Chocolate, of course you eat that at Easter. But you can also give or receive them on Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas… and many other days of the year! That said, not all chocolates are created equal.
There’s a world between the good old KitKat that helps us when we’re hungry and the fine bites prepared by your favorite craftsman. A world? Let’s see…
A good chocolate – without taste – should have no more than three or four ingredients, according to Catherine Goulet, owner of Avanaa, a chocolate factory bean to bar, that is, who buys directly from producers or cooperatives of cocoa farmers. “My dark chocolate only contains two ingredients: organic cocoa mass and organic sugar. Period.” she says.
Do you add a little milk powder to the recipe? It makes milk chocolate. Do you combine cocoa butter and milk? You get white chocolate. The cocoa content is very high in dark chocolate (70 to 90%), rather low in milk chocolate (10 to 25%). The whites don’t contain cocoa – goodbye flavonoids, those antioxidants that help thin the blood and lower blood pressure.
Are you a lover of Belgian chocolate? Please note that in Quebec this is a claim standardized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency “implying that the chocolate was produced in Belgium”. It says nothing about the taste properties… The designations “pure cocoa butter” and “traditional chocolate” are only regulated in France and mean that the chocolate is free of vegetable fat.
Certain names are often added to the list of ingredients in tablets sold in supermarkets. One of the most common natural flavors is vanilla. It enhances the flavor of certain fine chocolates and gives it downright to white chocolate.
As for vanillin, it is a synthetic additive that mimics the aroma of vanilla. According to Elfi Maldonado, co-owner of Qantu, another chocolate company, industrial roasters use it extensively. bean to bar from Montreal. “It’s for consistency,” he says. It standardizes the taste of the beans that come from different places and it reduces the bitterness because the cocoa is very strongly roasted.
Some popular brands contain barley malt extract, which acts as a flavor enhancer, natural coloring and sweetener. Because this additive contains gluten, people with celiac disease should avoid it.
Two vegetable fats are also used in making almost all industrial chocolates. Lecithin is extracted from soy and acts as a binding agent. Although it is present in minute amounts, it can cause reactions in people who are highly allergic to soy. As for palm oil, it’s bad for your blood vessels, and its large-scale production is contributing to deforestation in tropical regions.
Finally, if you’re shopping for Easter, carefully read the ingredients list for the $20 large rabbit you’re planning to give your youngest. You will definitely notice the presence of paraffin there. This petroleum by-product — also used as a laxative — is added to chocolate to maintain its firmness and shine at room temperature. “Some low-end brands are still using it,” laments Elfi Maldonado. It should not be mentioned chocolatebut rather chocolate candy†
At the other end of the chocolate spectrum, there is now “raw chocolate”. It is called “raw” because it comes from grinding raw beans. This method would prevent the destruction of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants naturally present in cocoa. But, Catherine Goulet recalls, roasting cocoa, like that of coffee, helps to bring out the aromas. “Raw chocolate is a different product,” she sums up. It may have more properties, but there are no clear studies on that yet.”
A global market that is far from fair
Enjoying a piece of chocolate is no longer just a pleasure these days. It can become a matter of conscience for advocates of responsible consumption.
Every time you bite into a tablet, you become part of a huge global industry worth more than 150 billion dollars, dominated by European multinationals, such as Nestlé, Ferrero, Barry Callebaut (who has a factory in Saint-Hyacinthe) and Americans, such as Hershey and Cargill. These giants take over 80% of the cocoa harvest year after year.
Most of the world’s production comes from West Africa, mainly Ivory Coast and Ghana. Two countries that collect less than… 1% of the industry’s revenue!
More than 90% of cocoa farmers are farmers who earn less than $1 a day on average and are subject to the vagaries of a market they cannot control, as brown gold, like coffee, is listed on the stock exchange. “If a buyer stops in front of his house with his truck, they can’t know the price of the cocoa,” says Catherine Goulet.
In addition, two plagues are increasingly affecting the image of the industry: forced child labor in West Africa and the deforestation of tens of thousands of hectares, often in nature reserves.
Fair Trade and Organic Farming
For twenty years, from multinational corporations to humble craftsmen, the industry has been working to maintain its reputation by gaining certifications, especially in the field of fair trade.
“The initiatives are piling up,” says Marie-Claude Desjardins, associate professor at the law faculty of the Université de Sherbrooke. It’s not always easy to find your way, even though I’ve been studying it for years.”
The FairTrade label, managed by an international NGO based in Germany, is probably the best known. It has been stamped on numerous products for 25 years, including chocolate. You will also increasingly see the Small Producer Symbol (SPP). Created and managed by farmers’ organizations, this label offers certified farmers an above-average income in South America, Africa and Asia.
You should also consider the certifications that the multinationals have cobbled together themselves, such as Nestlé Cocoa Plan, Cargill Cocoa Promise, Mondelez Cocoa Life and Cocoa Horizons (Barry Callebaut).
What are the most credible labels? “I can’t tell you whether it’s good or not because we don’t know the specifications of all the labels,” Marie-Claude Desjardins continues. There is undoubtedly a little greenwashing or from fair wash with all that.”
Catherine Goulet believes that the FairTrade certification has been compromised in recent years. “It’s a good logo, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the cocoa was produced in the best conditions.”
Except in France, fair trade is not a regulated designation. And what doesn’t help is that all these efforts are struggling to change consumer habits. So-called fair trade cocoa represents only 0.5% of world production. Small consolation: 16% of the chocolate tasted in Germany comes from this sector.
According to Marie-Claude Desjardins, in the absence of other information on the origin of cocoa, rely on organic certification. “It’s an established standard in both Canada and Quebec,” she says. Unlike fair trade, organic production is standardized in most countries. And “it’s a certification with real commercial value,” says Elfi Maldonado. If cocoa on the stock exchange costs USD 2.90 per kilo, the producers will receive USD 3.50.”
In addition to the certifications, you can also contact these professionals bean to bar, who roast and process their own cocoa beans. “Bought at a fair price above the current price, plus a premium on quality,” says Catherine Goulet, who pays an advance of 50% of the purchase price and then 50% on delivery.
The owners of Qantu, Elfi Maldonado and Maxime Simard, buy without going through a broker. They go to Peru twice a year to pick their beans. “We never pay less than $5 a kilo,” twice the current price.
“In short, it’s the foundation of fair trade, but on a smaller scale,” sums up M . togetherme Gardens. Small burners have a direct relationship with producers.”
No matter which store you stock up at Easter, she says, don’t be afraid to ask the chocolatier any questions. “If he doesn’t know where his chocolate comes from, there’s a problem,” she says. I wouldn’t buy my kids chocolate made from cocoa beans harvested by other kids!”
The indications of a good chocolate
• Short list of ingredients
• High percentage of cocoa
• Unique terroir
• Organic certification
• Fair trade certification
• Independent or local brand
A chicken, yes, but at what cost?
Let’s say you prefer a milk chocolate chicken. Once you know what you want, you can compare sellers’ prices with just a few clicks. But not all show the ingredients and origin of their cocoa. In supermarkets, the price per 100 grams varies between $3 and $7, and between $7 and $11 in chocolate chains. Obviously, the small independent chocolate makers don’t all work with the same raw material, as some display products are in the same price range as the big supermarkets ($2.50 to $8 per 100 grams), while others have molded chocolates between $18 and $28. per 100 grams.