I love chocolate! My mum would sometimes let my brother and me have a ‘sweet’ each from the newsagents, and while my brother always chose the sugariest most vibrantly coloured sweets, I would have a walnut whip, or a ‘bourneville’. At university I discovered ‘raw chocolate’ in Harvest, and it wasn’t long before I bought cacao powder and cacao butter and mixed them together with honey to make my own raw chocolate.
Recently I’ve become a lot more interested in chocolate, and over the past couple of weeks I carried out so many chocolate based experiments that I think my boyfriend has actually grown tired of my ongoing chocolate quiz; “‘A’ or ‘B’, and now try ‘B’ or ‘D’…”
Anyway, commence the search for everything I can learn about chocolate! Here’s my summary:
(see my conclusion at the bottom of the post!)
Traditionally, and in big chocolate companies, cacao nibs are ground into cacao mass, a little more cacao butter and sugar is added and you have chocolate. (Unfortunately commercially produced chocolate often contains emulsifiers, dairy and other nonsense things too make manufacturing cheaper, batches more consistent etc, hence why I want to make my own.)
I tried this with the cacao nibs that I have, blending and grinding them but my blender and coffee grinder couldn’t grind them fine enough and the resulting ‘chocolate’ after mixing with cocoa butter and a little coconut sugar was grainy and bitter.
I reverted back to the standard recipe and continued my experiments – whats the best ratio? Which sweetener is best? How and why to temper chocolate? But soon after I found the Real Food Source, a family business based up in Scotland selling cacao mass! I repeated the experiments, using 3/4 cacao mass and 1/4 cacao butter deciding that agave or coconut sugar is a better sweeter than honey or maple syrup, as the latter affect the taste too much. If your trying to make chocolate yourself, I’d recommend against using agave as it’s water based (as you will know water and oil don’t mix!) and you’ll probably end up with some sort of ganache instead.
During my research I discovered much more about the many problems with child exploitation throughout the chocolate industry. The average daily pay for chocolate farmers is less than $2, and with big businesses (Nestle, Hershey, Mars etc) prioritising profits over ethics, sometimes the only way to stay for cacao farmers to keep costs low enough to stay in business is to use child slaves or labourers. This is coupled with the growing demand and higher pay for other crops, meaning that often there is little incentive for farmers to continue in the cacao business. Add to this ever increasing cocoa consumption in developed countries, the prediction is that chocolate is going to become very expensive!
I asked Real Food Source about where they source the cacao that I buy, here’s what they had to say:
At the end of the day most people are trying to make ends meet, be that farmers using child slaves or small companies buying cacao, the one’s that are really at fault here are the corporations willing to put profits ahead of ethics. As with most things what is needed is systematic change!
With the same ethic in mind I’m going to talk about ‘raw’ cacao. The word ‘cocoa’ is simply a corruption of the origonal ‘cacao’. Nowadays ‘cacao’ is typically used to mean raw, in comparison to roasted ‘cocoa’. Raw ‘cacao’ is often said to be filled with antioxidants and wonderful things which are lost in the roasting process however theres a lot of conflicting information. A number of articles point out that cacao farms are usually in developing countries and as a result cacao beans are kept in unsanitary conditions. Animals and cacao beans together at the side of the road can easily lead to salmonella poisoning or worse, this study shows that a dangerous mould was found in 98% of samples tested. As well as roasting cacao to get rid of possible bacteria’s and fungi, there are also studies showing that roasting may in fact be better nutritionally. It is also vital for the maillard reactions (without which it would be difficult to make chocolate taste they way we expect it to.) Here are some raw foodists likening cacao to a recreational drug, take from that what you will. I’m always curious to know how foods were traditionally prepared; I couldn’t find anything definite, but generally it looks like the cacao beans were fermented before being roasted over an open fire and then ground into the ‘cacao liquor’ and made into a sort of spicy hot chocolate. The Olmecs (dating back to 1500BC) were supposedly the first people to use the cacao bean as a food, and they passed their knowledge to the Mayans and Aztecs that came after. The fruit was also eaten, especially as an energy food.
I feel that studies espousing the benefits and high levels of nutrients in cacao are misleading because cacao is not a staple food stuff! There’s potential for dangerous bacteria and fungi to survive in raw cacao, and roasting is seemingly the preferred traditional method of preparation. For me raw chocolate gave me a ‘way in’ so to speak, both to learning much more about what’s actually in my food, and to the raw food movement (which I have experimented with) – which is a great thing! It’s obvious that it’s better to pay a little extra for something handmade, to eat less, enjoy the complex flavours more and in turn support small businesses and move away from the homogenised chocolate available in supermarkets. As to whether raw is better? If you feel that raw chocolate gives you something that the roasted version doesn’t then great! For now I’ll be continuing to use roasted cocoa in my chocolate making for a few reasons, cost and safety being two of the biggest. And I’ll buy raw chocolate that looks particularly good as a treat.
So to conclude:
- Learn more about child exploitation within the cocoa business, ask questions and avoid the big brands (who are both responsible for it and allow it to continue)
- Cacao, whether raw or not a ‘superfood’- I’m afraid you’ll have to find other source’s of antioxidants and minerals!
- Raw chocolate may not be what it says it is, but do your own research. The refined sugar and additives in cheap chocolate are probably a lot more worrying than whether it’s raw or not!!