Last week’s post on a drink made out of cocoa pulp led to some GREAT reader questions (and, sorry, more demand for the wonderful Pacha de Cacao than we’d predicted, so we are out of stock! But we hope to have it back in stock early next week, and will be selling it in packs of two as well as packs of six).
Astute readers noted that the likes of Nestlé and Callebaut are developing and marketing “whole fruit chocolate”; bars which are made without added sugar but made with ‘unsweetened cacao pulp’. This is truly inspired marketing.
…But it’s a bit misleading too. Chocolate is more than the sum of its ingredients; it’s about the quality of the cocoa and way the bar is crafted (or, see below, ultra-processed).
And it is a great segue into another topical issue: The difference between ‘ultra-processed’ and ‘processed’ foods.
For a quick definition on what is meant by ultra-processed foods, and why this is so important, please see below. But just to whet your appetite (and encourage you to read on), here are a couple of observations:
Identifying ultra-processed foods is not always easy. Terms like “whole fruit chocolate” and “unsweetened cocoa pulp” are intentionally obscure. But these “whole fruit chocolates” are still ultra-processed and mass-produced chocolate sweetened with “unsweetened cocoa pulp” still have LOTS of sugar.
Please read on for a great framework and set of tools to differentiate between “processed” and “ultra-processed” foods (including craft versus mass-produced chocolate).
And if you want to see some great craft chocolate truffles in action, and contrast these to mass produced confectionery, do tune into Sunday Brunch on Channel 4 where we’ll be tasting three great examples from Charlotte Flower, Chocolarder and the Careless Collection.
The term ‘ultra-processed foods’ is based on more than a decade of work by Dr Carlos Montieri and his team at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. After seeing that huge spikes in Brazilian consumption of fast foods, sodas, etc., were accompanied by an explosion of obesity across all ages, he suggested that:
…”the issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing (in these fast foods and sodas)”, and; “…from the point of view of human health, at present, the most salient division of food and drinks is in terms of their type, degree, and purpose of processing”.
And Dr Montieri, along with a team of epidemiologists and nutritionists all over the globe, has developed an elegant four-part classification of foods to describe this trend. It’s generally referred to as NOVA (as in new star), and it’s a great framework to think about what we purchase and eat. And it’s also very helpful in separating craft from mainstream chocolate.
See below for more details and links to some great podcasts on NOVA. But here is a quick summary of the four groups they classify:
Group one: Unprocessed and minimally processed foods and drinks:
Group two: Processed culinary ingredients:
Group three: Processed foods:
Group four: Ultra-processed foods:
So as Dr Montieri urges, we need to look beyond the simple nutritional components (i.e. how many calories, how much protein, how much salt, sugar etc.) and the cheap prices (cheapness is all too often expensive, both environmentally and socially).
There is more and more evidence that diets containing A LOT of ultra-processed foods are really bad for people. Bottom line: It’s increasingly clear that consuming the same nutrients and calories via ultra-processed foods and drinks leads to weight gain, and a whole set of chronic, non-communicable conditions including diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and more (see below for some of the studies on these).
Quite why ultra-processed foods have these consequences is still a matter for debate. Fast food companies argue its “correlation not causation”, but the studies and evidence is pretty incontrovertible
And there are some intriguing pointers as to the WHY.
Above and beyond this, more and more foodies and food geeks are looking beyond the nutrients in any food. The USDA and international research databases track about 150 nutritional components out of more than 25,000 biochemicals known to be in food. And ultra-processing food transforms and destroys many of these biochemicals.
Note: I’m not saying “all additives are bad”. Craft Truffles are GREAT, and adding nutrients, vitamins, specific minerals, etc. can be a good thing. And very often these are in ultra-processed foods. But these additives can also be added to home cooked (i.e. processed) meals.
Chocolate provides a classic example of the difference between ‘craft’ processes and ‘mass-produced’ ultra-processed confectionery.
Craft chocolate is a processed food (group 3):
Mass-produced chocolate (and most confectionery) is largely ultra-processed (group 4):
Mass-produced chocolate is also BRILLIANT at marketing. “Whole Fruit Chocolate” anyone? Chocolate made with “unsweetened cocoa pulp” rather than “refined cane sugar”? Low GI coconut blossom sugar (…this one really needs to be put to rest).
This Sunday, on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4; Simon, Tim and their guests try some craft chocolate truffles from Chocolarder, Charlotte Flower and David Crichton. I the guests will find these truffles AMAZING. They are definitely moreish. And full of extraordinary flavours. But definitely not ultra-processed.
And we are also doing another Sunday Brunch style tasting with the show’s co-host, chef and restaurant owner Simon Rimmer, along with some more gin (from Tappers), cooking and chocolate. So please do join us; it makes a great Father’s Day present, and a super fun activity.
In addition to the Pacha de Cacao coming back into stock, we’ve a few other makers and bars that are now in stock; see below.
As ever, thanks for your support (and please keep the feedback and comments coming! Get in touch here).
P.S. For more detailed information about ultra-processed food and human health, check out the following articles and podcasts: