Not all chocolate is created equally.
There is fine chocolate and there is mass produced chocolate.
All chocolate is not the same, and most chocolate we eat here in North America is mass produced by only a few companies on a very large scale. Most of the cacao beans used to make chocolate are sourced from western Africa. So many sources tell us that cacao from most cacao farms in this region are tied to poor pay for farmers, poor conditions for workers, and likely some child labour. This is the not so pretty side of chocolate. This is a reason to ask the questions until you get answers about where the cacao used to make the bar you are eating comes from.
Big chocolate makers make a lot of chocolate. They have mass production facilities to make the chocolate, quickly, with additives that make it all taste the same. They are looking for cost effective cacao to make into chocolate. Cheap cacao beans. They generally have no relationship with the farmers or coops. They have little or no input into the fermenting or drying process that happen at origin, at the farm level. They ship huge containers of cacao beans and store them in large storage facilities until they are ready to use them, to make their chocolate, in a big factory, where maybe no one even touches a single bean with their hands. The beans that have been sitting around for who knows how long, in who knows what conditions (moisture, heat, moths, bugs), are then made into chocolate in a similar but far larger scale, with bigger and more expensive machines. The goal being production and profit. Not taste. They pump out the chocolate, add the same flavours, and ingredients (fillers like soy or palm oil can be used), and they ship off chocolate bars to stores or chocolate discs to chocolatiers around the world.
The one thing mass produced chocolate has going for it is its consistency. The flavour is almost always the same.
But does it taste like chocolate?
Take a look at the ingredients on the next chocolate bar you enjoy, chances are it contains vanillin or vanilla or vanilla flavour.
So, does chocolate really taste like vanilla???? Something to think about next time you enjoy a mass-produced chocolate bar, the kind you find in the aisle at the grocery store. Really think about it when you taste it.
We tend to think chocolate should taste like these bars, which, often, have vanilla/vanillin flavourings in them, or artificial flavour. So, when we taste a fine, artisan, or craft chocolate bar and we taste other flavours, it kind of confuses our senses.
We need to be open to discovering more than a chocolate or vanilla flavour when we enjoy chocolate.
So, next time you are out buying chocolate think about where and how it was produced. There is absolutely nothing wrong with mass produced chocolate, it is one of the most affordable ways to access chocolate. I still love M&M’s, and snack on them sometimes, but I also think there is value to knowing where and how our food is sourced, processed, and made; how the folks in the supply chain are treated, supported and encouraged. Personally, I am a fan of direct trade, where chocolate makers source from farms they have been to, engaged with, shared with, encouraged, and who they pay a fair, and often higher price for their cacao beans.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you are in a chocolate shop or stop to read the label and see what is in that chocolate bar.
More on flavour coming soon!
Other articles in this series