Tag Archives: fair trade

Faulty Fair Trade: The Hidden Realities of Fair Trade Chocolate

In today’s interconnected world, one’s decisions are no longer decisions merely. Every choice is a statement, a declaration of personal values. For example, purchasing a Prius or installing solar panels can reveal your stance regarding the state of the environment. In a similar fashion, purchasing Fair Trade certified chocolate provides an option for chocolate lovers to enjoy a delicious treat while contributing to the well-being of cacao farmers and indirectly shunning “bad” chocolate companies that utilize modern day slave labor. In fact, one research showed that consumers sought the Fair Trade label to a point that they were willing to purchase the same amount of certified Fair Trade chocolate each year, even after an increase in prices (Hainmeuller 23).

Above: Promotion of Fair Trade chocolate for Valentine’s Day. The Fair Trade brand has become a part of consumer decision making.

Thus, the demand for Fair Trade is clearly present. In theory, Fair Trade helps cacao farmers “build better livelihoods for themselves, their families and communities” (Fair Trade Briefing 10). More specifically, Fair Trade aims to stabilize incomes for cacao farmers, whose livelihoods fluctuate in response to the volatility of chocolate prices[1] (Ibid 11). For example, Fair Trade guarantees a “minimum price of $2,000/tonne for Fairtrade certified cocoa beans, or the market price if higher” and works to ensure that “forced labour and child labour are prohibited” (Ibid). According to Fair Trade such measures “[help] producer organisations and farmers weather low and unstable markets by encouraging greater access to financing, relationship building between buyers and sellers, and improved contract terms” (Ibid 17). But is the existing consumer demand for Fair Trade chocolate feeding a truly “fair” system? While the Fair Trade theory is desirable, the realities are much less so. Despite Fair Trade’s efforts, cacao farmers continue to struggle with chocolate pricing, costs of obtaining Fair Trade certification, and ambiguity of Fair Trade standards in cultural contexts.

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The ideal results of Fair Trade Chocolate

Fair Trade’s claim on providing cocoa farmers with better prices has been questioned in recent years. Entrepreneurship lecturers Alex Nicholls and Charlotte Opal point out that returns are “marginal at best, non-existent at worst,” and that “a typical Fair Trade chocolate bar only returns about 4% of its final price to the producer” (Nicholls 29). Seventy% founder Martin Christy, founder of Seventy%[2], stated that “the Fairtrade premium—about $400 per tonne of cacao—is not enough to make much difference to farmers lives and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that not much of that actually reaches the real farmers” (Ramsey). Christy adds, “if you do the the maths backwards from a £1.30 100g Fairtrade bar there’s no way, once you’ve taken off all the margins, that the farmer is getting enough to live on” (Ibid).

According to a transnational investigation hosted by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters, farmer testimonials support Christy’s claims. Frédéric Doua—owner of a cocoa farm in the Ivory Coast—revealed that his harvested product often sits in warehouses, waiting for the occasional Fair Trade buyer to come along (Fair 6). According to Doua, he was hoping for “higher prices and welfare premiums,” but instead became “overly dependent on cocoa prices and Fair Trade buyers” (Ibid). This is due to the fact that “as a member of a FAIRTRADE-certified cooperative, one ‘cannot sell beans outside the FAIRTRADE circuit’” (Ibid). In other words, even if Fair Trade can provide better prices (which Nicholls and Christy have shown isn’t necessarily true), they do not guarantee consistent purchases, despite forcing farmers to sacrifice their freedom to choose their buyers.

But restriction on clientele is only one of the many hoops Fair Trade farmers must jump through. In the first place, gaining Fair Trade certification is a challenge for many cocoa producers. Economist Peter Griffiths notes that “the costs of achieving certification are an unavoidable negative impact” (Griffiths 363). Farmers are expected to pay fees for receiving certification (Certification). For a small farming cooperative of just twenty workers, such a fee can run upwards of $5,000 (Ibid). In addition, Fair Trade does not cover the costs incurred by farmers in order for them to meet Fair Trade standards. A major Fair Trade requirement is the use of sustainable agricultural practices (Brodersen). Thus, cocoa producers that use herbicides must switch to manual weeding, which usually results in higher wage costs. In such cases, Fair Trade does not compensate farmers accordingly (Griffiths 363).

Two additional issues exacerbate the cost problem of Fair Trade certification. The first is that Fair Trade is “unable to certify the total production of registered organizations” (Muradian 2033). For example, in 2001 only about 13% of total production was sold as Fair Trade, thereby resulting in “a large gap between potential and actual certified sales” (Ibid). Farmers’ fears of certification costs are usually sated by projected sales, which are based on selling annual production in its entirety as Fair Trade. However, the reality of partial certification sales causes farmers to rarely restore the money used in order to pay for Fair Trade certification in the first place. The second problem is the lack of a strong regulatory force on Fair Trade’s part. Mislabelling—when non Fair Trade products are sold as “fair trade”—is a rampant problem, allowing non-certified products to enjoy the benefits of price premiums (Parry). The global nature of the chocolate market makes label enforcement difficult, which means that real Fair Trade certified farmers aren’t protected. One seller might lie about being “fair trade,” which is unfair for the producers who had to spend their own money to officially earn Fair Trade certification.

An unexpectedly ambiguous source of contention is Fair Trade’s policy on child labour. Simply stated, Fair Trade has zero tolerance for child labour, especially in a production process as risk-heavy as cacao farming (Child). Injuries from the use of tools such as machetes are common, as well as illnesses caused by contact with various agricultural chemicals (Alliot 10). The confusion arises from determining the line between child labor and family labor. According to Fair Trade:

A major cause of the use of child labour is poverty: farmers receive such low prices for their produce that they can’t afford to pay hired workers. Even where farmers want their children to attend school, this is often hampered by poor availability of education in rural areas, and parents not being able to afford to buy schoolbooks or pay teachers. (Fair Trade Briefing 8)

But from farmers’ perspectives, Fair Trade’s child labour regulations are what leads to such “poverty” (Ibid). Without the help of family members, farmers simply cannot harvest enough to pay for their children’s school fees (Etahoben 16). Furthermore, the generalization that any child participating in work—even if that work is the family business—is considered a violation of Fair Trade values seems excessive. A Cameroonian farm owner Dat Williams explained: “When it is time to break the cocoa pods, I collect my children and any family children around at the time and take them to the farm to help. This is considered as part of the household chores children do to help their parents” (Ibid). Etahoben added “It was an exciting experience when we, as kids, were taken to the farms to break the cocoa, suck the seeds and drink the juice from the pods. We considered it part of becoming a responsible family member” (Ibid). While no parent should get away with abusing children and placing them at risk, the issue of child labour requires greater scrutiny and careful judgment so as to prevent unintended harm caused by good intentions.

 

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A child helping with the cacao harvest. The boundaries between familial work and child labour are sometimes unclear.

With Fair Trade no longer being a clear-cut good, and standard chocolate brands already having been criticized for unsustainable business practices, who can consumers turn to? Organizations like Direct Cacao, founded in 2012, are attempting to provide alternatives to the Fair Trade model. Whereas Fair Trade requires cocoa producers to essentially become members of a global organization and work under standardized guidelines, Direct Cacao works directly with small farmers and create specific relationships based on individualized circumstances (Declaration). Without a singular structure and a set of regulations that apply universally, this direct interaction model does run the risk of creating inconsistent standards. In addition, the process of following each producer through their cocoa production and discussing the best price is time-consuming and in many cases, expensive. The time and money costs can limit the range at which direct interaction can have an impact. However, as Direct Cacao points out, this new approach frees farmers from having to meet Fair Trade standards that aren’t universally easy to achieve.

Another alternative to Fair Trade is an alternative trading organization (ATO). ATOs share the goals of the Fair Trade movement, but each ATO takes its own approach to achieving those goals (Abufarha). Alter Eco, a France-based company founded in 1988, is a representative example of an ATO. All of Alter Eco’s chocolate is Fair Trade certified, but the organization also pursues particular principles that are not apparent in the Fair Trade’s broader manifesto. For example, Alter Eco places a special emphasis on gender equity within the chocolate industry (Alter). While the Fair Trade movement has a general mission to improve the well-being of cacao producers, they are not as specific as Alter Eco’s. Because Alter Eco is part of the Fair Trade movement but doesn’t manage every source of Fair Trade cocoa, they are more mobile and better equipped to place more focus on individual producers. In essence, ATOs are a compromise between Fair Trade and Direct Cacao.

It’s important to note that the presence of such alternatives does not necessarily mean that Fair Trade has failed. Fair Trade’s ideology comes from a desire to help people and create a more sustainable world. Despite the problems discussed above, there are plenty of success stories with Fair Trade—as there should be, given its 70-year history. Still, consumers should approach products with a critical mind. It’s not enough to claim one’s participation in ethical consumerism simply by purchasing a Fair Trade chocolate bar. Without proper scrutiny, the Fair Trade brand will quickly fall from being a symbol for change to being a pawn of consumerism, manipulating the consumers’ guilt complex and desire to “feel good.” In the case of Fair Trade, the organization as a whole should work to ensure stable income over higher per unit prices, redirect cocoa premium investments toward children’s education—thereby alleviating parents’ concerns regarding school fees—and implementing an organized regulatory force that effectively prevents others from taking advantage of the Fair Trade label, so as to protect the investment and hard work of farmers toward Fair Trade certification.

Works Cited

“About.” Seventy%. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 May 2017.

Abufarha, Nasser. “Alternative Trade Organizations and the Fair Trade Movement.” Fair World Project. N.p., 2013. Web. 09 May 2017.

Alliot, Christophe, Matthias Cortin, Marion Feige-Muller, and Sylvain Ly. The Dark Side of Chocolate: An Analysis of the Conventional, Sustainable and Fair Trade Cocoa Chains. Rep. N.p.: Bureau for the Appraisal of Societal Impacts and Costs, n.d. Print.

“Alter Eco Nourishing Foodie, Farmer and Field.” Alter Eco Foods. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2017.

Brodersen, Pernille Louise. How Fair is Fairtrade? Thesis. Copenhagen Business School, 2013. Copenhagen: n.p., 2013. Print.

“Certification fees.” FLOCERT. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 May 2017.

“Child and Forced Labour.” Fairtrade International (FLO): Child and Forced Labour. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.

“Declaration.” Direct Cacao. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2017.

Etahoben, Chief Bisong, Bjinse Dankert, Janneke Donkerlo, Selay Kouassi, Benjamin Tetteh, and Aniefiok Udonquak. The FAIRTRADE Chocolate Rip-off. Rep. Ed. Evelyn Groenink. N.p.: n.p., 2012. Print.

Griffiths, Peter. “Ethical Objections to Fairtrade.” Journal of Business Ethics 105 (2012): 357-73. Print.

Hainmueller, Jens. Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment. Diss. Stanford U, 2014. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Muradian, Roldan, and Wim Pelupessy. “Governing the Coffee Chain: The Role of Voluntary Regulatory Systems.” World Development 33.12 (2005): 2029-044. Web.

Nicholls, Alex, and Charlotte Opal. Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption. London: Sage, 2011. Print.

Parry, Hannah. “Beware the Fairtrade fraudsters: Shoppers warned to watch out for produce with fake labels as criminals attempt to cash in on premiums on ‘ethical’ goods.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 06 May 2015. Web. 9 May 2017.

Ramsey, Dom. “How Fair Is Fairtrade Chocolate?” Chocablog. N.p., 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 8 May 2017.

[1] Some of the causes behind price volatility are: political instability in cacao producing countries, variable weather, and changes in supply and demand (Fair Trade Briefing 5)

[2] Seventy% is an organization founded in 2001 whose aim is “to raise awareness of the quality and origin of the chocolate we eat” (About)

Tackling Terroir in Chocolate

For this blogpost, I was curious to explore the idea of terroir as it pertains to chocolate. “Terroir” is, literally, the French word for soil or land and can be defined as “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.” [i]  According to Kristy Leissle, “cocoa beans, like wine grapes, produce distinct flavors depending on strain and terroir, and showcasing that flavor is the goal of single origin chocolate.” [ii]

Of course, as discussed throughout our chocolate class (Karla Martin, personal communication) the final taste of chocolate is determined by many factors. The taste can be influenced by the type of cacao and where it is grown but can also be influenced by the type of cacao tree, how the cacao beans are fermented and dried and how it is processed. How is it roasted? Is it conched and for how long? Are other ingredients added?  A description of the kinds of factors that influence chocolate flavor can be found here: [iii]  But despite those questions, I was curious to explore what differences we would taste in chocolate bars whose beans were sourced from different countries.

So I took myself off to Whole Foods in Dedham – one of the largest Whole Foods I have ever visited. There I faced an enormous and bewildering display of chocolate: 3 full banks of shelves – ½ of an entire aisle – entirely devoted to chocolate, none of it mass market. I employed the following criteria to restrict my choices:

  • Must be at least 70% chocolate
  • No added ingredients other than sweetener, vanilla, emulsifier
  • Package must state the cacao is sourced from a certain geographic area.

I ended up with 7 bars of chocolate to taste, from 6 different areas: Ghana, Dominican Republic Madegascar, Tanzania, Haiti, and Ecuador. Only one was made in the country of origin. The others were produced in Germany, Massachusetts, Belgium, and Switzerland.

What I found at Whole Foods bears out Leissle’s statement that even though the majority of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, most single single origin chocolate bars are sourced from other regions. She suggests that this is likely because the quality of West African chocolate is often not high. The one bar I found from West Africa was from Ghana. Ghanaian chocolate, which is regulated by a national Cocoa Board is considered the best of the West African chocolate. (Leissle). Tight regulation may be the reason that it is higher quality, but it can also make it difficult for manufacturers to source enough chocolate from Ghana to create single-origin bars. Another issue with West African chocolate is that it is often tainted in the public mind by allegations of child and slave labor, which could affect sales.

Interestingly, all of these chocolates bore a special certification of one kind or another, indicating that the buyer was not just buying chocolate to eat, but also contributing to social good with the purchase. Certifications included Fair trade, Fair for life, direct trade, whole trade.  As Ndongo S. Sylla suggests in his critique of Fair Trade, it is as if “poverty itself has become a commodity. Through this label, it is the idea and the approach that are being sold…The irony is that the new advocates of the poor unknowingly work for the rich, being themselves part of this category.” [iv] The packaging suggests that with your purchase you have become a “compassionate consumer” as Martin and Sampeck [v] label it, and so you can feel good about yourself because you are meeting the needs of others when you spend your money, often justifying a higher price. Of course, one doesn’t know how much of that premium actually reaches the farmer. It’s almost a side benefit to one’s good work in buying the chocolate, that it may also be delicious.

All but two of the bars were organic, and this also seems to play into the idea of doing good with your dollars. The packaging materials themselves are organic-looking/earthy-crunchy with non-shiny paper and arty graphics. Julie Guthman, in her history of the development of organic salad mix (“yuppie chow”), says “eating organic salad mix connoted a political action in its own right, legitimizing a practice that few could afford.”[vi] This notion of eating as a political action could also be applied to organic chocolate. However, as Williams and Eber point out in Raising the Bar [vii], organic chocolate isn’t necessarily the best chocolate. Furthermore, organic certification is an expensive proposition for a small cocoa farmer because the land must come out of production for 3 years and getting a certificate costs money. The premium that organic chocolate can demand tends not to come to the farmer. Furthermore, much cocoa actually is in essence organic, though not certified as such, because many farmers cannot afford pesticides. So how much good are you really doing by buying organic chocolate?

For this project, I convened an after-dinner tasting panel of 3 foodies: myself (a prolific cook-gardener), my friend Emily (an artist/social worker who generally prefers milk chocolate to dark chocolate), and my husband John (a field engineer by day and musician/poet in the off hours). We discussed a common convention of tasting, guided by Barb Stuckey’s article on How the Pros Taste. [viii] She suggests the importance of using other senses in tasting, such as sight, smell, taste, and texture or mouth feel. We placed each sample on a white plate to judge the the color, slowly sniffed it to sense the aroma, snapped it with our teeth to judge crispness, and then placed it on our tongue to savor slowly and see what flavors emerged. We sampled in order of lightest (70%) to darkest (85%). After sampling each, we took a look at the package to see what information we could glean. Our method of palate cleansing after each taste was perhaps unorthodox, but delicious: water, plain crackers, and red wine that had been aged in bourbon barrels.

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THE TASTING:

Divine 70% “Intensely Rich” chocolate. Ghana     IMG_7855

Color: very dark brown. Aroma: rich and lovely. Snap: Nice, crisp.

Savoring notes: we found it sweet but not overly so. Delicious. You could taste the vanilla. It melted slowly with a lingering flavor and was very smooth. John, our poet, said he could taste the savannah. The finish was very earthy. However, at the end it felt a bit chalky and dry, as if it sucked the moisture out of one’s mouth. We decided to call this kind of finish “sere.”  “Sere” is defined as dry or arid. [ix]

Judgment: We all liked this chocolate very much at first taste, though we weren’t fond of the sere finish.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 19g fat, 11 g sugar.   Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, vanilla.

Certifications: Non gmo project, halal, fairtrade.

Price: $3.00 for 3.5 oz. (It was on sale; normally $3.99).

Website here

Other Notes:  Divine is made with cocoa beans from a co-op of small-holder farmers in Ghana and is produced in Germany. The package is decorated with Adinkra symbols which are traditional West African motifs. The inside of the package congratulates the buyer for supporting cocoa farmers and displays the photograph of an individual cocoa farmer and tells her story.  It also displays the AYA symbol, representing Endurance and Peaceful Coexistence. It feels like you are invited into the community of cocoa farmers by purchasing this chocolate.

Taza Chocolates 70% stone ground chocolate. “perfectly unrefined” Dominican Republic

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Color: less dark and rich looking than the Divine. Aroma: less intense than Divine, but nice. Less crisp than Divine.

Savoring notes: Tasted sweeter than Divine and the initial taste was less intense at the start. Not buttery and smooth but textural, (unsurprising since it is stone ground and unconched.) Very pleasant to savor, though the texture was distracting. Overall a simpler taste than the Divine. The finish was also less dry (sere) at the end.

Judgment: We all thought this chocolate was o.k., but not a favorite, mostly because of the grittiness and lack of complexity.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 14 g. fat, 11 g. sugar.  Ingredients: organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications: USDA Organic, non GMO project, Gluten Free, Vegan, Direct Trade

Price: $4.75, 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: Packaging is simple non glossy paper, quite attractive. It makes a big point of being unrefined and minimally processed with bold flavor and texture. It is made in Somerville, MA

Madecasse, Madagascar.  70% heirloom Madagascar cocoa, “bright with a fruity finish.”

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Color: not as dark as the first two. Aroma: strong, rich and deep. You could almost taste the chocolate as you smelled it. A reasonable snap.

Savoring notes: A bit granular. Not as smooth as the divine. Lingering, complex flavor. Our poet musician called it “beautiful birds” and then described the taste as “symphonic” and “well-orchestrated.” The finish had a little vanilla, it was luscious all the way through, and there was no chalky dryness or “sere” quality at the end.

Judgment: Our favorite so far.

Ingredient %: Fat 16 g, Sugar 10 g.   Ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, natural vanilla.

Certifications: Fair Trade, Fair for life.

Price: $4.50 for 2.64 oz.

Website here

Other notes:  The packaging is lovely. Simple yet colorful with a drawing of an opened cocoa pod (revealing the white flesh and the cocoa beans), nestled with leaves, cocoa beans and pieces of chocolate bar. On the back, a map of Africa/Madagascar and the story of the chocolate. Madecasse was started by peace corps volunteers in Madagascar who decided to make chocolate “as a vehicle for social impact.” This bar is not only sourced from Madegascar, it is made there. More than some of the other packaging, this bar seemed to stress the deliciousness of the chocolate, as much as their mission.

Whole Foods 72% “Tanzania Schoolhouse Project Cacao.”

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Color: quite dark, as dark as the divine chocolate. Aroma: rich. Bite: soft.

Savoring notes:  Smooth and delicious. No “sere” finish at the end. We couldn’t say exactly what we were tasting…just that it was delicious.

Judgment: The favorite of Emily, the person who typically doesn’t like dark chocolate. John and I still preferred Madecasse, though we did enjoy this bar.

Ingredient %: 17 g fat and 10 g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic chocolate liquor, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter. No lecithin and no vanilla.

Certifications: vegetarian, USDA organic, Kosher, Whole trade

Price: $6.00 for 3.5 oz.

No website.

Other notes:  Somehow we didn’t expect this to taste good – perhaps because it seemed to be more about supporting Tanzanian schoolhouses and doing “good works” and less about the chocolate. And perhaps because it was made by the big business of Whole Foods. The packaging wasn’t as appealingly earthy/arty as the others. It was glossier, with photographs of Tanzanian people and cocoa trees rather than compelling graphics. This bar is made in Belgium. We were also surprised to find that we didn’t miss the vanilla in this bar. Interestingly, the Tanzania schoolhouse Project website link which describes their charitable projects makes no mention of this chocolate. The packaging also doesn’t indicate what amount of proceeds are donated to the project. My cynical side thinks Whole Foods may be using the Tanzanian project as a marketing tool, since there is so little transparency about what they are really doing in Tanzania.

Apotheker’s “classic dark”, bee-sweetened 76% chocolate, Dominican Republic.

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Color: This chocolate was the darkest so far. Aroma: wonderful – very rich. Bite: very soft.

Savoring notes: The honey taste was predominant at first and the chocolate tasted very different from the other ones. Although the texture was not smooth, it was enjoyable, more so than the grittiness of the Taza. The taste felt slow to open up, perhaps because it was less sweet, but when it did open was nice. The honey taste lingered throughout and the finish had no “sere” at all. This was definitely a different kind of chocolate and we found it enjoyable.

Ingredient %: 18 g fat, 6g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic Cacao liquor, organic cacao butter, organic raw honey, sunflower lecithin, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications and claims: direct trade, family owned, gluten, dairy and soy free, single origin, biodynamic, hand-crafted.

Price: $6.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: The package graphics and the name hint at being like something from an apothecary or a general store, like it might be good for you. It has an old-fashioned, early 20 century look that might draw you in on the basis of sentimentality. It also proclaims in large letters that it is organic raw honey sweetened – so it can draw in people who are drawn to health foods. This bar is made in Dorchester, MA by a husband/wife team who also make soaps, hot cocoa, and bee-sweetened mallows. This was our second bar made with Dominican cocoa and quite different from the first.

Taza “perfectly unrefined” 84% Dark chocolate, sourced from Haiti.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: very earthy and perhaps a little sharp. Bite: hard but not crisp

Savoring notes: Like the other Taza bar, this was granular, but the texture was almost sandy. It had a very earthy taste, very simple, almost primitive. Emily commented that it was more like a food than a dessert. It finished with a fruity taste.

Judgment: We loved the flavor that opened when we savored a piece of this bar, but we were put off by the grittiness.

Ingredient %: 13 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans and cane sugar

Certifications and claims: organic direct trade, non gmo, gluten free, dairy soy and vegan free

Price: $7.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: the packaging of this bar is similar to that of the Taza Dominican bar. It is also made in Somerville. The package makes note that Taza is the first U.S. chocolate maker to source certified USDA organic cacao from Haiti.

Alter Eco, “dark blackout” 85% dark chocolate, from Peru.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: strong and vegetal, reminiscent of tobacco. Snap: crisp.

Savoring notes: The flavor was very slow to open – perhaps because it had less sugar. The taste was a little acidic. The texture was smooth, waxy at the start. It had a chalky, “sere” finish.

Judgment: Meh. We didn’t care for this chocolate very much.

Ingredient %: 22 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw sugar, vanilla beans

Certifications: USDA Organic, Fair trade, gluten free, non gmo.

Price: $3.99 for 2.82 oz.

Website here

Other notes: packaging is the least glossy of all – very recycled looking. There is a lot of comment on the inside of the packaging about their mission: sustainability, replacing coca crops with cacao crops and the importance of cocoa cooperatives and a Carbon Zero reforestation project, along with photographs of people who are presumably cacao farmers. Clearly the intent is to let you know that by buying this chocolate you are doing good. Too bad we didn’t like the taste of it.

Last thoughts on this experience

We were all surprised by how interesting – and enjoyable – it was to use so many senses in experiencing each chocolate bar. Taking the time to savor revealed so many nuances. Emily, who prefers milk chocolate, actually enjoyed most of the bars when she took the time to smell and consider each sample and slowly let it melt in her mouth. We found ourselves with questions about the reasons for the differences in taste: what was due to how the chocolate was processed, how much was terroir, how much was the power of suggestion in packaging, how much was due to the percentage – or type – of ingredients.

There are many avenues for further investigation. For instance, we could compare a number of different chocolates sourced from one region (if we could find them). We could compare chocolates produced with different methods – for instance a variety of unconched chocolates. We could investigate the claims different companies make about bettering the lives of farmers or the environment or contributing to other good causes. How much do they actually do and contribute and how much of the lingo is an attempt to reel in the compassionate consumer by convincing them they are doing good with their consumer dollars? I look forward to  exploring these ideas in future tastings with friends.

Sources Consulted:

[i] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/terroir.

[ii] Leissle, Kristy, “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 2013. 13:3, pp, 22-31.

[iii] Chocolate Review, Chocolatereview.com.au, accessed May 9, 2017.

[iv] Sylla, Ndongo S., The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. 2014. Athens, Ohio University Press.

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

[vi] Guthman, Julie, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow” in Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik, ed., Food and Culture. 2013. New York: Routledge.

[vii] Williams, Pan and Jim Eber, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 2012. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation.

[viii] Stuckey, Barb, “How the Pros Taste,” in Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. 2012. New York: Free Press.

[ix] Mirriam Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sere, Accessed May 9, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Sides Of The Chocolate Coin

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

Success in Cacao

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

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

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

Who is Eating All the Chocolate?

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

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

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

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

A History of Disconnection

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

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

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

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

State of Labor Today

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

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

Consumers Grow Distant

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

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

 

Distance Creates Apathy

Capitalist consumerism breeds competition, creating incentive to keep the consumer

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

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

How It All Comes Together

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

Where We Go From Here

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chocolate and Ethics

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

Taza Chocolate.

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

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

The process of purchasing cacao beans.

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

 

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Cacao beans, taken by me, 2017e846.

Direct Trade certified claims by Taza.

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

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

Fair compensation to growers and farmers.

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

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

Chocolate ingredients other than cacao.

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

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

Labor in the production process. 

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

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

 

Chocolate recipes.

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

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Traditional chocolate ingrediates.  Taken by me, 2017e846.

Value of the product.

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

Conclusion.

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Choosing Chocolate: Ethical concerns and nutritional considerations

Last Sunday, I invited four opinionated family members to join me for an international chocolate tasting. My goal for this tasting and analysis was twofold. I wanted to survey my tasters’ preferences for various international chocolate offerings, and gauge their opinions and knowledge on many of the topics that we learned about in class. My family often discusses politics and current events, however I was curious to discover each guest’s individual level of knowledge of fair trade, direct trade, child labor and other troublesome issues related to cacao farming. My ultimate question for each participant was “would you alter your chocolate buying preferences based on potential ethical issues in the harvesting and production of cacao”. The evening did not disappoint. We enjoyed a colorful and insightful discussion on numerous levels.

My first task was to buy international chocolate for the sample tasting. On my way to Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market in the neighboring town, I stopped by my local grocery store to investigate their selection and confirm my suspicion of the limited choices. I live in a small town with a seasonal population and our little grocery store often presents slimly stocked shelves at this time of year. It appeared that the person responsible for chocolate buying was not interested in purchasing chocolate with any kind of ethical or organic certifications. The shelves were stocked with milk chocolate from the big American manufacturers. I was unable to locate one offering with any kind of ethical certification. Consumer demand in a mostly working class town may not be strong enough to offer chocolate with ethical certifications which often demand higher prices. As my guests debated later in the evening, many consumers are use to milk chocolate laden with sugar offered by the large manufacturers. The group’s contention was that ethical concerns in the production of cacao have not reached the vast majority of those in the United States who purchase chocolate on a regular basis. The limited selection at my local store confirmed my initial sense that I would be obligated to drive to the more affluent neighboring town where there is a Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market serving a larger population. The affluent town also includes a Whole Foods store on the opposite end of town. Whole Foods offers a good selection of international chocolate, however the choices offered at Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market, closer to my home, proved to be more than enough to support a successful tasting.

trader joe's chocolate shelves
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Bar Selection

Although I had visited Trader Joe’s in the past, I had never shopped in the chocolate section. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at the variety and reasonable prices of many of the choices. My goal was to buy a wide range of chocolate that was manufactured outside of the United States with the cacao percentage and source of the cacao beans clearly labeled. Trader Joe’s offers numerous bars marketed with their own brand, most with the “USDA Certified Organic” label. However, the majority of bars branded with the Trader Joe’s name failed to list the detail of the source of the cacao or where it was manufactured. I found it frustrating that I could not determine where the cacao was sourced from. The Columbian chocolate bar was the only exception.

All of the Trader Joe’s chocolate bars I surveyed are distributed and sold exclusively through Trader Joe’s distribution center in Monrovia, California, even the bar that was listed as a product of Columbia. My guess is that most of the chocolate is manufactured in the United States. I reached out to Trader Joe’s through their website in an attempt to learn more, however, as of the date of this posting, I had not heard back. After searching the internet for information on Trader Joe’s business model, it is likely that I will not receive more specific information on the source of the cacao. It appears that Trader Joe’s brand is often white-labeled in an effort to sell quality brand name products at a lower price.

My intention was to purchase a wide variety of chocolate bars, with varying percentages of cacao. The selection at Trader Joe’s was broad, however Fresh Market’s international chocolate selection was impressive. Fresh Market often offers some good loss leaders, yet I find that the prices overall are higher than other grocery stores, especially compared to Trader Joe’s. The chocolate bar offerings were no exception. In total, I purchased eleven bars produced in numerous countries with differing cacao percentages and ethical certifications, plenty to engage in a good discussion with my tasters.

Fresh Market candy bar
Fresh Market’s Chocolate Bar Selection

To prime my guests for a meaningful discussion, I first asked them this question: “If they learned that unethical behavior was occurring in the production of cacao, would they alter their buying preferences and seek chocolate bars manufactured with confirmed ethical practices and legitimate certifications.” Quite honestly, I was a bit surprised at my guests firm conviction to alter their buying preferences. To be honest, three of the guests live in the affluent town in very close proximity to the Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Although they purchase their groceries at varying markets including Stop and Shop and Shaws, they regularly shop at Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Price is not necessarily a high priority for them.

Nonetheless, each guest confirmed they would be interested to learn more about fair trade and unethical practices in agriculture. In fact, one guest recollected an incident when she was traveling through Tanzania on a vacation and saw very young children working in a field. She could not ascertain which crop they were harvesting. After her description of the area, we felt the children were not harvesting cacao. Our suspicion was that the crop may have been coffee. According to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs as noted on the United States Department of Labor website, there is reason to believe that child labor exists in the harvesting of coffee in Tanzania. Our conversation brought back a disturbing memory to my guest and made our discussion surrounding child labor come to light. The other guests were clearly not educated on the prevalence of child labor or modern day slavery in the production of crops.

Child Labor photo DOL ILAB

After serving dinner, I quickly realized I needed to whittle down my offerings. Our discussion was lively and time was slipping away. Eleven tastings were too much to expect from my group on a Sunday night. Professor Martin had the ability to space out her tastings over time which would have been my preference but not an option in this situation. I quickly sorted through my chocolate stash and decided on the following choices making sure I only offered a very small sample of each:

  • Trader Joe’s dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Bar 85% Cacao – Colombia-6g sugar per serving
  • Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic 72% Cacao Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar- 10g sugar per serving
  • Fresh Market Alter Eco Dark Blackout 85% cacao organic chocolate Switzerland- 6g sugar per serving
  • Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71% cacao- France- 12g sugar per serving
  • Vanini dark Chocolate 62% cocao with pear and cinnamon-Italy- 15g sugar per serving
  • Trader Joe’s Organic milk chocolate truffle 17g sugar per serving
  • Vosges Pink Himalayan Crystal Salt Caramel Bar 70% cacao 17g sugar per serving

    chocolate bars
    Original Chocolate Bars Selected for the Tasting

I lured the tasters to my house, stating they would be part of a blind chocolate tasting test. I explained my requirements: the tasters would be required to guess the percentage of cacao, the country of origin of each bar, and provide their honest opinions on the actual taste of each bar. Three of the guests have traveled extensively and have had the opportunity to taste many European chocolate offerings. Clearly, they were disappointed. None of the participants enjoyed the dark chocolate. Only one guest was somewhat accurate and able to guess the percentage of cacao in each sample. She’s a bit of a foodie, a good baker and was able to detect the percentage of cacao within a reasonable deviation. She was even able to describe the flavor as it was described in some of the packaging, i.e. full bodied, smooth or fruity. None of the tasters were able to detect the country where the chocolate was produced. They simply guessed and all guessed wrong. The group didn’t care for the initial offerings which included a high percentage of cacao. Their expressions were priceless. When I asked them to join me in a “chocolate tasting”, my guests clearly did not expect to eat chocolate with such a high percentage of cacao that lacked milk and sugar. After three pieces of dark chocolate in a row, I knew I needed to mix it up a bit and offered an olive branch, a piece of Trader Joe’s organic milk chocolate which quickly brought them back to life.

The tasters preferences were clear. All preferred the chocolate with the least amount of cacao and the highest amount of sugar. They were only able to tolerate the higher cacao percentage in the bars that included an additive such as the Vanini chocolate with pear and cinnamon and the Vosges chocolate bar with pink Himalayan crystal salt and caramel. After the last sample, we entered into a discussion around how they felt dark chocolate is an acquired taste similar to the varying choices of coffee offered at Starbucks versus a typical Dunkin Donuts coffee that many Americans were use to drinking before the advent of specialized coffee chains.

As I completed my assessment of the group’s chocolate preferences, I outlined their preferences versus the grams of sugar in each bar. It was not surprising to learn that the higher the sugar content included in each bar, the higher the personal preference. All of the testers agreed they enjoyed the chocolate bars with the most sugar as noted by the number of grams on the bar’s label. They clearly did not like the chocolate bars with less than 15 grams of sugar. Although their preferences were not surprising, it was somewhat disturbing. According to the USDA recommended dietary guidelines, individuals should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugar. One small serving of chocolate can constitute a large portion of the suggested amount of added sugar in a consumer’s healthy daily diet. The new USDA nutrition labels required by July 26, 2018 mandate a separate category for “added sugar” in addition to the amount of natural sugar in a given food. No doubt this will highlight a negative aspect of the typical chocolate bar sold in the United States.

Food label changes coming. Old and new, all good!
USDA Nutrition Labels

Chocolate has proven to be beneficial in various studies, however moderation is key. There is evidence to suggest that eating too much sugar may raise your risk of heart disease (Corliss). If we plan to eat chocolate, we may need to consider reducing the amount of chocolate that we eat with high amounts of added sugar.

The final consensus of our tasting experiment, after our spirited discussion, led us to believe that we need to be more responsible in our chocolate choices. There is more to chocolate than the pretty packaging and sweet satisfaction. Ethical concerns and nutritional considerations should be at the forefront of our decisions.

 Works Cited

“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Tanzania.” United States Department of Labor. N.p., 30 Sept. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017. <https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/tanzania&gt;.

Corliss, Julie. “Eating Too Much Added Sugar Increases the Risk of Dying with Heart Disease.” Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Health Publications, 30 Nov. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021&gt;.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. Washington, D.C.: For Sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015. Web. 7 May 2017.

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.

Down to the Details: Dissecting the Intended Audience of Two NYC Chocolate Shops

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.

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CMB’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

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.

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Bean-to-bar makers Sol Cacao and Dandelion specify the estate from which their beans are sourced (shot with iPhone). 

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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).

Visually appealing products (shot with iPhone)

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Fusing bacon with chocolate

Ethical Concerns

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.

taza
A shot from Taza’s annual sourcing transparency report (Taza Chocolate)

 

tazaselection
Taza selection at CMB (shot with iPhone)

Taste

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.

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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).

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The Meadow

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).

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The Meadow’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

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).

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Tasting samples (shot with iPhone)

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.

Francois Pralus
Francois Pralus selection (shot with iPhone)
Akesson's
Akesson’s single plantation chocolate

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.

chuao
This is a cacao pod in the Chuao region, lauded for its terroir and superior criollo beans (Wikimedia Commons). 

 

Francois Pralus chuao
The Francois Pralus and Domori “Chuao” bars (shot with iPhone)

Domori

Ethical Concerns

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.

askinosie
Askinosie shares and explains financial statements with their farmers (Askinosie).
askinosie
Askinosie goods at The Meadow (shot with iPhone)

Taste

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.

Dick Taylor

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.

Akesson's criollo chocolate

 

Conclusion

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.

Works Cited

“About Chelsea Market.” Chelsea Market, http://www.chelseamarket.com/index.php/About/contact/about-chelsea-market. Accessed 29 April 2017.

“Akesson’s.” Cocoa Runners, https://cocoarunners.com/maker/akessons/. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Albader, Kawther. “Can you believe it’s not (cocoa) butter?”. Candy Industry, July 2012, 54-55.

Askinosie, Shawn. Direct Trade. Photograph. Askinosie Chocolate. https://www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Aurier, Philippe et al. “Exploring Terroir Product Meanings For the Consumer.” Anthropology of Food, 1 May 2005.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, edited by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004, 205-218.

Cacao en Chuao. Reg2bug. Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacao_en_Chuao.jpg. Accessed 2 May 2017.

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.

 

 

Drawing on Chocolate: How Society Displays its Values on its Favorite Food

From the earliest of its history, chocolate has been tied to the value systems of the people that consumed it. As cacao products and recipes traveled around the world, the decorations and designs that people have chosen to use on containers give us insight into the value systems of their cultures.

Mezo-American Values

Relics of Meso-American pottery date to the same place and timeframe as the archeological record of chocolate–with the Olmec people. (Rose) Chemical analysis of pottery shards shows that the Olmec culture made cacao pulp into an intoxicating beer-type drink at least 1000 years before the current era. Eventually the cacao bean byproduct fermented into its own food source and began to resemble chocolate–at least in its crudest liquid form. (Henderson)

Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 10.39.18 PM
The Mayan drinking vase on display in the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is an example of documentation of ceremony, politics, and the importance of chocolate in their society. Slightly larger than a modern quart jar, the drinking vase has a wrap-around visual narrative that details a ritual, specifically noting out that kakaw (cacao) was one of the stimulating substances used in this event.

Our first pictorial record of the original bitter drink begins with the wealthiest of the Mayan society. These colorful jewels of Western Hemisphere art document the details about ritual life by describing events, attendees, and even the ingredients of the beverage. Documenting their religion and political record onto the containers from which they drank chocolate shows the importance of the beverage in their society.

The Aztec created rounded bowls from the calabash gourds which the local populace used to prepare their daily cacao. The society elite commissioned ceremonial pottery that took the same shape and name as the gourd vessels–jícara. Vessels like this were documented in the first Spanish histories, with descriptions of cacao preparation being poured from bowl to bowl to create a frothy top. (Presilla 32)

By the time the Spanish arrived, Aztec decorations were becoming less literal than the Mayans’ had been, and were more symbolic of the gods’ earthy powers. Geometric representation of forces such as lightening and serpents were replacing the drawings of the gods themselves. As colonization progressed, the strong geometric symbolism was married with the Spanich-Islamic influences and techniques–showing up in the hybridization of cuisines, ingredients (Lauden) as well as in the art motifs.

The ultimate reason for the Spanish colonization the Americas was to extract the wealth from the natural resources of the new world. Although the Spanish government justified their version of slavery with the religious conversion of the Native Americans, in the end the colonization effort needed to be a wealth-producing enterprise. Along with agricultural products such as chocolate and sugar, metals were of great value in the European market. Native cultures shared the affinity for gold, silver and copper and used them as ornament and decorative items for the elite, but they had not perfected many techniques to create items for utilitarian purposes. The Spanish brought the knowledge of metallurgy which led to the local creation of copper chocolate pots for drink preparation. They also used silver to create handles and feet on the local cups made from coconut, literally wrapping the drink in wealth.

This video of a Filipino chocolate preparation shows the use of a copper chocolate pot and a molinillo stick to stir the chocolate into a froth. This is how the Spanish modified the native Nahuatl method of pouring the chocolate from bowl to bowl to produce a froth. (Coe 156), (Presilla 20)

After the Spanish arrival, pottery designs started showing stronger geometric divisions and flowery natural imagery moving away from the stylization of the Aztec and becoming more reminiscent of the designs that were slathered on mother Spain’s 12th century Moorish architecture. Images of upper-class colonial life, replaced the Native American depictions of myths and ceremonies. Plantation life was becoming more important than the natural forces and religions of Mexico. The sgrafitto, or incised pottery techniques that the Spaniards brought with them, married well with the engraved and carved techniques that had been in Meso-America since the Olmecs, but allowed for a more refined hand to carve into gourds and coconuts as well as pottery. (Presilla 32)

jicara
Jícara such as this one from Peru uses the sgrafitto technique to create a delicate designs that bring to mind the Spanish homeland.

The gourd-bowl shape has become synonymous with colorful, modern Mexican tourist-style pottery in the shape of flowerpots and salad bowls. Calabash gourds are still grown, dried, carved and sold today in the markets of Tabasco. Grown from a native American tree that is remarkably similar to cacao in habit and form–modern uses for the gourds can be anything from drinking, to measuring, to display.

The influence and pottery technology of the Olmecs had moved northward with trade routes to the Pueblo people. Gas chromatography analysis of North American artifacts has shown that long before the Aztecs had usurped the regional market on cacao, the trade routes of the Mayans had extended northward to canyons of New Mexico. (Mozdy) The Anasazi cultures created tall, vessels reminiscent of the Mayan vase shape, decorated with extremely stylized iconography that represented the common Meso-American pantheon.

anasazi2
These examples from Chaco Canyon are covered with lightening bolts that reflect the Pueblo’s interpretation of the imported Mezoamerican rain god, Quetzocoatle and display the reverence to the forces of nature that the local culture held. (Eaton 38)

This 1200-mile path between where the vessels were found (in the Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon) and the nearest source of cacao would have required 600 hours of backpacking through rough country and sweltering heat. As one researcher phrased it “That’s a long way to go for something that you don’t need for survival”, [something] that’s more of a delicacy…” Whether the Anasazi acquired this cacao through dedicated treks south–which would have taken weeks–or their pueblo was the endpoint of an even slower hand-to-hand, village-to-village trade route. (Mozdy)

European Values

Soon after chocolate washed across the courts of Europe, trade with the east opened up, bringing with it tea, and a new the technology harder, refined pottery that we still refer to as “china”. Tea was not treated just as basic sustenance. Like the original chocolate beverage, there was ceremony attached to it that appealed to the idle wealthy who could afford these imported beverages. Tea was prepared in a fancy ceramic pot–separate from the kettle used to heat the water. Then it was decanted to a cup to delicately sip. The wealthy started applying the same approach their chocolate. Long gone was the habit of preparing and drinking chocolate out of the same vessel. The wealthy had even stopped decanting directly from a copper pot into a cup. Drinking chocolate now represented wealth and was given all the trappings to prove it. Chocolate was prepared in the kitchen and placed in the chocolate pot, or chocotalière, by servants, then brought to the public gathering of wealthy ladies, and delicately poured into cups and handed round by the magnanimous hostess. (Coe 156-159)

meissen
The best and most expensive chinoiserie hailed from Germany, where Johann Friedrich Böttger duplicated the art of Chinese fine porcelain making.

 

Chocolate pots were made from the most expensive of porcelain, and shaped in the fashion of teapots with some adjustments. Traditional teapots have a short, squat form into order to be able to keep heat in and extract the flavor from the swirling tea leaves that are actively stewing in the hot water. A low-seated spout is fixed with an interior strainer to keep the floating leaves in the pot once you are ready to pour the fully brewed beverage. Coffee pots, on the other hand, need a tall form and highly placed straining spout for the opposite reason. As it is basically a decanting mechanism for an already brewed beverage, the height of the coffee pot allows any grounds from the brew to settle to the bottom, or get caught in the strainer. (Righthand)

Chocolate pots can be hard to spot, as they often hybridize these two forms–typically tall, but often bulbous. Early European chocolate pots most always have a removable finial to allow for a mixing stick to create the desired froth and keep the chocolate mixed. As cocoa powder was developed and cocoa preparations replaced true hot chocolate, the stirring stick went by the wayside, and chocotalière became nearly indistinguishable from coffee pots. The last distinguishing characteristic of a coffee pot was the internal strainer where the spout and body meet, and a spout that lowered over time.

Drinking chocolate represented wealth, therefore decorations were those that affluent courtiers and nouveau-riche traders would value. Gone were the forces of Meso-American nature, or plantation life, and in came garden scene–often mimicking the exotic origins of the pot. Elaborately painted and gilt decorations brought the wealth of court on the surface of the chocolate pot. An 18th century fad called “Chinoiserie” depicted the European’s visions of Asian gardens with palm trees, umbrellas, and architecture that they imagined would be found in the gardens of the imperial court of China. As many of the traders were making fortunes off the new-found economy, the asian motifs became a temporary obsession throughout the continent and its colonies.

staffordshire
Pottery for the middle class living in British colonies was most often imported from Staffordshire England. Extremely fine china rarely made it across the Atlantic during the colonial period.

Chocolate drinkers in the British colonies of North America usually imported English middle-class pottery with basic garden motifs to take to their breakfast tables. Very little pottery was made in New England so imported china had a cache of wealth and the designs were reminiscent of the estate and gardens of England as colonists tried to keep up all the appearances of home. The wealthiest of families had their chocolate pots crafted by local silversmiths, and garnished with the family seal to tie their family names and crests directly with the wealth that the precious metal embodied.

 

Modern Global Values

bars

As solid chocolate became available and ubiquitous throughout western culture, the packaging of it has changed with the form, but the still conveyed the values of the local surroundings. To make chocolate appealing to a mass Victorian audience, purveyors wrapped it in the trappings of health and wholesomeness. As modern food science undermined the myth of “healthful chocolate” and the western world was coming out of a financial depression, the ideology of wealth returned. Silver wrappers, foil lettering on thick, glossy boxes, expansive packaging, and silky imagery are on all price-points of chocolate. Our favorite addiction is made more expensive by giving it the trappings of luxury: heart-shaped boxes and ribbons; gilded truffles and patisseries. Feeling rich makes many of us very happy.

The fact that cacao is grown as a third world agricultural product, but consumed almost exclusively in comfortable homes of first world economies has been coming to the attention of consumers over the last half a century. For the socially conscious consumer–those whose values do not hold with personal indulgence without consideration to the cost to others and the planet–a whole new branding for chocolate has developed.

These consumers feel better about buying chocolate that is emblazoned with the iconography of Fair Trade, organic, or direct trade certifications–even if the certification system is more of a seasonal band-aid than a true economic transformation. (Sylla) The sheer plethora of virtuous symbols appearing on labels in the chocolate isle work to the benefit of the marketing. The variety of symbols and levels of individual certification system adds layers of confusion to the real benefits. The level of confusion is so high, there is no way the average consumer can understand all the nuances and impacts. In the end buyers spend more for a product that has a “seal of approval,” and go on their merry way with the psychological satisfaction of having done something good for the “other.”  They get to feel good without ever looking for any proof of the benefit these programs have on the lives of the farmers.

Slapping a feel-good seal on a wrapper has become so successful as marketing, that major companies are eschewing certifications that are attached to bureaucratic oversight of bona fide good intent, and instead are working toward establishing their own brands’ seal of ethical approval and creating home-grown social initiatives that are much easier to operationalize and do not threaten profits in the way that transforming the cacao supply chain would. Adding these icons into the patchwork of other initiatives ensures that social initiative logos appear on more and more packaging. Buying products branded with one of the myriad of ethical icons assuages the consciences of most purchasers. (Martin) In this way, we ensure that imagery that conveys these values will keep on proliferating on the packaging of our chocolate.

Works Referenced:

Brigden, Zachariah. Chocolate Pot. 1755. Silver. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

Burt, Benjamin, and Nathaniel Hurd. Teapot. 1763. Silver. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

“Crescentia cujete.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 07 May 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crescentia_cujete>.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Eaton, William M. Odyssey of the Pueblo Indians: an introduction to Pueblo Indian petroglyphs, pictographs, and kiva art murals in the Southwest. Paducah, KY: Turner Pub., 1999. Print.

Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007, www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937.full. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Laudan, Rachel, and Ignacio Urquiza. “The Mexican Kitchen’s Islamic Connection.” Aramco World. Saudi Aramco Services Co, May 2004. http://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/200403/the.mexican.kitchen.s.islamic.connection.htm. Accessed 3 Feb. 2017

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

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization.” 5 April 2017, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

“Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 May 2017. Web. 07 May 2017.

Mozdy, Michael. “Cacao in Chaco Canyon.” Natural History Museum of Utah, Natural History Museum of Utah, 4 Aug. 2017, nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2016/08/04/cacao-chaco-canyon. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot .” Smithsonian.com. The Smithsonian Institution, 13 Feb. 2005. Web. 23 Feb. 2017. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/>.

Rose, Mark. “Olmec People, Olmec Art.” Archeology. Archaeological Institute of America, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba., and David Clément Leye. The fair trade scandal marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, OH: Ohio U Press, 2014. Print.

Unknown. Anasazi [Pueblo] pottery, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New MexicoAMNH Digital Special Collections, accessed March 06, 2017, lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/items/show/38991.

Unknown. Drinking Vase for “om kakaw”. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.

Unknown. Gourd (jicara) with red figures. Circa 1700. Lacquered Gourd. Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, California.

Unknown. Jícara. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.

Image Citations:

Unless otherwise noted, drawings and photographs are works of the author and images may not be reused without attribution.

 

 

The Truest Chocolate Lover

“Chocolate is a physical incarnation of happiness for me”, said my sophomore friend, when I casually asked her what role chocolate plays in her life. I laughed at her response and figured she was just the typical avid chocolate lover, the kind that jumps up and yells “I’ll eat it!!” to any mention of chocolate. Little did I know that this friend of mine would be the perfect candidate for an interview for my chocolate class because of her “bougie” opinion of chocolate but ignorance, for lack of a better word, of the issues surrounding this sweet. She embodies a true chocolate-lover who strictly buys chocolate because she loves the taste, and doesn’t buy into marketing strategies.

Memories created around chocolate:

Anytime she eats chocolate, my interviewee is reminded a lot of her family at home who also loves chocolate. Every single holiday, she and her siblings buy their mom chocolate as a gift. Every year on her dad’s birthday, her family makes a “really rich chocolate mousse cake”. Every single day, her parents eat a square of chocolate after lunch for dessert. Even while in college, her mom sends her chocolate in care packages.

It is not uncommon for a sweet like chocolate to mean so much to a group of people. In fact, throughout history, chocolate has had great significance in social settings. In ancient Mayan society, the word “chokola’j” meant “to drink chocolate together” (Martin). When chocolate was introduced in England in the 1650s, the act of drinking chocolate in chocolate and coffee houses while socializing and talking about politics and playing games quickly became popular (Coe 165). Chocolate-house-london-c1708

A chocolate house in London, 1708

Chocolate evidently still has a social nature, as it is a common snack at get-togethers or holiday events. Even while writing this, my friend brought us chocolate to enjoy while studying together. My interviewee clearly also enjoys eating chocolate with others, like her family, and chocolate, therefore, has become a special part of her life.

This family doesn’t just enjoy any chocolate, however. To my surprise, my interviewee knew the exact percentage of cacao that she and her parents like best. She told me that her parents always buy 72% Ghirardelli bars and that she, specifically, prefers bars with 85-88% cacao, but “the percentage has been increasing over the last three years”. She went on to explain that in high school, she “was super down with 72” but then started eating 77 and found that she liked it better, and so “kept trying darker chocolate and kept really liking it”.

Ghirardelli-chocolates-ad
Ghirardelli chocolates with different cacao percentages

When I asked if that’s because she prefers the bitter taste usually associated with darker chocolate over the sweet and dairy taste associated with milk chocolate, she answered, “No, I actually feel like it gets sweeter as it gets darker and I love it”. I found this opinion interesting, especially coming from someone who knows the exact percentages of cacao she prefers, and should then know that milk chocolate contains more sugar than dark. One look at the ingredients for milk chocolate compared to dark would show this fact. For instance, the top ingredients for a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Kiss are “sugar, milk, and chocolate”, while the top ingredients for a Lindt’s 90% Excellence Bar are “chocolate, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder” (Martin). Although my friend could be considered “dumb” for thinking that the darker the chocolate the sweeter, I consider her a true chocolate lover who could care less about the ingredients and just wants to enjoy the taste.

 

Health effects:

It seemed fitting to ask if my interviewee cares at all about the health effects. I, too, prefer dark chocolate over milk or white but one of the main reasons is because I know it’s less unhealthy for me. Not only is there less sugar, but there are studies that show that dark chocolate, specifically, can reduce heart attack risk and blood pressure (Watson). But when I asked my interviewee if she ever considers the nutritional or health effects, she yelled, “oh, hell no!”. She said that she sometimes eats chocolate in small amounts to not feel guilty, but when she’s purchasing chocolate, she never thinks about the fat and sugar content. Instead, she bases her decisions solely off what taste she prefers. She told me, “If I’m choosing between two different chocolates, I would never go for the one with less sugar content”. She added that she convinces herself that the sugar and caffeine in one square of chocolate is “enough to perk her up” so she uses it as an “award” when studying.

The origins:

I asked her if she ever thinks about where the cacao in the chocolate she eats comes from and she answered that she sometimes does, but “actually has no idea” how chocolate is made. She continued to say that she knows there are such things as cacao nibs and has always wanted to know more, but from the way she was talking, I could tell she was more interested in the machinery and technology aspect and less of what actual cacao farmers in places like Ivory Coast do. When I threw in the word Africa, my interviewee started reminiscing on a “chocolate passport” that her aunt once gave her that had different South American and African countries on it, but then quickly said, “I feel like a lot of chocolate bars have information on them about what country it’s from but it doesn’t really influence what I buy”. She proceeded to say that she sometimes buys Endangered Species chocolate because it makes her feel “better” about herself but she knows in her heart that it’s just a marketing strategy.

endangered species
Endangered Species ad

I asked her if she knew about the child labor issues surrounding chocolate, to which she responded that she figured there were labor issues but not child labor, in particular. She told me that she knows chocolate is the “biggest thing that’s fair trade-oriented” and that she always notices the Fair Trade symbol. But when I asked her if that affects her in anyway, she said it doesn’t because she feels “so removed” from the issues at hand and that she thinks the label was “made for elites to feel better about our choices, as if we’re actually making a difference”. When purchasing chocolate, the Fair Trade label Fair_Trade_Certified_Logo-CMYKdoes nothing to sway my friend in any direction. The organization that claims to “improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives” with “day-to-day purchases” of products with their label has failed to influence the decisions of customers like my friend, who comes from a social class that may be more likely to spend the money in the first place (“What is Fair Trade?”).

 

My interviewee is actually quite correct in saying that the label just makes customers “feel good”. Ndongo Sylla explains in The Fair Trade Scandal that in theory, through the Fair Trade strategy of pricing some goods made from raw materials produced in the South at a slightly higher price, the living conditions of workers in the South should be improved. Sylla writes that although Fair Trade products have gone up dramatically in sales, the actual economic gains are low, especially for the poorest developing countries – the minority producers which Fair Trade USA seemingly favor most. The countries ranked by the World Bank as upper middle-income countries account for 54 percent of the producer organizations that have received Fair Trade certification, while only 21 percent are low-income countries. This means that from a marketing standpoint, Fair Trade has been successful. Sylla concludes that “whatever definition of poverty and economic vulnerability used, the conclusion is the same: Fair Trade tends to exclude the poorest countries”, and yet, its “Fair Trade” label gives consumers a false confidence (as shown in the video below). Thankfully, there are people like my interviewee who aren’t completely fooled.

Chocolate as a luxury:

I then asked my friend how she chooses her chocolate: What’s the most important detail to her? And does she choose some brands over others? She immediately answered that she looks at the percentage of cacao first, then the price. Her cutoff price is around five or six dollars, since she doesn’t like the texture and taste of some really expensive chocolate (her example was Taza chocolate that makes her feel as if she is eating “chocolate sawdust”) but also “won’t buy sh*tty chocolate”. I, of course, asked her what she defines as “sh*tty chocolate” to which she responded, “like Hershey’s dark chocolate, like the kind that says extra dark and it’s not even that dark”. Another friend overhearing our conversation commented that my interviewee sounded like a “chocolate elitist”, and I honestly couldn’t disagree because I felt a tad offended. Sure, I don’t think Hershey’s chocolate is the best of the best, but I do love Hershey’s extra dark and it was a low blow to my heart. She added that she doesn’t like salted or flavored chocolate (like added orange flavoring) and that Ghiradelli is her favorite because it’s “perfectly good and on the cheap end”.

Next, I asked her if she thinks everyone can afford to and has the liberty to be this picky when it comes to a simple snack like chocolate. To my relief, she replied that “it’s definitely a bougie thing” and “definitely a luxury, not an essential” but she’s willing to spend the money for her contentment. My interviewee explained that when she was younger, her family considered themselves in the upper middle class and although they may be lower in economic status now, she said with a laugh, “I developed my tastes while we had more money and I refuse to back down now”. Whenever she eats chocolate, she said she refuses to chew it like others might, and instead breaks the bar into small pieces and sucks on each piece individually to get the full taste. Being in college, she said she doesn’t eat as much as she does at home with her family, but sometimes gets “some good chocolate” for “pretty cheap” at Trader Joe’s. She added, now more than before, if I’m buying myself chocolate, I know I’m indulging myself so I’m willing to spend more”.

It’s certainly true that better-quality chocolate is a “luxury” for some economic classes, and chocolate has been linked to notions of class since its origin. From Mesoamerica to Baroque Europe, chocolate was solely associated with the elite class. The chocolate houses mentioned earlier were only used by the upper class, and in France, chocolatières were prized by the nobility (Coe). Since then, chocolate has certainly become more widespread and is consumed by all economic classes. Some products of brands like Hershey’s and Mars are even considered a “cheap commodity” that is available in almost every convenience store. This doesn’t change, however, the stigma that still exists around “good” chocolate and “sh*tty” chocolate. As there continues to be a wide gap between “Fair Trade”, “better quality”, “saving animals”, or “higher percentage of cacao” chocolate and the cheapest Hershey’s bar, chocolate will always be associated with different classes. If more consumers are like my interviewee, however, maybe we’d have less conflict. In a perfect world, all consumers would have the freedom to ignore marketing strategies or sugar content or price and solely buy chocolate based off of preference of taste. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic and not everyone can afford to do this or wants to. But props to my interviewee and friend for being the truest chocolate lover I have ever met!

Works Cited:

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

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”. Harvard University, CGIS, AAS 119x. 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao”. Harvard University, CGIS, AAS 119x. 2017.

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

Watson, et al. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Vol. 7. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 2013.

“What is Fair Trade?”. Fair Trade USA. Web. 2016.

 

Bean-to-Bar in Texas: A Comparison

There are several reasons why a shop owner would opt to be bean-to-bar, including economic and ethical motivations. (“Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done”, 2013) Cameron Ring, co-owner of Dandelion Chocolate, argues that “Chocolate is one food where everyone is familiar with it, but it has this untold story,” and that he wants to tell that story. (“Bean-To-Bar…”, 2013) I wonder, though, how much of that story is fiction?

 

I decided to compare seven different bean-to-bar companies from Texas, sourced from a blog post on bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the U.S. (“183 Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers in the United States”, 2016). Note that I didn’t source much information from this casual, non-scholarly post besides the names of the chocolate makers which I then vetted. However, note that this information is copied (and reformatted for clarity and length) below.

 

I will keep a particular eye towards the story the companies tell about their products online, any fair trade, organic, and direct trade claims and certifications, and ingredients, if I can find them. I expect to see some instances where brands do not actually have a certain certification, but use language associated with it to suggest that they do, e.g. “We love organic ingredients”, but no suggestion of actually having an USDA Organic certification. I also plan to keep in mind the false dichotomies of food; in particular, Laudan’s essay on cultural modernism resonated with me: just because a food is unprocessed, doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy or ethical or otherwise better than processed food.

 

Ceda Chocolate, Edinburg, Texas.

‘We make chocolate directly from the cacao bean in small batches. Our cacao comes from Ecuador and is single origin, fairly traded, and pesticide free.’

Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

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According to the quotation above, Ceda Chocolate is “fairly traded”, which sounds similar to but is not exactly “fair trade”, which I found immediately interesting.

 

According to Purple Dot, a non-profit who claims its mission is “an economy that takes care of the things we value most – our world and the people who live in it”, fairly-traded is a term frequently used to refer to products that don’t have a Fairtrade certification but want to suggest that they have been traded in an ethical manner, and may be associated with organizations such as, World Fair Trade Organization – WFTO (www.wfto.com) or The British Association For Fair Trade Shops – BAFTS (www.bafts.org.uk) (purpledot.org). It’s important to note that Purple Dot is a British organization, and as we have covered in class, fair trade varies widely between the United States and United Kingdom.

 

The website for the brand said impressively little about the company: it did say that it was “craft” and the “First and only bean-to-bar craft chocolate maker in the RGV.”, but nothing else of its story, the location where its ingredients are sourced, or even what those ingredients are.

 

However, unlike its website, the wrappers for the chocolate bars had a lot more information: the wrapper makes the same claim about being the first and only chocolate maker in the RGV, which is the River Grande Valley in Texas, and also claims “Our Cacao is: – Single origin – Fairly traded – Pesticide free”, that the chocolate is “made by artisan hands”, and contains a “Go Texan” mark.

 

The “Go Texan” mark is actually a legitimate certification; companies can only put it on their products if they meet membership eligibility rules (gotexan.org). These rules seem fairly lax; the website only specifies that products must be grown or processed in Texas, and tiers of membership come at a price (gotexan.org).

 

Kiskadee Chocolates, Austin, Texas.

‘We make single-origin, organic chocolate in small batches… We use cacao that is purchased from around the world from farmers and farmer’s coops that are paid a fair wage. Kiskadee Chocolates produces bars, drinking chocolate, and brewing cacao.’

Twitter: kiskadeechoc Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

kiskadee.jpg

Kiskadee Chocolates, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker named after the Kiskadee bird (facebook.com/pg/Kiskadeechocolates), surprisingly didn’t have a website. However, it does claims that those who they purchase cacao from are “paid a fair wage”, which like fairly traded is a term that sounds much like fair trade, but isn’t associated with the fair trade certification. (“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

 

The wrappers claim they are “crafted from the bean”, as if other chocolate bars are not, so there was very little meaning in this phrase as an ethical claim. Finally, the facebook page for Kiskadee Chocolates claims that the bars are “made from organic and fair trade cacao”, but doesn’t list any certifications.

 

However, I did find something very interesting on a British website that discusses different chocolatiers: “Initially Laura [the owner of Kiskadee Chocolates] set up making chocolate exclusively from ‘La Red’ cacao that was sourced from a co-operative in Dominican Republic which allowed more of the value of the chocolate to pass down to these growers so they can make a sustainable living from the crop.” When we discussed in class how to complicate the narrative that farmers are simply exploited, we discussed that one part of a potential solution was to work to make sure that farmers were making a higher wage, so this choice was definitely an ethical one, more impressive than having certifications that are fairly lax, or even worse, hinting at those certifications. The website did go on to say that new locations were later sourced from, but didn’t say much about whether they were ethical: “But lately a new, absolutely fabulous chocolate made from Puerto Rican beans from a family-run estate has been added to the collection and hopefully Laura will continue to make chocolate from origins and estates not often used.” Not unlike Ceda Chocolate, it is hard to know much about Kiskadee Chocolates.

 

Mahogany Chocolate, Lubbock, Texas.

‘We source our cacao from small farms in the Caribbean, Central and South America.’ Twitter: MahoganyChoco Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

 

Mahogany Chocolate does not have much information available on their website; even less, arguably, than the previous two chocolate makers. I did notice that they offer classes which show consumers how their chocolate is made, that allows them to hear the story “behind the beans” (mahoganychocolate.com). While this kind of class is definitely likely to have a minimal (at least, local) impact, it is certainly a step in the right direction towards making consumers understand what they are purchasing and eating.

 

On a very different note, the term “Mahogany” is problematic: like some of the vintage advertisements we looked at in class, it seems to capitalizes on racist stereotypes.

 

SiriuS Chocolate, Austin, Texas.

Handmade, stone-ground, raw chocolate made with sustainably sourced cacao, coconut sugar, vanilla, and Himalayan Mineral Salt.

Twitter: siriuschocolate Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

sirius.jpg

SiriuS chocolate makes three claims: about their values (particularly with regards to the environment, about paying farmers fairly, and about the ingredients.

 

Here is what the company says about its values: “SiriuS Chocolate is handmade in Austin, TX with the utmost respect for planet Earth. Sourced Sustainably from within healthy rainforest, SiriuS Chocolate supports biodiversity for future generations.” (siriuschocolate.com) This is certainly a large concern; many individuals care about the environment and of course, can exercise political power via their purchasing power. I thought it was surprising that more of the companies didn’t emphasize this value, especially since it is easy to associate cacao with being natural and wholesome since it does come from a plant and from the rainforest. The website for SiriuS chocolates argues that few people realize that cacao requires the shade of the rainforest to grow; I would argue this is very much not the case, and more companies should not just use imagery and language associated with the rainforest in order to sell chocolate, but to actually consider the ethical implications of the fact that cacao, of course, grows in the rainforest.

 

Relatedly, here is what the company says about farmers: “The growers are able to add value to the cacao in a co-operative processing center before selling it above Fair-Trade prices.” (siriuschocolate.com) It is unclear, like in many of the cases outlined so far, whether their chocolate is actually fair trade certified or whether they simply hope to suggest that (I doubt it is actually fair trade, since I suspect that they would say this outright if they could, and put the symbol for fair trade on their website as well.)

 

Finally, with respect to ingredients, SiriuS Chocolate emphasizes that ingredients are “raw”. However, it doesn’t focus very much on the ethical considerations of eating raw food, but rather, the health benefits, like serving as a source of iron, particularly helpful during menstruation, and helping the body process antioxidants and neurotransmitters like endorphins.

 

SRSLY Chocolate, Austin, Texas.

Stone-ground chocolate handcrafted from organic and fair-trade cacao.

Twitter: SRSLYchocolate Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

srsly.jpg

I thought it was interesting that this brand had a similar name to the one preceding it (SiriuS sounds almost exactly like SRSLY when pronounced out loud, at least).

 

Funnily, the website focuses on the chocolate-making process: “To become chocolate, cacao must go through a dramatic transformation. Cacao is grown in lush forests and harvested. It is fermented and dried. It is cracked, winnowed and ground into the chocolate we know and love.” (srslychocolate.com) The company is taking advantage of the fact that the average consumer has not heard of terms like “winnow” and therefore, makes this chocolate seem particularly special. Of course, all chocolate is fermented, roasted, etc., but the website suggests that these processes are particular to SRSLY chocolate.

 

The website says nothing of certifications. It does list ingredients for select bars. For example, the 84% Cacao Bar, which is supposedly the company’s flagship bar (which may mean that it is the most popular). The only ingredients in this bar was organic and fair trade cacao and organic and fair trade sugar. This was far more impressive than any other ethical claim made by any company thus far.  

 

Sublime Chocolate, Allen, Texas.

A chocolate and coffee shop that handcrafts truffles, bonbons, ice cream, bean-to-bar chocolate tablets and tasting bars, and coffee drinks.

Twitter: Sublimechocolat Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

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sublime2.jpg

Sublime actually acknowledges that not all of its chocolate is bean-to-bar, which differentiates it from the others discussed thus far: only its tablets and tasting bars are bean-to-bar, whereas its other bars, truffles, and such are not. Sublime, like SRSLY, placed an emphasis on the process, discussing aspects of the process like roasting.   

 

This company places an emphasis on the locations from where the cocoa beans are sourced: it’s printed right on the packaging.

 

There wasn’t any information on certifications or ingredients.

 

Tejas Chocolate Craftory, Tomball, Texas.

‘We hand craft award winning chocolate using only premium cocoa beans sourced from cacao farms around the world.’

Twitter: TejasChocolate Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

tejas.jpg

Only in Texas would there be such a thing as a half-chocolate company, half- barbecue restaurant! Some of the barbecue dishes even incorporate chocolate, particularly desserts such as the chocolate bread pudding with house Cajeta Caramel Sauce. (tejaschocolate.com)

 

Tejas Chocolate Craftory, like Sublime, places an emphasis on the locations from where the cocoa beans are sourced: it prints the location where the cocoa beans are sourced on the packaging as well as a scenic image from each location. Tejas also explicitly mentions having a mission like some of the other chocolate makers, particularly like SiriuS which talked about the environment. Tejas Chocolate Craftory claims to be part of a movement, citing the fact that nearly all chocolate is produced by a small handful of companies. Of course, since by this point it is clear that small chocolate-makers can still vary widely in terms of their ethical considerations (and how they communicate these concerns to others). Thus, simply not being part of that small handful of companies is a step in the right direction, it is no guarantee of ethical production.

 

While this website actually had far more information available than many of the others, I couldn’t find anything on certifications or ingredients here, either.

 

Go Texan. GO TEXAN Mark. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

 

“Kiskadee Chocolate – Hand-Crafted in Austin, Texas, USA.” Chocolatiers. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

 

Laudan, Rachel. “A plea for culinary modernism: why we should love new, fast, processed food.” Gastronomica 1.1 (2001): 36-44.

 

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR. NPR, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 05 May 2017.

 

“What is the difference between Fairtrade and fairly-traded?” Purple Dot. N.p., 08 May 2012. Web. 05 May 2017.
Wiley, Carol. “183 Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers In the United States.” Medium. N.p., 09 Dec. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.