When I challenge consumers about their chocolate choices, they tell me that the chocolate they eat has the little frog or the green symbol, and then (in a most Angelica fashion) I ask them: yes, but do you know what does that symbol means? Hopefully here you'll find some answers.
The trademark of fairtrade is a symbol used to mark a product that has been made using specific practices. It's a global movement that aims to promote sustainable and equitable trade practices, particularly in the production of commodities: coffee, cacao, and tea.
A marked product has been produced in a way that meets certain standards for fair labor practices, environmental sustainability, and support for small-scale producers. These standards are set by a number of different fairtrade organizations, such as Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). You can read more about their practices here.
With the symbol, consumers know that the products they are purchasing have been made in a way that is ethical and sustainable. By choosing products with the fairtrade trademark, consumers can support small-scale producers and help to promote more equitable and sustainable trade practices around the world.
However, the system is tricky for producers. Different organizations have different definitions on what "fair" means. The trademark is often seen as a symbol of ethical and sustainable production, but there are some flaws:
Thanks for reading! I look forward to reading your comments.
If you've met me at a market or at a course, you know that I often talk about child labor . There's no way to make it pretty: Children are often used to work in dangerous and exploitative conditions on cacao farms. Cacao is a key ingredient in chocolate, and the global chocolate industry is worth billions of dollars. Does this mean the children get to enjoy this money? Unfortunately not.
A big problem with child labor in cacao farming is that it is often hidden and difficult to track. Many cacao farms are located in remote areas, making it difficult for outside organizations to monitor and regulate working conditions. Also, many producers have conveniently made the supply chain for cacao extra tricky, with beans often passing through multiple intermediaries before they are processed and sold to chocolate manufacturers. This makes it difficult to trace the origin of the beans and ensure that they have been produced ethically.
This is why small companies focus on visiting producers themselves. So there are happy things as well and we're all trying to make a change!
Another happy thing is the will to address child labor in the cacao industry. In 2001, a group of major chocolate manufacturers formed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which aims to eliminate the worst forms of child labor from the cacao industry. The protocol established a set of guidelines for chocolate manufacturers to follow in order to ensure that their products were not produced using child labor.
Sadly, the implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol has been slow and uneven, and child labor remains a serious issue in the cacao industry, with over 2 million children estimated to be working in hazardous conditions on cacao farms in West Africa. If you try to find information, everything seems a bit circular, and big companies aim to set a date (2020 the latest one), but this isn't a problem that has been erradicated.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) gave an update in 2011, but doesn't seem to be giving much information after that. The goal was to end this by 2020. But now in 2022, ILO (part of the UN) released a report for possible solutions in West Africa. You can be sad with me and read it here.
If you don't want to read it, I'll quote the ending, and their recommendation:
Beyond cocoa, what is seemingly missing in the agricultural commodity trade financing space are clear principles/standards and expectations for financial institutions to adhere to and use as foundation for further action and collaboration to address salient human rights issues like child labour, as well as environmental challenges. Such principles would serve as a useful platform to deepen financial sector involvement in environmental and social issues in cocoa, but also in other agricultural supply chains with similar challenges."
Yes, politics are a problem, capitalism is a problem, global warming is a problem, but perhaps the question that we don't ask often enough is: how am I as a consumer part of the problem? I'm sorry to break the happiness bubble, but if chocolate makes you happy, it should also bring happiness to the people who have produced it for you.
Thanks for reading! I'll respond to all the comments :)
Bean-to-bar is all the rage now! Which is basically, all non-Mexicans and #whitexicans going hipster about it, back to basics like regular native Mesoamericans have been doing it for about 4000 years. I get it, not everyone has cacao trees growing in their backyard, like people in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Guerrero in Mexico do, so there's no reason why we should know what to do with the fruit. Yes, spoiler alert: Cacao is a fruit!
Chocolate is made by taking cacao beans and processing them. This process involves a number of steps, including sourcing the beans, fermenting, peeling, roasting, and grinding the beans into a smooth paste. But a key aspect of bean-to-bar production is the use of ethical cacao; beans that are sourced in a way that is socially and environmentally responsible (which is not that hard, but big companies don't want you to think so...)
Several factors contribute to the ethical production of cacao, which vary depending on the specific region and type of bean being grown. But, in general, ethical cacao production includes:
Take into account that a fair payment means that yes, you pay more for the chocolate, because the money is going to the workers, not a large company that is enslaving others! Also using ethical cacao is not only the right thing to do, but it leads to higher quality chocolate. Beans that are grown using sustainable farming practices and treated with care are more likely to be of a higher quality, resulting in a better-tasting chocolate, so we all win.
By choosing chocolate brands that prioritize ethical cacao sourcing, consumers (yes, that's you reading this!) can play a role in sending the signal to larger companies and other consumers that a more sustainable and equitable cacao industry is the way to go.
Thanks for reading!
If you've taken one of my courses, you've heard that (regardless of the techique, the whole marble/spatula thing is silly) the difference between professional and amateur chocolate is tempering #TrueStoryBro. This process stabilizes chocolate and gives it a shiny appearance and smooth texture. At a microscopic level, heating and cooling chocolate forms stable crystals of cacao butter.
Chocolate is a complex mixture of cacao mass, cacao butter, sugar, and other ingredients (vanilla, soy lecithin, and other unnecessary things), and it is sensitive to heat. If chocolate is heated to a temperature above its burning point, it can burn and develop a bitter, unpleasant flavor. Yes, you've been eating burned chocolate. It's not supposed to be bitter. The burning temperature of cacao when roasting is around 160-180°C (320-356°F).
But the burning temperature of chocolate can vary slightly depending on the specific type of chocolate and the ingredients it contains. For example, dark chocolate has a higher burning temperature than milk chocolate because it contains a higher percentage of cacao solids.
So, back to the subject. To temper cacao butter, depending on the amount of cacao solids you melt it to around 45-50°C (113-122°F). The melted cacao butter is then cooled to a temperature of around 27-28°C (80-82°F). During this cooling process, the crystals begin to form. Once at the desired temperature, you stir to encourage the formation of the stable crystals. The tempered cacao butter is then ready to be poured into a form.
Tempering is important because it helps to give chocolate its characteristic snap when you break it, and its smooth, glossy appearance. It also helps to prevent the chocolate from easily melting or blooming when stored at room temperature. Of course, if you ask me, blooming is a gorgeous thing to look at both macro and microscopically.
Bloomed chocolate has a white, cloudy layer on top or some white lines, which is the main fat in chocolate saying hi. I think it makes chocolate look like mountains, and if you look at it with a microscope, it looks like dandelions. But... haters gonna hate.
The process of tempering chocolate was likely discovered through trial and error by European chocolate makers around the 1700s. Before the 1800s it wasn't eaten as a solid, so blooming or tempering wasn't a problem because it was for drinking.
I keep a random piece of bloomed chocolate so people can find beauty in imperfections.
Thanks for reading!
Hello! My name is Angélica, and I make chocolate. Yes, I make chocolate but perhaps not in the way that most people make chocolate. My life journey has influenced a lot the way I experience cacao. What do I mean by this? Many things. For example, my academic background has nothing to do with the culinary arts, and maybe that defines the way I understand things.
I'm Mexican, from the state of Veracruz. My hometown, Xalapa, has the country's second-largest anthropology museum, which displays Olmec art. Why is this important? Because the Olmecs were the first civilization to work with cacao and (theoretically) give origin to the word *kakaw(a). If you want to nerd into the language rabbit hole, you can read more about it here.
So, yes, I'm Angelica, I make chocolate, but I've been working as a translator since 2006. In 2022 I took a course on Historical linguistics to learn about language reconstruction. My interest in chocolate (pronounced [ˈtʃɑklət] in English) is also etymological because I'm not satisfied with how dictionaries define it. And perhaps I didn't have to start another language degree and take a Classical Nahuatl course to understand more. But my scientific spirit wasn't at peace. I'm still working on academic research to learn how people talked about cacao thousands of years ago.
And yes, going back to my scientific spirit, perhaps I should add that many years ago, I studied Physics. I know Physics is not Chemistry. My point is that I'm not afraid of graphs, math, and scientific journals. Reading research about the crystallization of cacao butter, for example, helped me to understand molecules and tempering differently. I feel like I know cacao micro- and macroscopically.
However, my motivation for making chocolate in Norway has nothing to do with science or linguistics but ethics. I'm beyond SHOCKED about how little Norwegian consumers know about cacao, cacao production, and *shock alert* the inclusion of child labor. It comes in the news now and then, and people get shocked for about 3 seconds before taking a bite of their yellow bar to forget about it.
So, why does Cacaoland exist? Because I want to educate. Whether someone wants to learn about history, etymology, chemistry, or business, I'm continuously learning to share with others the best way to eat chocolate, respecting Earth and those who live on it. I realize I've embarked on a journey that probably will never end. And as long as you want to learn about cacao, hopefully, I'll be of help.
Thanks for reading!
The scientific name of cacao is Theobroma cacao, from the Greek "theos," meaning "god," and "brôma," meaning "food." My boy Linnaeus probably heard all about this new fruit from the Americas which is a sacred plant and a gift from the gods. What he probably didn't hear was that it was so incredibly important that the Mayas made the coolest pyramid to worship cacao (one of the Wonders of the World).
The Mayans had a rich and complex pantheon of deities who played a central role in their religious beliefs and practices. They were also very into Math. Among their gods, the Mayans had a particular reverence for the god of cacao, my homie Kukulkan, aka Quetzalcoatl, aka Rayquaza. My man Alex DeLarge agrees.
For Mexican civilizations, cacao was (still is) a sacred gift with the power to bring us closer to the divine. Cacao was associated with fertility and life-giving energy, so it was used in rituals and ceremonies to honor the gods and seek their blessings. Important note: I'm NOT talking about modern cacao ceremonies. Those are turist traps for white people.
One of the most important Mayan gods of cacao was Ek Chuaj, the god of merchants and trade, also associated with fertility and agriculture. A protector of cacao plantations, he was often depicted with a cacao tree in his hand.
Kukulkan, feathered snake, creator of the world and civilization, associated with fertility, prosperity, and wisdom, had also the power to bring rain, which was essential for the growth of cacao and other crops. Non-important note: For the Mexicas, Tlaloc, my real G, is the god of rain, and I'm not ready to accept that Tlaloc and Kukulkan could be the same. Don't make me choose! (... I would choose Tlaloc, hands down, and I believe 70% of Mexico is with me on this one).
Kukulkan's pyramid, in the archaeological site of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, is built in such a way that the sun casts a shadow on the pyramid's western balustrade (love this word and I don't get to use it often) during the Spring and Fall equinoxes, creating the illusion of a serpent descending the pyramid's stairs. In case you needed proof of some math genius, here's one. This representation was Kukulkan bringing cacao to the humans as a token of appreciation. He (She, It?) would come down from the skies to bring cacao and a good harvesting season (in Spring) and goes back once the harvesting season is over in the Fall. Curiously enough, cacao is harvested twice a year. Duality was also something the Mayans really liked, so cacao represented a natural cycle that pleased everyone's math sense. You can read more about harvesting here.
The equinoxes are significant to Mayans, because the sun, moon, and planets are closely connected to existence and the natural world. They built pyramids and ceremonial structures aligned with the movements of celestial bodies. This pyramid is a celebration of the balance between light and darkness, a tribute to the cosmic forces that were believed to shape the world, and (in proto-democratic ways) bringing cacao to the people for mathematical perfection.
Thanks for reading!