Who on earth cares about organic chocolate?
Chocolate is sort of an indulgence after all and not eaten in pounds per week like apples or tomatoes, so do I really need to worry about which chocolate I put into my body?
Cacao pods (a.k.a. cocoa pods) grow on trees found almost exclusively in the “cocoa belt,” a band 20 degrees north and south of the equator. From these pods come beans that are fermented, dried, roasted, and transformed into that smooth, luscious solid we all know and love.
No one wants harmful pesticides in their food, but the benefits of organic chocolate go well beyond the obvious. Cacao trees are usually found in lush rain forest environments that are homes to monkeys, sloths, wild birds and other unique creatures. The use of pesticides endangers the rich biodiversity of these eco-systems. If that’s not bad enough, some companies will clear cut the jungle first in order to plant cacao trees in neat rows – a procedure that is completely unnecessary to grow cacao. The canopy trees that would normally form a natural habit for jungle animals is destroyed.
Not only are rain forest animals at risk from chemical exposure, but also humans – the plantation workers.
In some cocoa growing regions such as West Africa, where most mass-market cocoa is grown, there are fewer controls on the safety of farm workers.
When companies seek the lowest cost beans from the global commodity market, they are blind to the social issues connected to their chocolate.
So how can you be sure you’re getting the organic stuff?
It’s easy to pick out an organic chocolate bar from the crowd: just look for an organic seal on the label.
In Australia, organic certification is performed by several organisations that are accredited by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) under the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce. The big ones are NASAA Certified Organic Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and the Organic Food Chain .
With so much excellent chocolate coming from Europe, you may see organic seals from France or Belgium. In the US, the USDA Organic Seal is well known. You can be confident that any of these seals is credible evidence that basic organic practices are followed.
Some have criticized organic labeling as a marketing ploy that only larger companies can afford since the certification and associated inspections cost money. But in our mind, organic certification leaves the details to the experts and hands us the answer in an easy to understand format. That can’t be a bad thing.
If you’re lucky enough to find an artisan making organic truffles, there’s a good chance that only some of the ingredients, say the chocolate shell, are organic. Have a conversation with the proprietor and understand where their chocolate comes from. Is it organic? Is it fair trade? If you can find such a shop, you’ve got a gem since bulk organic chocolate used for making confections is in short supply. That's where Love Byron Bay can help. Our website specialises in organic and fair trade chocolate, and all of the brands featured on this blog post are certified organic.
Does organic chocolate taste as good as “conventional” chocolate?
Yes, of course it does! The flavour of the chocolate has to do with the variety of cacao, the diligence of the farmer and the skill of the chocolate maker. Cacao farmers using pesticides and other chemicals can get more pods from their trees and improve profit, but this won’t help the flavour of the chocolate one bit. In fact, organic chocolates are less likely to contain ingredients that have no place in high quality chocolate such as chemical additives or vegetable oils. These ingredients only distract from the true flavor of the bean.
Assuming the bar is not flavoured with fruits or nuts, you should see at most four ingredients in a chocolate bar: cocoa mass (or cocoa liqueur or cocoa solids), sugar, vanilla and soy lecithin. That’s it. So keep it simple – look for a simple ingredients list, look for organic certification and ask us for more information on the organic brands we carry in store.