Tag Archives: valrhona

“I would rather spend $10 on El Jefe’s than these Chocolate Bars…”

In the heart of Harvard Square, is Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, there is something for everyone and every occasion, the chocolate connoisseur, the gourmet chef, the wine lover and more. First opening in 1950, Cardullo’s provides an extensive collection of coffees, teas, chocolate, wines, champagnes, and other hard to find food items in Harvard Square [1]. The best part of this store is the variety of the chocolate collection, with chocolate from France, Belgium, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Italy, German, Mexico, etc. With such a vast selection it was difficult to chose simply one or two to use to a chocolate tasting with friends so for the testing six bars were chosen. The theme for the chocolate tasting was comparing and contrasting the different countries as well as the percentage of cocoa in the bar. This essay aims to address the certifications each bar has and the historical and social issues related to these bars. This essay will also address how ethically sourced products, fair wages, and labor practices impacted the production of the bar.

Types of chocolate chosen:

There are six bars from four different companies: Cote d’or Lait-Melk (milk chocolate) produced in Belgium with Cacao beans from Ghana, Valrhona Blond Dulcey (32% Beurre de Cacao) white chocolate produced in France with it’s Cacao beans from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, Taza Chocolate Stone Ground: one is 80% dark chocolate from the Dominican Republic, the other is 84% dark chocolate from Haiti. The last two bars are from Antidote one of the bars is 84% dark chocolate with Cacao nibs, the other is 100% raw cacao. One of the interesting comparisons between these six bars is none are from the same country, represented is Belgium, France, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Ecuador respectively. Additionally, one of the bars, Valrhona is white chocolate meaning there is no Cacao beans, however, there is 32% cocoa butter in the bar. Of all six bars, four are labeled dark chocolate due to the high percentage 80% or higher of Cacao in the bar and one milk chocolate bar was included so the tasters wouldn’t completely hate the tasting!

About the companies of the chocolate bars:

There are four different companies represented in this taste testing: Cote d’Or, Valrhona, Taza Chocolate, and Antidote Chocolate. Briefly here is a little background on each:

Cote d’Or:

This company was founded in 1883 by Charles Neuhaus a chocolate manufacturer who used the name Côte d’Or referring to the old name of contemporary Ghana, the source of many of the cacao beans used in chocolate manufacturing [2]. This is a belgian producing chocolate company that is a subsidiary of Mondelez International. On their website they write “The secret of this so recognizable taste is based on a special focus on four key phases: selection and mixing of beans, roasting, ripening and conching.” [3]. Claiming they roast their beans at a lower than average temperature so the cocoa bean can retain their aroma better. The grains obtained after roasting are extremely fine about 15 microns on average against 30 microns which is the general number, this ensures a more refined taste [4]. Lastly this chocolate is connected to chocolate at an above average temperature for higher quality. Getting rid of undesirable elements such as natural acids of the cocoa beans, are extracted to give the bar it’s aroma. This will be interesting to see if the tasters will be able to tell the difference and effort put into the bar by this company.

Valrhona

Valrhona is a french premium chocolate manufacturer based in the small of Tain-l’Hermitage in Hermitage, a wine-growing district near Lyon. It is now a subsidiary of Savencia Fromage & Dairy. The company was founded in 1922 by a French pastry chef, Albéric Guironnet, from the Rhône valley and has five subsidiaries and 60 local distributors across the globe [5]. It is one of the leading producers of gastronomic chocolate in the world. The company also maintains the École du Grand Chocolat, a school for professional chefs with a focus on chocolate-based dishes and pastries. Valrhona focuses mainly on high-grade luxury chocolate marketed for commercial use by chefs as well as for private consumption. The product line includes chocolate confectionery, plain and flavored chocolate bars and bulk chocolate in bars or pellets. Valrhona produces vintage chocolate made from beans of a single year’s harvest from a specific plantation, primarily the Grand Crus which is grown in South America, Oceania and the Caribbean. Here is the video explaining how Valrhona produces their chocolate, they don’t explain the process the same way the other companies do it is more of a broad overview of the bean to bar process [6].

Here we can see the full process of bean to bar that Valrhona employs, although they do not provide as much details as Cote d’Or here we can see in a simple video their efforts.

Taza Chocolate

Taza Chocolate was founded by Alex Whitmore, who tried stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico. Inspired by the rustic intensity that he decided to create a chocolate factory back home in Somerville, MA. Alex apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca to learn how to hand-carve granite mill stones to make a new kind of American chocolate that is simply crafted, but seriously good [7]. They stone grind organic cacao beans into perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture, unlike anything you have ever tasted. In 2005, Alex officially launched Taza with his wife, Kathleen Fulton, who is Taza’s Chief Design Officer and designed all of the packaging.

Because this company differs in their chocolate making process due to the stone grinding, here is a video of how the bean to bar is produced.
Similarly to the other companies here is Taza’s process of bean to bar, this company is different than the others though because they stone grind the Cacao beans, giving the chocolate a mineral or grainy like taste.

Antidote

Lastly is Antidote, founded in July 2010 by Red Thalhammer, created for those who love dark chocolate but haven’t found options that are exciting enough for their jaded palates, Antidote Serious Chocolate not only satisfies but exceeds your expectations for what chocolate can be [8]. They start with potent intensity of single source raw  roasted Arriba Nacional beans from Ecuador and add a jolt of flavor from actual bits and chunks of fruits and herbs. This company is different from the others, they add little to no added sugar and preserving as many nutrients as possible of the cacao in the process. This company sources their cacao beans from Ecuador, as well as their fruits and spices ranging from coffee, to mango and juniper berries. This is a bar one would typically see in a Whole Foods or other upscale shops that sell organic products. The testers thought this chocolate bar had the nicest packaging!

Tasting experiment:

Here is a table depicting the chocolate tasted in order as well as what the five tasters thought of each bar.

Overall, there was no one bar that was favored more than the other, there were certain aspects of each bar that made the likeability they would buy the chocolate bar less likely, for example, several tasters said “I like a smooth chocolate but the first two are too sweet. I like the texture of the 100% it’s just too bitter.” “Cacao nibs ruined the bar, the style was not as good, rougher particles.” When asked how much they thought the bars purchased cost they guessed they increased in expense the further you go along, stone ground as the most expensive. They also concluded price increases with the higher percentage of cacao in the bar. The tasters we’re correct on the pricing the most expensive bar was the 100% Raw Cacao bar by Antidote. When asked how much they would pay for one of these bars the answers ranged from $5-$12 with everyone agreeing they would spend more on a bottle of wine than on chocolate. The group opinion seemed to be buy better chocolate next time!

Social and Historical issues particularly Fair Trade vs Direct Trade:

In 2001 two United States Senators Eliot Engel and Tom Harkin in response to a documentary and multiple articles in 2000 and 2001 reporting widespread child slavery and child trafficking in the production of cocoa, proposed the Harkin–Engel Protocol. It is an international agreement aimed at ending the worst forms of child labor (according to the International Labour Organization’s Convention 182)[9] and forced labor (according to ILO Convention 29) [10] in the production of cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate. Signed in September of 2001, companies have failed to address the problem and the industry’s pledge to reduce child labor in the Ivory Coast and Ghana by 70% has not been met as of 2015, the deadline was extended to next year 2020 and will likely need to be extended again [11]. Companies are not motivated to eradicating this form of labor because it’s cheap, but supporting companies that have signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol as well as taken actions to ensure the bar is under Direct Trade is the first step consumers can take to help the industry. The companies used in this taste test are companies who aim to end child labor practices in all parts of the supply chain by using direct trade agreements. Direct trade, is where the middle-man is eliminated and producers or manufacturers have personal relationships with the people at all parts of the supply chain to ensure not only that child labor is not part of it but also, everyone has fair labor rights. One of the other certifications many companies have is Fair Trade, the main difference between fair trade and direct trade is that they have different end goals. Fair trade was built to improve the lives of farmers, while direct trade places their focus on the quality of their product in this case Cacao [12].

Cote d’Or

After searching the Cote d’Or website there is no clear answer if they are a Fair Trade or Direct Trade Certified. However, Cote d’Or  since 2005, worked with Rainforest Alliance to the cocoa farmers. The aim of this partnership is first of all to increase the rentability of the crop, then to preserve the ecosystem on the farmlands and to enhance the life conditions of the workers and their families [13]. Indeed, this non-governmental organization provides us a training which allows us to increase their productivity and their incomes. The only other information provided by the company website was their Cocoa Life initiative which is overseen by Mondelez International.

Launched in 2012, Cocoa Life is investing $400 million USD by 2022 to empower at least 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach one million community members [14]. This effort builds on the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership, which was founded in Ghana in 2008, as part of their  commitment to ensure a sustainable future for chocolate. Cocoa Life helps communities thrive in six key cocoa-growing origins―Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil [15]. Mondelez International believes they are helping farmers in these regions gain knowledge and skills to improve their livelihoods, strengthen their communities and inspire the next generation of cocoa farmers.

As seen on the Cocoa Life website here are the main goals:

  • Increase transparency, by connecting consumers to cocoa growers
  • Promote self-sufficiency by building knowledge and skills within cocoa communities
  • Make greater impact through transformative partnerships
  • Respect human rights, focusing on child rights and promoting women’s empowerment
  • Increase business advantage by ensuring a sustainable supply of cocoa for Mondelēz International’s much loved brands

Both Cote d’Or and Mondelez international are taking steps to ensure there are no problems in the supply chain in terms of abuse of labor (including any form of child labor), fair wages, and creating a system where the farmers can move up in the supply chain.

Valrhona:

Valrhona pursues a policy of direct trade with farmers in accordance with the principles of Fair Trade. Valrhona does everything in its power to ensure that the conditions in which their cacao is grown allow planters and their families to develop a long-term business strategy [16]. They take particular care to ensure no children work in the production of our cacao, that there is no forced labor and that all national and international labor regulations are respected. Over the past year, companies have increasingly stepped up to tackle climate change and rising social inequality. Valrhona is firmly part of this movement. Through their four sustainable commitments, which includes: Cacao, the environment, gastronomy, and working together to build a better world. Valrhona builds long-term relationships with our cocoa producers and support cocoa producing communities, ecodesign our products, reduce our carbon footprint and develop the young gastronomy talents [17]. Out of the four companies, Valrhona is one that is taking the most initiative in other aspects of the Cacao industry, with projects aimed at promoting sustainability and commitment to the environment. It is an active initiative to promote sustainable cacao farming among our partner cacao growers [18]. This company is a founding member of the Cacao Forest program, which started in 2015 to develop new agroforestry practices that both protect the environment and increase income for growers. The first agroforestry projects were carried out in the Dominican Republic on plantations where cacao trees were grown alongside other trees and crops. Growing fruits and vegetables at the same time enabled growers to diversify their income, which protected them from the inherent uncertainties of cacao production.

Antidote:

Antidote prioritizes quality and flavor over certification allowing them to have a direct relationship with their Ecuadorian partners as well as pay them fair wages that are above the market rate. On their website Antidote writes, “We are practicing direct trade with all cacao beans and some other ingredients cutting out any middleman. We are happy to collaborate with small and bigger companies and providers, and in turn, increase support for their local community as a whole through our bean to bar manufacturing in Ecuador.” [19]. It’s clear Antidote is taking steps to make a bean to bar process without abusive labor practices with fair wages. Antidote argues for Direct Trade standards because working with certified organic farms would limit us in getting the best quality cacao. Their partnership and close collaboration with their cacao partners for unique processes used to achieve desired flavor profiles for each of their cacao percentages. One of the bars used is 100% raw chocolate, for this Antidote has a special protocol in place with farmers that requires a different process starting at the farm in order to make the most minimally processed chocolate they can for the  raw bars. Producing our chocolate in the country of cacao allows access not only to the beans itself but to other lush ingredients right from the source – from coffee to mango and ginger. It also fosters direct relationships with suppliers and farmers whom we collaborate with to fine-tune every step of the process. Yet another company that does not use Fair Trade but Direct Trade.

Taza Chocolate:

Taza Chocolate like the other companies mentioned above practices Direct Trade, on their website they write “We said no to predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices. We created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. In fact, you can see exactly what we pay them, in our groundbreaking Annual Cacao  Sourcing Transparency Reports.” [20]. The reports starting from 2011 to present day how much the company pays per metric ton that year. In the 2018 report while looking at the bar sourced from Haiti the report shows the demographic of farmers, country, amount of cacao exported, total customer base, awards won, amount purchased and for how much.

On their website Taza notes when they first published the 2012 transparency report, sharing our sourcing partner relationships and the cacao prices we paid them struck many in the secretive chocolate industry as unusual at best and bad for business at worst. The CEO and Founder, Alex wrote at the time: “We are committed to being connected to our cacao producers, and we want our customers to be as well.” [21]. Consumers appreciated Taza’s transparency and other companies noticed. Since then, fellow chocolate makers including Dandelion Chocolate and Askinosie Chocolate have produced their own reports, reinforcing transparency as a core tenet of Direct Trade. Other businesses have gone a step further and adopted not only the Transparency Report but also our larger Direct Trade program. Taza Chocolate is one of the few companies taking concrete steps and allowing consumers to understand how and why the bars are produced. None of the other companies used in this tasting were as transparent as Taza.

Here is the information provided by the Taza Chocolate Company in their yearly transparency report. Last year they paid approximately $3,450 per metric ton for Cacao and exported about 150 MT.
Here is the supply chain also supplied in the transparency report, because this organization practice Direct Trade it’s interesting to see exactly how many actors are part of their supply chain.
Taza Chocolate’s description of their Direct Trade Program

All four of these companies engage in direct trade rather than fair trade, believing in having a close personal relationship with everyone involved in the supply chain will ensure no labor abuses or rights are infringed upon. Throughout this course the importance of finding a bar that not only uses ethical labor practices but also tastes good appears to be a challenge. For those willing to spend a little extra money though on these $8 to $10 bars are spending money towards not only a higher quality chocolate bar but also on companies that are conscious about the issues in production and are working to fix them. The best bar to purchase however seems to be Taza Chocolate, not only are they showing consumers what is going on in each country where they export cacao from, they also engage in Direct Trade, often paying farmers more than market price.

Larger societal and historical issues presented:

In the beginning of this class, the lectures and literature analyzed how cacao became popular a drink once meant only for the elites in Europe is now mass produced and available to the public [22]. In The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe Carla Martin and Kathryn Sampeck write “ With the industrialization of chocolate, it was no longer a commodity for the the elite, expensive or consumed primarily as a drink but rather an inexpensive cocoa powder to be drunk or low-cacao-content chocolate bar to be consumed as a food by elite and non-elite alike” ( 49). [23] The inaccessibility of chocolate disappeared after the industrial revolution. Today consumers can go to any store and find chocolate for sale typically, in American one’s socioeconomic status would not prevent them from being able to buy a chocolate bar. Inside Cardullo’s the cheapest bar sold was $3.29 and it was a Snickers bar nothing fancy but certainly nothing when compared to the other chocolate offered in the store for upwards of $30 for six samples of “mesoamerica chocolate” with “authentic flavors.” The average price of the six bars used in the testing was $8 now for a college student to spend that much on a chocolate bar seems like a big ask when they could get at least four bags of hershey kisses for the same price. What makes these bars so enticing though is they are made by smaller boutique chocolate companies As noted in  Kristy Leissle book Cocoa many of these products are made in far smaller quantities and thus do not benefit from the economies of scale [24].

Most of these bars are made via a “single batch” method meaning no two bars would taste the exact same. However, just because a bar cost more than a Hershey Chocolate bar does not mean it has a high quality or better productions. Leissle argues, “certainly, some craft makers do pay premium prices for beans, but it is a mistake to assume that if a bar costs $10, nine of those must be going to a farmer. Chances are they are not.” [25]. Not all companies are actively correcting abusive labor practice or unfair wages given to workers. Consumers expect chocolate to be relatively cheap even through the production is very labor intensive.  After the taste test I asked my friends if they enjoyed the chocolate more than Hershey, a few said yes and one said no. But when I asked how much they would be willing to pay for it the answer ranged from $5 to $12 when asked if they would spend more on a bottle of wine or even a burrito from any of Harvard’s local mexican restaurants the answer was a resounding yes.

As the taste test concluded, there was no universal “favorite” chocolate bar it seemed that all the tasters were divided on the “best” bar however all agreed they would prefer a better chocolate selection for the next tasting! The tasting allowed my friends to see the different types of chocolates available for consumers that use fair labor practice, or interest in environmental sustainability in terms of recommending a bar for the consumer to purchase I would recommend the Taza Chocolate bar. The company has taken significant steps to show consumers and other companies how to engage in Direct Trade. After taking this class I was pleased and informed to learn about the variety of chocolates available, the different types of cacao beans and how companies participated actively towards transparency in the process of chocolate production from how much they pay farmers for the Cacao to how much it is sold.

Footnotes:

  1. https://cardullos.com
  2. https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://www.cotedor.be/&prev=search
  3. https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://www.cotedor.be/&prev=search
  4. Ibid.
  5. https://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/about
  6. https://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/about-chocolate
  7. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza
  8. https://antidotechoco.com/pages/the-story
  9.  “C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182),” Convention C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), June 19, 1999, , accessed May 03, 2019, https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID,P12100_LANG_CODE:312327,en.
  10.  “C029 – Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29),” Convention C029 – Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), , accessed May 03, 2019, https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:12100:::NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312174.
  11.   “Africa: Child Labor in Cocoa Fields/ Harkin-Engel Protocol,” Africa: Child Labor in Cocoa Fields/ Harkin-Engel Protocol, July 08, 2011, , accessed May 03, 2019, http://www.ilo.org/washington/areas/elimination-of-the-worst-forms-of-child-labor/WCMS_159486/lang–en/index.htm.
  12.   “What Is Fair Trade Coffee?” WebstaurantStore, May 28, 2018, , accessed May 03, 2019, https://www.webstaurantstore.com/article/103/fair-trade-coffee.html.
  13. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/articles/belgium-commits-to-making-all-its-chocolate-sustainable
  14. https://www.cocoalife.org/the-program/approach
  15. Ibid.
  16. https://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/faqs
  17. https://us.valrhona.com/live-long-our-sustainability-plan
  18. https://inter.valrhona.com/en/chocolate-expertise/lets-imagine-best-selecting-and-growing-cocoa
  19. https://antidotechoco.com/pages/about-1
  20. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-partner-report-pisa
  21. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report
  22. Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013).
  23. Carla D. Martin and Kathryn E. Sampeck, “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” Socio.hu, no. Special Issue 3 (2016): , doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
  24. Kristy Leissle, Cocoa (Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2018), 101.
  25. Ibid.

Works Cited

“Africa: Child Labor in Cocoa Fields/ Harkin-Engel Protocol.” Africa: Child Labor in Cocoa Fields/ Harkin-Engel Protocol. July 08, 2011. Accessed May 03, 2019. http://www.ilo.org/washington/areas/elimination-of-the-worst-forms-of-child-labor/WCMS_159486/lang–en/index.htm.

“C029 – Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29).” Convention C029 – Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). Accessed May 03, 2019. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:12100:::NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312174.

“C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182).” Convention C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182). June 19, 1999. Accessed May 03, 2019. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID,P12100_LANG_CODE:312327,en.

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

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. Special Issue 3 (2016): 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

“ILO Welcomes New Foundation to Eliminate Abusive Child and Forced Labour Practices in Cocoa Farming.” Welcomes New Foundation to Eliminate Abusive Child and Forced Labour Practices in Cocoa Farming. July 01, 2002. Accessed May 03, 2019. https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_007801/lang–en/index.html.

“What Is Fair Trade Coffee?” WebstaurantStore. May 28, 2018. Accessed May 03, 2019. https://www.webstaurantstore.com/article/103/fair-trade-coffee.html.

Multimedia Sources:

https://cardullos.com

https://www.webstaurantstore.com/article/103/fair-trade-coffee.html

https://www.cocoalife.org/the-program/approach

https://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/about

https://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/about-chocolate

https://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/faqs

https://us.valrhona.com/live-long-our-sustainability-plan

https://inter.valrhona.com/en/chocolate-expertise/lets-imagine-best-selecting-and-growing-cocoa

https://antidotechoco.com/pages/about-1

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.

2016-05-11 19.43.17

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.

2016-05-11 19.40.13

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.

Valrhona’s Commitment to Responsibility: A Case Study

Valrhona Chocolate, created in 1922 by French pastry chefs, has long been committed to producing high-quality chocolates (Coe and Coe 259). They also take pride in projecting a sustainable business plan, which is admirable when considering that chocolate companies are often not held accountable for their actions. Valrhona sources Criollo and Trinitario cacao from Guanaja, Venezuela, Madigascar, Trinidad and Tobago, and most recently the Dominican Republic (Valrhona 4). It has published a Social Responsibility Report for public consumption which outlines the many ways it is committed to its suppliers, employees, consumers, and the community at large. In analyzing Valrhona’s practices in each of these areas in relation to the grander sociohistorical environment of the chocolate supply chain, we can better understand Valrhona’s success and shortcomings. Based on these conclusions, I will argue that Valrhona is on the path to solving many of the ethical problems that come with producing chocolate from the bean to the bar, but also has some room for improvement.

At the Source
First, Valrhona claims that they are committed to their suppliers. They have set up a “Buyer’s Code of Conduct” that encourages buyers to communicate fairly with suppliers, act sustainably and buy ethically (Valrhona 9). While this does not ensure that their buyers will behave this way, it is a step in the right direction. One of the biggest problems facing cacao farmers is how they may be exploited by buyers and not paid fairly, possibly being taken advantage of by both big chocolate companies and the local governments (Lockwood). At least they are attempting to prevent this.

In addition, Valrhona offers programs to teach cacao growers about research, planting cacao, and ways to improve (Valrhona 12). This is all part of their sustainability pledge: to build long-term relationships with their farmers, which is in the best interest of both the cacao farmers and Valrhona itself. I think this is very important because it means that the future of cacao, and of high quality chocolate, is being carefully considered.

Below is a short video created by Valrhona showing an idealized version of their newest plantation in the Domincan Republic, touting great treatment of farmers and high quality cacao:

Child labor is one of the most concerning issues facing the cacao industry today, and is an example of how farmers may also be the exploiters. In the United States, legislation was almost passed that would require a label stating that no child labor was used in the making of the chocolate, but it was heavily lobbied and did not pass. In the end, the Harkin-Engels Protocol was created. This was a voluntary pledge to work toward more ethical and credible standards, but has yet to prove itself as successful because the companies who signed it are not held accountable if they do not meet these standards (Coe and Coe 264).

Valrhona actually did not sign this protocol. They do, however, claim that they are committed to fight child labor on their cacao farms by regularly visiting plantations and otherwise relying on Fair Trade, Rain Forest and UTZ certifications. They also maintain that 80% of their supply chain is 100% traceable, meaning that each part of the supply chain is held accountable (for 80% of its cacao)(Valrhona 15). While this is a great feat, I would argue that it still leaves 20% of its products open to child labor and other ethical oversights, and any chance of child labor is not ideal. This keeps the cacao industry plagued by the same slavery used by early 19th century chocolate companies (Coe and Coe). We are past this as a society, and ideally chocolate companies should settle for nothing less than 100% accountability.

In addition, plantation visits and other certifications are only marginally helpful. For example, to become Fair Trade certified, farmers have to pay more to be a part of a certified co-op, which means that those who are underpaid are unable to be certified and those farmers who are already wealthier are benefitted (Martin). So while Valrhona claims that they are “fighting” child labor, there is still much room for improvement on this front.

2013-12-26-miniValrhonaSchool2.JPG
The school co-founded by Valrhona in the Dominican Republic opened in 2013 and serves the 15 local cacao growing families (Valrhona)

One area where Valrhona has begun to prove itself is in its community outreach programs for cacao growing communities. They have co-founded a small school in their newest plantation in the Dominican Republic, and built a school on their Madagascar plantation. These initiatives may also help ease chances of child labor by giving children a chance at an education, but seem to be focused more on promoting the future success of their plantations than anything else.

At Home
In addition to promoting sustainable and ethical relationships with cacao suppliers, Valrhona also claims to improve the lives of its employees and community where the chocolate is manufactured in France. In fact, their investment in their employees appears to exceed their interest in those who grow their cacao. They pride themselves on providing extensive training, equal opportunities, and even psychological counseling to their employees (Valrhona 18), all to improve the quality of their product and ensure that the company continues to flourish. They even organize trips for some employees to travel to their plantations and see how cacao is cultivated, likely an amazing learning experience. However they do not offer this same privilege in reverse: farmers are not invited to see the manufacturing process. This alone shows inequality between the farmers who are paid relatively little for doing extremely laborious work and Valrhona’s employees.

Unlike Hershey’s Chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where an entire town was built to house and service its employees (Coe and Coe 251), Valrhona’s company is relatively small and so it spends its efforts on community outreach outside of itself. Conscious of its impact on its local community, Valrhona donates money and services to develop its surroundings and ensure a minimal environmental footprint (Valrhona 29-30). They regularly survey local residents for feedback on their progress, and prove to be successful in improving the lives of not only their own employees, but those who live in their community.

For the Greater World of Chocolate

Pedregal
One of Valrhona’s high quality chocolate bars, “El Pedregal”, is a single-origin chocolate bar sourced from the finest Criollo cacao in Venezuela (Valrhona)

Since it was established in 1922, Valrhona has primarily focused on producing high quality chocolate for pastry chefs. Even world-renowned French pastry chef Pierre Herme, commonly known as the “Picasso of Pastry”, works exclusively with Valrhona because of their extensive knowledge of chocolate and their ability to consistently produce it well (Williams 176). And with the birth of L’ecole du Grand Chocolat in 1989 and its two newer outposts in Japan, and most recently in 2014, the United States, Valrhona has become synonymous with expertise in the world of chocolate all around the globe. This is unlike any other chocolate company, and shows a true dedication to this unique craft. Valrhona is also responsible for promoting and even creating some of the world’s leading pastry competitions, thereby furthering its reputation as a leader in haute cuisine and promoting an interest in the pastry arts, while also donating sales to charitable causes (Valrhona 25).

Weaknesses
While Valrhona has made great strides in ethically and sustainably sourcing and producing its chocolate, there is still room for improvement. One area they do not openly discuss is how much their farmers are being paid and what their working conditions are truly like, so there is no way to know if money is going to the farmers, their co-op, or even into the local government’s pocket. The only mention is that they “encourage local suppliers to support their local economies” (Valrhona 9). This loosely stated policy is likely not the most effective strategy to ensure equal pay.

Once again, their response to the issue of child labor is also lacking – they could take on full accountability and focus more energy on eliminating any chance of child slave labor all together, rather than claiming that only 80% of their cacao is child labor-free. More of their efforts seem to be located in serving their own local communities and pastry chef consumers than that of the farmers who work to grow their cacao, which demonstrates Valrhona’s greater commitment to quality and the future of the industry than to their farming partners.

Valrhona's employees

Madagascar plantation
Which group seems happier? Here the farmers at Valrhona’s plantations (bottom) are compared to Valrhona’s own employees (top) to illustrate Valrhona’s struggle to equally provide for their suppliers (Valrhona)

One more interesting thing to note is that one of their main missions is to meet the stakeholder’s expectations (Valrhona 6), and because they do not delineate what their stakeholder’s expectations are, this may suggest that their primary goal is to make money rather than behave sustainably. (However I cannot fault them for that, as a business should indeed have the goal to be profitable.) Still, there is the sense that because this report was voluntarily released, many of Valrhona’s weaknesses may not be overtly evident.

Conclusion
Having weighed these weaknesses against their strengths, I think it can still be said that Valrhona is on its way to meeting its goal of developing high quality chocolate in an ethically sustainable and consistent way. Of course there will always be room for improvement. But building schools, offering training, donating services and money to local causes and requesting their suppliers to behave ethically are all steps in the right direction. In this way, Valrhona is a leader of the modern chocolate industry – all while producing some of the finest chocolates in the world.

References

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

Lockwood, Sarah. “Exploiters or Exploited? Cocoa Production in West Africa.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 23 March 2015. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 8 April 2015. Class Lecture.

Williams, P. and Eber, J. “Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate”. Vancouver, CA: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012. Print.

Valrhona. Corporate Social Responsibility Report. 2012-2013. Group Espirit Libre: Tain I’Hermitage, France. Retrived from: http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/files/Valrhona-CRS-Sept-2013.pdf.

.http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/shop/media/Valrhona-Pedregal-64-10806.jpg

.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8P6zYhhSSE

.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/regina-varolli/valrhona-chocolate-builds_b_4504455.html

The Luxury of Taste: Chocolate, Capitalism, and the Commodity of Fine Dining

“Indulge,” urges the inside of my Dove chocolate wrapper, assuring me that I did the right thing, eating that chocolate. The idea of “indulgence” is key for how our American culture thinks about food, especially dessert, and it works on levels beyond the bag of dark chocolates I picked up at CVS. Dessert is an excess, by nature a luxury. So I thought, why not go for the best, why not go for real “indulgence”? What’s the fanciest dessert, the most chocolate pleasure that money can buy (on a student budget)? I decided to analyze some of the most “indulgent” desserts that I could find within walking distance of my dorm in Cambridge, MA: choc-finale  vs  choc-harvest When I signed the bill at the end of these meals, what did I pay for? I paid for the experience, not just the food. Yes, a crucial part of the entire experience was consuming a delicious dessert, but I also paid for the service, the comfy chair, the music, the low lighting and the conversation floating around me from the other tables. Chocolate and other dessert foods hold a precarious position between sustenance and luxury. Chocolate is more universal, more sustaining and more widely available than real luxury consumables like wine and even coffee, and it does not share their psychological effects, despite common misconception (Benton, 213- 214). However, chocolate is more luxurious and extravagant than staple products like bread, meat, or rice. Chocolate tends to be sold as either luxury or staple, when in fact it occupies a space between the two that does not fit well in capitalist consumption practices. This essay will focus on chocolate dessert as a luxury by looking at the American fine dining experience, in order to show that the most elite consumers experience chocolate differently than the rest of society, because of how the experience becomes a commodity.

My first trip took me to Finale, a specialty dessert shop with three Boston locations. Finale strives to separate itself from mass produced chocolate and give the fine dining experience at a lower cost. Their sit-down restaurant features red table clothes, a prominent wine list, low lighting and soft jazz music. When I went in late on a Monday night, the restaurant housed me and three young couples that appeared to be on dates. The waiter couldn’t tell me the source of the chocolate in the “molten cake,” but he did tell me that in his three days working at Finale, he had learned that there were more different kinds of pastries than he had previously imagined.

“Just look how much of our menu is dessert!” he told me. Finale capitalizes on the desire to indulge in dessert. By offering a wide array, it allows consumers the luxury of choice, and while someone of middle-class means might not want to buy a fancy dinner, they might be persuaded to splurge on an indulgent dessert. Scholar Marcy Norton describes the “cultural-functionalist” model, proposed by historians such as Mintz and Bourdieu, as one theory for the popularity of chocolate in Western society. The theory states that those in power influence aesthetic and subjective decisions, or choices of taste. Under this theory, the upper classes are the tastemakers, and other consumers follow their lead. Norton does not believe that the theory is enough to explain the dessert’s popularity, but it does explain restaurants such as Finale, which sell the upper class experience at a lower price (Norton, 633). Finale’s menu describes the cake I ordered as “Our famous baked to order molten filled with a salted honey caramel sauce. Served with chocolate covered almonds and dulce de leche gelato,” and then lists a suggested wine pairing (Finale, Restaurant Menu). By pairing each dessert on the menu with wine, the restaurant again ties its products to other luxury goods, and sells a greater experience: not just the dessert, but the wine and cake together. I ordered (just the cake) and was quickly rewarded with the elegant presentation in the picture above. Typically, I would wolf down a dessert like this, loving the sweetness without focusing on the flavor, but for the first time in my dessert-eating career, I sat down to really evaluate the flavors and sensations of eating.

“Tasting,” in an evaluative way requires time, money, and knowledge. One must be taught to discern flavors and focus on all the senses while eating. Barbara Stuckey, a food tasting professional, published “Taste What You’re Missing,” a guide to tasting and understanding food like the experts. To those people with fewer taste buds who are less able to discern different flavors, she adds, “You can’t change the anatomy of your tongue, just as you can’t change your genetic makeup or height. But a height limitation doesn’t mean that you can’t teach yourself to be an excellent basketball player. And everyone-including you-can teach himself to be an excellent taster” (Stuckey, 27). Stuckey seems to say that anyone can learn to taste the way that she can, regardless of biological limits, but she doesn’t mention other limits, like time, energy, or lack of resources. Her book describes eating at some of the fanciest restaurants in the US, appreciating food like salmon, steak, and “soft, cherry-chocolate red zinfandel” (Stuckey, 15). Clearly, Stuckey has the resources to get the best food to taste recreationally, and also as a professional taster has spent years being paid to hone her tasting skills. Her book targets those given choices of what kind of food they eat, rather than needing to get the most sustenance per dollar.

Chocolate Tasting Wheel from “Chocopolis”

This “tasting wheel” for chocolate describes the flavors that a trained, discerning taster might be able to pick up in a bar of the stuff. These are the elements of a luxury chocolate bar, not mass produced chocolate from big companies like Hershey’s or Nestle. Mass produced chocolate is sold to everyone, and there’s much less focus on flavor profiling or ingredients beyond “tastes good.”

Snickers’s ad campaign is a good example of chocolate sold to a wider set of consumers. Notice that it focuses on the bar’s ability to satiate hunger rather than its artistic combination of flavors

 

The cake I tasted at finale seems to fall somewhere in the middle of the taste- satiation spectrum. Based on its presentation and the restaurant’s atmosphere, Finale seems to focus on the upper class experience of eating. I did find out online that the chocolate they use in the cake is from Valrhona, a French luxury chocolate maker. You can see from Valrhona’s website that the company focuses on many of the elements of luxury dining that Stuckey emphasizes. The company even includes a “how to taste” section, focusing on incorporating all of one’s senses into the “art of tasting”. “Chocolate is enjoyed.” Reads the page,  “Grand Chocolat is experienced” (“Experience Our Expertise”). However, the dishes at Finale were engineered for an audience where fancy desserts are the exception, not the norm. While the cake I ate was sweet and delicious, the textures were somewhat muddy and indiscernible, and the flavors advertised, chocolate, sea salt, and caramel, were not very strong or balanced. The main tastes of the dish were sugar and fat, and the wafer on top was burnt. Perhaps my favorite part of the cake was the slice of pure Valrhona dark chocolate sticking out on top. The focus of this dessert on quantity of sweetness over quality of flavor, on filling the stomach over exciting the palate, seems to suggest catering towards mass marketed tastes.

My second dessert experience, however, was true fine dining. Harvest restaurant is staffed by award-winning chefs (including their pastry chef, Brian Mercury). Its price range is much higher than Finale. Compare $15.99 Short Ribs, the most expensive thing on the Finale Menu, with $40 Painted Hills Farm New York Striploin au Poivre at Harvest. The restaurant is tucked away behind other clothing stores, and despite sitting less than five minutes from my dorm, I never saw it until I went looking for it. Unlike Finale, the feel of Harvest is much more elite, and this is also reflected in the clientele. When I was there, the patrons were all much older than those at Finale, and seemed to be engaged in business meetings. Part of the experience of fine dining is the feeling of exclusivity, the experience of sharing space with those also in this elite group. Notably, the dessert that I ordered at Harvest, which was comparable in size and ingredients, actually cost me a dollar less than the cake at Finale. The price difference here shows that Harvest focuses more on dinner than dessert. That does not mean that the focus on sustenance at Harvest, and luxury at Finale. In fact, both restaurants sell luxury and indulgence, but Finale does so through luxury products and a luxurious atmosphere, while Harvest uses the principles of flavor and taste to turn any food into an extravagance. For example, at Finale, all the dishes are named in English, directed to a larger American public, instead of the complicated French terms that Harvest assumes its exclusive customers can understand.

Furthermore, the taste of chocolate, caramel and salt in the Crèmeux were very different than in the molten cake. Their online menu describes the dish as “house made sea salt, salted caramel brown sugar granola, milk chocolate malt sauce, vanilla mascarpone” (Harvest, Dessert Menu). The flavors in Harvest’s Crèmeux were much more intense, especially the bite of the salt, which balanced out the sweetness of the chocolaty mousse. The textures in the Harvest dessert were also more complex and provided a contrast to each other: the crunch of the granola, the almost fudgy Crèmeux, and the chewy caramel. The textural changes helped draw my attention again to the flavors, to really savor and think about what I was eating. I think it took me longer to eat that Crèmeux than any dessert I’ve had before. Intense flavors are often a sign of fancier or upper class food options, instead of the more “bland” food of the masses. Stuckey makes fun of her partner for his limited palate and preference for mild flavors. “How can you call yourself a foodie” she asks, “when all you eat is meat and potatoes?” (16). Although she learns to appreciate the subtlties of his palate, it remains a common conception that someone more sophisticated, elite or worldly would prefer bold flavors to analyze.

The Harvest Crèmeux follows the “local food” trend prevalent in high-class establishments. Local food and fair trade are relatively recent developments in the food world that highlight and attempt to close the gap between producers and consumers. Brian Mercury locally sources his on ingredients, even takes trips out to the seashore to collect his own salt, effectively controlling every step in the production of the food (Gelsomin).

The chocolate in the Crèmeux comes from Taza chocolate, a company that produces stone ground chocolate from direct trade beans in South America. Just as much of a luxury as Valrhona, Taza produces chocolate on a smaller scale with even more attention given to  the experience of consuming the chocolate both in terms of taste (the texture of stone ground chocolate is very distinctive) and ethical purchasing (local and direct trade options make consumers feel better about their purchase). However, this means that it’s difficult to get large amounts of these ingredients, further contributing to the exclusive nature of Harvest and its food.

These movements grow out of the history of the commodities that make up the distinct flavors in the desserts: chocolate, sugar, and salt. Historians Sophie and Michael Coe wrote The True History of Chocolate, describing how it served as a luxury, sustenance, or medicine throughout the Americas and Europe. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz analyzes the history of sugar as a commodity in Sweetness and Power, and the crop’s ties to forced labor and colonialism. A group of Italian scientists wrote a “History of Salt” that ties the spice’s medical properties to its long history through cultures and conflicts. Each ingredient provides its own enticing properties as a food historically consumed in great amounts, for reasons as diverse as biology or cultural-functionalism. Food can never be a simple commodity because of its essential nature; we all need sustenance through food. These three ingredients have long, elaborate but mostly unknown histories that shape how Americans today view them as commodities.

All of this leaves us with food as a divisor in society, even though it is one thing that all people have in common. Food scholar Charles Z. Levkoe discusses the “commodification of human relationships” in regards to selling food, explaining how all people can be reduced to consumers under capitalism (Levkoe, 587). His ideas relate to the commodification of the chocolate experience: everything can be sold, not just objects. Economist Robert Albritton goes further and describes the history of food entwined with the history of capitalism, which today “promotes both hunger and obesity while at the same time undermining the earth’s capacity to support us,” (Albritton 350).  When one tastes food, they are experiencing it in a fundamentally different way than someone who simply eats food. Additionally, food as commodity to be tasted, experienced, enjoyed, is a primarily reserved for the upper class.

Consumers are sold the act of indulging in these chocolate and fancy desserts. Americans are trained by advertising and by other members in society to want these experiences. If you’re mouth isn’t watering at the end of this essay, then I haven’t done a good enough job with either pictures or description of how delicious those desserts were. It’s because of the social and mental experience of eating it, not inherent properties of the food itself, that chocolate is associated with craving, guilt, and other psychological effects (Benton, 213-214). Due to its long history as an elite product, chocolate is a food on the edge, with some inherently luxurious properties.  Because of this, it can be an “indulgence” even as a mass-produced product. However, the luxury of taste, the full sensual experience of fine dining is reserved for the upper class, and this extends to chocolate as well. Capitalism creates divides in society even in regards to food, and chocolate, which seem to be boundary crossers, by commodifying the seemingly intangible. When we walk into a restaurant, we’re sold more than just a dessert.

IMG_0681

 

Works Cited 

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.”Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. By Astrid Nehlig. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2004. 205-18. Pdf. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Círillo, M., G. Capasso, V.A.D. Leo, and N.G.D. Santo. “A History of Salt.” American Journal of Nephrology 14 (1994): 426-31. Google Scholar. Web. 7 May 2014.

“Experience Our Expertise.” How to Taste. Valrhona, n.d. Web. 07 May 2014. <http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/shop/How-to-taste.php&gt;.

Finale, Restaurant Menu. Cambridge, MA: Finale, 2014. Print.

Gelsomin, Emily. “The Ocean’s Gold– Salt.” EdibleBoston, n.d. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://edibleboston.com/the-oceans-gold-salt/&gt;.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow’” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf.

Harvest, Dessert Menu. Cambridge, MA: Harvest, 2014. Food & Wine. Web.<http://harvestcambridge.com/food-and-wine/dessert/&gt;. Levkoe,

Charles Z. “Learning Democracy Through Food Justice Movements.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf. Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Pdf. Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free, 2012. Pdf.

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free, 2012. Pdf.