Posted on Leave a comment

Chocolate and Scotch: Is it a Whisky Business?

If you think about it, food pairing is our bread and butter. We love bread and we love butter. Sure, we might not fancy a dry crust of bread or a bowlful of butter on its own; but this is a tried and tested pairing that elevates the flavours and textures of each component. It’s a combination that offers a sense of completion. Although the simplicity of this duo is something that we take for granted, it allows us to understand the pairing philosophy.

So, what happens when we think about purposefully pairing food and drinks that already have nuanced and intricate flavour profiles of their own? Chocolate has one of the most complex flavour catalogues known of any ingredient. It can stand up to bold flavours. Pairing chocolate with wine is well-established, and increasingly even rum and gin. But what about whisky?

whisky decanter illustration

Whisky and Chocolate: A Parallel Pair?

This is a combination that isn’t fully codified yet, but we think it really should be. Our resident Scotch expert, Rachel McCormack, suggests that the matching potential is almost infinite and that great parallels exist between whisky and chocolate. In both cases, just three ingredients create an astounding range of bottles and bars. Each crafting process designs a unique flavour fingerprint: whether that be with water, grain, and yeast, or cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and sugar.

Rachel is right. Both Scotch whisky and the craft chocolate movement are particularly interested in the sourcing of their ingredients, as well as the cultural significance that they carry. Famously, single malt whisky is traceable to the distillery it came from and even the barley that made it, just as craft chocolate can be directly connected back to its makers and its growers.

At each stage of the whisky and craft chocolate production processes, different decisions are made in order to create specific profiles within the range and the possibility of flavour to be found from within the same combination of ingredients. Arguably, this talent for taste is almost alchemical.

In The Scotsman’s culinary podcast, Scran, Rachel also adeptly pairs the progression of the two industries. In part, other craft movements are the successors of the whisky industry.

Geographical indications ensure that Scotch whisky can only be produced in Scotland and has to have been aged in an oak barrel in Scotland for a minimum of three years. Although craft chocolate is made globally from beans from around the world we at Cocoa Runners define craft chocolate very strictly as a movement which values ethical trade, sustainable practices, traceability, and top-quality chocolate. 

In the podcast, Rachel compares whisky drinkers’ commitment to taste and flavour and savouring good malt whisky with the pleasure that craft chocolate brings to those of us lucky enough to know about it. Unlike chocolate, Scotch whisky does not have a mass-produced equivalent. There is a stringent production process for all types of Scotch whisky and a powerful safeguarding body in the Scotch Whisky Association, something which craft chocolate completely lacks. Additionally, the chocolate industry needs to address many alternative aspects. First and foremost, the temptation of a better quality product must also be paired with information and education.  

Why whisky?

Whisky works. It provides a counterpart to chocolate, complementing strong flavours without overpowering them. Pairing is an opportunity to elucidate the layers of this reciprocal relationship. Don’t just take our word for it, give it a try for yourself!

Tasting Tips:

1) What do I do?

Despite what you might think, pairing does not require any hard and fast rules. It’s really all about experimentation. There’s no right order to it, just make sure to savour what you’re trying. Compare combinations and search for the nuances within them. Try the whisky first, then put a small piece of chocolate in your mouth and let it melt, once you have the flavour of the chocolate take another sip of whisky. If it’s a great match the whisky and chocolate should sing together, you will notice new and enhanced flavour notes in both. If it doesn’t, you’ll know, try a different pairing and chalk it down to experience.

2) How can I identify tasting notes?  

Jumping straight into the jargon can be a little intimidating. However pretentious it seems, we promise that articulating flavours can really help you to identify them. It’s improbable that the word ‘vegetal’ comes to the forefront of your mind when you think of chocolate, but it can help you to distinguish between flavour categories. Yes, the chocolate might taste earthy, but would you describe that as green or brown? If the whisky is smoky is it tobacco, bonfire or barbecue smoke? Can you name the new or enhanced flavours you get from the matching? Visualising these flavour sensations will definitely help with your observations. In the world of whisky, Johnnie Walker have devised a comprehensive flavour wheel. Similarly at Cocoa Runners, we have our own ‘Great Wave’ of taste.

Again, these images will also help you to visualise the timing of the pairing. Look through the “whisky window” and work out where the flavours complement, clash, or coincide. For example, be careful that the flavour height of the whisky does not drown out the delicacy of the craft chocolate melt. 

Craft chocolate’s flavour wave
Johnnie Walker flavour wheel

3) Do they change?

Pairing and tasting are, of course, multi-sensory experiences. You should smell each whisky and chocolate before you taste them as this allows you to appreciate the entirety of the flavour (find out more about the olfactory system here). In terms of texture, try rubbing a drop of whisky on the back of your hand. As it evaporates, take note of the cooling sensation it creates. Does this change the mouthfeel of either the whisky or the chocolate? What additional complexities can you identify by focussing on different senses?

Taster

If you’re looking for an introduction, why not try Chocolate Tree’s Whisky Nibs Dark Chocolate? This bar topped the table as the best Food and Drink Product in Scotland, 2017. Using a similar method to Raaka’s Cask-Aged Bourbon, Alistair and Friederike, have soaked some of the cocoa nibs in a single malt whisky from the Isle of Islay. Consequently, the inclusion of peat and wood smoke notes gives the chocolate a slightly sharper finish.

Main Event

If you already want to go the extra mile, you can visit the Johnnie Walker HQ in Edinburgh. They offer a range of live music events and immersive experiences which exhibit their world-class whisky. 


Feeling whisky? Then why not try the Tasting Gift Set that Rachel has helped us expertly curate. The box includes three different bottles and bars to get you started from the comfort of your own home. You can also follow along with tasting notes from one of our pre-recorded virtual tastings here. A fun night with friends and a tasting kit? Now that really is the perfect pairing.

Posted on Leave a comment

Texture, Emulsifiers, Binding and Lecithins

gif of vinegar and oil separating

Even if you think that you’d like to “glaze over” (pun intended) emulsifiers, they are worth understanding and checking out. The use of LOTS of emulsifiers should raise a lot of red flags; they are extensively used in ultra processed foods, mass produced confectionery, etc. And nutritionists are increasingly worried about some of their health side effects, especially to your gut. But at the same time, there are some cases where emulsifiers can play a role in cooking and even in some craft chocolates.  And there is even some evidence that sunflower lecithin can lower cholesterol.

Texture, Cocoa Butter, Fats and Emulsifiers

One of chocolate’s many wonders is TEXTURE. Its mouthfeel is (literally) unique. It’s the only product that can be solid at room temperature and then, as you place it on your tongue, it slowly melts, conjuring all sorts of unctuous delights and releasing incredible aromas and flavours. (And as a quick side-note: We as humans are also unique in being able to appreciate these flavours as we are the only animal that can detect flavour in our mouths. READ MORE).

In craft chocolate this ‘melting’ is thanks to cocoa butter’s crystal structure. After the cocoa beans have been roasted, they are winnowed and then ground and conched into a fine liquid (think Willy Wonka’s rivers of chocolate). This liquid chocolate is then tempered (i.e. heated, cooled, and reheated) to a specific formula before ‘moulded’ into craft chocolate bars that have the (unromantic) crystal structure “V” or 5. Mass produced chocolate tries to replicate the delights of craft chocolate’s “melt” with a bunch of technologies, fats, and emulsifiers. Some of the technology here is spectacularly creative; for example, it’s no mean feat to create a glossy chocolate that covers a frozen ice cream. But in the case of mass produced chocolate confectionery, the focus on cost is a lot less spectacular. To save costs and improve efficiencies, cocoa butter is replaced and supplemented by other fats, preservatives and emulsifiers. And adding vegetable fats, palm oils, and the frighteningly named PGPR are no substitute for cocoa butter’s amazing melt and texture. So if you are wondering why mass produced bars are often so ‘waxy’, just check the ingredients (READ MORE).

And while you are checking your chocolate bar’s label, remember to look out for emulsifiers (inc. lecithins). Emulsifiers are another mysterious additive in mass produced confectionery, ultra processed foods and even some craft chocolates.

Emulsifiers (including lecithins) are a complex and controversial topic. Below we’ve tried to provide a quick definition, history and overview of emulsifiers. And MIllie has produced a series of quick and introductory videos on the topics.

And we’ve also assembled a bunch of craft chocolate bars that are unapologetically FREE of emulsifiers and then a few that unapologetically CONTAIN emulsifiers.

What is an Emulsifier? Definitions and Examples

As anyone who has ever tried to make a salad dressing with “just” oil and vinegar knows, they don’t easily mix. Sure; you can whisk them together. But soon the oil and vinegar will repulse one another and separate. However if you add a little mustard (or egg yolk), you can ‘bind’ them together so they don’t separate. This ‘binding’ of substances that don’t want to combine is called ’emulsification’. Technically, an emulsifier has one end compatible with oil and the other compatible with water, so it can link with both; so they become ‘bound’ and stick together.

And if you’ve ever made mayonnaise at home adding an egg provides the emulsifier by which the vegetable oil, the lemon juice and other ingredients are bound.

The same is also true of making ice cream; but here the egg’s emulsification properties go beyond binding the ice cream, they also impact the texture, making it far more consistent, and less sticky and gloopy.

Historical Development and Application of Emulsifiers

Cooks, and later food scientists, realised that emulsifiers could not only bind but also preserve foods, as well as improving texture and reducing costs.

The classic example here is margarine which was effectively made possible by the development of various emulsifiers. But food scientists rapidly realised that emulsifiers (or specifically lecithins) would also reduce cost, enhance texture, improve mouthfeel, and could preserve shelf life of anything from biscuits and cakes, to sauces and spreads.

All these developments were made possible thanks to the extraction of lecithins’ from eggs by TN Gobley in 1846 (if you think you’ve seen this name before, you are right: Gobley also figured out how to create vanillin: READ MORE). And then in the 20th Century, scientists worked out how to extract lecithin from soya beans and later sunflower seeds. In parallel, scientists worked out how to extract and synthetically create other emulsifiers from everything from seaweed to plants, crustaceans to animals. And these newer ‘extracted’ emulsifiers often do much more than bind together liquids and solids which otherwise would not mix.

For example; one commonly used hydrocolloid emulsifier is carrageenan, extracted from seaweed. Carrageenan is regularly used in dairy and dairy-alternative products, particularly flavoured milk and soy mylk. It’s also added to processed meats to soften their texture and help them retain 20-40% water, providing a highly dubious cost cutting measure. On the other hand, without hydrocolloids commercial yogurts would be a lot “soupier” and watery as it ‘gels’ the low fat yogurt together.

Today, the US FDA has approved over 100 different emulsifiers for use in food, drinks and food-like substances. Emulsifiers’ ability to improve mouthfeel and reduce cost were critical in the development of ultra-processed foods (and that’s why Michael Pollan’s advice to check the label, and beware any additive that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise, is so useful).

Trying to contextualize and date all these applications and technologies isn’t easy; but here is a vastly simplified attempt.

ApplicationExampleTechnology
BindingOil and vinegar in salad dressingWhisking, mustard seed
Stabilisers/preservativesMargarine, mayonnaiseEggs, tomato paste, then extracted lecithins (19th Century)
Texture (and binding)Ice cream, chocolate, yoghurt, alternative m!lks, etc.As above: Eggs and extracted lecithins. Sunflower lecithin (later 20th Century), hydrocolloids (mid-late 20th Century).
Cost cutting/ commoditisationBreads, confectionery, processed meats, cosmetics, etc.Alternatives to vegetable, natural fats; lecithins, gums, hydrocolloids, PGPR (mid-late 20th Century)

Emulsifiers in Chocolate

Unsurprisingly, mass produced chocolate rapidly realised the advantages of adding emulsifiers to “chocolate”. In the UK as early as 1929, patents were being made for their use in the making and processing of chocolate by Hermann Bollmann and Bruno Rewald. Firstly, emulsifiers help reduce the cost of ingredients (the likes of soy lecithin and PGPR are far cheaper than even palm oil, and way cheaper than cocoa butter). Secondly, manufacturing costs could be reduced by using emulsifiers: Liquid chocolate all too easily “gums up” machines and emulsifiers, by improving viscosity, means that mass confectionery’s machines can run faster, need less cleaning, etc. Thirdly, they could improve shelf life stability (aka stop other fats going grey etc.). Fourthly, emulsifiers enable food scientists to create all sorts of wacky textures; critical for avoiding ‘sensory specific satiety’ that comes from the short and bland flavours of mass produced confectionery, with its reliance on sugar, salt and fat.

So, as with any other ultra processed foods, if you see a bunch of E-numbers and emulsifiers on the label of your chocolate bar, think twice; it’s a likely sign that your chocolate is mass produced, probably from couverture, nib roasted, and is designed for scoffing not savouring.

Perhaps surprisingly, craft chocolate makers do sometimes make limited use of lecithins; for example:

  1. COOKING AND BAKING: Many chefs want some lecithin in their chocolate for making bon-bons, cakes etc. as it makes enrobing, cooking etc. easier. So some craft chocolate will contain lecithin (e.g., Menakao).
  2. BRIDGE BARS: Craft chocolate can sometimes be a little overwhelming with labels detailing beans from a place they’ve not heard of, and listing a percentage that seems dauntingly high. So to “bridge” this challenge, craft chocolate makers create bars that appeal to the familiar, using local ingredients, familiar flavours and tourist-tempting ideas. These bars act as bridges between the familiar and the new. But crafting them is hard; and to bind together theses various “bridging” ingredients, a little sunflower lecithin can be very useful (see below for some examples from Omnom, including their famed Black N Burnt and Liquorice bars).
  3. MOUTHFEEL: This gets a bit geeky, but depending on the beans, the dark chocolate percentage, how finely you grind and conche, and finally what machines you conche with, sunflower lecithin can help smooth out some of the variations in the coarseness of the chocolate granules. Many chocolate makers use cocoa butter to smoothen the mouthfeel, but this can also create some richness that isn’t always appropriate. But if, for example, you are trying to grind super fine (i.e. below 15 microns) and use a ball mill (as opposed to longitudinal) conche, you can get some noticeable variations in the microns of the chocolate granules which a little lecithin can help smooth over. For an example, please see Firetree’s Mindanao Island dark bar and then compare this with e.g., Friis-Holm or Pump Street, who use cocoa butter.

To date, craft chocolate makers have used sunflower (as opposed to soya) lecithin, and ensured that this is not genetically modified.

This use of emulsifiers is very different to mass produced confectionery’s approach. If you look at the ingredients of a mass produced bar of chocolate confectionery, it will have a plethora of different emulsifiers; for example, a bar of Dairy Milk contains emulsifiers and fats including the emulsifiers E442, E476, PGPR, and both palm and shea oils.

By contrast, a craft chocolate bar in most cases won’t contain any emulsifiers or lecithins. And if they are used, it’ll just be ONE lecithin (and no palm oil or vegetable fats, etc.).

Emulsifiers and Your Gut

One final comment:

There is increasing research suggesting that various synthetic emulsifiers, in particular carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate and carrageenan, may cause issues with the gut and allergic reactions. At the moment, no one is suggesting that these emulsifiers are another nitrite like problem (nitrites are the carcinogen in many processed meats). But it’s worth keeping an eye out for more research here, and keep up to date with our blog.

On the other hand there is also some research that sunflower lecithin’s supplements can help lower HDL cholesterol (the bad stuff), reduce ulcerative colitis and improve memory loss. Plus sunflower lecithin is good as a moisturizer on your skin (however there really isn’t enough of it in any craft chocolate bar for you to consider using them as an unguent or massage oil… although the cocoa butter in a craft chocolate bar does open up other delights).

As ever; it’s complicated!

Posted on Leave a comment

Texture, Emulsifiers, Binding and Lecithins

gif of vinegar and oil separating

This week’s blog post explores the delights of craft chocolate’s amazing TEXTURE, as well as the knotty (and quite technical) problem of emulsifiers and lecithins. Even if you think that you’d like to “glaze over” (pun intended) emulsifiers, they are worth understanding and checking out. The use of LOTS of emulsifiers should raise a lot of red flags; they are extensively used in ultra processed foods, mass produced confectionery, etc. And nutritionists are increasingly worried about some of their health side effects, especially to your gut.

But at the same time, there are some cases where emulsifiers can play a role in cooking and even in some craft chocolates.  And there is even some evidence that sunflower lecithin can lower cholesterol.

Texture, Cocoa Butter, Fats and Emulsifiers

One of chocolate’s many wonders is TEXTURE. Its mouthfeel is (literally) unique. It’s the only product that can be solid at room temperature and then, as you place it on your tongue, it slowly melts, conjuring all sorts of unctuous delights and releasing incredible aromas and flavours. (And as a quick side-note: We as humans are also unique in being able to appreciate these flavours as we are the only animal that can detect flavour in our mouths. READ MORE).

In craft chocolate this ‘melting’ is thanks to cocoa butter’s crystal structure. After the cocoa beans have been roasted, they are winnowed and then ground and conched into a fine liquid (think Willy Wonka’s rivers of chocolate). This liquid chocolate is then tempered (i.e. heated, cooled, and reheated) to a specific formula before ‘moulded’ into craft chocolate bars that have the (unromantic) crystal structure “V” or 5. Mass produced chocolate tries to replicate the delights of craft chocolate’s “melt” with a bunch of technologies, fats, and emulsifiers. Some of the technology here is spectacularly creative; for example, it’s no mean feat to create a glossy chocolate that covers a frozen ice cream. But in the case of mass produced chocolate confectionery, the focus on cost is a lot less spectacular. To save costs and improve efficiencies, cocoa butter is replaced and supplemented by other fats, preservatives and emulsifiers. And adding vegetable fats, palm oils, and the frighteningly named PGPR are no substitute for cocoa butter’s amazing melt and texture. So if you are wondering why mass produced bars are often so ‘waxy’, just check the ingredients (READ MORE).

And while you are checking your chocolate bar’s label, remember to look out for emulsifiers (inc. lecithins). Emulsifiers are another mysterious additive in mass produced confectionery, ultra processed foods and even some craft chocolates.

Emulsifiers (including lecithins) are a complex and controversial topic. Below we’ve tried to provide a quick definition, history and overview of emulsifiers. And MIllie has produced a series of quick and introductory videos on the topics.

And we’ve also assembled a bunch of craft chocolate bars that are unapologetically FREE of emulsifiers and then a few that unapologetically CONTAIN emulsifiers.

What is an Emulsifier? Definitions and Examples

As anyone who has ever tried to make a salad dressing with “just” oil and vinegar knows, they don’t easily mix. Sure; you can whisk them together. But soon the oil and vinegar will repulse one another and separate. However if you add a little mustard (or egg yolk), you can ‘bind’ them together so they don’t separate. This ‘binding’ of substances that don’t want to combine is called ’emulsification’. Technically, an emulsifier has one end compatible with oil and the other compatible with water, so it can link with both; so they become ‘bound’ and stick together.

And if you’ve ever made mayonnaise at home adding an egg provides the emulsifier by which the vegetable oil, the lemon juice and other ingredients are bound.

The same is also true of making ice cream; but here the egg’s emulsification properties go beyond binding the ice cream, they also impact the texture, making it far more consistent, and less sticky and gloopy.

Historical Development and Application of Emulsifiers

Cooks, and later food scientists, realised that emulsifiers could not only bind but also preserve foods, as well as improving texture and reducing costs.

The classic example here is margarine which was effectively made possible by the development of various emulsifiers. But food scientists rapidly realised that emulsifiers (or specifically lecithins) would also reduce cost, enhance texture, improve mouthfeel, and could preserve shelf life of anything from biscuits and cakes, to sauces and spreads.

All these developments were made possible thanks to the extraction of lecithins’ from eggs by TN Gobley in 1846 (if you think you’ve seen this name before, you are right: Gobley also figured out how to create vanillin: READ MORE). And then in the 20th Century, scientists worked out how to extract lecithin from soya beans and later sunflower seeds. In parallel, scientists worked out how to extract and synthetically create other emulsifiers from everything from seaweed to plants, crustaceans to animals. And these newer ‘extracted’ emulsifiers often do much more than bind together liquids and solids which otherwise would not mix.

For example; one commonly used hydrocolloid emulsifier is carrageenan, extracted from seaweed. Carrageenan is regularly used in dairy and dairy-alternative products, particularly flavoured milk and soy mylk. It’s also added to processed meats to soften their texture and help them retain 20-40% water, providing a highly dubious cost cutting measure. On the other hand, without hydrocolloids commercial yogurts would be a lot “soupier” and watery as it ‘gels’ the low fat yogurt together.

Today, the US FDA has approved over 100 different emulsifiers for use in food, drinks and food-like substances. Emulsifiers’ ability to improve mouthfeel and reduce cost were critical in the development of ultra-processed foods (and that’s why Michael Pollan’s advice to check the label, and beware any additive that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise, is so useful).

Trying to contextualize and date all these applications and technologies isn’t easy; but here is a vastly simplified attempt.

ApplicationExampleTechnology
BindingOil and vinegar in salad dressingWhisking, mustard seed
Stabilisers/preservativesMargarine, mayonnaiseEggs, tomato paste, then extracted lecithins (19th Century)
Texture (and binding)Ice cream, chocolate, yoghurt, alternative m!lks, etc.As above: Eggs and extracted lecithins. Sunflower lecithin (later 20th Century), hydrocolloids (mid-late 20th Century).
Cost cutting/ commoditisationBreads, confectionery, processed meats, cosmetics, etc.Alternatives to vegetable, natural fats; lecithins, gums, hydrocolloids, PGPR (mid-late 20th Century)

Emulsifiers in Chocolate

nsurprisingly, mass produced chocolate rapidly realised the advantages of adding emulsifiers to “chocolate”. In the UK as early as 1929, patents were being made for their use in the making and processing of chocolate by Hermann Bollmann and Bruno Rewald. Firstly, emulsifiers help reduce the cost of ingredients (the likes of soy lecithin and PGPR are far cheaper than even palm oil, and way cheaper than cocoa butter). Secondly, manufacturing costs could be reduced by using emulsifiers: Liquid chocolate all too easily “gums up” machines and emulsifiers, by improving viscosity, means that mass confectionery’s machines can run faster, need less cleaning, etc. Thirdly, they could improve shelf life stability (aka stop other fats going grey etc.). Fourthly, emulsifiers enable food scientists to create all sorts of wacky textures; critical for avoiding ‘sensory specific satiety’ that comes from the short and bland flavours of mass produced confectionery, with its reliance on sugar, salt and fat.

So, as with any other ultra processed foods, if you see a bunch of E-numbers and emulsifiers on the label of your chocolate bar, think twice; it’s a likely sign that your chocolate is mass produced, probably from couverture, nib roasted, and is designed for scoffing not savouring.

Perhaps surprisingly, craft chocolate makers do sometimes make limited use of lecithins; for example:

  1. COOKING AND BAKING: Many chefs want some lecithin in their chocolate for making bon-bons, cakes etc. as it makes enrobing, cooking etc. easier. So some craft chocolate will contain lecithin (e.g., Menakao).
  2. BRIDGE BARS: Craft chocolate can sometimes be a little overwhelming with labels detailing beans from a place they’ve not heard of, and listing a percentage that seems dauntingly high. So to “bridge” this challenge, craft chocolate makers create bars that appeal to the familiar, using local ingredients, familiar flavours and tourist-tempting ideas. These bars act as bridges between the familiar and the new. But crafting them is hard; and to bind together theses various “bridging” ingredients, a little sunflower lecithin can be very useful (see below for some examples from Omnom, including their famed Black N Burnt and Liquorice bars).
  3. MOUTHFEEL: This gets a bit geeky, but depending on the beans, the dark chocolate percentage, how finely you grind and conche, and finally what machines you conche with, sunflower lecithin can help smooth out some of the variations in the coarseness of the chocolate granules. Many chocolate makers use cocoa butter to smoothen the mouthfeel, but this can also create some richness that isn’t always appropriate. But if, for example, you are trying to grind super fine (i.e. below 15 microns) and use a ball mill (as opposed to longitudinal) conche, you can get some noticeable variations in the microns of the chocolate granules which a little lecithin can help smooth over. For an example, please see Firetree’s Mindanao Island dark bar and then compare this with e.g., Friis-Holm or Pump Street, who use cocoa butter.

To date, craft chocolate makers have used sunflower (as opposed to soya) lecithin, and ensured that this is not genetically modified. Short term this may be trickier as much of this sunflower lecithin comes from Ukraine… so watch this space

This use of emulsifiers is very different to mass produced confectionery’s approach. If you look at the ingredients of a mass produced bar of chocolate confectionery, it will have a plethora of different emulsifiers; for example, a bar of Dairy Milk contains emulsifiers and fats including the emulsifiers E442, E476, PGPR, and both palm and shea oils.

By contrast, a craft chocolate bar in most cases won’t contain any emulsifiers or lecithins. And if they are used, it’ll just be ONE lecithin (and no palm oil or vegetable fats, etc.).

Emulsifiers and Your Gut

One final comment:

There is increasing research suggesting that various synthetic emulsifiers, in particular carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate and carrageenan, may cause issues with the gut and allergic reactions. At the moment, no one is suggesting that these emulsifiers are another nitrite like problem (nitrites are the carcinogen in many processed meats). But it’s worth keeping an eye out for more research here, and keep up to date with our blog.

On the other hand there is also some research that sunflower lecithin’s supplements can help lower HDL cholesterol (the bad stuff), reduce ulcerative colitis and improve memory loss. Plus sunflower lecithin is good as a moisturizer on your skin (however there really isn’t enough of it in any craft chocolate bar for you to consider using them as an unguent or massage oil… although the cocoa butter in a craft chocolate bar does open up other delights).

As ever; it’s complicated. Please see the blog for more information and video.

And you can also watch me explaining the above points in our latest YouTube video on all things emulsifiers. 

And do treat yourself to some of the bars below!

Spencer

Posted on 1 Comment

Academy of Chocolate Awards 2022

academy of chocolate banner

The Academy of Chocolate was set up way back in 2005 by the now sadly departed, and much missed, Sara Jane Stanes OBE. Over the years, The Academy has done an amazing job of surfacing a vast array of craft chocolate makers including the likes of QantuStandoutFjåkDesBarresMetiistoCastronovoKrakÅkesson’s, and Duffy’s.

This year’s results have another crop of spectacular bars; with an increasing number from Asia and Australia. And we are delighted to offer a range of gift boxes that highlight some of these many winners.

I also wanted to highlight the critical contribution made to the Academy’s awards by Silvija Davidson. Silvija plays a key role in organising all the logistics of gathering, packaging, dispatching and co-ordinating all the tastings and judging. Along with her husband David, Chantal Coady; Chair of the Academy, Sarah Jane Evans, plus a host of other board members and volunteers, we owe them all a huge thanks.

What’s amazing is the way that Silvija steps back from the actual tasting and judging. Silvija’s modesty and discipline here is extraordinary. For not only is Silvija an expert chocolate taster but she’s quite literally written THE book on tasting and judging food and drinks. Over a decade ago, for The Guild of Fine Food, Silvija produced the first edition of ‘The Language of Taste’, offering insight and advice on products from rice to relishes, pasta to pickles, ciders to cheeses, seafood to sausages, and (of course) chocolate.

Sadly this book isn’t (yet?) commercially available. But it’s a wonderful read; full of insights and humour; here are a few. (Note the whole book is over 140 pages).

It starts with some tactful advice that applies to all forms of feedback, but is especially useful for flavour, taste and texture where often many of us lack insightful words:

“Try not to use any descriptor more than twice …  in particular “good”, “tasty” and “nice”. In fact, do your very best to avoid “nice” altogether … be on a mission to try and avoid”.

And then it dives into the details of all sorts of different foods and drinks:

  • If you’ve ever wondered how to evaluate marshmallows, here are some nuggets: “Marshmallows: Even artisans no longer wrestle with the root of the marsh mallow plant with its supposed medicinal properties: Modern marshmallows are an unashamedly indulgent capture of sugar in a foamy mass, stabilized by gelatine and sometimes (and more traditionally) egg white, or in vegan versions, agar-agar and aquafaba … Childhood memories invariably play a part in our take on the ideal marshmallow with some … looking for a firm texture, and others looking for fluffy, ethereal, melt-in-the-mouth experiences. Let’s settle for “pillowy” as an ideal, bearing in mind that vegan versions are likely to be a tad firmer than those made with egg-white … additions meant to deliver contrasting crunch can’t afford to be soggy”.
  • Or for custard … “while creme anglaise has a very light pouring consistency with no thickeners added, use of corn starch … is fairly standard in British custard. The best custards, however, manage not to feel farinaceous or powdery … sweetness should be in good balance, … [and] should not be in the least cloying”.
  • And in the same section, on brandy butter … “customers have distinct preferences, but what we are looking for is balance, whether the brandy butter is essentially light and creamy or rich, dense and dark. Butter flavours should not disappear altogether, the brandy should be generous in quantity but not hangover inducing”.
  • And then moving to savoury marmalade … “look for tender, long cooked vegetables and an appealing, uncloying sweet-savoury balance”. Or to piccalilli: “While recipes vary, everyone expects a British piccalilli to contain cauliflower, onion and gherkin, and have sweetness and pungency from mustard, and a vibrant yellow colour from the addition of turmeric. Crucially the veg should not be mushy … it’s unfair to mark down … if the chunks are small as there is a distinct category of “sandwich piccalilli” where the relish is designed to stay put comfortably inside a sandwich”.
  • For chocolate, the advice is similarly wise; covering snap and texture, and explaining the importance of dark vs milk vs white, the dangers of vanilla, etc. And Silvija crucially also encourages thinking along different axes to the simple tastes of “sweet”, “bitter”, “salty” and “sour” by asking if the aromas are “complex or simple”, “distinctive or wan” and “intense or weak”, and to focus on the journey and aftertaste.

And this is where Silvija’s insights and focus on length, balance, complexity and depth of FLAVOUR really come into their own. ‘Tastes’; i.e. sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, etc.; can all be (re)assembled in a factory with additives. And the same is largely true for texture (see next week’s blog post on emulsifiers for more). But flavours and aromas are far, far more complex. Food scientists are only at the foothills of understanding how our olfactory system (i.e. our sense of flavour and smell) works; Linda Buck only won her Nobel Prize here in 2004. We don’t know how to (re)create the complexities and depths of FLAVOUR through additives and artificial constructions in anything like the way we can for taste and texture.

That’s why great chefs, and great chocolate makers, focus on coaxing aromas and flavour notes out of wonderful ingredients (including cocoa beans). Mass produced confectionery and ultra processed foods can’t ‘engineer’ these flavours. And that’s why Silvija’s leitmotif of looking for complexity, balance, intensity and length of FLAVOUR is so important whether it be brandy butter, custard, piccalilli, marmalades, marshmallows or CHOCOLATE.

Silvija is a beacon in her support of REAL food and craft chocolate, and in her condemnation of “lab-created, ultra-processed ‘equivalents’ … the rapidly accelerating drive (and disgraceful propaganda, so often aimed at kids) to undertake  supposed ‘green swaps’ and even, seemingly, to destroy farming and traditional food(s)”.

And if you’d like some evidence of how this works in practice, why not treat yourself to any of the well deserved AoC Award winning craft chocolate bars in the boxes we’ve assembled below.

As ever. thanks for your support, and a huge thanks to the hard work of Silvija, Chantal, Sarah Jane, Marie Pierre and all at The Academy of Chocolate.

Spencer

Posted on Leave a comment

Divinely Delicious: Chocolate and Religion

Chocolate has always been associated with religion. Religious beliefs direct how people use chocolate, from Aztec blood rituals to Catholic fasts, Easter eggs to Hanukkah gelt, and the Quakers who commercialised chocolate in Britain. Even the name of chocolate itself, Theobroma cacao, roughly translates to ‘food of the gods’! Find out more about how food and faith intertwine in this deep dive into chocolate’s divine history.

Chocolate’s Beginnings: A Ritual Drink

The earliest links between chocolate and religion are pretty gruesome. Excavating sites related to the Olmec civilisation, archaeologists discovered traces of cocoa in burial pits alongside the remains of human sacrifice victims. This suggests that cocoa played some role in Olmec religious rituals.

In Mayan religion, cocoa played a foundational role. The Mayan creation story recounts that humans were created from a mixture of the blood of the gods and cocoa pods. Cocoa was part of the fabled myth of humanity’s birth. The cocoa tree was also associated with death in Mayan spirituality. The Mayans buried cocoa alongside their dead, to help them on their journey in the underworld. The cocoa tree acted a bit like the ‘world tree’ in Norse mythology. In Mayan codices it is depicted as an axis growing through and connecting all the realms. Its roots are in the underworld, its trunk in this world, and its leaves in the heavens. 

In the Aztec world, cocoa was valuable and was connected to sacrifice. It was drunk as part of religious rituals, but it was also used in sacrifices as a substitute for blood. Chocolate was mixed with berries to give it a red colour, allowing it to stand in symbolically for blood. Cocoa had spiritual and ritual power. It’s even said that the Aztecs prepared drinks made from chocolate mixed with blood washed from a sacrificial knife. These were given to sacrificial victims to bind them, almost magically, to their fate.

(Left, an Aztec ritual involving drinking chocolate, pictured in the white vessel.)

Chocolate & Catholicism

With the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, chocolate spread to Europe. It first became popular with missionaries in the New World, who used it to treat minor illnesses and keep their strength up. These Catholic priests played a key role in bringing chocolate over to Europe. The first record of chocolate’s arrival in the Old World is in 1644, when Dominican friars brought over a group of Mayan nobles. They were presented to the Spanish court, and brought gifts to Prince Philip of Spain, including chocolate!

Once it got to Spain, chocolate was quickly taken up by religious communities. Monks drank chocolate before religious services, to fortify them and give them energy. Benedictine monks were also involved in the import of chocolate into Spain from the New World. A quote from the Benedictines of the time was: ‘Do not drink the cocoa, anyone but friar, sir or brave soldier.’ Chocolate was reserved for the nobility, the military – and religious leaders. Records also tell us that  in 1585 a Japanese ambassador to Philip II of Spain was very impressed when he visited a convent of Poor Clares of Veronica. The nuns gave him chocolate they had prepared themselves! (Spanish and Italian Poor Clares, as well as Cistercian nuns in Francce, still make and sell chocolate confections today to support themselves.)

Chocolate & Catholicism II: Feast & Fast

The biggest role chocolate played in Catholic life was as a source of energy during fasts. Fasting was a common practice in the 16th and 17th-century Catholic church. The religious calendar contained over 100 days of fasting! Nobody could decide, though, whether it was lawful to consume chocolate while fasting. It was hard to tell if this filling beverage should count as a food or a drink. 

In 1636, Antonio de León Pinelo, a Spanish colonial historian, dedicated a whole book to the subject, titled Whether Chocolate Breaks Ecclesiastical Fast: A Moral Question. Pinelo didn’t reach a conclusion: opinions were just too divided! The religious order of the Carmelite friars banned chocolate as an immoral luxury that was incompatible with a life of holy poverty. On the other hand, a letter sent in 1683 reveals that Franciscan friars drank chocolate even on fast days! The argument got so hot that in 1666 Pope Alexander VII had to step in. Apparently, he was given some chocolate to drink, and disliked it. He declared in disgust, ‘liquidum non frangit jejunum’ (liquids do not break the fast). This was taken as a Papal decree, and it’s still lawful for Catholics to drink hot cocoa during periods of fast.

Nowadays, Catholics enjoy chocolate as part of religious celebrations, especially at Easter and during advent. And in 2014, Pope Francis was given a statue of himself made entirely from chocolate, which weighed a whopping 1.5 tonnes!

Chocolate & Judaism

Chocolate enjoyed decades of popularity in Catholic Spain before it spread to the rest of Europe. There were two main ways in which it spread around Europe. Amongst the nobility, chocolate spread through marriages and diplomatic gift-giving. Chocolate was given as a wedding gift when the French King Louis XIV married a Spanish princess, for example. Amongst the emerging middle classes, and outside of courts, chocolate spread due to religious strife.

Catholic Spain was a hotbed of antisemitism and religious persecution. In 1415, after years of pogroms and forced conversions, the Catholic monarchs of Spain passed the Alhambra Decree, ordering the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. This led to a mass migration of Jewish people from Spain to the rest of Europe. Some of those who fled were chocolate makers. Several of these Jewish chocolatiers settled in Bayonne, introducing Spanish-style drinking chocolate to southern France. Bayonne is still known for its chocolate! 

During the religious festival of Hanukkah, children are often given chocolate coins with the image of a menorah stamped onto their foil wrappers, as a festive treat! These coins are called Hanukkah gelt, and have been popular since at least the 1920s.

Chocolate in Britain: a Quaker Business

In Britain, the religion most associated with chocolate making was Quakerism. Many of the entrepreneurs responsible for the success of commercial chocolate in Britain were Quakers. Cadbury, Rowntree, and Fry’s chocolate companies were all founded by Quakers.

Quakers got into chocolate for religious reasons. In the 19th century, many Christians considered alcohol to be a social evil. Quakers were at the forefront of the temperance movement, moved by their consciences to seek alternatives to alcohol. Chocolate, then universally consumed as a beverage, seemed like a wholesome, viable option. 

To begin with, these Quakers infused their businesses with their values. Rowntree invested in public libraries in York, and studied poverty in the city. In 1902, they founded the village of New Earswick for low-income families, and pioneered the new field of adult education. Even now, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation continues to advocate for social justice and campaign for an end to poverty. Cadbury famously built a village for their workers in Bournville, in the Selly Oak area of Birmingham in 1915.

However, as Quaker Jon Martins has noted, ‘Quaker ethics are now historical footnotes for these vast corporations’. Even in 1915, when Cadbury were building Bournville, they were benefiting from slave labour from plantations in Africa. (This was discovered, leading to a boycott which forced Cadbury to find new cocoa suppliers.) For those interested in ethical chocolate, craft chocolate is the best solution. Not only does it taste ten times more delicious than mass-produced chocolate, it also has transparent supply chains. Craft chocolate allows us to consume chocolate sustainably and ethically, upholding British chocolate’s founding Quaker principles far better than those old firms do today!

(Image: Visit Of King And Queen To Bournville, 16th May 1919, painting by F. Gregory Brown.)

Chocolate in World Religions

Unlike the other Abrahamic religions, Islam has never really developed chocolate culture. Islamic countries in the 16th and 17th centuries tended to enjoy coffee rather than chocolate. (Although British chocolate houses likely owe their origins to Turkish coffee house culture.) In recent years, the increasingly complex ingredients lists of mass-produced chocolate have made it difficult for Muslim consumers to know whether their chocolate is halal (permitted under strict religious dietary laws). This is easier with craft chocolate, whose ingredients lists tend to be simple and easy to understand. (Read our handy guide on how to read labels for more info!)

However, a Muslim boy is reportedly responsible for one peculiar anecdote about chocolate and religion: a chocolate-based ritual in Kerala, India. In 2009, the boy offered up a Munch brand chocolate bar to a Hindu deity named Balamurugan, son of the god Shiva. The trend of offering Munch bars caught on, and devotees of the god now routinely bring their own bodyweight in chocolate to Balamurugan. The deity has such a taste for chocolate that he has acquired the nickname Munch Murugan!

Some Thai Buddhist monks have also taken a leaf out of the book of 16th century Catholic friars. When fasting, they allow themselves to consume chocolate. Chocolate is allowed because it is used as medicine, and because if it is allowed to melt on the tongue it can be counted as an oil, rather than a food.

Posted on Leave a comment

Chocolate: A Cure for All Ills?

chocolate as medicine

Nowadays, we might think of chocolate as unhealthy, a contributor to the obesity crisis. However, what you might not know is that chocolate has a key place in the history of medicine.

In the past few decades, many health claims have swirled around chocolate. Unfortunately, lots of these are just too good to be true, as we found out when we chatted to Professor Tim Spector, an expert on these issues. The idea that chocolate might have health benefits isn’t new. In fact, for as long as chocolate has existed, people have believed in its medicinal benefits. Read on to find out more about the crucial role of chocolate in the history of medicine!

Medical Chocolate in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

Although cocoa probably originated in the Amazon rainforest, the earliest records we have of its use come from central America, in modern-day Mexico and Ecuador. Frothed, spiced chocolate was a royally-approved drink in Aztec and Mayan culture, and played a central role in their societies. Chocolate was used in religious rituals, wedding ceremonies, royal feasts – and medicine. Yes, that’s right, chocolate’s place in the history of medicine starts not in Europe, but amongst indigenous people in the Americas.

We know that Mayan medicine involved chocolate. This means that chocolate has probably been part of the history of medicine for around 4000 years! The Mayan understanding of illness was deeply connected to the natural world. Healers would perform chants invoking the spirits of animals and types of tree. For skin problems, fever and seizures, these chants were combined with a medicinal drink. This drink contained chocolate mixed with peppers, honey and tobacco juice. (We probably wouldn’t recommend this combination, taste-wise…)

Chocolate as Aztec Medicine: The Florentine Codex

Most of our records about chocolate’s use in early medical history come from the medieval and early modern Aztec Empire. The Aztecs used chocolate to treat stomach problems and indigestion. They also mixed it with tree bark to cure infections, and with maize to relieve fever. We know much of this from the 1590 Florentine codex. This was a book about Aztec society written by a Franciscan friar named Bernardino de Sahagún, with illustrations by local Aztec artists. The book is bilingual, with text in both Spanish and Nahuatl, the Aztec language. The Florentine codex is one of the earliest books we have from the New World which includes information on history, medicine and chocolate!

Part of the Florentine codex records Aztec medical practice, and includes multiple recipes for pharmaceuticals made using chocolate. One cure for a cough includes a kind of tea made from opossum tail, followed up by a herbal drink made from chocolate mixed with pepper, vanilla, and sacred flowers. The Aztecs often used chocolate like Mary Poppins’ ‘spoonful of sugar’, mixing remedies into chocolate to help mask unpleasant flavours.

First Contact: Chocolate as Medicine in the New World

Europeans first encountered chocolate during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. During the early years of contact, they were struck by the local use of chocolate as a medicine.

In the second half of the 16th century, Friar Agustin Davila Padilla, a Spanish priest, wrote about a chocolate treatment administered to one of his missionary colleagues. This missionary suffered from kidney disease. To cure him, local doctors ‘ordered him to use a drink that in the Indies they call chocolate. It is a little bit of hot water in which they dissolve something like almonds that they call cacaos, and it is made with some spices and sugar’. According to Padilla’s account, the medicine worked! Then and there, chocolate entered into European medical history. In particular, the late 16th-century Spaniards were impressed by chocolate’s nutritious and fattening properties. It was good for restoring those who had lost weight and strength due to illness.

The History of Medicine in Europe: Chocolate and the Humours

You might remember the medieval humours from school, if you ever studied the history of medicine. Chocolate came into contact with the humours in the 16th and 17th century, and proved a bit problematic. For those who don’t remember their lessons, here’s a reminder.

In Early Modern Europe, medicine was based on the humoural system of the ancient Roman physician Galen. This categories different illnesses as wet, cold, hot and dry. The system was based on balance, so hot dry illnesses such as fever would be treated with cold wet medicines and foods. In Galenic practice, food and medicine were inseparable.

When chocolate came along, it scrambled the system. In bean form it was cold and wet, as powder, cold and dry. As a drink, it was hot and wet because it was fatty, but it was astringent, and often spiced with chilli and pepper which made it dry. Chocolate was impossible to categorise! Some scholars argue that chocolate, along with coffee and tea, were the last nail in the Galenic coffin, confusing the system and paving the way for its replacement. So you might argue that chocolate had a pivotal role in advancing medical history towards more modern theories than the outdated humoral system!

The Chocolate Cure in 17th-century Europe

During the 17th century, news of chocolate’s medicinal powers spread to continental Europe. Antonio Colmenero de Ledesmo wrote an immensely popular treatise on chocolate, published in 1631. His book records one of the earliest recipes for drinking chocolate, but it also contributed to the history of medicine. He noted that chocolate was good for aiding childbirth, helping digestion and curing gut diseases. It was also useful for treating jaundice, TB and ‘the green sicknesse’ (anaemia). Moreover, Ledesmo helpfully noted that chocolate ‘cleaneth the teeth and sweetneth the breath’. We’re not too sure on that one! 

In 1672, William Hughes, an American physician, described chocolate as ‘very nourishing’. He wrote:

‘Chocolate is good against all coughs, shortness of breath, opening and making the roughness of the artery smooth … it strengthens the vitals and is good against fevers, catarrhs, asthmas, and consumptions of all sorts.’

William hughes, 1672

Chocolate’s supposed health benefits led to it becoming a popular choice for well-to-do gentlemen who frequented coffee shops, as it was believed to be more nutritious and wholesome than tea or coffee. It was also enjoyed by their female relatives who drank it at home. Letters from the French aristocrat Madame de Sévigné, reveal that she wrote to her unwell daughter advising her to get a chocolate pot and take drinking chocolate for its restorative effects.

In the 17th-century version of what we might now call ‘wellness culture’, chocolate ranked alongside the sulphurous hot waters at spas such as bath, and the effects of seaside air in stylish resorts: it was a treatment, but it was also a treat!

Benjamin Franklin Recommends it! Medicinal Chocolate in the 18th & 19th Centuries

In the 18th century, one of the early proponents of medical chocolate in American history was, perhaps surprisingly, Benjamin Franklin. The American founding father was a big fan of chocolate. When he started out as a bookseller, he claimed that he sold lots of books ‘too tedious to mention’ and also ‘very good chocolate’. One of Franklin’s money-making schemes was Poor Richard’s Almanack, an almanac which included weather, astrological facts and axioms. In 1761, Franklin’s almanac explained the benefits of chocolate for treating smallpox!

As the years wore on, chocolate continued to be used to treat all manner of diseases and played a major role in the history of medicine’s modernisation. In 1796, it was claimed that chocolate could delay the growth of white hair, in an early example of myths about chocolate’s magical anti-aging properties! The following year, Erasmus Darwin, a physician who was the grandfather of Charles Darwin, treated himself for gout using chocolate.

Chocolate in Victorian Medicine

During the 19th century, medicinal chocolate was used to treat syphilis, cholera, and measles outbreaks. (We doubt it did much good.) 

Chocolate was seriously considered by medical professionals. In 1846, the pharmacologist Auguste Saint-Arroman published an English translation of his treatise Coffee, Tea and Chocolate: Their Influence upon the Health, the Intellect, and the Moral Nature of Man. Arroman thought chocolate was useful in many situations, but cautioned that it could have negative effects. This potent drink was, he believed, dangerous for the young. He also described a medicine called ferruginous chocolate, apparently used to treat anaemia, or, as he described it:

‘[a medicine that is] beneficial to women who are out of order, or have the green sickness, is prepared by adding to the paste of chocolate iron in the state of filings, oxide or carbonate.’

Auguste Saint-Arroman, Coffee, Tea and Chocolate: Their Influence upon the Health, the Intellect, and the Moral Nature of Man, 1846

Of all the treatments considered so far, this probably did work! Chocolate is a rich vegetable source of iron, and the iron filings would have helped! Some historians suggest that other treatments using chocolate may have worked because the chocolate was boiled, making it a sterile drink. Chocolate was therefore safer than water, which was often polluted, or alcoholic alternatives.

If you want to try a Victorian medical recipe yourself, look no further than ‘medicinal gluten chocolate’. This recipe was patented in England in 1855. It was made from equal parts cocoa and sugar, plus half that amount of gluten. The ‘gluten’ in question was bread reduced to a fine powder. Edible, but not particularly healthful, with that much sugar involved!

Cocoa: It’s Still in Our Medicines!

Nowadays, chocolate doesn’t turn up much in medicine, though it can still be found as a flavouring in supplements and diet replacement drinks. However, cocoa beans remain a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals! Cocoa solids (the chocolatey bit of cocoa) is mainly used for food. However, cocoa butter (the fat from the cocoa bean) is a cheap fat commonly used in ointments. So check the ingredients next time you reach for your topical creams! Chocolate is also still used in indigenous medicine, and it continues to attract health claims, though these are often dubious! Why not find out more about them in the health section of chocopedia?

Debunking Chocolate Health Claims with Dr Tim Spector

There are a lot of scientific claims about chocolate! So we teamed up with Dr Tim Spector to ‘review’ these claims. Similar to the way we encourage you to check the ingredients on a chocolate bar’s label for its ingredients, and the details of the farm where the beans are sourced, we STRONGLY suggest you review chocolate-related health claims and how many people were studied, who funded the work and your own potential ‘cognitive bias’…

Posted on Leave a comment

Introducing LIM

federico from lim sitting on bags of cocoa bean

This week we are delighted to launch a new craft chocolate maker; LIM (standing for “Less Is More”). Please see below for MORE information on them and their bars.

But first; some questions for you to guess LIM’s country of origin…

  1. In which country was the first recipe for using chocolate published? (Hint: The product was ice cream, and the book published in 1692, and it also included the first known recipe for tomato ketchup, see HERE for more).
  2. In which country did a widow come up with (arguably) the first chocolate Easter egg?
  3. In which country does one town still specialise in crafting stoneground bars with over a dozen brands? (And no, even though Taza does make stone-ground chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts, the answer is not the USA).
  4. In which country did a wartime shortage of chocolate lead to the invention (or at least the popularisation) of the much loved hazelnut and chocolate spread?

Well done if you managed to guess Italy! Please see further below for answers and comments.

And this week we are delighted to be launching a new Italian craft chocolate maker; LIM; from Federico and Francesca Dutto, who join the ranks of other great Italian craft chocolate makers including KarunaRuket and Amaro.

Their Background

Federico, Francesca and the family live in Fossano, a town famous for its panettone that is located about 100 kms from Turin.

Prior to becoming a craft chocolate maker, Federico was a pharmaceutical chemist for over a decade. Indeed, Federico still works part time for a pharmaceutical/nutrition company; although he hopes soon to devote himself full time to craft chocolate.

Conversion to Craft Chocolate

Just over five years ago, Federico was horrified to discover the appalling working conditions of most chocolate farmers (as he describes it; he couldn’t believe that cocoa farmers “[lacked] access to the basic needs [of] water and food, health, education”. In searching for a way to improve the farmers’ position, Federico discovered craft chocolate. And he immediately set to figuring out how to source cocoa beans, register as a chocolate maker, craft bars, and in October 2020 he sold his first bar.

Federico and Francisco named their company LIM, as an acronym of Less IMore. To expand on this a (little) more, as Federico explains:

 “I want to tell myself (and others) that we can find happiness and satisfaction in minimalism. That’s not easy, all of us are living in a world where commercial and social rules dominate. But, I believe, we can find a compromise. With my chocolate I want to guide consumers on a flavour journey. With just 2 ingredients (cacao beans and cane sugar) we can experience the very best that chocolate can offer”.

And they’ve set two simple, clear goals for LIM:

The first one is to create a great place to work, with loyal employees. I want to set up a rural factory, which, alongside producing chocolate, allows people to relax, work, read, chat, and reconnect with nature“.

“The second goal is to create connections around the world, especially with partners (suppliers, customers, chocolate makers). I want to form partnerships with people who support a completely ethical business model“.

We’d also add that their bars are true to these sentiments. They really do show that “less is more”. These bars epitomise the craft chocolate belief that you can’t beat nature when it comes to flavour. Mass market confectionery believes that chocolate is another commodity ingredient where tastes, textures and (artificial) flavours can all be added in the factory. Craft chocolate believes that if you find great beans, less really is more. You need to coax out the flavour with careful fermentation, drying, roasting, grinding and conching. And then add a (little) sugar to bring out the flavour (note: mass market chocolate uses sugar to give you a sugar spike and create a dopamine hit, get you hooked, etc. see HERE for more). Mass produced bars are designed to make you want to scoff. Craft chocolate bars, like those from Federico and Francesca, make you want to savour.

And one final bonus insight: If you think that the logo on LIM’s packaging looks like an iceberg; you are correct. Federico and Francesca chose this as their logo after a “magical” trip to iceland, shortly after which they became engaged.

LIM only produce a few bars. So in addition to featuring their bars below, we’ve also added a few other great Italian bars from some of their fellow Italian craft chocolate makers: Armin and Katya from Karuna, Marco Colzani from Amaro, and Alessandro and Marco from Ruket.

Enjoy (buon appetito!), and thanks for your support.

Spencer

P.S. A huge congratulations to all of our makers who won at the 2022 Academy of Chocolate Awards. Click HERE or see below for some gift boxes containing these award-winning bars (more on this next week…).

Detailed Answers to the Quiz

  • In which country was the first recipe for using chocolate published?

In 1692 Antonio Latini, a steward to Cardinal Antonio Barberini, published in Naples a recipe book with the first known mention of chocolate as an ingredient (for ice cream). And yes, this does seem to predate recipes for moles. For more see HERE.

  • In which country did a widow come up with (arguably) the first chocolate Easter egg?

Way back in 1725, Turin, a widow known as MMe. Giambone started filling empty chicken egg shells with molten chocolate. The French like to counterclaim that some of Louis XIV’s crafted chocolate into Easter ostrich eggs; and to be honest, it’s hard to establish who was first really.

  • In which country does one town still specialise in crafting stoneground bars with over a dozen brands? (And no, even though Taza does make stone-ground chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts, the answer is not the USA).

For anyone heading to Italy, near Modica, you’ll be hard pressed to miss their predilection for stone-ground “Mexican-style” chocolate bars. Sadly most of these are made from couverture, and the makers aren’t really crafting the bars, but we’re hoping to be launching a Modica-based craft chocolate maker (Donna Elvira) soon; watch this space.

  • In which country did a wartime shortage of chocolate lead to the invention (or at least the popularisation) of the much loved hazelnut and chocolate spread?

This one (again) is controversial; with the French claiming that they invented praline paste, (also called praliné (prah-lee-NAY)); a groundnut paste made from almonds or hazelnuts, and sugar; way back in the 16th century. But the idea of gianduja (jon-DOO-ya), i.e. combining hazelnuts and chocolate in a spread, is generally credited to a wartime shortage in 18th/19th century Turin where a chocolatier named Michele Prochet extended the little chocolate he had by mixing it with hazelnuts from the Langhe to create a paste that ensured the people of Turin could continue to savour chocolate.

Posted on Leave a comment

An Industrial History of Chocolate

A chocolate factor in Luton, 1913

What do you know about the history of chocolate processing? How chocolate is made can be a bit opaque, but luckily we have this page explaining it. But chocolate wasn’t always made this way! Read on to find out more about the industrial history of chocolate.

At Cocoa Runners, we’re all about small-batch chocolate and old-fashioned ways of doing things. But the way we experience chocolate has, undeniably, been formed by a series of industrial developments stretching back almost two centuries.

We want you to know how chocolate works, and that means understanding the history of the machines and inventions in chocolate processing that allow chocolate to be what we know it as today. That’s why we’ve produced this handy timeline of major industrial developments in chocolate production!

1828 – The Cocoa Press

Early chocolate was mostly consumed as hot chocolate. Ground cocoa beans were dissolved in hot milk or water, and enjoyed. The problem with this was that cocoa beans are very fatty, and fat does not dissolve. This cocoa fat, known as cocoa butter, got stuck in people’s beards and generally caused a lot of hassle.

Thankfully, in 1828, a major development in the history of chocolate processing helped solve this problem! A Dutch inventor and heir to a chocolate-making firm named Coenraad van Houten created a machine for pressing the fat from cocoa beans. This allowed for the separation of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. This paved the way for chocolate as we know it! Cocoa butter is the main ingredient in white chocolate, while cocoa solids are the key for milk and dark chocolate. Defatted cocoa solids are more stable and easier to work with than full-fat chocolate.

Centuries later, Van Houtens’ invention was scaled up to an industrial level for the mass-production of chocolate! Photo of workers operating hydraulic presses at the E&S CWS Luton Cocoa Works, c.1913.

1847 – The Chocolate Bar

In the mid 1800s, Van Houtens’s used the cocoa press to create a new ingenious invention that would change the industrial history of chocolate forever. After separating cocoa fat from cocoa solids, an English chocolatier named Joseph Fry had a counterintuitive idea. He melted both substances, and mixed a little bit of cocoa fat back into the cocoa solids. This allowed him to create a solid bar of chocolate, which could be eaten, rather than drunk. In 1847, Fry began selling these bars commercially, and they became a huge success! Chocolate (almost) as we know it was born!

An advertisement for Fry’s chocolate from 1912…chocolate bars had moved on a long way by then, but Fry’s remained a market leader in the UK.

1875 – Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is now the most popular type of chocolate, but it’s a relative latecomer in the history of chocolate processing. It was first created in 1875. It was the result of an unlikely partnership between Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolatier, and his neighbour Henri Nestlé, a pharmacist.

In the 1870s, Henri Nestlé was known for quite a different invention. He was a successful manufacturer of an early form of baby formula. The process of condensing milk had been discovered in 1820. Nestlé had developed a version of the technique which he used to create powdered milk. This powder could be mixed with boiling water to create a nutritious feed for babies who could not be breastfed.

Meanwhile Nestlé’s neighbour Daniel Peter was attempting to create solid chocolate enriched with milk. Hot chocolate mixed with milk was already being sold commercially, and had been popular since the 17th century. But solid milk chocolate was an altogether trickier proposition. Chocolate does not react well to water, and it was impossible to combine liquid milk with cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Luckily for Peter, Nestlé’s powdered milk proved to be the solution! The dehydrated milk could be easily mixed with cocoa butter and cocoa solids, creating solid milk chocolate for the first time!

1879 – Conching

In the late 19th century, a twist in the industrial history of chocolate came when an invention appeared which revolutionised way we make (and eat) chocolate. It was a machine called the conche, which grinds cocoa particles extra small. The rapid mixing and grinding of the machine also distributes the cocoa butter evenly throughout the newly liquified chocolate, ensuring consistency of silky texture in the solid bar. 

Conching helps give chocolate its characteristic melt and snap, and its creamy mouthfeel. However, if you conche for too long, the cocoa particles become too small and the cocoa butter takes over, giving a cloying mouthfeel. Equally, unconched chocolate remains popular in South and Central America. Taza, one of the chocolate makers we work with, specialise in unrefined stone-ground chocolate bars, made without conching. These bars have a grainy, gritty texture, a bit like eating tiffin – it’s different to the chocolate we’re used to, but equally delicious. 

The conche was invented in 1879 by Rodolphe Lindt. You might recognise that name, as Lindt is now a brand-name, with his contribution to the history of chocolate processing largely forgotten. Lindt built a chocolate empire from his invention, which still continues today. The story told about Lindt’s discovery of the conche is that it was a happy accident. Supposedly, Lindt made a mistake, and left his grinder on over the weekend. When he returned, he found that the chocolate had been ground extremely finely, and was less granular and more aromatic than usual. Whether or not the story is true, Lindt’s fine-grinding conche was a huge success, and made his fortune!

To see what a difference the conche made to chocolate, why not try some unconched chocolate, to get a feel for what chocolate was like before Lindt’s invention.

1890s – Industrialisation

It was only in the 1890s that all these older inventions came into their own, as the history of chocolate processing began was turbocharged by the scaling up of chocolate production. Before then, chocolate had mostly been made manually, with workers grinding cocoa on stone tables. Mechanisation was limited, and was mostly in the form of small hydraulic machines. Before the 1890s, industrialisation could be costly to business. The British company Fry’s had mechanised too fast too quickly in the early 1900s, and their business suffered as a result. In pre-industrial chocolate workshops, one labourer could make around 10kg of chocolate per day. By contrast, when mechanisation really kicked in in the 1890s, one worker could produce around 500kg of chocolate paste.

German engineers pioneered new machinery for making chocolate. It was this machinery that inspired the entrepreneur Milton Hershey to move away from the caramel business and begin making eating chocolate in the USA. (See the section on lipolysis to find out what happened next!) The industrialisation of chocolate-making and the proliferation of factories continued into the early 20th century. It was aided by the rise in chocolate confection, and ‘eating chocolate’ becoming a staple snack. Increasingly, chocolate became an affordable commodity product, and industrialisation was crucial in allowing this transformation.

1912 – The Maillard Reaction

One of the key processes in chocolate production is the roasting of cocoa beans. Cocoa beans have been roasted since prehistory. The writings of the Spanish conquistadors record that the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica knew that unroasted cocoa could make people sick, while roasted cocoa had health benefits. This is likely because roasting cocoa at high temperatures kills off harmful microorganisms which may have grown on the fermenting pods. Roasting is also important for reducing the water content of cocoa, and improving its taste (it helps reduce astringency and bitterness).

Since roasting cocoa is almost as old as cocoa itself, 1912 is a bit of an arbitrary date. We chose it because it’s the year that French chemist Louis Camille Maillard identified the reaction which takes place during cocoa roasting. The Maillard reaction had an immense, if indirect, impact on the history of chocolate processing. The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction involving amino acids and sugars which is responsible for the delicious, complex flavours of food cooked at high temperatures (from around 140 to 165°C). Understanding the Maillard reaction allows modern craft chocolate producers to carefully control the roasting of their beans, creating the perfect flavours.

1921 – Lecithins

In 1907, a German scientist named Dr. H. C. Buer filed a patent for lecithin made from vegetable seeds. Lecithin could already be made from eggs, but the invention of vegetable lecithin was a major step forward in the history of chocolate processing.

Lecithins are emulsifiers, which help to bind together fats and liquids. In chocolate, lecithins are used to bind together cocoa butter and cocoa solids, preventing the mixture from splitting. They help ensure it retain the smooth texture created by the conching process. It also reduces the chance of bloom occurring when chocolate is stored incorrectly.

The real game-changer for lecithins came in 1921, when Hermann Bollmann, a factory-owner from Hamburg, began making lecithins from soybeans. Soya lecithin was cheap and easily accessible, and its main commercial uses were for margarine and chocolate. In 1925, Bollmann brought his invention to Britain, where he marketed it for use specifically in chocolate. He was aiming to make a contribution to the industrial history of chocolate. Bollmann applied for (and was granted) a patent for ‘an improved process for producing soluble cocoa powders’, by mixing them with lecithins.

Lecithins are a complicated issue in craft chocolate. Mass-produced chocolate uses lecithin to reduce the amount of cocoa butter needed, making chocolate cheaper (and reducing the quality). Many craft chocolate producers avoid lecithins, but natural lecithins can still be useful for maintaining chocolate’s smooth, melting finish. They are also important for chocolate processed where it is grown, as the tropical climates which are good for growing cocoa are often too hot to easily process it without the help of lecithins.

Read more about lecithins in the science section of chocopedia!

1925 – Couverture

Belgium is a country whose name is synonymous with chocolate. But what did the Belgians do to deserve that reputation? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer lies in contributions that Belgian chocolatiers made to the industrial history of chocolate production in the early 20th century. In 1912, Jean Neuhaus invented a new genre of chocolate in the form of the Belgian praline, a smooth shaped shell filled with sweet confections, often involving nuts. 

The proliferation of Belgian chocolate truffles was made possible by another far more important invention. In 1925, Belgian chocolatier Octaaf Callebaut invented a mechanism for the storage and transport of couverture chocolate in liquid form.

Couverture is the term in the chocolate industry for a semi-finished chocolate product, created after the initial roasting and grinding, but before tempering and other processes. Couverture chocolate has a high percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter left in it, so is often seen as being ‘high quality’. (We believe the only truly high quality chocolate is craft chocolate, and you can find out why here.)

Easy access to liquid couverture chocolate transformed the history of chocolate processing, and changed the way the modern industry operates. Now, chocolatiers can take this ‘raw’ chocolate product and temper and mould it themselves. This saves chocolatiers from having to go through the laborious process of turning cocoa beans into chocolate. Callebaut’s invention allowed commercial chocolatiers to focus on other aspects of chocolate, such as creating interesting fillings. It also made it easier for other food manufacturers to use chocolate in their products, adding it to cakes, ice creams, cereals and biscuits. Couverture was so successful that, a hundred years on, Callebaut’s business is almost entirely dedicated to selling it.

Couverture’s Impact

Callebaut’s invention was ingenious, but it also paved the way for inferior quality chocolate products. It was chocolate’s equivalent of the invention of standardised, mechanised fast food and ready-meals. We might explain the difference between chocolate made using pre-prepared couverture and chocolate made from scratch by using the analogy of a roast chicken and chicken nuggets.Chocolate ‘makers’ (chocolatiers) who use couverture are doing something similar to staff in the kitchen of a fast-food chain.

A home cook might take the raw ingredient of a chicken and carefully prepare and cook it themselves. Similarly, the craft chocolate makers we work with at cocoa runners take cocoa beans and lovingly process them into chocolate, controlling each step. Chocolatiers and fast-food chains outsource this processing, reheating (or tempering) pre-prepared, industrially processed products. They never set eyes on the raw chicken, or the freshly-picked cocoa bean.

All that being said, couverture chocolate can be really useful. It’s helpful if you want to experiment with chocolate for yourself, or use it in home cooking or baking. However, most commercially available couverture is industrially produced, and its supply chains are decidedly murky. Luckily we at cocoa runners have a range of couverture products available, so you can cook with truly high quality chocolate!

1930s – Lipolysis

This contribution to the history of chocolate processing is one we really don’t condone, but it’s too interesting to ignore! If you’ve ever tried mass-produced American milk chocolate, you might have noticed that it has a slightly sour tang. Some have even compared this taste to vomit! Surprisingly, that’s because the compound which causes the taste, butyric acid, is also present in baby sick (and parmesan). 

Butyric acid is a by-product of decomposing dairy products. When milk spoils, it breaks down, and butyric acid is one of the chemicals produced. Butyric acid is responsible for the cheesy smell of off milk, and the sour stench of rancid butter. 

But what’s it doing in chocolate?

Butyric acid is present in most American chocolate because of an industrial innovation by the grandfather of Big Chocolate in America, MIlton S. Hershey. Hershey, the founder of Hershey’s chocolate, began making chocolate in a different way to his European peers. As we read about with Henri Nestlé and Daniel Peter, European milk chocolate was produced using condensed milk. 

Is happiness really to be found in a Hershey’s bar…?

Condensed milk didn’t work for Hershey; its shelf life wasn’t long enough. Instead, he decided to use fresh milk. But of course, fresh milk lasts even less long than condensed milk! To make his milk chocolate shelf-stable, Hershey had to do something new to stop the milk going off. Something never done before in the whole industrial history of chocolate processing. He created a process called the ‘Hershey Process’, of controlled lipolysis.

Lipolysis is the name for the chemical reaction that happens when milk spoils. Hershey essentially spoiled his milk deliberately, just enough that the off taste wouldn’t be too noticeable, and the milk would be protected from fermentation. This reaction gave off butyric acid, and is responsible for the sour taste of Hershey’s chocolate.

Hershey was able to pull off this ruse because Americans weren’t as used to chocolate as Europeans were. They simply didn’t know what chocolate was supposed to taste like! The vomit-like tang of Hershey’s chocolate became synonymous with milk chocolate in America. Nowadays, other American mass-market chocolate makers even add butyric acid, to mimic Hershey’s distinct flavour!

1936 – White Chocolate

White chocolate was made possible by the Van Houten cocoa press, which enabled the separation of cocoa solids used for dark chocolate from cocoa fat, the raw material for white chocolate.  For about a century, cocoa butter was a waste product. Some was sold on for pharmaceuticals and confectionary, but it was expensive and had too high a melting point to be really useful. Luckily, white chocolate came along and restored cocoa butter to its rightful place in the history of chocolate processing. Nowadays, white chocolate production is one of the main uses of cocoa butter.

While recipes for white chocolate can be found dating back to the 1870s, it really became its own category of chocolate in 1936, when Nestlé’s Milkybar hit the shelves. Nestlé’s white chocolate began life in 1929 as ‘Nestrovit’, a multivitamin product aimed at the children’s health market. However, the sweet, fatty confection caught on as a treat rather than a treatment! Since then, white chocolate has been popular but divisive, loved by some and hated by others. 

1950s – Bliss Point

In the middle of the 20th century, advances in food science paved the way for radical change in the history of chocolate processing. In the 1950s, an American scientist named Harold Moskowitz was doing research into nutrition for the American military. He was trying to work out how to convince soldiers to finish their pre-prepared meals. Moskowitz discovered that people have a natural sense of satiety, an ability to know when we’re full. He also found that humans crave variety; too much of the same flavours and textures gets boring.

Moskowitz discovered what he called the ‘bliss point’. This is a perfect combination of salt, fat, sugar and diverse textures which overrides our innate sense of satiety. Foods which operate at the bliss point make it difficult for us to know when we’re full. We just keep eating, beyond what’s good for us. Milk chocolate always teeters on the edge of the bliss point, with its combination of crunchy snap, silky smoothness, sweetness and fat. Food scientists working on the formulas for mass-produced chocolate exploit this, creating chocolate bars tailored to the bliss point. 

Mass-produced chocolate’s reach for the bliss point exemplifies the commodification of chocolate. From the mid 20th century onwards, chocolate became big business. Chocolate companies turned away from taste and quality towards efficiency and cheapness. New innovations followed, such as nib roasting, where beans are pre-cracked into nibs before they are roasted. Altogether, chocolate-making became a smooth and streamlined operation, prioritising cheapness and consumer appeal. 

In the process, the complexity of taste and flavour which we love about craft chocolate got lost.

In Conclusion…

As you can see, industrial innovations are always a mix of the good and the bad. Sometimes, what they offer is helpful. For example, the delicious smoothness of many craft chocolates couldn’t be produced without conching, and white chocolate couldn’t be enjoyed without the cocoa press. But often, there is also a flipside. While couverture opens up marvellous possibilities for cooking with chocolate, it also complicates supply chains, and has led to a situation where most chocolate ‘makers’ have no idea where their chocolate comes from at all! And some inventions – like the Hershey Process – are, in our opinion, plainly bad! 

The truth is that Big Chocolate will always find ways to skimp on quality and maximise profits. We would invite you to try craft chocolate, and see how industrial innovations can be used for good!

Posted on Leave a comment

A ‘Crafty’ Way to Thank Any Teacher

stock image in front of a blackboard

It’s almost the end of the school year here in the UK, and almost all exams are over. So we thought it appropriate to design some novel gifts; with members of the Cocoa Runner’s team each designing a craft chocolate box for different school subjects.

  • To thank your English teacher, Millie has created a gift box appropriately named ‘Shakespeare: The Chocolate Bar-d Box‘ where she’s matched five of Shakespeare’s plays (Hamlet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry IV, A Winter’s Tale, and The Taming of the Shrew) to bars from Friis-Holm, Zotter, Omnom, Raaka and Dormouse. See below for more on the plays and their bars.
  • To thank language teachers, Iona has covered French, Spanish, German, and Italian with bars from (respectively) Bonnat, Utopick, Zotter, and Karuna in ‘The Polyglot Box‘. Again see below for more details.
  • Nick has built a box for a geography or biology teacher, which spans the world and explains the crucial importance of craft chocolate to the environment. He’s chosen bars crafted from cocoa beans that are sourced from all over the world: from Brazil to Uganda, and Ecuador to the Congo, and made both at origin (i.e. the bars are made in the same country as the beans are grown) and also internationally (with bars crafted in The Netherlands and Switzerland). Each of the bars in ‘The Environment Box‘ also showcases the environmental advantages of craft chocolate. And Nick has also included a couple of bars with intriguing inclusions; one with coffee from Latitude and another from Luisa Abram that contains Theobroma grandiflorum, a closely related, but very different tasting relative of Theobroma cacao (the tree on which cocoa pods and seeds grow).
  • Cecily has built a box for science teachers, with bars that cover physics, chemistry and biology. Included in ‘The Experiment Box‘ is also a pair of taster bars from Fresco that show how scientific experimentation can reveal radically different flavours through tweaking the way the same beans are roasted and conched. Again, please see below.
  • Hannah has built a history themed box that showcases the history of craft chocolate bars, tracing the ways in which craft chocolate bars have evolved from rustic, stone ground bars in the 1840s, through to smooth conched bars, and onto milk, and finally white chocolate bars in the 1930s. See her ‘Origins Box‘ below for more details.
  • Iona has built a box to delight any art teacher; with packaging and bar moulds inspired by, and designed by, artists from Karuna, Omnom, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé, and Chocolate Tree. See her ‘Paint Box‘ below.
  • And last but not least, Nick has also engineered a maths inspired box, with bars from Formula 1 engineers (Duffy’s), maths professors (Luisa Abram), plus bars with puzzling percentages (Åkesson’s “101%” Brazil Bar with cocoa nibs) and fractal, geometric designs (Chocolate Tree) all in ‘The Numbers Box‘.
    Each of these boxes comes with a Cocoa Runners gift box, and we’ve also taken at least 10% off the price of each box’s components, so these make great buys too. In addition, there are downloadable PDFs on the website that you can personalise, and learn more about, the bars and themes. Please see their dedicated page for more details.

If we’ve not managed to cover the subject taught by one of your teachers, we apologise. And may we suggest that you give any of these teachers one of our ICA award winning boxes instead?

As ever, thanks for your support; and thank you for thanking your teachers!

Spencer

Posted on Leave a comment

Cacao versus Rainforest Destruction & Murder

dom phillips and bruno pereira in front of amazonian background

In June 2022, British journalist Dom Philips and fellow environmental activist, Bruno Pereira were murdered in Brazil. We may never know all of the exact details, but it’s clear that they were murdered for their work researching the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest and indigenous peoples.

We’d like to highlight their work on chocolate specifically, as it helps contextualise the battles Dom and Bruno chose to fight.

Amazonian Deforestation

By now even the most ridiculous climate change deniers acknowledge that the Brazilian rainforest is facing unprecedented challenges from cattle farmers, gold miners, illegal loggers, drug smugglers and even (parts of) the elected Brazilian government.

But the numbers are pretty staggering; here are a few from the appropriately acronymic SAD (Deforestation Alert System or ‘SAD’, in Portuguese, who since 2008 have been using satellite imagery to monitor deforestation).

  • Between August 2020 and July 2021, 10,476 square kilometres of the rainforest was destroyed.
  • To put this in context, this is an area nearly seven times bigger than greater London, and 13 times the size of New York City. That is to say, for every month in 20/21 a rainforest area larger than New York City was destroyed.
  • These “results” were over 50% worse than 2019/20; and 21/22 is set to be even worse, with a predicted increase to over 15,000 square kilometres being destroyed (i.e. an area the size of Greater London being raised every month).

What this means for the people living in the Amazon:

Underpinning the destruction of the rainforest is another gruesome tragedy; the destruction of the indigenous tribes living in the Amazon. Bruno and Dom bravely covered many crimes here; documenting everyday murders through to massacres of entire tribes.

And this mentality and approach of destroying the indigenous peoples has now permeated government policy. Again, to quote an article from Dom Philips, where he reported how in a a Facebook Live broadcast where the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, claimed:

  • “The Yanomami reserve is too big for its population”,
  • The indigenous people in the Amazon “really yearn for white society’s consumer lifestyles” and “don’t want to live in the Amazon”.
  • “The indigenous [peoples] changed, they are evolving … indigenous [peoples] are increasingly becoming human beings just like us“.

It’s worth re-reading the last line, and reflecting that this is a quote by the President of Brazil. This is the same President Bolsonaro who congratulated the US on decimating its Native American population, and regretting that Brazil hadn’t (yet) done the same.

The Link to Craft Chocolate

Back in early January 2020, Dom Philips wrote a piece for The Guardian about how the Ye’Kwana and Yanomami indigenous people were planting, and harvesting, cacao as a means to counter the threats posed by smugglers, illegal loggers, wildcat gold miners (known as garimpeiros), etc. to their traditional ways of life.

Cacao is indigenous to the Amazon; the tree Theobroma cacao can be traced back at least 5000 years. And within the 9.6 million hectares (23.7m acres) Yanomami indigenous reserve, Theobroma cacao trees were well documented and known. However they weren’t that common, and they weren’t regularly harvested. But in the mid 2010s a Brazilian non-profit group, Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), saw an opportunity to plant more cacao trees to support of local indigenous peoples.

The logic was simple; plant cacao trees to provide the indigenous people with an alternative source of income to the bribes, handouts and corruption from the loggers, miners, smugglers, etc.

As Dom Philips wrote:

Garimpo gold is seductive and buys televisions and phones. Four villagers work as boat pilots, others deliver food, and even the village community centre was built with garimpo money. …But the cacao project will offer an alternative, says its coordinator, ISA anthropologist Moreno Saraiva. “We’re trying to build another possible future,” he says. “It will take five years, but if we don’t do this now there will never be another alternative.” …. For these Ye’kwana indigenous men, the skinny (Cacao Tree) saplings, less than a metre high, aren’t just baby cacao trees but green shoots of hope in a land scarred by the violence, pollution and destruction wrought by illegal gold prospecting. That hope is chocolate.”

Brazilian Craft Chocolate

We are trying to source the craft chocolate that Dom Philips wrote about; it’s called: Yanomami-Ye’kwana – 69% Cocoa. But we don’t yet have it for sale.

We do have a range of other bars from crafted from Brazilian beans from makers including Georgia Ramon, Åkesson’s, Fjåk, Bonnat and Zotter.

In addition, we are delighted to work with the Abram family (Luisa, Andre, Mirian and Andrea) who craft their bars in São Paulo (Brazil) and source beans from indigenous peoples living alongside various rivers (rivers provide the main way to transport beans).

Luisa started with beans from the Rio Purus, grown by ‘Cooperar’; a cooperative with around 300 members (and we featured this when we launched her bars over five years ago). Next she branched out to source beans from the Cassipore River; a quest that took her over four years from discovering the beans to finally being able to make bars with these beans. And in the last few years she’s added new sources of beans to support indigenous peoples, including her Rio Acará bars. For these bars Luisa has partnered here with 10 riverside families living alongside the Arauaia, Acará and Guamá rivers who pool their beans and have them transported annually by a local fisherman, Francisco Bico and his wife Yolanda. Luisa is now also sourcing beans from the Tocantis river and region; including a bar infused with cupuaçu (otherwise known as Theobroma grandiflorum), a close cousin of Theobroma cacao. And for more on these bars, and their farmers, and more details on how Luisa and her family are working with them, please check out our updated maker profile.

As we’ve said many times; craft chocolate doesn’t just taste better, it isn’t just better for you; but it REALLY IS BETTER FOR THE PLANET, RAINFOREST AND THE FARMERS!