Globally, people consume approximately 48 million pounds of chocolate during Valentine’s week. In preparation for this astounding feat, we would like to offer a few tips for superior chocolate consumption.
1) Indulge with Purpose
A growing number of artisans are producing chocolate that is not only delicious, but also good for people and the planet. The most exquisite chocolate comes from small cacao farms where trees are not sprayed with chemicals and seeds are processed with care. Chocolate has over 400 distinct flavor compounds; a complexity that tends to be diluted by industrial-farmed cocoa. Flavors are largely influenced by how a cocoa farmer treats the beans during the fermentation, drying, and roasting processes, and every batch of small batch bean-to-bar chocolate has subtle differences. Next time you indulge in your favorite artisan chocolate, taste it carefully and see if you can discover new flavors.
Bonus Tip: Treat yourself to these flavorful chocolates crafted from responsibly sourced ingredients: Waialua Estate from Hawaii with notes of molasses; vegan Raaka Coconut Milk bar with a deep coconut flavor; Fruition Dark Milk with Flor de Sal, a blend of dark and milk chocolate with a dash of Peruvian warm spring salt; and Alter Eco Dark Velvet, fantastically fudgy chocolate with deep brownie notes.
2) Eat for Endangered Animals
Every once in awhile a product comes along that not only satisfies our needs, but also takes care of the needs of others. One of my favorite grocery store impulse buys—and by “impulse buy” I mean I plan on buying three and impulsively eat one in the car on the way home—is just that kind of product. Endangered Species Chocolate is produced by a company on a mission to have “a positive, lasting impact on at-risk species through the sale of premium, fair trade chocolate products that help fund the world’s leading wildlife protection programs.” Entirely gluten-free, kosher, Non-GMO Project verified, and committed to high standards for quality and ethical trade, this chocolate would be an easy choice any day. These guys have taken it a step further by donating 10% of net profits to wildlife species and habitat conservation. I consider this a guilt-free indulgence—because calories don’t really count when they’re helping fund programs for at-risk animals, right?
Bonus Tip: Try Endangered Species’ Dark Chocolate with Cinnamon, Cayenne & Cherries for a little heat, freshen up with Dark Chocolate Peppermint Crunch, or just keep it old school with their no-frills, all-natural Dark Chocolate bar.
3) Remember Who Made It
There is a stark contrast between the easy delights of chocolate and difficult conditions of many of the people who produce it. Small cocoa farmers are responsible for 70% of cocoa bean production and a majority of them live in poverty, despite increasing demand for chocolate. Growers might receive 3.5% to 6.4% of the final value of a chocolate bar, depending on percentage of cocoa content, while retailers and manufacturers receive around 17% and 70%, respectively. Even more abhorrent are the reports of slavery, particularly in West African plantations. The International Labor Organization estimates there are 250 million child-laborers worldwide, many of whom work in the coffee and cocoa industries doing long hours with little to no pay and few rights.
The fair trade movement surfaced in response to inhumane practices in industries driven by international trade. The World Fair Trade Organization describes it as “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.” Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers receive a fair price, have safe and environmentally-friendly working conditions, and strictly prohibits slave and child labor.
Bonus Tip: Bluebird Ice Cream, ChocAlive!, Divine Organics, Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Chocolate and Organic Chocolate Bars, Sainsbury’s, and Cadbury are just a few brands who are committed to fair trade. You can find more Fair Trade companies listed on http://www.wfto.com and http://www.fairtradeusa.org, or look for Fair Trade certifications on product labels.
4) Choose Sustainable Farming over Monoculture
In nature, cacao trees grow under the rainforest canopy where leaf litter acts as fertilizer and insects are controlled by natural predators like birds and bats. However, to meet the demands of mass production cacao trees are largely cultivated in monoculture situations in uncovered fields, typically by impoverished farmers. Often times these farmers do not have the resources to invest in products to protect their crops or sustain their yields, and lack the knowledge of pest management techniques and sustainable growing practices common elsewhere. While flawed agricultural practices may lead to unhealthy crops and threaten livelihoods—and possibly an entire industry—chocolate-lovers have the power to shake things up. Reject unsustainable monoculture and promote sustainable farming by purchasing only certified Fair Trade, bird friendly, or shade-grown products.
5) Be Attentive to Labels
Companies will go to great lengths to sell their products, often employing tactics designed to deceive consumers. One widely-used strategy is packaging printed with images from nature to imply eco-friendliness without actually being eco-friendly—or healthy for that matter. You may find upon further examination that a list of ingredients is dominated by words that have too many letters and give others the impression you are having a seizure when you attempt to pronounce them. Check for palm oil or palm oil derivatives, and only buy products that use 100% certified sustainable palm oil. Be critical of buzz-words like “natural”—which could simply mean one of twenty ingredients may have been found in or around nature at some point—or “farm fresh” which, to be frank, does not mean anything at all. And finally, beware of the bait-and-switch. Take, for instance, Silk brand soy milk. The company used organic soybeans until around 2009, when they made the decision to switch to conventional. In an apparent plot to fool retailers and customers they kept the same bar codes and labels on the cartons, and quietly swapped the word “organic” for “natural”. Silk also kept the price the same, charging organic prices for conventional soybeans.
Bonus Tip: Look for certifications such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance certification, certified sustainable palm oil, RSPCO (promotes the growth and use of sustainable palm oil), and IBD EcoSocial (encompasses a range of ethical standards such as traceability of fair trade and zero deforestation criteria).
6) Never Take Chocolate For Granted
Worldwide consumption of chocolate per year is estimated to be at least 7.2 million metric tons—which is a long way of saying people really love chocolate. It is so much more than just candy. In addition to be being delicious, it is touted as having a myriad of health benefits such as improving attention span and memory, boosting energy, reducing stress, increasing libido, fighting disease, and even battling depression.
This relationship is often one-sided, with all the tasty goodness chocolate provides and the little we give in return. However, there is no need to settle for being “just OK” at loving chocolate. By exploring the strategies discussed here and practicing responsible indulgence, we can all achieve excellence.