of ingredients, and the processing
methods the chocolate goes through. The key ingredients that are considered
are: cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder. When choosing a chocolate
an individual should pay close attention to the label and determine the proportion
of cocoa nibs compared to all other ingredients (Squicciarini & Swinnen,
Lastly, the quantity of chocolate is important
when analyzing the nutritional benefits. In the past, many nutritionists
recommended individuals who were suffering from obesity and/or trying to lose weight
to completely eliminate chocolate from their diet. However, today nutritionists
have realized the importance of chocolate in protecting the human body from
severe diseases or a state of oxidative stress and therefore have emphasized
the need to restrict the amount consumed rather than completely eliminate it. Studies
have shown that small doses of 5-10g daily of dark chocolate can positively enhance
human health whether it be through anti-inflammation, hypertension, and/or altering
plasma lipid levels (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
Moderate consumption of dark chocolate can help
with lowering blood pressure. A study conducted with the Kuna individuals stated
that because of their high levels of consumption of chocolate beverages they exhibited
remarkably low blood pressure states. However, after further investigation it
was noted that this study was not properly conducted and the correlation
between the levels of chocolate consumption of the Kuna individuals and blood
pressure was not accurate (Howe, 2012). However, this is not to say that current
studies have not found a correlation between chocolate consumption and blood
It has been shown that a regular intake of dark chocolate
promotes blood vessel dilation because of the effect of polyphenols on
increasing nitric oxide concentration and thus lowering blood pressure (Squicciarini
& Swinnen, 2016). Additionally, chocolate has some levels of potassium which
can result in the release of sodium ions therefore aiding the regulation of
blood pressure levels. The Rusconi et al. (2012) study assed the relationship
between different types of chocolate and blood pressure. The study recruited a
group of adult males and had them consume a certain amount of either dark or
white chocolate every day. Over the course of 28 days they noticed a decrease
in blood pressure in the participants who only consumed dark chocolate (Squicciarini
& Swinnen, 2016).
Plasma Lipid Levels
Chocolate can also improve an individual’s plasma lipid levels. Specifically, cocoa butter found in dark chocolate contains oleic acid which is said to affect lipid levels. Cocoa butter has been found to increase HDL cholesterol, decrease LDL cholesterol and decrease the availability of triglycerides in the human body, which can then have a positive effect on the presence of cardiovascular diseases. A study found this to be true after a group of participants consumed around 75g of dark chocolate a day for three weeks. While this did not hold for the consumption of white chocolate, when assessing milk chocolate the researchers also found there to be a decrease in the triglyceride levels and an increase in the HDL cholesterol levels (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
Chocolate can have an impact on mental health and
cravings. Because chocolate contains highly branched amino acids, there can be
an increase in the amount of serotonin released. Serotonin is neurotransmitter
that is linked to depression: low levels of serotonin can increase depression. Therefore,
by increasing serotonin levels, chocolate can help improve an individual’s
mood. This can be observed throughout a women’s menstrual cycle. During this
time a women’s progesterone levels decrease and their cravings for chocolate
increase; thus, combatting the effect of depression during this time (Squicciarini
& Swinnen, 2016).
Although there is a rapid rise in obesity rates and chronic diseases it is incorrect to generalize this to the effect of chocolate products. As shown, there are a great amount of studies that have been conducted in order to explore the health benefits of chocolate. While it is true that chocolate can negatively impact human health, this is not always the case. By focusing on the three factors: type, quality and quantity when consuming chocolate an individual protects him/herself from the negative effects that can be seen when someone over consumes chocolate that has high amounts of sugar and other cheap ingredients. While, most studies focus on dark chocolate and its health benefits there should be more research focused on how to make this type of chocolate more accessible to the entire population. A valuable food product such as chocolate, should not only be restricted to the elite, as it once was with the Aztecs and Maya, but rather consumed and enjoyed by all.
Albritton, R. (2010). Between obesity and hunger: The capitalist food industry. Socialist Register,46, Socialist Register, 0, 2010, Vol.46.
Coe, S ., & Coe, M. 2007. The True History of Chocolate.
Corti, R. J., Flammer, A. K., Hollenberg, N. F., & Lüscher, T. (2009). Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation,119(10), 1433-1441.
Howe, J. (2012). Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture,12(1), 43-52.
Farhat, G., Drummond, S., Fyfe, L., & Al-Dujaili, E. (2014). Dark Chocolate: An Obesity Paradox or a Culprit for Weight Gain? Phytotherapy Research,28(6), 791-7.
Squicciarini, M., & Swinnen, J. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford: Oxford University Press USA – OSO.
A major problem that has existed within the chocolate production industry has been the ethics surrounding the harvesting of cacao. For decades the means of harvesting cacao involved slavery where people were forced to work in harsh conditions, for 18 hours a day without pay (Carla Martin, Lecture 5). After the major cacao producing countries outlawed slavery, the working conditions still didn’t improve and the pay the workers received was not nearly enough to live. In fact, because many of the cacao producing farms were hidden in the jungle, many farm owners still got away with slavery because the lack of visibility meant the farm owners weren’t held accountable for their unethical standards. Even today visibility and pay are still a major problem in the cacao farming industry. In 2015, the average income for a Ghanaian household working in the cacao farming industry was between 50 and 80 cents per day (Carla Martin, Lecture 7). However, one company that is working to bring ethics and visibility to the cacao farming and chocolate production industries is Divine Chocolate.
Divine Chocolate is a British bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer that was founded in 1998. Their mission is to create delicious and ethical chocolate from the harvesting of the cacao beans, to the selling of the bars. They also, ensure that all other ingredients that go into their chocolate bars are produced in an ethical manner. Divine Chocolate was created when Twin Trading and Kuapa Kokoo came together with the goal of changing the world cacao market for the better. Twin Trading is a non-governmental organization that creates farming co-operatives around the world. They focus on improving the working conditions and paying fair wages to farmers. Their main focus is on the ethical farming of coffee, cacao, and nuts (“Who We Are”). One of their farming co-ops is called Kuapa Kokoo, which is a farming co-op in Ghana that grows and trades cacao. Kuapa Kokoo is comprised of 85,000 farmers from 1,257 different villages (“About Us”). That number continues to grow because of the exceptional way they treat and pay their farming members. All of the cacao that goes into the Divine Chocolate bars are grown by farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo farming co-op.
Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative
Kuapa Kokoo was founded in 1993 and it means “good cacao growers”. Their mission is “to empower farmers in their efforts to gain a dignified livelihood, to increase women’s participation in Kuapa’s activities, and to develop environmentally friendly cultivation of cocoa” (“The Divine Story”). In, 1995, Kuapa Kokoo was the first small farm farmers’ organization in West Africa to receive the Fairtrade certification. They ensure the farmers are working reasonable hours, with sufficient breaks, and proper pay. Kuapa Kokoo does all the administrative work that goes into trading cacao and bypasses all the shady government cacao agents. This is to ensure visibility, fairness and that the farmers are not getting swindled by government agents or other entities with ulterior motives. Specifically, Kuapa Kokoo, “weighs, bags, and transports the cocoa to market [and] ensures that all its activities are transparent, accountable and democratic (“The Divine Story”). Before the Kuapa Kokoo co-op existed, government agencies would use faulty scales that misrepresented the true weight of a farmer’s cacao harvest. This allowed them to steal from unsuspecting farmers which further harmed them.
Structure of Divine Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo
Where Divine Chocolate is especially unique is in their company structure. Today, 44% of Divine Chocolate is owned by the Kuapa Kokoo farming Co-op. In other words, this means that each farmer in the Kuapa Kokoo co-op has a small ownership stake in Divine Chocolate. This unique business structure earned Divine Chocolate the Millennium Product award “for its innovative organizational model” (“Inside Divine”). This is the first company in the world where the cacao farmers have a stake in the chocolate company they are harvesting for. This is significant because Kuapa Kokoo and its farming members now have a say in how Divine manufactures, markets, and sells their products. Because the farmers partially own Divine chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo is a Fairtrade co-op, the farmers are paid exceedingly better than they were before. Receiving a cut of Divine’s profit, having a say in Divine’s operations, and having an influence in the worldwide marketplace has greatly empowered and motivated the farmers because now their work is properly valued, their ideas are considered, and their well-being is a priority.
Divine is committed to ensuring that farmers of Kuapa Kokoo have a voice in the company. Currently two out of the five members of Divine’s Board of Directors are from Kuapa Kokoo. Divine also ensures that at least one out of the four yearly board meetings are held in Ghana (“Inside Divine”). This ensures that all the farmers can witness and participate in the company in a meaningful way.
Goodness in Ghana
The effect that Divine Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo has had on the community has been immeasurable. First, because Kuapa Kokoo is a Fairtrade co-op, they receive a Fairtrade premium. The Fairtrade premium is a grant of additional money given to the co-op so the farmers can collectively decide how to improve their community and their workplace. With this premium, the farmers have invested in community development, farm skill development, clean water, improving education, and several other things that improve the lifestyle of those in the community (“The Divine Story”). They similarly receive dividends from Divine Chocolate which allows the farmers to upgrade equipment yearly so as to ensure high levels of production.
Kuapa Kokoo is also deeply concerned with social and environmental issues. They been on the forefront of speaking out against child labor because they understand that this is still a major problem that needs to be address throughout the industry. They also have created several goals that are aimed at improving the environment and increasing productivity while still adapting to environmental changes.
Divine Chocolate has also had a large effect on the global chocolate market. They have set an extraordinary example of how to ethically run a chocolate company. Since their founding in 1998, the number of Fairtrade chocolate sales in the UK has skyrocketed by more than 8800%. Many of the major chocolate companies have also made a shift to become more Fairtrade. Divine Chocolate’s success inspired Cadbury to convert Cadbury Dairy Milk to Fairtrade. This was a major move because, not only was Cadbury Dairy Milk its leading brand, but Cadbury was also one of the major five chocolate companies in the world so having them convert even one product to Fairtrade had a major effect on a lot of people worldwide (“The Divine Story”). In the years following Cadbury’s move, Nestlé and Mars began buying cocoa from Cote D’Ivoire which was the beginning of their process to partially convert to Fairtrade. By 2013, the shift to Fairtrade chocolate worldwide was in full swing. In the UK specifically, in 2013 eleven percent of the chocolate sold was deemed Fairtrade (“The Divine Story”). Divine Chocolate takes pride in the fact that they were one of the first companies to commit themselves to Fairtrade ethics and they are even prouder that their example has inspired other companies to commit to Fairtrade production.
Divine in the US
As I mentioned before, Divine Chocolate was a company that headquartered and sold only in the UK. However, in 2007, with the help of Oikocredit, (a company that provides loans and capital), Divine Chocolate was able to launch its United States branch of the company. In fact, Divine Chocolate launched in the United States on Valentine’s Day 2007 which is the day the most chocolate is bought and consumed in the United States (“The Divine Story”). Their original launch was very small; however, now Divine Chocolate is sold at Whole Foods, Walgreens, Walmart, and through Amazon.com.
In 2015, after the Divine Chocolate USA branch gained solid footing in the American market, Divine Chocolate merged their UK and USA branches to form one unified company. With this new structure, the Kuapa Kokoo co-op still remained 44% owners of the company (“Inside Divine”). The CEO of the newly merged company was Sophi Tranchell. She was a managing director from the UK branch of the company before they made the merge. After the merger she said, “Having launched Divine in the USA nine years after the founding company launched in the UK, it has been very exciting to see it successfully navigate all the challenges in the USA market and mirror the success of Divine in the UK. We have seen a growing appetite around the world for business being done differently” (“Inside Divine”). In this statement Sophi Tranchell alludes to the fact that Americans became more aware of the issues involved with products that weren’t Fairtraded. This heightened people’s willingness to purchase Fairtraded chocolate even though they are typically more expensive. Sophi also mentions how the added American dimension to the company makes their global reach much larger and makes Divine stronger because they can inspire and market to a completely different group of people. Furthermore, the new market allows Divine “to deliver [on their] mission to fairly and sustainably remunerate smallholder cocoa farmers in West Africa” (“Inside Divine”). This larger market means more profit which, in turn, means more money for the farmers who need it the most.
Uniqueness in the Fairtrade Chocolate Market
One way that Divine Chocolate differentiates itself from a lot of other bean-to-bar Fairtrade chocolate companies is through the products they offer. Many bean-to-bar Fairtrade chocolate companies only offer dark chocolate. This is very problematic because the majority of the global market prefers milk chocolate and, if there are no Fairtrade options, consumers are forced to turn to the big 5 chocolate companies which are generally not Fairtrade. In fact, in a 2013 survey it was found that 51 percent of people prefer milk chocolate, 35 percent prefer dark, and 8 percent prefer white chocolate (Ballard). However, Divine helps fill this gap in the Fairtrade chocolate market because they offer all three types of chocolate in a variety of different flavors which very few companies do. Divine, along with a few other diverse Fairtraded chocolate companies , are helping take power away from the Big 5 Chocolate companies that are not fairly traded.
Divines presence in the world market place is growing nicely. I believe Divine Chocolate will continue to grow and thrive in the Fairtrade Chocolate market. Last year group sales increased 6.4%, however the impending Brexit decision has affected their overall profit margins mostly because of the decline in value of the dollar and pound in relation to the Euro (Annual Report 2017-2018). Nevertheless, the number of sales increased nicely from the year before and, once the turmoil surrounding Brexit is resolved, the increase in sales will begin to show in their balance sheet.
Kuapa Kokoo is also flourishing as they now produce almost 5 percent of Ghanaian cacao, which equates to about 640,000 sacks of cacao a year (“The Divine Story”). While 5 percent may seem small, the most important thing is that it is all produced and sold ethically, while prioritizing the health of its workers and the environment. Divine also has plans within the next year to expand its range of cacao to São Tomé (Annual Report 2017-2018). This will broaden their market appeal and it will allow them to bring their groundbreaking business model to the people of São Tomé. The farmers on São Tomé have historically been treated very poorly over the years and they will greatly benefit from Divine’s co-op business model.
I think things are looking up on all fronts for Divine Chocolate. Their commitment for over 20 years to empower the farmer has transformed thousands of people’s lives. It is very important that Divine continues with their mission because, while they have made a big impact already, there is still a lot of work to be done in the global market place. All in all, Divine has done a great job addressing the major problems in the chocolate industry that we have discussed in class. They have increased visibility, paid fairly, and empowered the farmer so that participating in the bean-to-bar chocolate making industry is desirable and sustainable for everyone from the top to the bottom.
A few months back my aunt Bazat Saifiyyah made a chocolate sauce that everyone in my family went completely crazy over. We would eat it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With many different foods such as ice-cream, strawberries when they were in season, spread over toast or just eaten plain.
For my blog post I want to explore within the context of my aunt’s recipe, the ingredients that go into it, where does the chocolate come from, the historical backing and also the perception of chocolate and its health benefits.
The ingredients that go into the chocolate sauce are butter, dark chocolate compound, Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa, Hershey’s caramel syrup, icing sugar, milk and fresh cream.
The chocolate sauce is made by melting butter over a low heat flame, then add the dark chocolate compound broken up into many pieces. Then after this has melted the milk and fresh cream are added and then whisked until fully mixed. Then after this, the Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa powder is added with the icing sugar. After this, the caramel syrup is added. Then the whole mixture is to be whisked over a low flame for two minutes, then it is ready to be eaten.
This is a short video that I have taken during the making of the chocolate sauce.
What is the history behind the recipe?
Cacao first came to be cultivated agriculturally by the Olmecs in the lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast ( C ) It was picked up by the Mayans and then from them the Aztecs. In this time the way that they processed the cacao bean was very different then how it is processed today. The cacao pod would be harvested and then its beans would be dried, roasted, shelled and then ground on a metate to make a paste, this paste could have other flavoring additions to it depending on the culture that it was made in. This paste was then made into balls from which a hot foamy chocolate drink was made, this seems to have been the primary way in which the Mesoamericans consumed their cacao. However, there are mentions of it being used in other food items. ( C )
This is a video that demonstrates the Mesoamerican chocolate making practices.
This cacao consumption was picked up by the Spanish during their colonization period. It became an extremely important part of their culture and practices. Then it was picked up by the European colonizers and it became joined with sugar that was also being produced in the colonies. Then came the inventions that changed how chocolate was produced such as conching by Rudolph Lindt in Switzerland, this made the chocolate smooth by breaking down the large particles in a machine. ( P ) Also, the addition of dairy products like milk and cream to chocolate changed drastically how chocolate was enjoyed by many people.
Where does the cacao come from?
The two chocolate products that go into making this compound are Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa and Mordes dark compound chocolate ( CD D16 ). Both these ingredients are processed differently to reach the state that they are in.
Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa-
The processing of cacao to reach cocoa powder was invented by Coenerad Van Houten in the Netherlands. He developed a technique which processed cacao beans in such a way that they separated into two compounds, cacao butter, and a solid cake. ( P ) The cacao butter was the more prized of the two compounds and often it was sold by companies and not used with the solids of the beans that it came from. The solid cocoa cake that was made was then ground up into a fine powder and it is used in chocolate drinks and baking. Another process that also goes behind the cocoa powder made today is the dutch processing technique which is a treatment done by adding alkaline salts to neutralize the bitter taste and also to have a darker colored chocolate. ( P )
There is no mention of the product about where the cacao that goes into this process comes from. This makes the cacao completely anonymous.
This anonymity of chocolate shows a shift in the attitudes of people towards cacao beans and their sourcing. In the past centuries, before the manufacturing of chocolate became so connected to the industrialized process, the sourcing of the cacao bean was of utmost importance. The criollo pods were counted as the best type of cacao, it has the sweetest flavor and the richest taste ( P), the finding of this pod is extremely rare nowadays and many expert chocolatiers try with great difficulty to get a hold of this criollo pod to make their chocolate. This pod was mainly used by the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs and then it was transported to Hispanic plantations such as Venezuela during their period of colonization. ( P ) The most common type of cacao in use today is the forastero variety, this is purple and of a darker color then the criollo variety, it is also extremely bitter however the multiple industrial processes that cacao beans go through these days balance out the bitterness. Then there is also the Trinitario variety, this is a cross breed between the criollo and forastero, it was developed in Trinidad, this is the most resilient variety and it has a more pleasant taste than the foraestro. ( P )
The other factor that matters a lot in the sourcing of cacao is where is it grown, this contains the Terrior of the landscape and also carries a lot of history and chocolate traditions and culture with it. Chocolate has a dark history intertwined with the slave trade and abuse of peoples in plantations. In the modern day, the roots of colonization, the booming cacao trade, and European chocolate culture has led to established cacao farming in many parts of the world that were colonized such as Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ecuador and West Africa. Today West Africa produces 75% of the worlds cacao and most of this cacao is exported for production abroad, only 4% of the worlds chocolate is consumed by its people. West Africa collectively produces 3 million metric tonnes of cacao in a year( L 8)
There is a lot that goes into the cacao bean and if it is made so anonymous its history is wiped away and its variety and subtleties are emitted out of the chocolate making process as nobody knows where it originates from.
Mordes dark compound chocolate ( CD D16 )
This chocolate is also another example of the anonymity of the cacao bean today. The ingredients that go into making this bar are as follows, Sugar, Edible Vegetable fats, Cocoa Solids and Emulsifiers ( 492, 322 ) CONTAINS ADDED NATURAL (VANILLA) FLAVOURING SUBSTANCES, Hydrogenated Vegetable Fat Used- Contains Trans Fats.
This bar does not have a cacao percentage in it however it has cocoa solids, so it does not have cacao butter in it.
This is a video that demonstrates how chocolate bars are made today.
A look into Hershey’s
Hershey’s was founded in 1903 by Milton S. Hershey, it came to be known as Americans most iconic chocolate. It had a great influence on American business and taste. ( L 11 )
The two struggles that this company faced and managed to overcome were, one, the struggle to develop milk chocolate, so they made their own dairy farms and sourced their milk from there. Two, the struggle to control the sugar supply chain. Sugar used to come from Cuba and during the period of 1916-46 there was a highly volatile situation and this affected the sugar supply chain. To face this problem Hershey brought land in Cuba where he established his own sugar plantations, for the transportation of this sugar he also built some connecting railways. ( L 12 )
This is a video that demonstrates the history and founding of Hershey’s chocolates.
The potential health risks in consuming chocolate are environmental factors of polluted soil and water, problems in other ingredients such as milk, sugar, soy lecithin, inclusions, manufacturing issues, allergy or sensitivity to certain ingredients mixed with the cacao or to the caffeine, and a very high sugar and saturated fat content and a very high calorie content. ( L 12 )
There has also been a lot of contemporary research on the health benefits of chocolate. These are Antioxidant, Cardioprotective, Psychoactive, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-allergy and Anti-tumoral properties ( L 12 )
After knowing some of the history behind chocolate and everything that has gone into making it, one can eat the chocolate sauce with more understanding of what actually goes on in the making of it.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013 – ( C)
Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009. – ( P )
Chocolate class lectures, Carla Martin, Harvard Extension School, Spring 2018 – ( L )
History of Hershey’s chocolate, Charles Dean Archive, Published on Jan 9, 2014 on Youtube
Milk Chocolate from Scratch How it is made, Science Channel, Published on Oct 30, 2016 on Youtube
Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate Making, National Geographic, Published on Oct 13, 2017 on Youtube
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.
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.”
Kuapa Koko’s story
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
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.
New York City is constantly brimming with new additions to the food scene, and when it comes to chocolate, The Meadow and Chelsea Market Baskets are two specialty shops that aim to enhance one’s sensory and social experience. Closer comparison between these stores also yields distinct differences in their intended audience and marketing incentive. Whereas Chelsea Market Baskets has a more pronounced focus on gift purchasing and impulse buying, The Meadow offers a more well-rounded selection of origins and varieties, establishing itself as a solid destination for connoisseurs and consumers who place a greater priority on food product transparency.
Chelsea Market Baskets
Chelsea Market Baskets (CMB) is located inside Chelsea Market, which boasts about 6 million visitors annually (Chelsea Market). The chocolate selection here is divided into three sections: Popular Chocolates, Specialty Chocolates (a sign reads “Chocolates that are not found in many places and we think are worth a bit of effort to find”), and Connoisseurs Chocolates (“Top quality chocolates that we are especially proud of and have sought out from smaller manufacturers”). The prices vary from around $3 to $11 per product.
Whereas mass manufacturers rely on wholesale companies to ensure lower costs, bean-to-bar makers take pride in carefully sourcing higher quality beans through a more collaborative environment with farmers and aim to increase product transparency (Dandelion Chocolate). Many bean-to-bar goods are offered here, and while most of the single origin bars only designate the country of origin, Dandelion Chocolate and Sol Cacao specify the estate where their beans come from: Akesson’s Farm in Madagascar.
On the other hand, CMB also offers an equal amount of mass-produced chocolate by major European manufacturers (e.g. Cote d’Or). At least five brands represented at CMB incorporate more typical “Big Chocolate” ingredients: more refined sugar and emulsifiers (e.g. soy lecithin) to substitute for more expensive cocoa butter (Albader 55). This not only reduces production costs but also reduces the number of polyphenols (which can help reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL concentrations) naturally found in cocoa butter (Watson et al. 267). The homogenization of these sweeter, more artificially flavored products with the all-natural and single origin bars implies that the larger focus of CMB may be on the overall appeal of the product, rather than the nutritional value or manner of production.
Examination of packaging and flavor selection also furthers my impression that CMB greatest motive is to attract the gift-giving or impulse buyer. Several eye-catching packaging labels showcase cartooned creatures, which have been shown to specifically attract children (Shekhar and Raveendran 57). Makers such as Vintage Plantations showcase vibrant colors or paintings of exotic habitats; the dimension of packaging design that most significantly predicts impulsive buying is visual design (Cahyorini and Rusfian 17). Selling more visually attractive products is a particularly beneficial marketing strategy, because the more exposure to visual cues in packaging, the higher the probability of buying chocolates (Shekhar and Raveendran 60). Certainly, customers may come with a particular product in mind, but for those more impulse-driven visitors, CMB offers several choices that facilitate purchasing through graphic appeal. Another effective marketing strategy here is catering to the traditional “American” appetite. Many flavored chocolates are fused with bacon, caramel, cookies, or other familiar flavors; culturally, we are psychologically attracted to foods that are both sweet and high in fat (Benton 214). By offering a mixture of single-origin and mass-manufactured chocolate, visually attractive products, and both familiar and novel flavors, CMB accommodates all ages and flavor preferences.The primary goal is to retail “premium chocolates,” value-added products not just in terms of quality but also “taste and texture, packaging, image and perception, and communication” (Linemayr 13).
CMB offers a number of Fair Trade products, which are based on a collective effort to justly compensate farmers. However, many of the label’s claims are not accomplished, and a very small proportion of money reaches the poverty-stricken farmers at the base of the production chain (Martin). The growing ubiquitousness of Fair Trade has led to a dilution of its label, with some companies merely using it to enhance their public image (Sylla 133). For more knowledgable consumers, CMB offers several Direct Trade goods by makers who offer more substantial premiums to farmers. Taza, which created the “chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program,” publishes an annual cacao sourcing transparency report, listing in detail the premiums paid to their farmers (Taza Chocolate). Over fifteen of Taza’s products are sold at CMB, all of them in the “Popular Chocolates” selection, thereby facilitating an outlet by which visitors can enjoy the unique taste of their stone-ground chocolate but also learn about their socially responsible practices. By representing several companies that work beyond simply paying Fair Trade premiums, CMB offers potential for spreading more awareness about the more grassroots approach to relieving ethical issues in chocolate production.
I purchased a few bars from each store to share some interesting flavors and textures unique to each location. From CMB, I purchased Taza’s Cinnamon Stone Ground Chocolate Mexicano Discs. Taza is known for their unique processing technique where traditional Mexican style stone mills, or molinos, are used to grind the beans. This accentuates the bold flavors of the unconched chocolate, producing a rustic, gritty texture that lingers on the tongue. Taza allows the consumer to harken back to historical Mesoamerican chocolate traditions through the similar process of grinding cacao on a stone, or metate (Presilla 26). I loved the biscuit-like texture because it allowed me to taste the bold cacao, sugar, and warm cinnamon individually.
I was first drawn to the artwork on Amano’s package and after turning it over, I found that Amano is the most highly awarded chocolate maker in America, which piqued my interest in its taste. Madagascar cacao is known for being fruity, and this tastes very smooth with clean raspberry, black currant, and cherry notes (Presilla 139).
The Meadow is located in the West Village, and pricing is significantly on the higher end, ranging from around $6 to $22 per bar. Like CMB, the chocolate selection is divided into three sections, albeit for different categories: the first section comprises flavored chocolates, the second comprising single-origin bars and bean-to-bar makers, and the third for dark chocolate (85% cacao content or higher).
Unlike CMB, the vast majority of products here are by small batch craft makers, and one instantly notices the emphasis on minimal and natural ingredients. The flavored chocolates here rarely consist of emulsifiers or artificial sweeteners, and the associate can name several products with higher amounts of non-deodorized cocoa butter. The samples offered were only from 100% cacao bars, which may be a more unconventional choice for tasting. Some individuals may not be familiar with such astringent, potent flavors, but The Meadow urges one to stay true to the the pure experience of cacao. These factors all lead to marketing more health-conscious products; 100% cacao bars contain no sugar, and dark chocolate contains the most significant levels of antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids, which have beneficial effects on hypertension and vascular disorders (Haber and Gallus 1287).
A thorough understanding of the selection is largely dependent on the visitor’s level of understanding of origin and terroir. There are significantly more single origin countries presented here; the Francois Pralus single origin bars span eight countries. Whereas CMB retails Madagascar chocolate bars which source beans from a single farm (Akesson’s), actual chocolate bars made by Akesson’s are sold here. Akesson’s is a family-owned heritage plantation, which provides beans for many U.S. based chocolate companies, such as Dick Taylor, Patric, and Woodblock, all of which can be found at The Meadow (Carla Martin, personal communication, May 2 2017). This selection offers a dynamic medium for tasting and comparing flavors made from varying partners within the supply chain.
The Francois Pralus bars list not only the country of origin but also the cacao variety used. Other bars state “Porcelana” on the front, a criollo variety that is prized for its nuttiness and low astringency (Presilla 67). Those who are familiar with or are in favor of a specific cacao variety will find the detail-oriented selection at The Meadow particularly accommodating.
Several bars are labeled “Chuao,” one of the most coveted type of criollo beans. Today, the Chuao plantation in Chuao, Venezuela is run by a small community that adheres to a centuries-long tradition of processing and operations (Presilla 77). The narrow valley yields a very limited space for cultivating cacao, producing only about 16 to 17 metric tons annually, but the beans are highly coveted for their taste and quality (White). The reputation of Chuao has led some makers to misappropriate its name and branding significance to mimic the terroir effect of the Chuao geographical region (Giovannucci et al. xv). This controversy itself is implicated at The Meadow, where I found two “Chuao” bars: one from Francois Pralus and the other by Domori. Although the Francois Pralus bar sources specifically from the Chuao village, the Domori bar is made from beans in a different region of Venezuela where the genetics of the Chuao strain have been implanted (The Meadow). This “Chuao” labeling despite it being produced outside of the valued village raises questions of legitimacy and violations of terroir, which places a strong emphasis on geographical origin, specifically, the “link between the product and the production area, depending on natural and climate conditions in the region” (Aurier et al.). The Domori bar also distances itself from the cultural and historical prestige associated with terroir. The Francois Pralus Chuao bar ($14) is more popular than the Domori Chuao bar ($8), perhaps due to an understanding of the terroir complications at hand, again likening consumer knowledge as an important factor for visitors.
The Meadow represents a nice selection of Fair Trade and Direct Trade goods, and the sales associate is also fairly knowledgable about the downsides of the Fair Trade label. He pinpointed a few companies working more directly with their farmers, such as Madécasse. Madécasse, which makes their chocolate directly in Madagascar, pays farmers 10% higher than the maximum price for dry superior cacao and 55% higher than the median price for all cacao (Madécasse Social Impact Report).
He also told me about Askinosie, one of The Meadow’s top-selling companies, which places photos of their farmers, a map of their estate, and twine from their cacao bags on their packaging, attempting to secure a bridge of transparency with the consumer. Askinosie also pays a significantly higher premium than the Fair Trade market price, supports nutritional programs for children in underdeveloped countries, and shares a percentage of its profits through their “A Stake in the Outcome” program, incentivizing farmers to constantly improve methods to ensure better quality (Askinosie Chocolate). The selection at The Meadow, in addition to the knowledge of its sales associates, is better marketed towards spreading awareness of ethical issues and their relation to small batch makers.
Bertil Akesson’s plantation in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar is divided into four smaller estates: Madirofolo, Menavava, Bejofo, and Ambolikapiky, but only the latter two provide the beans for Akesson’s own chocolate bars (Cocoa Runners). I wanted to compare an Akesson’s Chocolate with another maker who sources from Akesson’s Farm (e.g. Dick Taylor).
The Dick Taylor chocolate was very tart with cranberry and orange notes. The potent astringency significantly differed from the more sweet, berry-flavored Amano Madagascar bar. It finished off with a slightly overroasted taste, which made me experience firsthand how different bars sourcing from the same geographical region can yield differing flavors based on each company’s processing methods.
My second purchase was an Akesson’s 75% Criollo Bejofo Estate bar. Every Akesson’s bar shows not only which of the 4 smaller estates the cacao comes from but also the variety of beans used. According to the package, 300 tons of trinitario cacao are produced on Akesson’s Farm, but a limited 2 tons of criollo cacao are harvested separately to make this specific chocolate. As criollo varieties are generally perceived as the most mellow and refined in flavor, I compared the taste of this bar with the more trinitario-based Dick Taylor bar (Presilla 36). The Akesson’s bar has a familiar chocolatey aroma and significantly more refined taste with soft, tropical notes (papaya or peach) that balanced well with a very mild tartness. It has a much longer mouthfeel with a velvety texture. Of all the three Madagascar bars I purchased, this had the most delicate nuttiness and creaminess. Originally, I had thought the Amano, Dick Taylor, and Akesson’s bars would be difficult to differentiate in flavor as they all originate in Madagascar, but I was able to experience the complexities of terroir and processing techniques.
Both CMB and The Meadow are valuable to the NYC food scene and heighten one’s experience with chocolate. Housed inside a bustling tourist attraction, CMB appeals to a wider audience, making it highly adapted to the marketplace. One can find goods that are suitable for the entire family, which relates to the store’s motto of gift-giving to share both popular and novel tastes. The Meadow caters to a smaller niche, one that requires a greater deal of knowledge. The high prices here can pose as a drawback, and had I visited The Meadow prior to taking Dr. Martin’s course, I would have had great trouble understanding the significance of “porcelana” or “single estate.” The Meadow’s selection is meticulously curated, just like the companies it represents direct great attention to their chocolate sourcing and production. The Meadow’s focus on minimal ingredients and terroir enhanced my affinity for chocolate, because I was able to apply my knowledge to various social, cultural, and ethical factors implicated by the selection. The Meadow’s greatest asset may be that it challenges traditional notions of what chocolate is and hones in on the complexities of food product transparency. By offering a more detailed rundown of production, sourcing, and cacao varieties, The Meadow works towards developing a more intimate connection of trust, reliability, and transparency between brand and consumer.
Cahyorini, Astri, and Effy Zalfiana Rusfian. “The Effect of Packaging Design on Impulsive Buying.” Journal of Administrative Science & Organization, Jan. 2011, 11-21.
“Domori Chuao 70% Dark Chocolate.” The Meadow, https://themeadow.com/products/domori-chuao-70-dark-chocolate. Accessed 2 May 2017.
Giovannucci, Daniele, et al. Guide to Geographical Indications: Linking Products and Their Origins. International Trade Center, 2009.
Haber, Stacy, and Karen Gallus. “Effects of Dark Chocolate on Blood Pressure in Patients With Hypertension.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 1 Aug. 2012, 1287-1293.
“How We Make Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/process/#anchor. Accessed 29 April 2017.
Linemayr, Thomas. “Establishing Premium Chocolate in the U.S. Mass Market.” The Manufacturing Confectioner, June 2011, 13-16.
“Madécasse Social Impact Report.” Madécasse LLC and Wildlife Returns, April 2017, 1-9.
Martin, Carla. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 5 April 2017. Lecture.
Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. Ten Speed Press, 2009.
Shekhar, Suraj Kushe, and P.T Raveendran. “The Power of Sensation Transference: Chocolate Packages & Impulse Purchases.” Indian Institute of management Indore, April 2013, 55-64.
Sylla, Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal. Ohio University Press, 2014.
“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade. Accessed 29 April 2017.
White, April. “The Potential and Pitfalls of Geographical Indications for Cacao.” Chocolate Class, 11 May 2016, https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/the-potential-and-pitfalls-of-geographical-indications-for-cacao/. Accessed 2 May 2017.
I held a chocolate tasting with 8 of my friends, and my goal of this chocolate tasting was to assess my friends’ preferences regarding cacao and sugar content. I selected 6 varieties of chocolate containing cacao percentages ranging from 11% to 95%. My theory was that people would prefer chocolate that contains more sugar per serving and less cacao. I believed this to be true because of the way modern Western society thinks about sugar. The results highlighted Western society’s taste for sugar, but they also illustrated other ideas related to what we have been studying.
I tried to create a controlled experiment by removing wrappers and breaking each bar into similar sized pieces. I put the chocolate samples into bowls and had my friends begin with Sample 6, the darkest sample, because of what Professor Martin mentioned in class.
Like the process Barb Stuckey writes about when tasting food, I wanted the subjects to taste the food from “two different perspectives.” First, to “think critically about what [they] taste” and second “to consider whether [they] like it or not” (Stuckey, 134). Following this guideline, I had comment cards for each sample where my friends would write about what they tasted and on the back rank how much they liked the sample from a scale of 1 to 5.
After the test was finished, I averaged the rankings into a decimal value. I first will present the results of the experiment, and then I will analyze the results. In lieu of including every comment, I will list any words that appeared more than once, or any descriptors that stand out in the context of what we have been learning in class. Many of the comments touch upon social and historical issues regarding the history of chocolate in America and the world.
My original theory was not exactly correct – people did not like the Hershey’s chocolate the most. However, my hypothesis that milk chocolate was favored over dark chocolate remains true. The two darkest varieties of chocolate were ranked last, and the highest ranked chocolate was milk chocolate.
First and foremost, I would like to analyze the involvement of sugar and how that relates to chocolate as well as the distinguishable taste of Hershey’s chocolate.
HERSHEY’S IS DISTINCTIVE:
Hershey’s chocolate (Sample 1) was the most polarizing, with a scale from 0.5 (Although the scale started at 1, I included this piece of data anyway) to a 5. No other sample had both the lowest and highest ranking. I believe that the polarizing nature of Hershey’s comes from both the high sugar content and the unique ingredients.
In his book Hershey, Michael D’Antonio writes that “Hershey’s milk chocolate has had a distinct flavor. It is sweet… but it also carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect of Schmalbach’s process.” (D’Antonio, 108) The comment “sour milk” reflects that flavor. Hershey’s is certainly distinctive. I want to address the two notable comments, “God, heaven, promised land” and “tastes the most like chocolate.” D’Antonio writes that Hershey’s “define[s] the taste of chocolate for Americans” (D’Antonio, 108). My tasting proved that for at least two of my friends, this idea is true.
SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE:
Robert Albritton, in “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry” writes that “Sweetness is the most desired taste to the point that many if not most people can easily be caught up in an ‘excessive appetite for it.’” Americans consume about 31 teaspoons of added sugars every day, he writes (Albritton, 343). According to Albritton, “the addictive quality of sugar can be compared to that of cigarettes.” (Albritton, 343).
My mother finds sugar incredibly addictive. She has combated sugar’s negative health effects by avoiding all added sugar all year except for her birthday. I asked her to tell me about her experience with sugar…
“In college, after a night out, we decided to get a midnight snack. For me it ended up being an entire ice cream pie. Even though I felt sick about a third of the way through, I couldn’t stop eating it until there was none left. I decided that night that I would never eat sweets again—or anything with processed sugar if I could avoid it. Then I decided I could have sugar once a year-on my birthday. To me, the idea of eating a few M&M’s and then stopping is impossible. It is FAR easier to eat no sweets, rather than sweets in moderation. The hardest day of the year to continue this is the day after my birthday. I wake up wanting M&M’s. The rest of the year it’s easy. I don’t crave sweets or feel I’m missing out. Zero is easier then some.”
For most people, cutting out sugar completely is not the answer because it is very hard to do. Added sugar is in everything. But the facts are there—Americans eat too much sugar, and diabetes and obesity are on the rise. What is one to do?
From scientific and anecdotal evidence, it is clear that sugar is addictive and unhealthy in excess. So why isn’t the government doing anything about it? This question leads us to examine the role of government as a whole. In fact, according to Albritton, the sugar industry has an enormous impact on legislation passed by congress. He mentions the 2003 instance where the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposed that “added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calorie intake.” However, “this was too much for the US sugar industry to swallow, and they threatened to lobby congress to cut off its $400,000 annual funding of the WHO and FAO if they did not remove the offending norm from their report” (Albritton, 345). And in fact, the UN did remove the guideline. This one example highlights a larger problem – the sugar industry is massive and can control parts of the government. Since the government currently is unable to provide solutions to the “obesity pandemic,” I believe that the next best thing is to educate children about what they are eating and try and provide affordable healthy options. This idea is obviously a much more complex problem, and requires much more thought and analysis than this one blog post. However, one potential solution for excessive sugar intake is sugar substitutes.
STEVIA AS A REPLACEMENT:
As a sort of experiment within my tasting, I included a sample that was sweetened with Stevia rather than sugar. Stevia is a plant-based zero-calorie sweetener. Stevia, like other
artificial sweeteners, is between 100 and 300 times sweeter than sugar (Stevia, 2017). Sample 3, containing 55% Cacao and no sugar was ranked 3rd overall in the results. Many of the comments about Sample 3 included some variation of “simple.” After trying it myself, I must agree that the flavor is not very nuanced – once on your tongue there is no evolution. However, not one person questioned the contents of this bar or noted that it tasted fake, a common criticism of artificial sweeteners. According to the testers, this chocolate fit in with the others, and during the taste test, none of them knew it was sweetened with Stevia. While scientists and nutritionists debate the merits and side effects of artificial sweeteners, this Stevia sweetened chocolate bar appears to be an alternative for a person trying to limit sugar intake. Artificial sweeteners do not address the larger problems with the sugar industry. However, this experiment has shown that there are other options for those trying to eat less “real” sugar, and they taste pretty good too! One other caveat is the price point of this chocolate bar—At Whole Foods it cost $4.89, compared to a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar that costs $0.98 at Walmart, so these alternatives are not accessible to everyone.
WHY ELSE CHOCOLOVE WON?
After analyzing the comments, I believe that sugar and sweetness was not the only reason Chocolove was ranked the highest.
David Benton in The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving posits that chocolate cravings come from the “sensory experience associated with eating chocolate, rather than pharmacological constituents” (Benton, 214).
According to Benton, the optimal combination of sugar and fat for palatability “was found to be 7.6% sugar with cream containing 24.7% fat” (Benton, 214). Chocolate contains way more than the “optimal” amount of sugar for taste, however, more sugar is needed “to counteract the bitterness of chocolate.”
Therefore, milk chocolate has “the optimal combination of sweetness and fat.”
Benton also refers to “the melting of chocolate just below body temperature with the resulting mouth-feel,” which adds to the “hedonic experience” and thus the pleasure of eating chocolate. The comments about Sample 2, the Chocolove bar are consistent with this data—this winning chocolate was mostly referenced as creamy, with a note about “melts in mouth.” In direct opposition with those comments, the highest cacao content bar (Sample 6) had notes about its texture too. Many listed it is “chalky.” To me, it is grainy. Chalky and grainy are the opposite of smooth and melty, so perhaps this texture contributed to people’s not liking it.
Overall, this tasting resulted in new ideas and affirmed old ones.
Some other details of this not-so-scientific study may be important to note. My taste testers were all in between the ages of 18 and 20 and all grew up consuming American chocolate. I expect the results might have changed with people from other countries.
If I were just focusing on cacao content, it would have been more effective to use different bars from the same brand. However, I wanted to look at other aspects of chocolate, like stevia as a sweetener and texture, which was why I used a variety of brands. In fact, subjects commented on the terroir of the chocolate without even realizing. Sample 3 and Sample 5 both had comments about flavors that were not listed in the ingredients, illustrated how flavor can be affected by many different things. In Sample 3, three people noted a “coconut” flavor that does not appear in the ingredients. For Sample 5, four people tasted fruity or citrusy notes Even those untrained in chocolate could pick up different notes in different bars of chocolates.
Finally, although some comments mentioned aftertaste, I did not instruct the testers to think about it or aroma. I should have, as they contribute to the overall experience of chocolate.
The testing and subsequent conversations with friends revealed the way chocolate and sugar fit into our lives. In today’s society, we crave sugar, and this study showed that chocolates containing more sugar were perceived as “better” than those containing very little.
The leftovers from the tasting further illustrate the preference for milk chocolate. In the tasting, most people did not finish the full piece of Sample 5 or 6. After the tasting was finished, I offered the leftover samples to everyone, and Samples 1, 2 and 3 were gone almost immediately. Even though Hershey’s chocolate ranked lower on the scale, people ate more of it. Based off of this tasting and conversations with friends and family, Chocolate is hard to resist and even harder to stop eating once we start. The results reflect America’s obsession with sugar by the less distinctive higher fat/sugar chocolate being ranked higher.
Benton argues that addiction may not be the correct word in the context of chocolate “Most people eat chocolate on a regular basis without any signs of its getting out of control, without signs of tolerance or dependence” (Benton, 215). Yet, from my personal experience and that of my friends, many of us do have a problem with chocolate eating getting out of control. I asked my sister what happens when she eats chocolate.
“If it’s in front of me, especially when I have no energy to control myself, I just eat it all. I can’t eat just some,” she said. My twin brother said the same: “For me, sugar is addictive in the very short term; once I start eating I can’t stop.”
A friend from the tasting talked about the same thing. “Usually I eat more than I planned to,” my friend Simone said. For some, dark chocolate can circumvent this overeating issue. My friend Rachel said about chocolate: “I love chocolate. But if it’s super rich. I love it for a bit and then I’m done.”
Overall, the testing showed that most people prefer milk chocolate and chocolate containing more sugar over very dark chocolate, highlighting issues with the sugar industry.
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 342-51. Print.
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004. 205-19. Print.
“Comprehensive Online Resource for Articles, Recipes & News.” Stevia.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.
Stuckey, Bark. Taste What You’re Missing: the Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Food Tastes Good. New York: Free Press, 2012. Print.
Image 1: My photography
Image 2: Wikipedia. Hershey bar wrapper image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hershey_bar.
Image 3: Jet.Chocolove XOXOX Milk bar. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. jet.com/product/Chocolove-XOXO-Milk-Chocolate-Bar-32-oz/dfd113b9fd134cca9e6a2c1c4d7f187f.
Image 4: Lily’s Sweets. Lily’s Dark Chocolate Bar Wrapper. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://lilyssweets.com/dark-chocolate-bars/
As I ponder the selections of chocolate available in my local Trader Joe’s , it is important to understand a bit of the history of chocolate that is included in The True the History of Chocolate by Coe & Coe .Cacao, Chocolate originated in Meso-America and is referred to as the “Food of the Gods” consumed by the elite and used in sacrifices to please the gods.
Did you know that unlike money cacao really does grow on the pods and barks of trees.The chocolate trees were scientifically named Theobroma cacao in 1753 by the “great Swedish Naturalist” Linnaeus (1707-78).
Raw Cacao beans don’t taste anything like the chocolate bars we consume. After the cacao beans are harvested the cacao and pulp are fermented once fermentation is complete the beans are laid out to dry in the sun. Once dried the beans are then sorted and roasted. After the beans are roasted they are winnowed and finally the cacao nibs that are used to make chocolate reveal themselves. The cacao nibs are naturally bitter therefore sugar and other ingredients are added when making chocolate to reduce the acidity and bitterness and increase the sweetness.
Sidney Mintz in his book Sweetness and Power reminds us that sugar and sweetness is introduced to us at a very young age , “the first non milk food that a baby is likely to receive in North American hospital is a 5% glucose and water solution used to evaluate its postpartum functioning because newborns tolerate glucose better than water.”(Mintz, 1985) The fondness for sugar influences the chocolate that we consume as “most Americans instinctively go for blends with a high West African cacao content – this is a dominant cacao in some mass-produced brands that most American have eaten since childhood that is naturally identified with full chocolate flavor. Americans gravitate towards very light chocolate.” ( The New Taste of Chocolate, p. 136) Sweetness is a preferred taste from a very young age Cacao and sugar go together sort of like peanut butter and jelly. Alone each tastes okay but together they taste wonderful.
Chocolate has always evoked pleasant happy memories for me. From my childhood I can remember the heavenly aroma of chocolate from the Lowney Chocolate Factory wafting through the air as we walked to school, the anticipation of devouring my grocery store chocolate Easter bunny after Mass and the way the chocolate icing on a Honey Dew Donuts éclair melts in your mouth in an explosion of chocolate mixed with Bavarian cream.
As I matured my love of chocolate did not waver and I stayed loyal to brands like Hersey and Nestle and for special occasions Godiva was the go to brand. Then one day in 1987 a local chocolate shop called Puopolo’s Candies opened nearby. As a big believer in supporting local business I felt that it was my duty to check out the new chocolate shop. It was heaven! The aroma and the wide assortment of chocolate confections was astounding. There wasn’t a Snickers, Milky Way or Kit Kat in the place and it didn’t matter because these chocolates didn’t require brand recognition as one could see, smell and anticipate the chocolate truffles melting smoothly on your tongue while the milk chocolate flavors come to life. I never knew exactly why I came to prefer the chocolate sold at Puopolo’s over Hersey, Nestle or even Godiva, until now.
The big chocolate manufactures like Hershey, Nestle and Godiva appeal to the masses for both taste and price of their products. The chocolate is made in huge factories using industrial equipment. Each batch of chocolate is made to taste exactly the same as the other so that there is no variation of taste, color or texture in the thousands of candy bars that are made each day. Chocolate manufactured in this manner is referred to as industrial chocolate.
Shops like Puopolo’s are known as chocolatiers’ that appeal to people who appreciate and will pay for high quality chocolate . Chocolatiers’ produce chocolate creations on a much smaller scale and create confections in small batches by melting large bars of chocolate.
Another player has come on the scene and companies like Taza chocolate are part of a growing movement of small companies that produce bean to bar products.
The bean to bar companies are conscious of the long history of exploitation in the chocolate industry including children being used as forced labor on cacao plantations. (Off, 2006) The bean to bar companies produce an ethical and sustainable product by controlling all stages of their chocolate making including choosing and grinding their own cacao beans.
The advantage of industrial chocolate for the consumer is that whether you purchase a Hershey bar in Alaska or Massachusetts the wrapper texture, color and taste of the chocolate will be the same. Whereas the smaller manufacturers including chocolatiers and bean to bar, aim to produce small unique batches of products. Cacao beans alone are bitter thus sugar and sometimes other flavorings like vanilla and milk are added to cocoa beans to make the chocolate bars more palatable. The more cacao content in a product the more intense the chocolate flavor which to many tastes bitter.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a local chocolatiers nearby so I set out to my local Trader Joe’s to utilize my new-found knowledge and analyze their chocolate section.
Mintz states ” food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status , culture and even occupation.” (Sweetness and Power). Trader Joe’s is a slighty upscale, funky progressive full service grocery store who cater to their customers food and need to shop at a socially responsible store. Customers that shop here generally care about where and how the ingredients in their food come from . Trader Joe’s listened to their customers and according to the timeline listed on their website in 1997 they “made a commitment to eliminate artificial trans fats from all private label products (along with artificial flavors, artificial preservatives & GMO ingredients… but that’s old news by now).”
Trader Joe’s shoppers are diverse and span the socio economic scale. They want to feel as if they are being socially and environmentally responsible without spending a lot of cash. They will however spend a bit more for a product if it makes them feel like they are achieving the goals of being a responsible consumer. One such chocolate bar checks all those boxes the Fair Trade Organic Belgium Chocolate Bar is included in the wide selection of chocolate products that are displayed throughout the store. These bars were included in the chocolate bar section located at the back of the store at the end of an aisle near the milk. The majority of the chocolate bars were 3.5 ounces with price points between $1.99 for the Fair Trade Organic Belgium Chocolate bars , $2.99 for a Valrhona dark chocolate bar and for $4.99 you could purchase a milk and almond pound plus bar. There were quite a few chocolate products located in the impulse buy zone at the front of the store including dark chocolate peanut butter cups and chocolate covered almonds for $4.99 each.
As I strolled the isles I noticed some chocolate bars above the seafood section that had pretty and exotic looking labels. Upon closer inspection it is revealed that these are dark chocolate bars made with 70% cacao and delicious fillings like coconut caramel and toffee and walnuts. Along side these bars there was a 65% Dark Cacao bar that is made from single origin fairly traded beans from Ecuador. These chocolate bars highlight the cacao content to entice those that believe the claim that chocolate is good for your heart . However, James Howe advises that the claim that chocolate is heart healthy is not scientifically proven that chocolate consumption alone is the primary element in increasing cardiovascular health. ( Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health, 2012) The artwork depicts nature scenes to enhance the natural allure of these chocolate bars that are priced at just $1.89.
In spite From the lovely artwork and detailed descriptions highlighting the cacao content and country of origin of the beans it is clear from the price points of $1.89 that these are mass marketed industrial made chocolate bars covered in cleverly designed Trader Joe’s wrappers. The wrappers contain all the buzz words and images the consumer wants to see so they feel like they are purchasing socially responsible products. When I questioned the store manager about the private label chocolate bars he did not know what company Trader Joe’s bought the chocolate bars from however he assured me that they were made from the finest organic ingredients yet… only a few chocolate bars are labeled organic or Fair Trade.
The Trader Joe’s Chocolate truffles look decadent on the shiny red background of the package. They even provide directions on how to”taste these delicate truffles”. Trader Joe’s selections so far were on target for their consumers, good cacao content, some organic selections. therefore I was very surprised when the first ingredient listed in the Cocoa Truffles was vegetable oil , the second sugar and finally cocoa powder appears as the third ingredient. This was disappointing as it is not as high quality chocolate product as it appears and not consistent with the prior products viewed.
After reviewing the chocolate bar and other chocolate products at Trader Joe’s I’ve concluded that Trader Joe’s should expand their chocolate selections to include more Fair Trade chocolate products and add a few Bean to Bar and local chocolatiers products to the inventory. It would be a clear statement to Trader Joe’s customers and the chocolate industry that Trader Joe’s cares about ethics and is committed to providing their customers with more Fair Trade, organic and local chocolate products. While the typical Trader Joe’s customer appreciates a bargain , many would be willing to pay more for chocolate if they know that their purchase directly benefits the cacao farmer or the small business person. Trader Joe’s has the opportunity to make a difference in the chocolate industry if they go beyond selling private label chocolate bars and include bean to bar and local chocolate makers.
If you want to make an effort to consume Fair Trade organic chocolate the key is read the labels or find your local chocolate shop , either bean to bar or chocolatiers you won’t be disappointed.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
“Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ed. Maricel E. Presilla. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. 61-94. Print.
Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet.2006. The New Press. print.