A decade ago, almost everyone within the industry would describe craft chocolate as “Bean to Bar chocolate” and it was associated a smaller but growing market segment. While at the time craft chocolate was a tiny segment of the market, it has grown exponentially, In the last decade, the market for craft chocolate has continued to grow, and the scale in which it has been growing is exponential.

In the past, in the United States, there were only half a dozen dark chocolate makers trying to compete with a couple of giants in the chocolate industry who dominated the market, but now there are hundreds of small, craft, conscious and fun chocolate makers all around the country.

This rate of new businesses being created is quite high not only in the USA, but also in Asia and Latin America.

It is also interesting to know that craft chocolate is, nowadays, not limited to chocolate bars, but it also includes all kinds of other cacao-derived products such as cacao pulp, cacao nibs, cocoa butter and others.

The best part of all of this t’s not only about the chocolate anymore, and brands like us (Mashpi Chocolate) have taken it above and beyond to help tackle the social and ethical issues.

Awareness Brings Consciousness

In the past, people would purchase chocolate to satisfy a craving but Over the last few years, a niche of the population has become aware of the ethical and environmental issues related to chocolate. Let’s take a look at some of them:

But First: Where Does Chocolate Come From?

Chocolate is made by fermenting, drying, toasting and grounding seeds that come from a tropical fruit called Cacao. The entire chocolate process takes about two weeks if done in the same place by the same people, but seldom this happens this way.

In general and for the mass market of chocolate, the different stages of the cacao between harvest and becoming chocolate happen in different physical places and under supervision of different people.

Most of the cacao harvested in the world needs to move fast out of a farm and into warehouses so the big factories can buy it fast and sell chocolate fast, and therefore all the stages of transformation of the chocolate, which should be very carefully monitored, don’t get the attention required to make good chocolate.

Have you ever paid attention to the ingredient list of a mass-produced chocolate bar? Most of the time, you will find that the first ingredients are “sugar, powder milk, palm oil” and cacao comes near the bottom.

This happens for two main reasons: first, cacao is pricier than the other ingredients, so by using less of it and using the cheaper ingredients as fillers, the cost is less and second, because these cacao beans, in general, have not had a careful control of procedures, resulting in badly tasting cacao beans.

Another problem in the cacao industry is the quality of the cacao itself. Most mass-commercial cacao is grown with heavy use of chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) and with intense genetic manipulation to reduce disease and increase yield.

Finally, we have the human issue and one that I do not want to talk about at the moment, because it is extensive and needs its own blog post, but in summary, the biggest percentage of cacao in the world is produced using modern day slavery: either people who don’t get paid fairly for their work and even kids, who in many cases are sent by their families, kidnapped or scammed to work at these farms.

At Mashpi Chocolate we aim to tackle, even if on a small scale, all of these issues in the chocolate industry. When we started this project, we never dreamed of becoming a chocolate maker: all we cared about was restoring the soil.

It was the Universe itself who walked us in the direction of producing chocolate and on the way, to learn about all these problems that Cacao carries along.

We started the project in Mashpi Shungo (the name of our food forest) with the only goal of regenerating soil in the Chocó Bioregion of Ecuador that had been previously devastated by wood extraction and cattle farming.

By using agroforestry, a regenerative system that goes beyond organic, we went from a soil that was completely depleted of nutrients to a thriving food forest with over 200 species of plants and animals in which everyone (including us, humans), lives in harmony.

Everyone working in our project is treated the same, we each have our own responsibilities but we all are as important, and we empower our team members to create food sovereignty to reduce social injustice.

We constantly work on female empowerment because we have seen that when you empower the female in a rural area (as the one we’re located on) the benefits are felt more extensively.

Why Does it Matter?

From community development to women empowerment and with a focus on healthy ecosystems, we do everything to ensure that our part is played right towards social justice.

In the current economies, where people are becoming more aware of the power of their money, craft-chocolate makers are necessary to expand the education of the consumer in regards to the chocolate supply chain.

We must ensure fair wages to all cacao growers and make sure to take steps to minimize negative environmental impact of cacao when produced wrongly, and educate other growers to use cacao and its related species to turn around the current situation and make it an ally in environmental protection.

Also, it is right now our job to keep on showing the consumer that craft chocolate is a whole new world to the palate.

When cacao is the star of a chocolate, not overpowered by sugar and other (often synthetic) ingredients, it becomes like wine: full of flavors and aromas to discover.

 

What to Look for?

If you’re aware that your money is your vote and that the way you spend your dollar is possibly more capable of making a change than what you do with your ballot, then you should be looking for certain things when buying a chocolate bar:

– How much cacao is used in your bar? Look at the ingredients list, if cacao is at the top, then it can be called a chocolate bar. If sugar and other ingredients come first, then you’re looking at a “chocolate flavored candy bar”.

– If your bar is actually mostly composed of cacao, is your cacao traceable? Does the manufacturer even know where these beans grew? Does it have a face of a farmer? If you ask the maker who grew this chocolate, what would the answer be?

-Be aware of greenwashing: often, we see labels such as “fair trade”, “direct trade”, “Single origin” and similar but as a conscious consumer, it is your job to start questioning these claims. Fair trade, is it fair trade certified, or is it a claim that the maker makes to sell more?

Direct trade: so the maker should have one-on-one contact with the farmer, do you see any clues that this is true?

Single origin: ok, but was it bought through a major cocoa broker? Because if so, then it can be single origin but maybe it was still grown under slavery conditions.

There is a lot of answers to look for when becoming more conscious about your purchases.

If you got this far, thank you for reading me and I hope I woke your curiosity, at least a little bit, about chocolate and where your food comes from. I am aiming to writing more of these in the future, as there is a lot to unravel in the chocolate industry.

Now remember, save the earth, it’s the only planet with chocolate.
On you go,

Val.