Upon learning of his troops’ devastating losses in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, soon to be Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, is said to have proclaimed “Damn sugar! Damn coffee! Damn colonies!” Two years later in 1804, the colony would proudly proclaim its independence as Haiti, and Napoleon would soon after part with most French holdings in the Western Hemisphere (Baptist, Edward E). While the Haitian revolution would wipe out coffee production on the island and contribute to a “sharp decrease” (Mintz, 69) in global sugar production, there was another casualty not included in Napoleon’s famous epithet: cacao.
The first commercial cacao plantation of the Spanish empire was established by Hernando Cortez in present day Haiti during the early 1500’s (“Chocolate History”). While this early attempt did not turn out favorably for Spain, it did not stifle other attempts to increase cacao production on the island. The period spanning the early 17th century through the early 19th century “saw the institution…of large scale cocoa production” in which “Haiti’s cocoa production dwarfed that of Venezuela, being nearly ten times as large” (a Brief History of Chocolate) However, following the Haitian revolution, there was a distinct move away from the plantation system as former slaves strongly tied independence to land ownership. When the country divided briefly into the northern kingdom and the southern republic, a plantation system was maintained in the north while small plots of land were distributed to those in the south. Unsurprisingly, the population preferred the “free and poor” life of the latter over the “happy against their will” (Girard, p.67) existence often used to describe northerners. Once the North fell following Christophe’s suicide by silver bullet, Jean-Pierre Boyer reunited the country and instituted the smallholder farmer system nationwide. However, the propagation of small landholder model meant a precipitous decline in production.
In the years to follow, political mismanagement, global isolation driven by fear – many nations at the time still had legal slavery and had no desire for their “property” to be filled with ideas of independence – and racism led to a steady decline in the Haitian economy. By 2015, over 200 years since Haiti declared independence, Haitian cacao made up only 0.1% of global supply, averaging just 4,500ha a year (confectionerynews.com). This diminutive output, while rooted in historical injustices, is also due to the following causes:
Post-harvest loss estimated to be between 20-25%, due to “poorly kept ageing plantations that are usually in just one hectare of land and managed by ageing farmers” (confectionerynews.com) Many youth in Haiti, not seeing a future in agriculture, migrate to urban centers for education and work opportunities.
Haitian cacao being sold unfermented due to poor infrastructure for drying which often leads to mold growth during the rainy periods (confectionerynews.com).
Lack of access to credit facilities (confectionerynews.com)
Lack of access to electricity, including affordable electricity, electricity for more than 6 hours a day, and predictable/scheduled electricity (“How Askanya Is Reviving Haiti’s Chocolate Industry”)
Lack of awareness of Haiti as a origin for fine cacao, particularly among American consumers (“Haitian Chocolate Project.”) While the Dominican Republic is a fairly well-known origin country, and services both the US and Latin American markets, many consumers are unaware that the countries share an island and that Haiti has comparable cacao.
Burdensome government regulations that do not respond to market needs and make it tenuous for businesses to operate within the country (Haiti ranks 181st on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report (Doing Business in Haiti))
Arcane property laws (including land tenure) that make it difficult (and often costly) to even secure a site (Building a Stronger Haiti with Chocolate)
Low investment by growers at the plantation level as well as the lack of research on cocoa varieties and the improvement of their aromatic and productive potential (“Le Cacao D’Haïti”)
However in recent years there have been a number of initiatives to revitalize the Haitian cacao industry. Premium chocolate companies such as Taza (“Haiti Trip!”), Equitable, Singing Rooster, and Askanya have worked to both source Haitian cacao as well as create sustainable bean-to-bar production companies within the country. Because of their efforts, Haitian chocolate can now be purchased at Whole Foods, and other fine retailers in the United States, France, and Belgium. Products include Taza’s 84% Dark Haiti Chocolate Bar (“84% Dark Haiti.”) and Singing Rooster’s Lemon Ginger Chocolate Bar (“Haitian Chocolate (and Raw Cacao for Bean to Bar Makers)”). Haitian cacao has also been used in beauty products, with Haitian-owned companies such as Kreyol Essence (“Haitian Black Castor Oil”) producing Haitian Organic Chocolate Black Castor Oil, also sold at Whole Foods.
Furthermore, noting that cacao accounts for 30 percent of the country’s primary exports, the Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR), along with donors such as the IDB, USDA, and USAID, have worked to improve infrastructure, farmer/cooperative capacity and access to markets. In 2011, FECCANO, became the first Haitian cooperative to export fermented cocoa, which was also certified fair and organic. In November 2013, Haiti’s cocoa was voted the best in the world, according to the International Cocoa Awards (“Le Cacao D’Haïti”).
Thus while the challenges are plentiful there exists a strong possibility to build up the cacao industry in Haiti and create livelihoods for tens of thousands of families on the island. While some components are structural and must be addressed by the government and donors, consumers can as well support Haitian cacao by purchasing specialty bars and spreading the word about the emerging market. Haiti also serves as a microcosm for the nuanced history cacao has throughout the Americas, showing how a product that was initially associated with slavery and forced labor can, with a concerted effort, be transformed into a product that provides freedom for it’s growers in the form of new opportunities for education, healthcare, and property-an example of just some of the items cacao livelihoods can provide. The responsibility now is for everyone in the supply chain to practice responsible production and consumption to assure that cacao continues to be a plant of opportunity and joy.
Photo of Display at Castronovo Chocolate literally from beans to bars.
I spent a day and a half visiting both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Miami and Castronovo Chocolate, a 700 square foot chocolate factory, 2 hours north of Miami located in Stuart Florida. This posting tells the story of the morning with Mike Winterstein, an agricultural research technician at the USDA and of the afternoon and following morning, spent with Denise Castronovo, an artisan chocolate maker and the owner of Castronovo Chocolate.
It is my opinion that both the USDA and Castronovo are part of solution to problems we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.
First Stop: USDA Agricultural Research Subtropical Station
Photo: Mike Winterstein is the Agricultural Research Technician at the USDA Agricultural Sub Tropical Research Service, He is from Long Island New York, moved to Florida in 1974, as a farmer, and joined the USDA in 1994.
As a grower, Mike maintains plants, going out into the fields and taking care of them from planting to germinating etc. Indoors, he also formats and stores data, maintaining data on the USDA websites. Mike works with other researchers verifying collections. The USDA genome research is publically available. You can order a species, 13,000 are available, from the USDA for the cost of shipping and the phytosanitary certificate verifying the plant is free of all pathogens ($50 ) The big five crops for the USDA are wheat, rice, soybean, corn and cotton. However at the station in Miami the primary crops being studied are avocado, mango and cacao, and interestingly also sugar cane. To paraphrase, Mike, “Even though cacao is not really grown in the US, yes, some is in Puerto Rico (Mayaguez has the main cacao collection) and Hawaii, the research and the storing of the genome and plants are important because lots and lots of jobs in the US are tied into chocolate from the manufacture, to the infrastructure, to the advertising/marketing to the consumption.”
The USDA in Miami started with “The Boys”. (See photo) Walter Tennyson Swingle, (1871-1952) who graduated from Kansas State at age 16 and had an obsession with chasing citrus (there was no citrus industry yet in Florida, but there was a potential for the crop. http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/wtswingle/. Swingle taught himself Mandarin Chinese and German and went looking for crops that could be successful in the US. He persuaded Henry Flagler, the man who brought his railroad to South Florida, thus opening Florida for development, to give the USDA an acre of land along Biscayne Bay for a lab to study plant disease. Swingle also persuaded Mary Brickell to give 6 acres to use as a plant introduction site. The donation was not accepted, but a lease was negotiated. Plant Explorer, David Fairchild, the same David Fairchild who brought the cherry trees to Washington, D.C.’s tidal basin, is another major player in the history. He sought a piece of land for its climate, not just for the land.
Where the USDA sits today is not shielded by barrier islands. It receives the warm gulf stream, and because there are no barrier islands, the Atlantic Ocean retains the warmth of the gulf stream, creating a climate fit for cacao. The land, it is believed, has always been frost free (important for all subtropical fruits and vegetation).
Viktor Emmanuel Chapman was the first aviator to be killed in France in WWI on November 15, 1918. He trained on this same sight, what is now known as Chapman field with America’s first “Fly Boys” who flew, before the US entered WWI, for the French Foreign Legion in the American Escadrille. The history of the USDA station at Chapman field in Miami and the breadth of agricultural research currently being done at the USDA subtropical agricultural research center is fascinating and complex.
1. Introduce a broad genetic base for tropical and subtropical horticultural crops believed to have economic potential in warm humid regions of the United States or its territories.
2. Evaluate the introduced populations for their genetic structure, horticultural variation, and botanical characteristics.
3. Preserve a diverse sub-set representing a broad genetic base for each crop.
4. Distribute the material to research scientist, botanical gardens, nurserymen and parks as is appropriate.
The National Germplasm Repository (NGR) is one of eighteen such repositories in the NPGS. The NGR-Miami shares responsibility with Mayaguez – Puerto Rico, for maintaining the U.S. clonal collections of mango, avocado, banana and plantain, tropical citrus, annonas, sugarcane and related grasses, palms, Tripsacum, and a few other relatively minor tropical crops.
The NGR-Miami maintains approximately 6000 accessions. Most the holdings (3500) are in the major fruit and grass collections. The remaining 2500 accessions are ornamental, chemurgic, and spice introductions from tropical and subtropical areas of the world. These plants are a unique collection and requests for material come from many scientific disciplines. Small quantities of germplasm are distributed to bona fide scientists for research purposes.” Not true anymore: the germ plasm is available to landscapers, botanists, landscape architects, nurseries, as well as bona fide researchers.
Cacao is held at the NGR Miami and has been important both to deal with diseases: witches broom, frost pod, bitofera, pests, parasites, fungus, etc. benefitting cacao producers worldwide, but also because “significant quantities of milk, sugar, peanuts, almonds, and other materials produced in the U.S. go into the making of chocolate products. The station is one of two quarantine facilities for cacao in the western hemisphere that serve to keep diseases from moving into the area”. The station also does research for Mars with Mars scientists. They have sensors monitoring trees for nitrogen, sunlight, humidity etc. monitoring conditions to be able to help cacao farmers in Indonesia. The cacao is grown in an area that was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp -think the Depression and the New Deal) cement walls that look like Mayan ruins absorb the heat keeping the area warmer.
Mike will hand pollinate a cacao tree, by collecting pollen at the beginning of the day., The next morning he takes the anther’s off, so the tree can not self pollinate, and he brings the pollen, using a Q-tip or tiny paint brush from another tree. He said that when he brings the pollen he sees a little spurt. Wire mesh to keep rats and mice away are around the trees.
Kathleen Martinez, a researcher at the USDA doing Mars research, took me inside the lab. I was not allowed to photograph inside. I was shown how leaf material is organized for genome sequencing. Kathleen explained pipeters, fill tips, DNA samples, working in small quantities, then working on a plate, sequencing 96 samples on 32 plates , PCR amplifying samples, like 96 little needles into a capillary system, with florescent probes, Single nucleotyde polymorphism genotyping, looking for one single change in the genotyping, 96 samples and 96 markers ,fluidigm EPT. She talked about raw data, XX meaning homozygous, XY meaning heterozygous, allele. Basically, taking a physical trait linking that trait to a genotype associating it to a phenotype to predict the physotype. I was shown how the researchers use the centrifuge to remove the cell wall to get clear DNA, some scientists use the plate method and do 40 samples in a day. Extractions are done all day long. I was shown the lypholizer, how the water is removed from the fresh leaf keeping the leaf material for long term storage minus 80 degrees C. Leaves being worked with regularly are stored at minus 20 degrees C. The autoclave sterilizes all equipment with heat. Everything is reused. Tips are cleaned in bleach. UV cross linker sterilization washed with ethanol then the UV cross linker sterilizer microwave.
Cacao bred to be resistant to disease that tastes well, horrid, CCN51, is now being bred again, for flavor. I do not know how much research is being done on flavor at this site.
“The next time you drive by Chapman Field or enjoy a fine bar of chocolate, ponder the centuries of work that have gone into the making. Agriculture is always a struggle and it never ends. The climate will change, diseases ravage, breeding lines narrow and humans crave something new. Behind that fence along Old Cutler [road] is a battleground on which the survival of one of mankind’s most iconic crops depends”
Richard Campbell in Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume
Photo from USDA website
From Gene to Bean to Bar: Visiting Castronova Chocolate
The timing of my 2nd visit to Castronovo Chocolate was serendipitous: I got to see the cacao beans arrive. The driver who delivers them brings them inside and is thanked by Denise with one of her chocolate frozen drinks.
Denise Castronovo is a fine chocolate maker. Originally from Massachusetts, she went to Lehigh University for her Bachelors and Masters in Environmental Science and Economics, then for 2 years she did her PH.d coursework in Ecology in the Botany Department at the University of Georgia. During her undergraduate years she had visited Costa Rica to study the rainforest. In Florida, she started her own mapping technology consulting business. She has always been interested in sustainable development and conservation. At the time she was in Costa Rica, eco-tourism was beginning to grow. Her studies in Economics linked conservation and the environment. She was interested in monitoring reforestation using aerial satellite imagery.
In her home life, Denise wanted healthy eating for herself and for her family, (husband and two young children). She became interested in superfoods, foods high in anti- oxidants, acai, goji berries. When she went to Whole Foods and bought cocoa nibs she became amazed by the flavor notes and chocolate and decided to learn all about chocolate. All her life was excellent preparation for the opening 5 years ago of her chocolate factory and store.
What Denise is successfully creating and growing parallels the societal changes reflected in the American Artisan and Craft Chocolate time line by Carla Martin, Ph.d Chocolate, The Politics of Culture and Food, Harvard Extension. And just as in France, in American society today it appears that the food movement is valuing artisan craft makers, (perhaps the consumers are of a certain economic level) turning to slow, small batch chocolate, that we too are part of a changing culture of chocolate consumption. (See Carla D. Martin-Kathryn E. Sampeck)
Denise’s mission is to raise awareness of chocolate by offering unique varietals of chocolate and flavors, heirloom varieties that are endangered, to create a market that will preserve the diversity of cacao. see http://hcpcacao.org On her website she has written: “Reclaiming the craft of bean to bar chocolate making. At a glance, all chocolate-making looks the same: beans are cultivated and fermented, roasted and ground, sweetened and sold. Large-scale chocolate manufacturers have optimized this process for mass production. The unfortunate result: flat, uninspired, expressionless chocolate – the taste has been engineered out of the bar! We salute the few, craft chocolate makers that are taking time and care with each part of the chocolate making process, releasing the full potential of the bean; those who are supporting careful farming and fermentation, the ones who ensure farmers are paid a fair wage through an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and those who skillfully grind, roast, and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence.
We at Castronovo Chocolate are in relentless pursuit of discovering the absolute depths of the chocolate experience knowing full well we may never get there. But along the way, we can all enjoy a bar of the most flavorful chocolate you can find.
Denise receives positive feedback from her customers. She loves to watch them try a truffle at the store, because most have never had anything quite like the ones she makes. One customer has told her that her truffles are better than any he ever had in Brussels.
She is succeeding as shown by the numerous international awards she has already won. As she said modestly “I am winning awards with Bonnat, how incredible!”
International Award-winning Chocolate
photo of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier Chocolate Map with Descriptions copyright 2012-2015
For a complete description of the chocolate making process see http://expertenough.com/973/chocolate Both are much like Denise’s process.
Denise with her two employees, wearing gloves, sorts the beans, the beans go on trays. She roasts them in a convection oven (not in a coffee roaster). A roast of 15 trays is approx. 5 1/2 pounds. She has a loss (shrinkage) of about 30%. Next she winnows the beans which crack and separate the nibs and shell. The vacuum suction takes the lighter weight nibs to the bottom. Again she handsets, making sure there is no shell. Shell is dirty, having bacteria. The beans roast at 250 to 270 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. killing the bacteria. She does her grinding and mixing in a melanger. For milk chocolate sugar is added and milk powder. Her melanger has 2 big granite wheels and a granite bottom. She does about 90 pounds of chocolate in 3 -4 days. 10,00 in a year. Refining, Conching and Tempering
Tempering – creating stable crystals. Denise uses the seeding method.
an example of a badly tempered bar.
Denise mentioned how clean the beans are from Honduras. Obviously leaves, twigs, rocks especially are not good for the juicer. One can hear the rock in the juicer and must pull it out!
Everything in the shop smells so good, the aroma hits you as soon as you enter the door. All the volatile compounds come out mellowing the chocolate. Denise has a chocolate library, pours the chocolate into hotel pans, pours it into blocks and then uses air conditioned cooling.
Castronovo chocolates may do more flavored bars in the future, she does 2 right now with coffee. But the focus will remain on single origin bars.
Some of her beans are sourced from the wild. Her beans from the Sierra Nevada and Honduras are wild. Beans in her Patenemo, Venezuelan bar are not quite as wild, as they are grown by subsistence farmers. She sees herself as a small fish in a big pond, but by joining with other craft makers there will be an impact. source: http://www.castronovochocolate.com
If you take the time to look at each Castronovo chocolate bar, read the label: you will see the % of cacao, the type, where it is sourced, a story about the cacao and its origin and flavor notes, and a batch number.
The flavors of chocolate begin with the farming, with the soil, the climate, the elevation, the tree, perhaps the spacing, and then with the process: the harvesting, the fermenting the addition of sugar (or not) or milk (or not) and all the steps leading to the bar . Certain beans, the varietal of chocolate will grow better in one place than another. The difference between a single origin chocolate maker and large companies, is the same as the difference between agriculture and viticulture for wine. Agriculture seeks standardization, uniformity, high yield and consistency on as large a scale as possible. With single bar origin done well, the taste brings a sense of connection to the place from which the bean came. It is “perhaps the most elusive of these concepts and the most difficult to ascertain. It is the sense you get from …aroma and flavor that could not have come from just anywhere but rather the embodiment of a single piece of earth. Connectedness makes a thing different and therefore worthy of appreciation. ”
Both Mike and Denise are incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, passionate and generous. Thank you both for the time you spent with me, guiding me through your factory and your fields and for the information and the chocolate Denise fed me! I am enormously grateful. Thank you Kathleen Martinez for showing me the lab and for making the chocolate genetics research more understandable.
Disclosure: Next blog post, I would like to make a comparison between wine and chocolate as my husband is a 30 year wine industry consultant, specializing in artesan vintners. participating in this course through learning about chocolate, and now enthralled with the history, politics, culture, and taste of chocolate (and other foods) has heightened for me the parallels between wine and chocolate.
Campbell, R. Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume 8.
Castronovo, D. , Castronovo Chocolate Factory, Stuart, Florida, conversations and texts May 2017. and website: http://www.castronovochocolate.com
Kiel, K. & Ornelas, K.,200, “North America from 1492 to the Present- Recent Developments in Foodways” The Cambridge World History of Food, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, p. 1320.
Leissle, K, Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 22-31 Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22 .
Martin, Carla D. and Sampek, Kathryn E , The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. DOI: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.
MacNeil, K. , The Wine Bible, 2001, Workman Publishing, New York.
Martinez, K., Subtropical Research Geneticist, USDA ARS, Miami, Florida, lab research tour, May 2017
Sethi, S. 2017, “Origin Made Chocolate: The Bars to Beat”, Wall Street Journal, web Feb 9, 2017.
Williams, P. & Eber, J., 2012,”To Market to Market: Craftsmanship,Customer Education, and Flavor Raising the Bar The Future of Fine Chocolate, pp 143- 209, Vancouver, BC Wilmor Publishing.
Winterstein, M. USDA ARS, Miami, Florida, conversations and emails, May 2017
One step into Cambridge Naturals, a community natural health store in Cambridge, MA, and the market for organic, fair-trade, vegan, bean-to-bar, local, non-gmo, paleo, environmentally friendly and ethically sourced chocolate products is on full display. A meeting with the store’s manager & grocery lead adds another term to the list of qualities their consumer base is looking for when they step into the store – functional chocolate. This trend shows a probable correlation between what customers are willing to spend on chocolate that makes health claims, based on the way the cacao is processed and additional ingredients added that are promoted to provide nutritional benefits. The functional chocolate trend begs the question – are these health claims regarding various methods of cacao processing and healthful additives substantiated by scientific research, or are they merely a marketing gimmick? This article will analyze recent research on the health benefits of chocolate as a functional food, look at fermentation and processing differences from a nutrient perspective, and consider additional benefits of medicinal additives to chocolate in order to best answer this question.
How are functional foods different from healthy foods?
In a study published in the Academic Food Journal/Akademik (2014) that looked at the development of functional chocolate, the differences between health foods and functional foods were defined as the following:
“Functional foods are a new category of products that promise consumers improvements in targeted physiological functions” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).
Whereas, “conventional ‘healthy’ foods are typically presented as types of foods contributing to a healthy diet, e.g. low-fat products, high-fibre products, or vegetables, without emphasizing the role of any single product” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).
Functional foods share these characteristics:
Health benefits that can be linked to a specific product
Well-defined physiological effects are directly connected with particular components in the specific product
Scientific evidence about health effects that is used to develop specific functional products
There is novelty for the consumer with the promised benefits
Modern technology is often needed to manufacture the functional foods due to specific components being added, modified or removed (Albak, et al., 2014).
Demand for Functional Foods
The market for functional foods exists in large part due to the rising popularity of healthier products by consumers (Albak, et al., 2014). One contributor to interest in healthy products is their use as a remedy to detrimental lifestyle factors that can contribute to unyielding high levels of inflammation in the body (Jain, Parag, Pandey, & Shukla, 2015). In the book, Inflammation and Lifestyle (2015), the connection between diet and inflammation is emphasized.
“Our diet is one of the leading sources of these chronic illnesses, and changing the diet is the key to prevention and cure. A number of dietary factors, including fiber-rich foods, whole grains, fruits (especially berries), omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins (e.g., C and E), and certain trace minerals (e.g., zinc), have been documented to reduce blood concentrations of inflammatory markers. The best way to correct and eliminate inflammation is to improve comprehensive lifestyle and dietary changes rather than taking pharmaceutical drugs, the latter of which can cause unintended harm in the form of damaging side effects” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 143).
The authors provide this graphic to illustrate what an anti-inflammatory diet pyramid looks like in terms of specific food groups. Note that dark chocolate is positioned on the top of the pyramid.
An introduction to the benefits of superfoods and their role in an anti-inflammatory diet are explained in the publication. “An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is low in processed foods and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, sprouts, nuts and superfoods. Maca, spirulina, purple corn, wheatgrass, coconut butter and raw chocolate are a few of the health promoting superfoods that are gaining international interest” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144). The inclusion of “raw chocolate” in the category of superfoods versus “chocolate” warrants further examination and will be explored later in this article, but the position remains clear that evidence supports the protective benefits of chocolate as a part of a healthy diet.
Chocolate as a Functional Food
Under the category of functional foods as previously defined, chocolate, as will be further described, fulfills all the requisite characteristics. Even though the term functional food is relatively recent, the practice of consuming chocolate for its specific health benefits is centuries old. “Chocolate has been consumed as confection, aphrodisiac, and folk medicine for many years before science proved its potential health benefiting effects. Main compounds of cocoa and chocolate which contribute to human health are polyphenols that act as antioxidants and have potential anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergenic, and anticarcinogenic properties” (Ackar, Djurdjica, Lendić, Valek,… & Nedić, 2013, p. 1). The studied physiological effects of chocolate include “reported health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate particularly focus on cardiovascular diseases (but also showing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects), including increased blood flow at the brachial artery and the left descending coronary artery, decreased blood pressure, decreased platelet aggregation and increased HDL cholesterol” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Numerous research discoveries have shed light on the complex nature of how these protective benefits of cacao are reduced or encouraged by different methods of sourcing, processing and consuming chocolate (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008).
Polyphenols are found in many food sources including, “vegetables and fruits, green and black tea, red wine, coffee, chocolate, olives, and some herbs and spices, as well as nuts and algae” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). However, “chocolate is one of the most polyphenol-rich foods along with tea and wine” where, “results [have] indicated that dark chocolate exhibited the highest polyphenol content” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2194). In unfermented cacao beans, there are three main groups of polyphenols, “flavan-3-ols or catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Differences in cacao genetics or varieties and country of origin show varying levels of polyphenols by up to 4-fold (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008). “Criollo cultivars contained higher levels of procyanidins than Forastero and Trinitario beans. In addition, crop season and country of origin have impact on polyphenols in cocoa beans” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Findings regarding polyphenol level by country of origin are contentious but include, “highest phenolic content was in Malaysian beans followed by Sulawesian, Ghanian and Côte d’Ivore” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2201) and “cocoa beans and processed products from Ecuador showed the highest levels of anthocyanins, followed by Nigeria and Cameroon” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Due to additional factors besides country of origin and genetic variation influencing the polyphenols in cacao, inclusion of the effects of processing cacao on flavor and polyphenol content is important to understand health claims made regarding the finished product, chocolate.
Processing cacao beans (namely the stages of fermentation and drying), and roasting in the chocolate making process greatly affect polyphenol content of the finished product (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015). “Due to these factors, the ratio and types of these components found in cocoa beans are unlikely to be the same as those found in the finished products” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 841). For functional chocolate enthusiasts driving market trends, the balance between healthy and protective benefits of polyphenols and the effects on their levels through processing are of particular interest. “All these processes are needed to develop characteristic cocoa aroma. Polyphenols give astringent and bitter aroma to cocoa and contribute to reduced perception of “cocoa flavour” by sensory panel. However, nowadays processes are conducted in such manner to preserve as much polyphenol as possible with maintaining satisfactory aroma” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). The debate about the purpose of chocolate is hereby noted between the sensory experience – the aroma development, especially in the roasting stages, versus consumption for health effects with less regard to smell, taste and gustatory pleasure.
The search for a sweet spot between these poles is a lucrative area for producers and retail establishments. As described earlier, development of functional food into specific products uses scientific evidence about health effects, where modern technology is often needed to manufacture those products, in order to observe targeted physiological effects or functions (Albak, et al., 2014).
“Generally, as cocoa beans were further processed, the levels of anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols decreased. The largest observed losses of phenolics occurred during roasting. A progressive decreasing trend in polyphenol concentration was observed in the other processed samples as well. Despite the original content of polyphenols in raw cocoa beans, technological processes imply a significant impact on cocoa quality, confirming the need of specific optimisation to obtain high value chocolate” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840).
In order to preserve antioxidant quality through dark-chocolate products with “high flavonoid contents…these chocolates are produced by controlling bean selection, fermentation, and reduced heat and alkalization treatments” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2201). Although one of the most detrimental effects of processing on polyphenol and antioxidant levels is alkalization (or dutching) of cocoa powder (Ackar, et al., 2013; Jalil, et al., 2008), even the fermentation process significantly reduces flavonoid levels by up to 90% (Jalil, et al., 2008). However, in the search for the sweet spot between flavor and health benefits, fermentation presents a way to reduce bitter compounds due to the presence of flavonoids and polyphenols (Jalil, et al., 2008) and enhance flavor before roasting or further processing like alkalization. For example, some “manufacturers tend to remove [flavonoids] in large quantities to enhance taste quality… the manufacturers tend to prefer Ghanian cocoa beans, which are well-fermented and flavorful than that of Dominican or Indonesian beans, which are considered as less fermented and have low quality cocoa flavor” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2203). In Crafack’s study (2013), besides genetic flavor potentials of cacao beans, fermentation is cited as the most important factor influencing cocoa’s flavor potential.
“A properly conducted fermentation process is considered a prerequisite for the production of high quality chocolates since inadequately fermented cocoa beans will fail to produce cocoa specific aroma compounds during subsequent processing” (Crafack, Petersen, Eskildsen, Petersen, Heimdal, & Nielsen, 2013, p. 1).
In a later study by Crafack (2014), microorganism differences between fermentation practices are shown to produce variations in cacao flavor profiles. “Despite the importance of a properly conducted fermentation process, poor post-harvest practices, in combination with the unpredictable spontaneous nature of the fermentations, often results in sub-optimal flavour development…A microbial fermentation process therefore seems essential for developing the full complexity of compounds which characterises cocoa aroma. In conclusion, the results of the present study show that the volatile aroma profile of chocolate can be influenced using starter cultures” (Crafack, 2014, p. 1). Further research that builds on Crafack’s findings was published by Kadow (2015), explaining the role of multiple factors in the country of origin that characterize the fermentation process.
“During this in most cases spontaneous fermentation of the fruit pulp surrounding the seeds, the pulp is degraded by yeasts and bacteria. This degradation results in heat and organic acid formation. Heat effect and tissue acidification are the key parameters guiding flavour precursor formation. Accordingly, not microorganisms themselves but exclusively their metabolites are necessary for successful fermentation” (Kadow, Niemenak, Rohn, and Lieberei, 2015, p. 357).
This study aimed to further the development of standardization and mechanization of cocoa fermentation for the benefit of cacao production quality purposes. On the ranges of heat tested from fermenting heaps of cacao beans, 30 °C to a maximum of 50 °C was obtained after 24 h of fermentation at the inner part of the heap (Jespersen, Nielsen, Hønholt, and Jakobsen, 2005).
Finally, as an interesting note about polyphenol changes in cacao during fermentation, although “unripe and ripe cacao pods contain solely (−)-epicatechin and (+)-catechin. During fermentation, levels of both of these compounds were reduced, but (−)-catechin was formed due to heat-induced epimerization” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). These findings warrant more studies on the changes that happen during cacao fermentation, where although certain protective antioxidant levels decrease, other chemical compounds are formed due to the process of heat due to microorganism metabolites and acidification to the bean tissue.
After fermentation, the beans are dried to reduce water content for safe transport and storage of the cacao before further processing by chocolate manufactures. “During drying, additional loss of polyphenol occurs, mainly due to nonenzymatic browning reactions” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2) where “high temperatures and prolonged processing times will decrease the amount of catechins” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p.2203). The dried cacao is then shipped to the chocolate manufacturer where roasting is often performed. The roasting and generally the further processing of cacao degrades the levels of polyphenols by triggering the oxidation process (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015).
Conching is a process of agitation of chocolate mass at temperatures above 50 °C that is used to refine both the cocoa solids and sugar crystals to change the taste, smell, flavor, texture (mouthfeel) and viscosity of chocolate (Chocolate Alchemy, 2016; Di Mattia, Martuscelli, Sacchetti, Beheydt, Mastrocola, & Pittia, 2014) Different procedures for conching exist, including Long Time Conching (LTC) and Short Time Conching (STC). A study by Di Mattia (2014) done on these two conching processes and the implications for bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity found interesting results. The publication stressed the importance of time/temperature combinations as process parameters “to modulate and increase the functional properties of some foods” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, pp.367-368). In the study, STC consisted of “a dry step at 90 °C for 6 h and then a wet step at 60°C for 1h,” while LTC involved, “a dry step at 60°C for 6 h and a then wet step at the same conditions (60 °C, 6 h)” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p. 368). The results of the analysis on phenolic content, antioxidant values defined as radical scavenging properties showed, “that the conching process, and the LTC in particular, determined an improvement of the antiradical and reducing properties of chocolate” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372). Recommendation for further studies was suggested to “optimize the conching process for the modulation of the functional properties,” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372) but the results remain in favor of longer time and lower temperature processing to preserve health benefits in chocolate during the conching phase.
From the perspective of chocolate makers, assessing combinations of ingredients/additives that can either help or hinder protective compounds in chocolate – including polyphenols and bioavailability, is important. Jalil, & Ismail’s review (2008), considered, “both bioavailability and antioxidant status [important] in determining the relationship between cocoa flavonoids and health benefits” (Jalil, et al., 2008, pp. 2194-2195). Studies focused on epicatechin from chocolate found the polyphenols, “rapidly absorbed by humans, with plasma levels detected after 30min of oral digestion, peaking after 2-3 h and returning to baseline after 6–8 h. In addition, cumulative effect in high daily doses was recorded” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Interestingly, an argument for the benefits of chocolate’s sweetened and rich composition – if cocoa butter and some type of sweetener is used in processing – is explained where the “presence of sugars and oils generally increases bioavailability of polyphenols, while proteins, on the other hand, decrease it” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Milk chocolate lovers may be disappointed to find that, “milk proteins reduce bioavailability of epicatechin in chocolate confectionary…[with] reported inhibition of in vivo antioxidant activity of chocolate by addition of milk either during manufacturing process or during ingestion” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2).
Additional health properties of cacao found especially in dark chocolate, apart from polyphenols, may have a role to play in reports of chocolate cravings and their use as functional food. Theses beneficial components include “methylxanthines, namely caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2197) “peptides, and minerals” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200). “Theobromine is a psychoactive compound without diuretic effects” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2198). “Cocoa is also rich in proteins. Cocoa peptides are generally responsible for the flavour precursor formation” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2199). Lastly, “minerals are one of the important components in cocoa and cocoa products. Cocoa and cocoa products contained relatively higher amount of magnesium compared to black tea, red wine, and apples” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200).
A well supported rule of thumb for finding high antioxidant capacity functional chocolate is to look for the percentage of non-fat cocoa solids (NFCS) in chocolate products to determine total phenolic content (Jalil, et al., 2008; Vinson, & Motisi, 2015) “Dark chocolates contain the highest NFCS among the different types of chocolates” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204) However, due to percentages of cocoa solids on on chocolate labels including polyphenol-free cocoa butter, the accuracy of this measure is not always correct and can lead to overestimating polyphenol content in certain types of chocolate (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204). That said, a recent study by Vinson and Motisi (2015), performed on commercial chocolate bars found “a significant and linear relationship between label % cocoa solids and the antioxidant assays as well as the sum of the monomers.” From which they concluded that, “consumers can thus rationally choose chocolate bars based on % cocoa solids on the label” (Vinson, & Motisi, 2015, p. 526).
Additions to Functional Chocolate
In health food stores like Cambridge Naturals and Deborah’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, MA, the presence of functional chocolate with additional health boosting ingredients is prevalent. The validity of these claims to improve focus, enhance libido and energy, and other desirable improved physiological functions, based on herbs, powders and additional superfoods mixed with cacao, is intriguing. A study by Albak and Tekin (2014), found that mixing aniseed, ginger, and cinnamon into the dark chocolate mix before conching, “increased the total polyphenol content while they decreased the melting properties of dark chocolate after conching” (Albak, et al., 2014, p. 19).
Other resources that further elucidate specific findings on these superfoods, herbs and spices include:
Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395. This publication includes information on gingko, turmeric among other additives to functional chocolate and how protective vascular effects are formed.
Some consideration for the popularity of raw chocolate, which is used as the base of many functional chocolate products, deserves attention. As explained, there are many reasons chocolate can be considered a functional food, especially due to specific health promoting compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids, peptides, theobromine and minerals present in cacao and in chocolate. Unfortunately, overwhelming scientific evidence points to the detrimental effects on these compounds from processing, especially by heat. “Flavanols largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate. In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy” (Crowe, 2015). Raw chocolate, by the standards of raw foodism, means that food is not supposed to be heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit in order to preserve enzymes. This seems tricky to prove especially when chocolate makers receive cocoa beans from various countries of origin where fermenting and drying practices are not under their direct supervision. Some companies remedy this issue with bean-to-bar practices that ensure they have seen and approved the process that cacao beans undergo before shipment to the company’s own processing facilities, where low temperature winnowing, grinding and conching is under their complete control. The bean-to-bar method (See Taza’s Bean-to-Bar and Direct Trade process) also provides assurance that cacao is ethically (sometimes for organic and wild-crafted cacao if so desired) sourced. These initiatives often promote more sustainable and better processed cacao, which means higher quality cacao for both the farmer, manufacturer and consumer. For these reasons, the popularity of raw cacao seems to fit into the development of functional foods where the consumer is able to enjoy a sometimes more bitter, medicinal tasting chocolate in the anticipation of a powerful physiological boost and a clearer conscience due to sourcing methods.
In the case of Yes Cacao, their Karma MellOwl botanical chocolate bar contains 41% cacao butter, and 59% botanicals which results in a deliciously complex, albeit golden colored bar due to the cocoa butter and turmeric content. Non-fat cacao solids which provide the main anti-inflammatory benefits of cacao are missing, but are replaced with other superfoods, spices and adaptogenic herbs like lucuma, maca, yacon, lion’s mane mushrooms, gingko, turmeric, pine pollen, cinnamon, bacopa, and gynostemma. The creators of the bars deem them functional medicine, as they combine cacao solids and sundried cane juice as a base for superfood and medicinal enhancements. In this video, Justin Frank Polgar recommends that Yes Cacao bars are eaten daily as a staple enhancement for ideal human functionality.
Other raw chocolate companies that are focus on functional chocolate using additional superfoods, spices and herbs include:
Trends in functional foods heading in the direction of ‘naturally healthy’
From the perspective of growers, producers and consumers who want a high quality, healthful and good tasting chocolate product, the scientific findings that support the ideal balance between flavor and preservation of health promoting properties of cacao, are significant. The ideal way to conserve protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits warrants consideration with the changes in polyphenol content during processing of cacao from raw bean, through fermentation to roasting, conching and mixing with other ingredients. Raw chocolate seems a good way to navigate this balance. Meanwhile, mass produced commercial chocolate companies or “big chocolate” continue to move their products in the direction of high quality premium chocolate and adopting new manufacturing processes in order to preserve cacao’s protective effects. The overarching trend uniting premium, natural and healthful ingredients is referred to in the food industry as naturally healthy foods. “This idea of using food to manage health may, in part, help explain growing consumer interest in fresh, natural and organic products”(Gagliardi, 2015). The melding of healthy, natural and functional foods to chocolate production reflects consumer preferences and industry recognition of the role diet plays on health and provides insights into the future of food. For now, medicinally enhanced, raw, naturally healthy, and functional chocolate seems light years ahead of other natural foods on the market today.
Author’s Note: While researching and writing this article the author happily consumed a great deal of functional, raw and medicinal chocolate and can attest to the powerful effects that far surpass conventional and even ‘premium chocolates’.
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Albak, Fatma, and Ali Rıza Tekin. “Development of Functional Chocolate with Spices and Lemon Peel Powder by using Response Surface Method: Development of Functional Chocolate.” Academic Food Journal/Akademik GIDA 12, no. 2 (2014).
Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395.
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Jain, Parag, Ravindra Pandey, and Shiv Shankar Shukla. “Inflammation and Lifestyle.” Inflammation: Natural Resources and Its Applications. Springer India, 2015. 143-152.
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Zhang, Dapeng, and Lambert Motilal. “Origin, Dispersal, and Current Global Distribution of Cacao Genetic Diversity.” In Cacao Diseases, pp. 3-31. Springer International Publishing, 2016.