Tag Archives: organic

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.

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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.

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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

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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.

 

 

Trending Chocolate

In my last blog post, I showed how the transformation of chocolate is a reflection of the industrialization of the food industry, as chocolate moved from being a natural, healthy food to a processed item that barely resembles cacao. When we think of modern chocolate, the first thing that comes to mind is often Hershey’s and Mars. The ingredients in these products mark the epitome of highly processed, artificial food. However, there is a whole different market for chocolate out there that counters this type of chocolate. As the food industry has become industrialized and increasingly processed, people have started to become aware of the negative health effects of these foods. They are becoming cognizant of what they are eating and where their food is coming from. This has given rise to a new trend in diet and lifestyle, in which people aim to eat healthier, organic, natural and local foods. Research shows that the rise in organic food production is strongly correlated with knowledge about mass-produced food, including awareness of the public health, environmental and moral risks of the food industry (Guthman). People are looking for something healthy, and Whole Foods has captured this audience, becoming a hugely successful grocery store nationwide. The chocolate selection at Whole Foods is a reflection of this new food trend that directly counters the fast, processed food industry.

The central message of Whole Foods promotes a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. On their website, they claim to be America’s healthiest grocery store and describe eight core values: (1) sell the highest quality natural and organic product; (2) satisfy, delight and nourish customers; (3) support team member excellence and happiness; (4) create wealth through profits and growth; (5) serve and support their local and global communities; (6) practice and advance environmental stewardship; (7) create on-going win-win partnerships with suppliers; (8) promotes the health of stakeholders through healthy eating education. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the store was the emphasis on these values. The signs around the store read: Sweetened by nature, more organic choice everyday, supporting organic and sustainable farming and get more green. This, combined with the imagery around the store, pulls you into their world of health food. There are products for every new fad diet, including paleo, vegan, vegetarian, and most food is labeled as local, organic or natural. The store appears to be the picture of health, ethics and well-being, and it makes you feel like you will be too if you shop there. This plays directly into the mentality of food enthusiasts who oppose the fast food industry. As Guthman describes this consumer, “In contrast to the fast food eater, the reflexive consumer pays attention to how food is made, and that knowledge shapes his or her ‘taste’ towards healthier food” (Guthman). Extensive signs and labeling are intended to draw customers in and help determine which products they want to buy. All of these observations are reflected in the chocolate selection at Whole Foods.

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The first chocolate selection that I came upon was a shelf at the end of an aisle, as pictured to the right. The first thing that jumped out at me was the aesthetic of all the chocolate bars lined up. The bars displayed pictures of food, nature, and highlighted the words organic, natural and various other certifications to prove their quality. I then began to investigate each of the bars individually. For the purpose of comparison, I looked at the basic dark chocolate for each brand.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 7.18.05 PM.pngThe first bar I picked up was the Endangered Species brand, pictured to the left. The first thing that caught my attention was the face of a chimpanzee staring at me. This was not something I expected to see on a chocolate bar. The bar is described as natural dark chocolate with 72% cacao. The ingredient list reads as follows: bittersweet chocolate (chocolate liquor, cane sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla). This is a simple list, adding to the picture of being a natural chocolate. The certifications on the front are Fair Trade, Non-GMO project verified, certified gluten free and certified vegan. It also notes that they donate 10% of their profits, which is described further on the back. It says that by choosing this brand, you are supporting conservation programs worldwide. Each bar pictures a different engendered species, with information on that animal inside. This connects with the consumer on a moral level through the animals and certifications.

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Next, I looked at the Whole Foods brand bar, which did not have plain dark chocolate, so I picked the dark chocolate and almond bar, pictured to the right. What stood out first were the three pictures on the front, one of school children, another of a woman working, and the third of a cacao tree. It was labeled “Tanzania Schoolhouse Project” where “a portion of proceeds helps fund the education of children in the Kyela district of Tanzania.” This connects with the consumer on a moral level, making them feel they are making a difference by choosing this bar. It is interesting that this bar only used the term “a portion,” whereas the Endangered Species bar specifies that 10% of their profits are donated. Whole Foods also specifies their sugar is organic and fairly traded. On the front, they have a Whole Trade guarantee certification, which I had not seen before. Their website explains that the product must meet the following criteria: meet our strict product Quality Standards, provide more money to producers, ensure better wages and working conditions for workers, and care for the environment. They also have the USDA organic certification on the front and on they back specify that is it certified organic by Quality Assurance International. They note that it is a product of Belgium, but do not specify where the cacao comes from. The ingredients in this bar were: organic chocolate liquor, organic cane sugar, organic almonds, organic cocoa butter.

While these are just two examples of bars on the shelf, they show a trend. They market a sense of morality in choosing chocolate. Each company pledges to donate a portion of their profits to make a difference in the world, trying to make their bar unique. All of the bars on the shelf were decorated with certifications, including fair trade, organic, vegan, non-GMO and more. They were also similarly priced, each at around $3 for about 3 ounces. The last thing I noticed were the ingredient lists. They all had few ingredients, many of them labeled again as fairly traded or organic. I did not encounter a single refined sugar or ingredient that I could not pronounce, which speaks to the quality of the chocolate. This chocolate is far from the average Hershey’s bar, as each company has tried to make itself authentic and unique.

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The second section of chocolate in Whole Foods was a bit pricier, though was similar in terms of packaging, ingredients and certifications. One brand of interest was Taza, since it is a local company in Somerville. Having tasted this chocolate, I knew the texture was coarser than typical chocolate. It was labeled as stone ground, which suggests less processing, with more thought and effort put into the process. The bars on this shelf ranged from about $5-9 for roughly 2.5-3 ounces. The one bar that did not seem to fit in with the others was a brand called Mast, pictured above. The bar is simple, and the back lists the cacao percentage and ingredients. The bars contain cacao, cane sugar, sometimes an additional flavor and nothing else. I found this very intriguing, so I went to their website to investigate further. The company is located in New York and is owned by brothers Rick and Michael Mast. The design of the website was similar to the bar in its simplicity and lack of information. They claim to “source directly with regions around the world, looking for the rarest, complex and delicious cacao available. Mast pays far beyond commodity and fair trade minimums and has been instrumental in developing new growing regions.” However, they do not provide any further insight into where exactly they are sourcing their cacao. They do offer tours where you can learn more, so maybe they would reveal this information there. According to Rick Mast, “Our mission statement as a company is to provide locally produced craft chocolate…That’s it. We don’t need to design the packaging or do publicity to make sure people are educated in Singapore. That is the importance of the local food movement in general” (Williams and Eber). This is a unique philosophy in the current chocolate market. This bar stood out the most among all of the other brands that were trying so hard to distinguish themselves with promises or donations and certifications.

While Mast may not believe in them, certifications are definitely trending. The two most common themes were various fair trade and organic labels. Fair trade is a very complicated ongoing debate. Fairtrade is the most common fair trade label in the world (Sylla). While their intentions and values may be good, “It seems that the founders of Fairtrade unwittingly opened a Pandora’s box” (Sylla). After they became successful, many other labeling companies emerged and began competing with one another, each with different standards and no uniformity (Sylla). The actual effectiveness of a fair trade label is also questionable. Research shows that for one American consumer dollar spent on a fair trade product, the farmer in a developing country only makes three cents more than it would have otherwise (Sylla). However, consumers are not aware of all these issues, and thus when they see a fair trade label, assume that they are buying a more ethical product. The organic certification is less complicated but has a similar effect on the consumer. There has been a growth in consumer demand for organic-certified products, and people everywhere are willing to pay more for them (Williams and Eber). This holds true in the market for cocoa and chocolate according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Williams and Eber). But what does this really mean? Williams and Eber describe this push for organic chocolate as a big misunderstanding. Organic cacao makes up only about .5% of the cacao market (Williams and Eber). There are a lot of hoops to jump through to get this certification, in addition to it being expensive. More than 90% of the cacao is grown by small families who cannot afford to go through this process. This also does not affect the flavor of the chocolate (Williams and Eber). The certifiers do not understand the process of making chocolate and thus do not adjust their standards accordingly. Small cacao farms are not the same as larger farms and use very few pesticides (Williams and Eber). Organic may in fact not matter in the chocolate industry and in some cases can decreases the quality of the flavor. Organic is just a certification that makes people feel better about buying the product, but in reality they are just government standards that may or may not be improving quality.

This trend does not seem to be unique to the U.S. Europe also underwent a similar industrialization of the food industry, as Hershey’s and Mars became the common chocolate (Martin and Sampeck). In order to combat the big companies and processed chocolate, bean-to-bar chocolate began to emerge, focusing on small-scale manufacturing and single origin fine cacao (Martin and Sampeck). To address the labor and sourcing of the cacao, certifications began popping up everywhere. However, certifications in Europe are being questioned as well. This seems to tell the same story that we have discovered in the U.S. Therefore, this issue is not unique to the U.S. but rather is a global issue surrounding the food industry.

The demand for quality in the chocolate industry has ultimately created a surge of certifications. This makes consumers feel that what they are getting is natural and ethical, and they feel better about it. But is this really what they are getting? It is hard to tell, but it seems like simply putting ever more certifications on bars has become a trend but is not necessarily ensuring a better product. However, in comparison to the highly processed chocolates made by Hershey’s or Mars, is is reasonable to assume that these are better quality. There is still more to be done in the market for quality chocolate. The Mast brothers have realized they don’t necessarily need all of these certifications to produce a quality bar, although they could be more transparent about their sourcing. The selection at Whole Foods demonstrated the trend in the chocolate market towards certifications and ethics, which is a worldwide issue.

 

References:

Guthman, Julie. “Fast food/organic food: Reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow’.” Social & Cultural Geography 4.1 (2003): 45-58.

Hsia, Winnie. “What Is the Whole Trade Guarantee?” Whole Foods Market. N.p., 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 05 May 2017. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/what-whole-trade-guarantee.

“Learn.” Mast Brothers. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017. https://mastbrothers.com/pages/learn.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe.” SOCIO. HU 2015.3 (2015): 37-60.

“Our Core Values.” Whole Foods Market. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/core-values.

Sylla, Ndongo. The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

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

*Pictures were taken by me at the Whole Foods on River Street in Cambridge.

Tried and True or Fitness Fad: An Investigation into the Health and Medicinal Attributes of Chocolate

Is chocolate healthy?  While this question still pops up all over media today, it has been grappled with in every civilization in which chocolate was consumed.  Despite the overwhelming acknowledgement that candy is unhealthy for humans today, specialty chocolate bars can be found wedged between acai bowls and kale salads at the fitness food cafes Embody Fitness Gourmet and Hu Kitchen in Connecticut and Manhattan, respectively.  This investigation seeks to contextualize these contemporary healthy chocolate bars by understanding how chocolate’s health and medicinal attributes were perceived over time by the people that consumed chocolate.  In order to understand how chocolate ended up in a fitness café today, we must examine how chocolate historically has come to be viewed as healthy, and how the “healthy” chocolate of today fits into this narrative.  Ultimately, contemporary chocolate is just as susceptible as past chocolate to being shaped by cultural and societal conceptions of health.

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Interior of Embody Fitness Gourmet in New Canaan, CT

Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods”

Mesoamerican civilizations not only understood cacao in cultural and religious contexts, but also recognized its applications in medicine and health.  Chemical analysis conducted on archaeological ceramics from Mesoamerica show that “chocolate has an antiquity that stretches 38 centuries back into the past, to predate even the San Lorenzo Olmecs” who lived from approximately 1500 BCE to 400 BCE (Coe & Coe, 36).  Pre-Columbian Maya documents written in hieroglyphics, such as the Dresden Codex, often depict cacao being consumed by gods in ritual activities (Coe & Coe, 41).  Furthermore, the Popol Vuh, or “Book of Counsel,” is a colonial document recorded by a Franciscan friar which contains the oldest Maya myth recorded in its entirety.  In the Popol Vuh, cacao is shown in a variety of contexts, sometimes possessing a godly quality while sometimes being shown in commonplace scenarios (Coe & Coe, 40).  Drinking cacao was part of ritual and celebratory acts, including marriage rituals and rites of death.

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Mayan warrior decorated in cacao pods

Mesoamericans recognized cacao’s applications in medicine and health.  The ancient Maya believed chocolate to be very healthy, which stands as one of the many reasons royal rulers consumed vast quantities of cacao at their banquets; archaeological investigations even proved that rulers were in “better health and lived far longer than their chocolate-deprived subjects!” (Coe & Coe, 32).  Mayan warriors decorated their armor with cacao pods and would eat cacao to boost energy, perceiving themselves to be invisible and protected in battle after consuming cacao (Lecture, food of the gods).  Cacao was not only used to maintain and enhance health, but also was employed for its perceived curative properties in healing rites involving cacao.  In the 18th century manuscripts copied from ancient Mayan codices called Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams, applications of medicinal cacao are shown to treat a wide variety of afflictions, including fevers and seizures (Martin, Feb. 1 Lecture).  Additionally, cacao served as an ingredient in botanical remedies, and was often combined with pepper, honey, avocado, and other natural substances (Martin, Feb. 1 Lecture).  Cacao intervened in all facets of ancient Mesoamerican life, especially in health and medicine.

 

European Perception of Chocolate through Humoral Theory

The introduction of cacao from Mesoamerica into Europe necessitated contextualizing cacao within the European understanding of medicine and health.  When ships loaded with cacao beans reached the ports of Spain, the Spanish population and the populations of the other European powers “were at the mercy of a worthless and often destructive constellation of medical theories which had held the Western world in its grip for almost two millennia” (Coe & Coe, 120).  To achieve pervasive acceptance of this exotic beverage, cacao needed to be fit “into this fallacious scheme” (Coe & Coe, 120).

Pre-modern European medical understanding and practice was dominated by humoral theory, which was created by the ancient Greeks and maintained its acceptance in Western civilization until modern medicine and understanding of physiology emerged in the early 19th century.  Formulated by Hippocrates (460-377 BCE), this theory of disease and nutrition asserted that the human body consisted of four humors—black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm— which needed to be maintained in the correct combination to ensure good health (Coe & Coe, 121).  If the ratio of these humors deviated, diseases and other afflictions were expected to occur.  Galen, another ancient Greek born in approximately 130 A.D., “expanded [Hippocrates’s theory] by adding the notion of humors, diseases, and the drugs to cure disease could also be hot or cold, and moist or dry” (Coe & Coe, 121).  Under this extension of Hippocrates’s theory, phlegm was considered moist and cold while blood was considered moist and hot.

Adoption of cacao in Europe required that it be classified within humoral theory.  In 1570, King Philip II of Spain directed his Royal Physician Francisco Hernández to travel across the Atlantic to classify plants in the Americas under humoral theory.  Claiming cacao to be very nourishing, Hernández believed the cacao bean to be “temperate in nature” yet should be considered more “cold and humid” (Coe & Coe, 122).  Due to its cool nature, cacao drinks could be used to cure fevers and provide a cooling relief from hot weather.  Many of the cacao spices used by Mesoamericans, such as mecaxochitl flavoring, were considered “hot” under humoral theory.  Given that Hernández classified plants with strong odor and taste as “hot” and those with little odor or taste as “cold”, he believed the spices that Mesoamericans included in their chocolate drinks were “hot” and carried medicinal applications by “warm[ing] the stomach, perfum[ing] the breath… [and] combat[ing] poisons, alleviat[ing] intestinal pains and colics” (Coe & Coe, 122).  Ultimately, Hernández classified cacao drinks as “cold” most likely because the Aztecs considered their beverage cold, consumed the drink at room temperature or colder, and used the drink to replenish the body and avoid fatigue (Coe & Coe, 122).

Just as Galen expanded on Hippocrates’s humoral theory, so too did Juan de Cárdenas expand on Hernández’s analysis of chocolate and classification of cacao under humoral theory by publishing a treatise on New World foods in 1591.  Cárdenas details that chocolate can be unhealthy if prepared or taken improperly.  He asserts that “green” chocolate, most likely referring to unripe cacao beans, causes health symptoms such as melancholy, irregular heartbeats, and paroxysms, and can harm digestion (Coe & Coe, 123).  Conversely, Cárdenas contends that cacao can aid in digestion, be nutritious, and imbue happiness and strength if the cacao is prepared properly, including grinding and toasting, as well as is mixed with substances like atole gruel (Coe & Coe, 123).  He recognized the health and medicinal value of the substances that Mesoamericans added into chocolate, such as hueinacaztli, or ear flower, which “comforts the liver, stimulates digestion, and extirpates windiness” (Coe & Coe, 123).

Cárdenas echoed many of Hernández’s claims regarding chocolate, including that drinking chocolate is a good method for avoiding fatigue, cooling off, and replenishing the body.  However, Cárdenas did deviate from Hernández’s humoral description of cacao and chocolate.  Cárdenas believed chocolate to consist of three main parts: a “cold”, “earthy”, and “dry part; a “warm and humid” oily part; and a head-ache inducing, bitter-tasting, “hot” part (Coe & Coe, 123).  Culinary historian Maricel E. Presilla shares her opinion of Cárdenas’s treatise: “In a way Cárdenas was rationalizing his own enjoyment and acceptance of the way chocolate was made in the Americas and putting it in the scientific context of the times.  And we find that the techniques and practices he considered wise and healthy have been used from his day to the present in Latin America and Spain” (Presilla, 27).  Now that cacao was properly classified under humoral theory and considered healthy in Europe, it could be consumed by all who had access to the luxurious drink.

In essence, Europeans took cacao beans and detached the religious and cultural significance Mesoamericans had for them while fitting this new commodity into Europe’s humoral belief system as a medicine and a drug.  It was under this categorization as a medicine, a drug, and a healthful product, that chocolate travelled in Europe, “from one court to another, from noble house to noble house, from monastery to monastery” (Coe & Coe, 126).  Chocolate became a symbol of luxury, consumed by the nobility of Europe, but also appreciated for its medicinal properties.  In fact, Alphonse de Richelieu (1634-1680) is suspected to be the first person to bring chocolate to France to be consumed as a medical treatment for his spleen (Coe & Coe, 153).

 

Industrialization and Chocolate: The Age of Adulteration

By the mid-1900s, chocolate was converted into a solid form, becoming accessible, cheap, and enjoyed by all while firmly breaking the 28 century-old practice in which chocolate was exclusively consumed by wealthy elite (Coe & Coe, 232).  At this point in time, “no longer did [people] have to fret over whether chocolate or its flavorings were ‘hot,’ ‘cold,’ or ‘temperate,’ ‘dry’ or ‘moist’” (Coe & Coe, 234).  The perception that chocolate was healthy persisted until chocolate received more public scrutiny.  However, it was not the chocolate that was considered unhealthy, but rather the adulterants that were being added to chocolate in place of more expensive natural ingredients.  For example, “the expensive cacao butter [was] completely extracted (and sold elsewhere), then replaced with olive oil, egg yolks, or suet of veal or mutton; the resulting product goes rancid very quickly” (Coe & Coe, 243-244).  Starch became a popularly used filler in chocolate.  Methods to uncover the true recipes of chocolate being sold to the public emerged, such as the practice of adding drops of iodine solution into a mixture of melted chocolate and boiling water which would produce a blue color once the mixture was cooled (Coe & Coe, 244).

JohnLeechCartoonsPunch18581120207
An 1858 comic cartoon about food adulteration featured in British “Punch”

After hearing claims of chocolate adulteration, media and governments mobilized to investigate these claims and catalyze regulation.  The Lancet, a popular British medical journal, launched a health commission to analyze foods in 1850.  After collecting samples from chocolate producers around England, the health commission discovered that 39 out of 70 samples “had been colored with red ocher from ground bricks” and that “most of the samples contained starch grains from potatoes, or from two tropical plants, Canna giganta and arrowroot” (Coe & Coe, 244).  Similar results were found in French-produced chocolate.  The findings catalyzed the British government to pass the British Food and Drug Act of 1860 as well as the Adulteration of Food Act of 1872 (Coe & Coe, 244).  While chocolate manufacturers no longer put red ocher or potato starch in their chocolate, producers continue to create new ways of lowering costs while trying keeping taste, such as through using artificial flavors and other chemicals.  In the 1900s, “in the interests of economy…the mass producers began skimping on, or even cutting out altogether, the substance that gives the quality to superior chocolates: cacao butter” (Coe & Coe, 257).

 

Is Chocolate Considered Healthy Today?:  Chocolate as a Gourmet Fitness Food

Today, the healthiness of chocolate is being debated every day.  Generally, mass produced chocolate, especially milk chocolate, is considered unhealthy mostly due to its high sugar content.  Dark chocolate is often considered healthy or neutral.  Coe and Coe explain, “Dark chocolate does not cause diabetes, dental caries, or acne, or produce headaches, as sometimes has been alleged” (Coe & Coe, 31).  The obesity among people who consume chocolate in large quantities is often blamed on milk chocolate as well as other unhealthy lifestyle habits.  While the cacao butter commonly found in chocolate is a saturated fat, cacao butter predominantly consists of stearic triglycerides, “which have been shown to have no effect on blood cholesterol levels” (Coe & Coe, 30).  No direct link has been shown to exist between the development of heart disease and chocolate consumption (Coe & Coe, 30).

The book Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy edited by Philip Wilson and Jeffrey Hurst offers a comprehensive investigation into and explanation of the health claims made about chocolate.  With experts within each field writing a section regarding chocolate claims in their area of expertise, several conclusions about the true health benefits of chocolate can be made.  Cacao contains the alkaloids theobromine and caffeine which interfere with adenosine receptors, affecting mood and alertness (Wilson & Hurst, Chapter 5).  Cocoa flavanols serve as antioxidants, lower blood pressure, and improve mental processes (Wilson & Hurst, Chapter 5).  Daily consumption of moderate amounts of flavanol-rich cacao products is associated with improved blood pressure in hypertensives and increased insulin sensitivity (Chapter 7).  Chocolate and chocolate food products can be an excellent for post-exercise nutrition by providing the “nutrients necessary to repair muscle protein, replenish glycogen, quench oxidants and elevate mood during the post-exercise recovery interval” (Wilson & Hurst, Chapter 8).

Embody Fitness Gourmet is “a fitness inspired eatery serving a diverse menu of healthy and functional foods” with three locations in Connecticut that provide customers with expensive juices, salads, and Intelligentsia coffee, among other products (Embody Fitness Gourmet Facebook Page).  Embody considers itself progressive and modern in all ways, hopping on every food, fitness, and lifestyle trend.  Embody partners with SoulCycle and offers its products through Uber Eats.  It even strives to be politically progressive and active by having unisex bathrooms labeled “everyone” and posting picture of its bathroom door on Facebook with the caption, “The weather may not make much sense, but some things are pretty clear” (Embody Fitness Gourmet).  Embody offers a wide range of premium-priced products containing superfoods, such as avocado, acai, and kale.  It is here in this health mecca that we find chocolate bars standing as the only product on the long, sleek counter in front of the iPad wielding cashier.

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Hu Chocolate as the only item next to iPad wielding cashier

The chocolate is called Hu Chocolate, produced by Hu Kitchen— a similar health food company in Manhattan.  The chocolate comes in eight flavors, including almond butter and puffed quinoa, cashew butter and vanilla bean, hazelnut butter, salty, simple, crunchy mint, banana, and fig nut.  When asked if customers buy a lot of the chocolate, the cashier at Embody replied, “Yeah!  People love it, but it’s pretty pricey at $8.25 per bar.”  While these two fitness food companies are trying to offer their customers a healthy chocolate bar, their efforts reflect a concerted rejection of industrialized chocolate and a desire to be cool and trendy.

The Hu Chocolate bars demonstrate a concerted rejection of industrialized chocolate and processed food of today and of the past.  The packaging lists that it contains no gluten, no dairy, no refined sugar, no cane sugar, no sugar alcohols, no dairy, no GMOs, no emulsifiers, and no soy lecithin (hukitchen.com).  Their website explains their reasons for excluding these ingredients.  For using no refined sugar, Hu Chocolate vilifies big chocolate companies: “Most commercial chocolates are sweetened with low quality refined sugars.  These sugars always made us sluggish and tired, which made us hesitant to eat chocolate.  Hu Chocolate is sweetened with an unrefined organic coconut sugar, which never gave us a crash” (hukitchen.com).  While Hu Chocolate is using healthier ingredients than commercial chocolate companies, it supports its claims on legally-defensible anecdotal evidence, such as that coconut sugar does not give them a sugar crash.  Their slogan to “Get Back to Human” expresses their anti-industry sentiment.

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Hu Chocolate website
HuKitchen.Label.NoSugarEtc.8.6.15.600
Hu Chocolate label exemplifying the brands hatred of industrial food

 

Both Embody and Hu Chocolate reject the industrialization of food and seek to retreat to more nature ways of making and using food products.  On Embody’s Facebook page, it often posts advertisements from the past to make fun of misconceptions and fads of past generations.  One post includes a “reducing diet menu” that could be supplemented with Domino sugar to lose weight.  The Embody Facebook page dismisses these advertisements immediately as “ridiculous”, instead of explaining or understanding the history of systematically-targets advertisements of sugar at women and children to help prevent fatigue and save money (Mintz, 130).  In essence, these companies reject the ingredients and processes of the modern food industry.  The Hu Chocolate advertises itself as being stone ground dark chocolate, harkening back to the Mesoamerican practice of grinding cacao using a metate and its subsequent replacement by stone mills (Coe & Coe, 115).

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An 1950s advertisement Embody makes fun of on its Facebook page

To a certain extent, these companies take advantage of current fads to sell their product just as everyone from Mesoamericans to industrial chocolate manufacturers made claims about their chocolate.  Hu Chocolate claims its products are “organic/fair trade” but no information on where they source their ingredients from is available (hukitchen.com).  Furthermore, Hu Chocolate exploits the gluten-free fad by claiming on their label that there is “no gluten” in their chocolate, yet gluten is rarely found in chocolate (hukitchen.com).  Furthermore, it labels its product as “Paleo*”, referring to the paleo diet fad, but the asterisk leads the consumer to the explanation that the chocolate is labeled in this way because “some flavors are primal” (hukitchen.com).  Embody even places chocolate as the one item on its counter, knowing that chocolate is bought as an impulse purchase.  Most of all, these two companies place the chocolate products among superfoods— of course, people are going to think it’s healthy and buy it for a premium price.  Ultimately, both Embody and Hu Chocolate are focused on being relevant by keeping up with trends and fads, just like industrial chocolate and sugar companies of the past.  Additionally, examination of Hu Chocolate as a gourmet fitness product allows us to understand how we perceive the health benefits of chocolate relative to how the Mesoamericans, Baroque-era European, and industrial revolution chocolate manufacturers did.  Ultimately, contemporary chocolate is just as susceptible as past chocolate to being shaped by cultural and societal conceptions of health.

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Trendy interior of Embody Fitness Gourmet

Works Cited

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

“Comic cartoon about food adulteration, 1858, from Punch.” The British Library. The                 British Library, 06 Feb. 2014. Web. 05 May 2017. < https://www.bl.uk/collection-                   items/comic- cartoon-about-food-adulteration-1858-from-punch>.

DeBra, Corinne. “Chocolate Banquet.” Hu Kitchen- Crunchy Fig Chocolate Bar – Aug. 6,               2015. N.p. 06 Aug. 2015. Web. 05 May 2017.                                                                                    <http://www.chocolatebanquet.com/2015/08/hu-kitchen-crunchy-fig-chocolate-                     bar.html>.

“Embody Fitness Gourmet.” TBT to ridiculous 1950s advertising for… Embody Fitness               Gourmet. N.p., 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.                                                                               <https://www.facebook.com/embodyfg/photos/a.502839906415719.15976032.466963           940003316/1486796624686704/?type=3&theater>.

“Hu Chocolate.” Hu Kitchen. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.                                                                     <https://hukitchen.com/collections/chocolate&gt;.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture and the                Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Lecture.

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

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

Wilson, Philip K., and William Jeffrey Hurst. 2015. Chocolate and health: chemistry,                      nutrition and therapy. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.

An Interview with a Chocolate Lover: Issues within the Chocolate Industry Revealed

Curious about people’s relationship with chocolate, I interviewed a young female adult about how her relationship with chocolate has changed from childhood into adulthood. The interviewee has never learned about chocolate, but she alludes to various historical, economical, and social issues within the chocolate industry throughout the interview. Specifically, she raises ethical issues about cacao farming practices, and explicates how business transactions harm chocolate producers. The interviewee is a college-educated individual, and demonstrates significant knowledge about these issues presumably because of her enrollment in a course about the sociology of food. Based on her responses in the interview, it is clear that this course changed her relationship with food and influences her current food decisions. Through the interview, the interviewee illuminates glaring issues within the chocolate industry related to the production of cacao, exploitation of cacao farmers, and chocolate advertising. First, she raises issues that about the production of cacao by demonstrating awareness about the economic difficulties cacao farmers face, and by discussing logistical issues about certifications that attempt to combat those economic issues. Second, in describing her chocolate preferences and perceptions, she alludes to issues regarding chocolate marketing strategies, and demonstrates the immense influence that chocolate advertisements hold over consumer purchasing decisions.

Before evaluating the historical, economic, and social issues within the chocolate industry revealed by the interviewee, it is necessary to explain the similarities between cacao and coffee bean production. The interviewee learned about coffee production in a course at a prestigious university, so this section purposes to provide legitimacy to the issues she raises about cacao production by emphasizing that the coffee and cacao industries experience the same problems, thereby qualifying her arguments about coffee production as applicable to cacao production as well. First, the working and economic conditions of coffee and cacao farmers are almost identical. Most coffee farmers produce beans on small, family-owned farms, and live in poverty.[1] Coffee farmers typically rely on bean sales as their primary source of income, but it is extremely volatile because it responds to any fluctuation in bean market prices and sales.[2] Second, coffee farmers can obtain Fair Trade and Organic Certification. Fair Trade promises the same benefits to coffee farmers as it does to cacao farmers, including minimum price premiums, social development, better labor rights, and long-term trading partnership.[3] Third, a large gap exists between coffee producers’ farming practices and coffee consumers’ purchasing decisions. There are stark differences between farmers that produce specialty coffee, and farmers that produce conventional, non-certified coffee. Demand for specialty coffee is on the rise because consumers, particularly those that identify with the ethical eating, Slow Food Movement, are willing to pay more for certified, eco-friendly coffee.[4] Higher quality coffee beans are sold at a higher price in the market, but most coffee consumers are unaware of the implications of their coffee-purchasing decisions.[5] Lastly, similar to the chocolate industry, a few select big coffee companies – less than 10 – control more than half of the coffee market.[6] These similarities are important to recognize, as the interviewee recalls this knowledge in the interview, and subsequently reveals that the economic and social issues afflicting coffee farmers and production are the same issues that exist in relation to cacao farming and production.

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Image 1: Coffee Bean                                                                             Image 2: Cacao Bean

The interviewee brings attention to the importance of the raw coffee bean product to the existence of the entire coffee industry. Through this observation, she emphasizes the complete disconnect between coffee production and coffee consumption, revealing that the same issue exists within the chocolate industry. The interviewee comments, “without the farmers, you wouldn’t have the product. They’re the ones creating the base product to make coffee. They’re often the most forgotten. That’s like with any food product.”[7] This remark deserves close evaluation, as it perfectly describes the fragmented functioning and separateness of the different sectors of the coffee industry, also applicable to the chocolate industry. With that remark, the interviewee astutely explains that these complex industries rely wholly on the raw product, the bean, and without which, coffee and chocolate might not exist. This comment is interesting because it offers a simplistic vision that connects the necessity of the raw product to the consumer industry miles and miles away. This perception also illuminates how coffee and chocolate consumers are highly unaware of the implications of their purchasing decisions on the economic livelihood of the producers. Pictured in images 1 and 2 are a coffee and cacao bean, respectively (Image 1 and 2). These visuals purpose as a reminder to consumers that the coffee they drink from Starbucks, or Lindt chocolate they eat from their local supermarket, are products that begin with coffee and cacao beans, harvested and cultivated by farmers. Production and consumption are inherently connected, however, farmers are often naïve about the final product and consumers are often uneducated about the raw product process, both of which exacerbate the separateness between different players within the coffee and chocolate systems.

USDA organic labelImage 3: USDA Organic Certification Label

The interviewee discusses logistical issues with the Fair Trade and Organic Certification protocols, revealing that these labels harm rather than benefit cacao farmers and production. Fair Trade, Organic, and Direct Trade certifications share a common goal to compensate cacao farmers that produce their beans in adherence to specific environmental and social standards at a higher price than the conventional market offers.[8] The United States Department of Agriculture divides organic products into three categories, “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients,” where each category is defined based on strict agricultural practice regulations.[9] Agricultural products that adhere to these standards are labeled with the “USDA Organic” logo, pictured in Image 3 (Image 3). In viewing this image, it is apparent that the USDA Organic label is not informative, as the certification seal does not specify whether the product is made with 100%, 95%, or at least 70% organic ingredients. The lack of information on this label raises questions about the authenticity of these certifications, and how organic certification guidelines are monitored. In probing about her knowledge regarding Organic Certification, the interviewee says “there are requirements…You can still use pesticides, but [the farmers] use “organic” or “natural” pesticides that are “better” for the environment…I know there are loopholes in the organic certification process.”[10] Here, the interviewee identifies the major criticisms of the USDA Organic Certification process in relation to cacao farming and production practices, alluding to claims of product quality issues and loose surveillance of organically certified cacao farmers’ adherence to USDA guidelines.[11] As revealed through her remarks, the vagueness of this label generates confusion among consumers. Furthermore, these observations illuminate the need for tighter institutional regulation of USDA Organic protocols, both for the benefit of consumers – ensuring that cacao farmers are following certification standards, guaranteeing that consumers are purchasing actual organic cacao – and for the benefit of the producers – that they are properly compensated for producing cacao beans using environmentally-friendly farming practices.

The interviewee circles the debate about the effectiveness of Fair Trade certification’s impact on cacao farmers’ economic situation through her advocacy for Fair Trade coffee bean farming and production. Similar to organic certification, Fair Trade certification encourages sustainable farming practices, while also promoting social welfare and establishing long-term trading partnerships.[12] In explaining the benefits of Fair Trade for coffee farmers, the interviewee says, “the farmers work long, laborious hours and they don’t get paid very well unless they are in the Fair Trade system…more money goes to the farmer when it’s a Fair Trade transaction.”[13] Through this comment, the interviewee reveals two similarities between coffee bean and cacao production that are problematic for the farmers. First, she describes the difficult working conditions that coffee bean farmers endure, such as long and physically fatiguing hours, and subsequently suggests that the farmers are underpaid considering their strenuous working conditions. She alludes to a prominent issue that cacao farmers face in that they are not properly compensated for their grueling laborious efforts, and that their contributions to the chocolate industry are severely under-valued. Second, she asserts that Fair Trade certified coffee farmers are more economically stable than non-certified coffee farmers, referencing minimum price premiums and prompt payments promised by Fair Trade to certified farmers. This suggests that consumers perceive Fair Trade as an impactful certification that improves farmers’ economic situation. However, in reality, there is no strong evidence that the Fair Trade system is effective in combatting farmers’ economic crises, particularly that of cacao farmers.[14] This misconception is problematic, as consumers’ might purchase Fair Trade products hoping to improve farmers’ income situation, unbeknownst to the faults of Fair Trade.

The interviewee explicates that some of her food decisions are based on the ethicality of food production practices, but names high prices of Fair Trade and Organic products as a barrier that prevents her from always purchasing certified products. In regards to the cacao industry, attempts to improve the ethicality of cacao farmers’ working conditions by consumer advocacy groups more often than not fail.[15] Chocolate consumers are often uneducated about the complexities of the chocolate industry, making it difficult for consumers to grasp how their purchasing decisions impact the economic and/or social situation of cacao farmers. Therefore, consumers cannot be responsible for initiating change of the exploitative economic and social conditions endured by cacao farmers. Surprisingly, the interviewee demonstrates a deep consciousness about the relationship between production and consumption, explaining that she became a vegetarian because “I don’t like the treatment of farm animals on conventional farms…Also, I don’t like the growth hormones and antibiotics.”[16] This reasoning suggests that she chooses the type of food she consumes based on the ethicality of food production practices. She further explains that she prefers to consume organic food, as “It’s more environmentally friendly.”[17] Again, she adopts an ethical argument to support her preference to consume organic over conventional farm products. However, she subsequently mentions that she does not always purchase certified Organic or Fair Trade products because they are “more expensive.”[18] This confession reveals a common misconception among consumers that certified products are always more expensive, which is false, as Organic and Fair Trade farming practices can actually cost the same or less than conventional farming practices.[19] Through her remarks, it is clear that the interviewee is a conscious consumer, as she chose to become a vegetarian because of inhumane treatment of animals on conventional farms, indicating her care for ethical farming and production practices. However, her perception that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade products are more expensive than non-certified products alludes to major critiques of certification organizations, commonly accused of corrupt practices and falsely promising cacao farmers fair payment. Through the interviewee’s comments, she illuminates a significant issue that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade are actually more harmful than beneficial to cacao farmers’ economic and social conditions.

woman eating chocolate     Image 4: Gender in Chocolate Advertisement

Through the interviewee’s description of her chocolate perceptions and preferences, she reveals an issue rarely addressed, that of the immense control chocolate advertisements exercise over consumer choice. Chocolate advertisements commonly portray chocolate as an aphrodisiac, and as a luxurious product, through women’s sexuality.[20] Image 4 exemplifies this theme, as it pictures a woman, seemingly wearing no clothes, holding a piece of chocolate to her lips, with a seductive facial expression (Image 4). The image portrays chocolate as a desirable food through the sexual presentation and nature of the woman. The brightly colored lipstick brings focus to her lips, and accompanied by the sensual facial expression, the ad attempts to associate chocolate with love and romance. Furthermore, the woman is highly manicured, adorned with extravagant accessories, which contributes to the depiction of chocolate as a decadent and highly valuable product. Several times throughout the interview, the interviewee references chocolate as a “luxurious item.”[21] This association of chocolate with luxury precisely demonstrates the strong influence of chocolate advertisements, such as image 4, on consumers’ perceptions of chocolate. When prompted to reflect about chocolate advertisements, the interviewee pauses and appears puzzled, admitting a moment later that she only notices chocolate ads around Valentine’s Day.[22] Again, this emphasizes the effectiveness of chocolate marketing strategies to portray the product as an aphrodisiac, as consumers evidently associate chocolate with romance and love. The combination of a presumably seduced woman and a chocolate product, exampled in Image 4, contribute to this representation of chocolate as desirable. Most importantly, the interviewee illuminates that consumers are highly unaware of two issues related to chocolate marketing. First, the strong influence chocolate ads possess in forming their perceptions of chocolate, and second, the exploitation of female sexuality to deliver this specific representation of chocolate products. Based on the interviewee’s susceptibility to the impact of chocolate advertisements on her perceptions, and her unawareness of gender exploitation that litters these ads, it suggests that the chocolate industry should be taking action to enforce regulations that will reduce the influence of chocolate marketing on consumer perceptions and regulate chocolate marketing content.

Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar     Image 5: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Product

The interviewee’s description of her chocolate preferences further demonstrates consumer susceptibility to the influences of chocolate advertisements. The interviewee reveals she favors dark chocolate, offering “I buy it at Trader Joe’s…I like the pure flavor of their products.”[23] First, Trader Joe’s is a grocery store that advertises the sale of organic, natural, fresh food at low prices. Second, recall that the interviewee prefers organic food, but high prices prevent her from purchasing organic products. Keeping these two pieces of information in mind, the interviewee’s comment suggests that she purchases chocolate at Trader Joe’s because it is both organic and affordable. In addition to these conscious reasons, the packaging of the chocolate may also contribute to the interviewee’s decision to purchase dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, though she is unconscious of this influence. Image 5 exemplifies a dark chocolate bar product sold at Trader Joe’s, one that the interviewee might encounter (Image 5). This package exercises marketing strategies to influence consumer choice by emphasizing a high cacao content of “61%,” indicative of pure chocolate. Additionally, printing “Imported from Belgium” carries connotations associated with Europe, such as fantasy and romance. Lastly, the package pictures a crown, presumably representative of chocolate’s historical association with royalty in Europe. This suggests to the consumer that the chocolate is luxurious and highly valuably, and implies that the chocolate will taste rich and pure. All of these elements on the package impact the consumer’s decision to purchase that product by manipulating her perceptions, thereby prompting the consumer to imagine the chocolate will taste special over other chocolate products. Similar to an issue already discussed, the interviewee reveals that consumers are naïve to chocolate marketing strategies, and make unconscious purchasing decisions based on the effectiveness of chocolate ads and their ability to influence consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate.

The interviewee reveals major historical, economic, and social issues that persist within the chocolate industry through her comments about coffee production, and in describing her chocolate perceptions and taste preferences. Historical issues, such as the under-recognized efforts of cacao farmers and their contributions that permit the existence of the chocolate industry – i.e. they provide the raw product to make chocolate – are evidently issues that exist within the coffee industry as well. Economic issues, such as volatile income and impoverished livelihoods, partially the fault of certification organizations like Organic and Fair Trade, are also issues within both the cacao and coffee industries. Lastly, social issues related to the use of sexualized images of women to control consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate are seemingly unnoticed by consumers. This is problematic in that consumers are unaware that these ads contribute to the proliferation of stereotypical gender roles, and in that consumers are also unaware that they possess little agency in their chocolate purchasing decisions.
[1] Christopher Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?,” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.
[2] Joni Valkila, “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap,” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.
[3] Valkila, “Fair Trade organic coffee.”
[4] Julie Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” in Food and Culture, ed. by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2013), 496-509.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis.”
[7] Anonymous, interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.
[8] Carla Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017).
[9] “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations,” USDA, accessed April 30, 2017, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.
[10] Anonymous.
[11] Martin, “Alternative trade.”
[12] Ibid.
[13] Anonymous.
[14] Ndongo Samba Sylla, “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe,” in The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
[15] Carla Martin, “Modern day slavery” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017).
[16] Anonymous.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Martin, “Alternative Trade.”
[20] Emma Robertson, “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption,” in Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009), 18-63.
[21] Anonymous
[22] Anonymous.
[23] Anonymous.

References

Anonymous. Interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.

Bacon, Christopher. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?.” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow.” In Food and Culture, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 496-509, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day slavery.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 29, 2017.

Robertson, Emma. “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption.” In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history, 18-63, Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe.” In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye, London: Pluto Press, 2014.

U.S. Government Publishing Office. “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations.” Accessed April 30, 2017. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.

Valkila, Joni. “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap.” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.

Image sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coffee_Beans_Photographed_in_Macro.jpg

Image 2: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/cocoa/

Image 3: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

Image 4: https://www.flickr.com/photos/orofacial/8219609037

Image 5: https://chocolateihaveknown.wordpress.com/category/acquired/trader-joes/

 

 

Functional Chocolate: Health Claims and Marketing Campaigns

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

 

How are functional foods different from healthy foods?

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

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

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

 

Functional foods share these characteristics:

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

 

Demand for Functional Foods

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Chocolate as a Functional Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additions to Functional Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

 

Raw Chocolate

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

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

image
Cambridge Naturals’ Yes Cacao Selection

 

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

Chocolatl More Than Chocolate

Righteously Raw Chocolates

Gnosis Chocolate

Addictive Wellness Raw Chocolate

Perfect Fuel

Stirs the Soul

Ohio Functional Chocolates

Great Bean Chocolate

Sacred Chocolate

 

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

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

Examples of ‘naturally healthy’ chocolate brands:

Coracao Confections

Hu Paleo Chocolate

Eating Evolved, The Primal Dark Chocolate Company

Pure7 Chocolate

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

 

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Experiment to Test Chocolate Preference

To test chocolate preferences, I conducted an experiment on my friends by having them taste a wide variety of chocolates. They didn’t know that they were part of an experiment. They were only told that I was holding a chocolate tasting as part of a course I was taking and I wanted them to rank their preference of each of 7 chocolates, or cacao nibs, from 1 to 7 (1 being the best). Three of my friends were not raised in America which provided some interesting information on the differences in chocolate preference between Americans and people from other parts of the world. Through my experiment I discovered how texture, Fair Trade or organic labels, gourmet or artisan labels, and the distinct taste of Hershey’s chocolate affected preferences.

In an attempt to set up a controlled experience with as little changing variables as possible, I decided to make all the samples I gave my friends look exactly the same. I melted down the 6 types of chocolate bars I bought and molded them using the brown mold pictured below. I did not want my friend’s preferences to be affected by product names or the shape/appearance of the chocolate.

2016-05-11 19.32.14

I presented the chocolates in the same way to everyone, as pictured below. The only noticeable difference between the chocolates was that the chocolate on the left side of the plate was obviously milk chocolate. I kept my samples in plastic bags with the original packaging, as seen in the picture, to ensure that I did not mix up the samples that now looked exactly the same. My friends did not see me set up the plates so they had no way of knowing if I was telling the truth about the chocolates they were eating during the tasting.

2016-05-11 19.39.18

I randomly assigned my 8 friends to two separate groups, Group A and Group B. Sometimes I switched two chocolates on the tasting plate for a particular group. This meant that as I was leading the tasting, I was telling one group that they were eating one type of chocolate when they were really eating another. I did this so I could see if what I said to them about the chocolates had any affect on how much they liked them. I gave each friend a tasting form and a tastes “cheat sheet,” pictured below.

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My cheat sheet was inspired by chocolate tastings done in class and Stuckey’s explanation of the five tastes: “… the only five tastes we Homo sapiens can detect using our tongue alone [are] sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and umami… These tongue sensations are known as the five Basic Tastes” (5). I gave my friends minimal information about the chocolate on the tasting sheets. I left a spot for them to rank the chocolates and another spot for them to write their general thoughts on the chocolate’s taste. As I led the tasting, I explained what any possibly unfamiliar words meant, like Fair Trade, organic, non-GMO, single origin, gourmet. Per recommendations from class, I had my friends taste things in order of highest cacao content to lowest. I decided to include cacao nibs in my tasting as an interesting difference from all the chocolate. I figured that most of my friends had never had cacao nibs so I was eager to see their reactions. The Cacao nibs are pictured below.

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From my friends’ reactions during the debriefing at the end of the experiment, they had no idea that I had lied about which chocolates I gave them. This leads me to believe that my data should be significant. Before I present my data, I will discuss each of the chocolates I used in my tasting, excluding the cacao nibs which I have already mentioned. I used two 80% chocolates which I switched for the groups. One of the chocolates was Taza’s 80% cacao and the other was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Panama with 80% cacao. The second line on my chocolate tasting sheet describes Equal Exchange’s chocolate while the third line describes Taza’s. I did not switch the fourth chocolate on my tasting sheet for the groups. This chocolate was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Peru with 71% cacao. Next I had Valrhona’s gourmet, single origin chocolate from Madagascar with 64% cacao (line 5) and Hershey’s dark chocolate (line 6). From my research, Hershey’s dark chocolate has approximately the same cacao percentage as the Valrhona chocolate I chose. Lastly, I gave the groups different milk chocolates with approximately the same percentage cacao. One group received Hershey’s milk chocolate while the other received a milk chocolate meant for chocolate fountains (pictured in the first image). Below are the rankings that my friends gave to each of these chocolates.

Cacao nibs: [2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7]

Taza: [1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7]

Equal Exchange 80%: [1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6]

Equal Exchange 71%: [2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4]

Hershey’s Dark: [1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 5, 5, 6]

Valrhona: [1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 6]

Hershey’s milk: [6, 6, 6, 7]

Milk fountain chocolate: [2, 4, 5, 7]

From my data, the fair trade, organic and single origin labels did not seem to have any significant impact on chocolate preference. There were varying preferences for the four chocolates that had these labels (Taza, Equal Exchange, and Valrhona). This is interesting given what I read about “Perceptions of the Fairtrade label”:  “thanks in part to the numerous sensitisation campaigns, the Fairtrade label has become increasingly well known. Likewise, the purchase of FT products continues to grow at enviable rates… 50 per cent of people are familiar with the Fairtrade label. Beyond this, various opinion polls also showed that consumers are increasingly aware of the potential consequences of their consumption rates” (Sylla, “The marketing success of FT: some figures). Sylla suggests that increased education about Fair Trade has caused an “enviable” increase in the sale of fair trade products. One can deduce that an increased sale means an increased preference. The ranging ratings of my friends for Fair Trade chocolates (Equal Exchange and Taza), suggest that there is not really a correlation between a chocolate having a Fair Trade label and a higher preference for that chocolate.

Another interesting result in my data was the general feelings about Taza chocolate. Taza chocolate is different from most chocolate because it is stone ground, with the end result of a higher particle size in the chocolate. Part of the reason that chocolate became more popular was the introduction of machines that could grind chocolate into smaller particles, which might explain why my friends did not generally like it. Only 2 of my 8 friends liked Taza, while 4 out of my 8 friends liked it the least of all the samples (including the cacao nibs). There was actually more general dislike for Taza chocolate than the “bitter” cacao nibs. 7 out of my 8 friends described it as “grainy,” “gritty,” or “powdery.” In my mind, these are not positive adjectives for chocolate. I believe it is safe to say that people tend not to like higher particle size chocolates.

One fascinating result from my experiment was the reactions to Hershey’s chocolate. D’Antonia describes how Hershey’s chocolate differs from other chocolates and played a large role in shaping the chocolate preferences of Americans: “Hershey’s milk chocolate… carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect… Anyone who knew Swiss milk chocolate… may have found Hershey’s candy unpleasant… Hershey’s milk chocolate… would also come to define the taste of chocolate for Americans” (108). The most striking result from my experiment was that 4 out of the 5 Americans chose Hershey’s dark chocolate as their favorite chocolate from the samples. This makes sense given what D’Antonio says, but it is particularly interesting given that milk is an ingredient in Hershey’s dark chocolate, unlike the other dark chocolate samples I tested. The non-Americans gave Hershey’s dark a lower rating (3, 5, and 5).

I included one expensive, gourmet chocolate in my tasting to see if there would be a general preference towards the chocolate. Williams and Beer explain that many consumers cannot recognize the improvements with gourmet or artisan chocolate, asking the question: “So, can consumers learn to slow down, taste, explore, and value the costly complexity of fine flavor?” (146). From my experiment, the answer to this question appears to be no. The very varied rankings of the gourmet chocolate indicate that my friends did not have any particular preference toward it.

Through my experiment I discovered that Americans and non-Americans definitely have different preferences for chocolate. Americans tend to prefer Hershey’s chocolate over other chocolates. Labels like Fair Trade and organic do not seem to have a significant impact on preferences but this might be due to lack of education. The particle size of chocolate also appears to play a big role in preference. Lastly, it is safe to say that people have not yet learned to appreciate the taste of more expensive artisan and gourmet chocolates.

 

Sources:

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126.

Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 1-30, 132-156.

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.

 

Multimedia sources:

All images were taken by me.

Tasting Change: The Evolving Desire for Premium Chocolate in Brazil

The country of Brazil is known for many things, including samba, sandy beaches, and of course, beautiful women. True, the country has all of these things in abundance, but beneath the surface there exists many more wonderful attributes. I discovered Brazilian chocolate on my first visit to Brazil, in June of 2007. Newly married, my husband took it upon himself to introduce me to his culture and heritage, and so one of the very first places we went was his neighborhood candy and newspaper shop. I recall the selection being enormous, and I tried many different types of candy, but it was the chocolate that kept me coming back daily for more. My favorites at this time were all made by a company called Garoto, under the parent company Nestle (they own Garoto but operate separately).

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Garoto, a bean-to bar company that was established in 1929, is today one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in Brazil, along with Barion and Mondélez. These three companies own nearly 75% of the market share in Brazil. The remaining 25% is shared between several smaller, premium chocolate companies, including Kopenhagen and Cacau Show. It is only in the last ten years or so that premium chocolate has become desirable for the Brazilian market, and only very recently has organic and fair trade chocolate even been introduced to the country. And this is for a country that produces over 350 thousand tons of cocoa per year, is home to more than 50 thousand cocoa farmers,and is in the top four chocolate producers in the world (Brazil Business, 2015).

***

To get an idea of the role chocolate played in Brazilian culture, I interviewed one of my closest friends in Brazil. Her replies were originally in Portuguese; for the purposes of this post I have translated her replies as accurately as possible.

What chocolates do you remember most from your childhood?

Yes, well, we ate a lot of candy when I was a child! My mother had an account so we could have anything from the little store. My favorite was Baton, which means lipstick in Portuguese…a chocolate in the shape of a lipstick. It was the best thing to have this chocolate on Sundays…we would watch the races on TV, do you know Ayrton Senna, Formula 1? And enjoy Baton, Serenata de Amor, Diamante Negro…and it was family, and tradition. Every time I eat this chocolate now I remember those Sundays.

What chocolates do you and your family enjoy today?

My children will eat many of the same things I have liked…for me now these things have too much sugar, they taste too sweet. I prefer very dark chocolate, maybe 70% cacao or more. My husband also, he really loves 90% cacao but this is very difficult to find, usually only when we travel outside of Brazil to USA we can find this at your supermarkets. Whole Foods has many, many chocolates we love! But my children, they do not like American chocolates…I think the taste is strange for them, unfamiliar.

***

Several years after my first trip to Brazil, I had the opportunity to return for three months. Progress marches on in all respects, but with regards to the chocolate market I noticed how things had changed…all of my same favorites were there, but there were a couple of new and popular places in the large shopping centers that everyone was recommending. The first one I visited was Kopenhagen, a premium chocolate shop.

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It was obvious that they were trying to sell the upscale premium chocolates to a more discerning consumer. The menu included such things as European Hot Cocoa (a very thick melted chocolate drink), handmade truffles, and my personal favorite, a chocolate and marshmallow concoction called Nha Benta.

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I also visited a place called Cacau Show, which specialized in many different flavors of bonbons displayed in a tower. Whereas Kopenhagen focused primarily on the consumer, Cacau Show catered more to the gift market, offering a large selection of colorful prepackaged options in every price range.

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But why had it taken so long for premium chocolate products to become popular in Brazil? According to Dartmouth History Professor Timothy Walker, it all goes back to the slave labor in Brazil’s past. Up until the early 19th century, nearly all cacao was produced by slaves. After the abolitionist movement, production declined steeply, even exploitative labor proctices were still a widely occuring problem. Chocolate became an expensive commodity at this point and national consumption declined. This began a push towards exportation, and today accounts partly for why approximately 90% of Brazil’s cocoa is exported. (Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil, 2007).

I asked my friend if she knew about this part of chocolate’s history in Brazil; she replied that she knew a little, but not much, and that it wasn’t really something she thought about on a daily basis. She seemed interested in exported and imported chocolates, so I continued the interview.

Have you had chocolate from other countries? If so, how does it compare in your opinion?

Yes, I have had Swiss chocolate, American, and British. The different types have different tastes…Swiss is very creamy while American is too sweet…and the British also. Brazilian chocolate to me tastes very rich and smooth.

Do you give chocolates as gifts? If so, what kind do you buy?

It’s common to do this…we give welcome gifts all the time, usually wine or liquor, with chocolates. For this we go to an expensive place, Kopenhagen or Cacau Show in the shopping mall…sometimes a bakery for special bonbons. It’s an important thing in Brazilian culture, this giving of chocolates. It means friendship and respect…and if you receive chocolates you must offer to share, it’s good manners.

***

During my most recent trip to Brazil last year, I noticed that in addition to the traditional and premium chocolate offerings, there were several new players in the cocoa game. Amma Chocolate, Nugali, and Harald, just to name a few. Amma specializes in “tree to bar, organic chocolate making” with an emphasis on sustainble farming practices. Their website offers a welcome transparency about their processes.

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Nugali and Harald, by comparison, offer single-origin chocolate, mainly for domestic consumption, that has the distict terroir of Brazil. According to Bill Nesto, writing for Gastronomica, terroir is complicated to explain, but easy to taste. Generally speaking it is the particular combination of factors that combine to represent the chocolate’s particular origin (Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate, 2010). Brazilian chocolate, explains a Nugali representative, has an underlying flavor reminiscient of banana, with a tiny hint of citrus (Single Origin Brazilian Chocolate, 2015). I asked my friend if she had any interest in these newer products.

Do you look for products that have organic or fair trade labels on them? What does that mean to you?

I like to buy organic chocolate when I can find it…it is a newer thing here, organic products…and it is much more expensive, maybe triple the price of ordinary products…but I think it’s better for my health. I have seen Fair Trade on some types but I don’t really know what that means. But again, very expensive for many Brazilian people.

Do you consider chocolate to be healthy, as in, do you feel that it offers you some health benefits?

Yes the antioxidants I have read about I feel are good for me…this is partly why I prefer dark chocolate. I have a nutritionist…she says to eat one square of dark chocolate per day. But also, my trainer at the gym says no sweets so I don’t know! I don’t know if there are any other benefits. I believe the commercial chocolates in the supermarket have too much sugar to be healthy. But also, there is a benefit to my mind…chocolate makes me happy, so I like to do what makes me happy. I don’t think a little sweets will hurt me in the long run. I think my trainer is too strict about this, so I don’t mention it!

Dark chocolate has health benefits that go beyond antioxidants, according to recent studies. In particular, consuming chocolate has shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, including fighting diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health, 2012). Furthermore, consumption of theobromine (a main component of chocolate) has shown promising reductions in the risk of preeclampsia, a dangerous medical condition that can affect pregnant women (Chocolate Consuption in Pregnancy, 2008).

Has any of the information I’ve shared with you today changed your views on chocolate, or changed the way you will buy it in the future?

Of course; I am always interested in healthy improvements to my life. I will share this about chocolate with my pregant women friends…that is very good news, and a good reason to eat more chocolate. I would like to learn more about Fair Trade also. If I can I will look for more organic chocolates in the future. And try to get my children to eat more dark chocolate, though that won’t be easy!

In conclusion, the gourmet chocolate market is a new and emerging sector in Brazil, one that I will be interested in watching in the coming years. Hopefully on future visits to the country I will continue to find and explore the many wonderful ways that Brazilians put their particular zest for life into the very chocolate they make.

***

Works Cited
“Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.
“Chocolate Market in Brazil.” The Brazil Business. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2016.
Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica 10.1 (2010): 131-35. Web.
“Single Origin Brazilian Chocolate to Compete alongside Lindt and Godiva in the U.S.” ConfectioneryNews.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2016.
Triche, Elizabeth W., Laura M. Grosso, Kathleen Belanger, Amy S. Darefsky, Neal L. Benowitz, and Michael B. Bracken. “Chocolate Consumption in Pregnancy and Reduced Likelihood of Preeclampsia.” Epidemiology 19.3 (2008): 459-64. Web.
Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries) 1.” Food and Foodways 15.1-2 (2007): 75-106. Web.

 

Linked Websites

https://www.garoto.com.br/produtos

https://www.nestle.com.br/site/home.aspx

http://br.mondelezinternational.com/home

http://www.harald.com.br

http://www.nugali.com.br

http://www.ammachocolate.com.br

Photo Credits (In order of appearance)

Brigadeiro with Brazilian Flag: CC Image via FreeImages.com

Garoto Chocolates: Garoto.com.br Official Website

Kopenhagen Storefront: Kopenhagen.com.br Official Website

Kopenhagen Hot Cocoa: Kopenhagen.com.br Official Website

Cacau Show Storefront: Cacaushow.com.br Official Website

Amma Website Screenshot: Ammachocolate.com.br Official Website

Theo Chocolate, Inc.: Working to Make the Chocolate Industry a Better Place

Introduction

Over the past several decades, chocolate has become a part of daily life for most consumers in the United States. Once a beverage reserved for consumption by the elite classes in Mesoamerica, chocolate is now a popular commodity among most social classes in our society. Manufacturers combine cocoa beans grown in the equatorial parts of the world – primarily countries in central Africa and South America – with sugar and other ingredients to craft these delectable treats. When choosing which confections to purchase, consumers base their decision on several factors, including price, brand loyalty, and availability. One factor casual consumers often neglect when making their choice is where the cocoa used to craft the chocolate originated. With many cocoa growing regions plagued by questionable ethical or moral practices, should this not be the most important factor in chocolate purchasing? Many smaller chocolate companies believe that it should, and craft their confections using carefully sourced cocoa that meets several standards to help combat these practices. One such company working to eliminate these questionable practices is Theo Chocolate, Inc. of Seattle, Washington.  A close examination of the company’s history, certifications, and sourcing and partnerships, reveals the progress Theo is making to promote an ethical chocolate industry that does not need to rely on forced or underpaid labor to maintain its profitability.

History

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Theo Chocolate, Inc. Logo.

As “the first organic, fair trade certified chocolate maker in North America” (“Mission”) Theo has been making great strides in the industry over the past two decades. Founder Joe Whinney began his work in chocolate in 1994 by directing organic cocoa beans from Central America to a host of American customers (“Mission”; Allison). For Whinney, the following decade was a time of learning and discovery. He spent much of the time losing money due to the great cost of each step in his supply chain and the desire to pay the cocoa farmers a fair value for their crops (Allison). After realizing that his current situation was unsustainable, Whinney decided that to maintain his work in the organic cocoa business, he would need to open his own factory for production and cut out several of the later steps in his chain (Allison). Thus, in 2004, Theo Chocolate, Inc. was born.

To create the company that would sustain his passion and allow him to promote his work, Whinney relocated with Debra Music, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, to Seattle (“Mission”). While Music worked to market and brand the upcoming products, the company’s factory and team of workers was assembled, and, in March 2006, Theo’s first line of chocolate was produced (“Mission”). Throughout the entire process Whinney strove to maintain his standards, and the company remains devoted to these ideals today.

Certifications

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The seal used to denote Organic certification.

Perhaps the most prominent outward reflection of the values that the company espouses comes in the form of their product certifications. Theo holds four such certifications: Organic, Fair Trade, Non-GMO, and Demeter (“Our Certifications”). The company must meet several criteria to qualify for each of these certifications as explained below.

Organic

In order to become certified as an organic producer through Quality Assurance International (QAI), the company who certifies Theo’s products, a company must complete a five step process (“Steps”). First, the company must apply for certification and provide QAI with details about their operations and processes (“Steps”). Second, the company undergoes a thorough inspection similar to the one they will undergo annually if they are provided with the certification (“Steps”). Third, the company experiences a technical review to ensure their operation “complies with all necessary organic regulations” (“Steps”). Fourth, the company receives notification from QAI about the status of their request and the areas of deficiency that need to be remedied to proceed with the certification process (“Steps”). Fifth, the company becomes compliant and deemed certified by QAI (“Steps”). To maintain its certification, and its standards of production, Theo subscribes “to the most stringent definition of organic” (“Our Certifications”). Wherever possible, Theo uses organic ingredients that have been grown using sustainable practices (“Our Certifications”). This commitment to quality exemplifies Theo’s desire to benefit the world as a whole, rather than just their bottom line.

Fair Trade

In addition to being Organic certified through QAI, Theo maintains a Fair for Life Fair Trade certification through the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) (“Our Certifications”). The Fair for Life certification requires companies to adhere to a set of social responsibility standards and to provide support through fair trade relationships with their suppliers (“Your options”). “Fair for Life Fair Trade means long-term and trusting cooperation between partners, transparent price setting negotiations and prices,” all ideals that Theo strives to uphold through their sourcing partnerships (“Your options”). This makes this certification perhaps the most valuable for the company from a farmer outreach perspective. Through their work as a fair trade company, Theo is able to provide the farmers from which they source their cacao with wide-reaching benefits, including healthcare and education (“Our Certifications”).  Theo’s commitment to aiding the often impoverished cacao farmers of the world is truly an admirable trait for a company in the chocolate industry.

Non-GMO & Demeter

As part of their promise to use organic ingredients, Theo avoids the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (“Our Certifications”). While the labeling of GMOs is not legally required in the U.S. and Canada, Theo feels that “consumers have the right to know what is in their food and have made a commitment to non-GMO certification of [their] products” (“Our Certifications”). There is much ongoing debate about the safety of GMO ingredients. Many companies, including Theo Chocolate, Inc., feel that until these ingredients are deemed safe for consumers, it is not worth the risk to include them in their products.

As a Demeter certified company, Theo has committed to maintaining high standards of sustainable farming that will benefit the planet (“Our Certifications”). To achieve this certification, the farms Theo sources from must meet the Demeter Biodynamic® Farm Standard, and Theo must meet the Demeter Biodynamic® Processing Standard (“Demeter”). For more information on these standards, please visit the Demeter USA website here.

Sourcing & Partnerships

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One of the two varieties of Theo chocolate crafted using Congolese cacao.

As yet another effort to maintain their commitment to high quality, ethical chocolate production, Theo is focused on selecting the best cacao beans it can find. Currently, Theo’s cacao beans are sourced from Peruvian farmer cooperative Norandino and Congolese company Esco Kivu (“Sourcing”). Theo concentrates its efforts in cacao sourcing on providing fair prices to their partners to promote an emphasis on quality propagation year after year (“Sourcing”). Instead of paying the commodity price for cacao beans, Theo has built a structured pricing model that provides a greater price for higher quality cacao to provide incentives to their farmer cooperatives (“Sourcing”). This method benefits both the farmers and the company . By providing an increased price for cacao that goes above and beyond the current commodity market rate, farmers are able to enjoy a greater profit and are better able to provide for themselves and their families. By ensuring that their farmers are well taken care of, Theo is able to maintain a positive relationship with these farmers and can encourage the farmers to make a strong commitment to quality production. As committed Fair Trade producers who provide quality price premiums, full transparency in their supply chain, and third party verification of their cacao purchases, Theo is able “to actively raise the bar for [the] entire industry” (“Sourcing”).

In addition to their commitment to fair trade sourcing, Theo has partnered with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) to benefit the cacao farmers of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (“Our Partners”). Through this partnership, Theo has the “potential to positively impact more than 20,000 people living in Eastern Congo” (“Our Partners”). The cacao sourced through this partnership is used to craft two chocolate bars, each with its own unique flavor: Vanilla Nib and Coffee & Cream (“Our Partners”). Since their involvement with ECI farmers began, Theo has sourced over 1,600 tons of cocoa from the DRC (“Our Partners”). While aiding farmers in the DRC has brought increased prosperity to the area, it has not been without difficulties. The following interview of Joe Whinney by Stan Emert of Rainmakers TV, details some of the issues caused by the current governmental structure of the DRC along with the efforts being made by Theo in the country.

Conclusion

With many cacao producing nations resorting to forced labor and some of the worst forms of child labor to maintain their prosperity, along with diminished payouts for cacao farmers, it is easy to see that the current state of affairs in cacao production is appalling. In recent years, companies have begun to attempt to source their cacao from ethically run farms, but the response from the industry has left much to be desired. While many larger chocolate producers put their own profits above those of their cacao farming counterparts, many smaller producers are making a commitment to providing consumers with ethically sourced, fair trade chocolate. One such company who is devoted to making strides in the right direction is Theo Chocolate, Inc. of Seattle, Washington. Since its founding in 2004, Theo has endeavored to make an impact on the industry and draw to light the issues that many producers prefer to hide from consumers. An examination of Theo’s history, its certifications, and its sourcing and partnerships, allow us to see just how far the company is willing to go to further its ideals. The next time you are shopping for chocolate, be a conscientious consumer and remember to consider the ethical nature of the chocolate’s source.


Works Cited

Allison, Melissa. “Fair-trade Theo Chocolate fairly booming.” Seattle Times, 04 April 2013. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Demeter Biodynamic and Processing Standards.” Demeter USA. Demeter Association, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Mission.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Our Certifications.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Our Partners.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Sourcing.” Theo. Theo Chocolate, Inc. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Steps to Organic Certification Process.” QAI : Client Resources : Prospective : Steps to Organic Certification Process. Quality Assurance International. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Your options for certification and verification.” Fair for Life. IMOgroup AG. Web. 08 May 2016.


Multimedia Sources

Theo Chocolate. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons, 2014. Web. 08 May 2016.

Theo’s Chocolate Logo. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 08 May 2016.

USDA organic seal. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 08 May 2016.

Whinney, Joe. Interview by Stan Emert. Chocolate from Difficult Places. YouTube, 29 December 2014. Web. 08 May 2016.