Complete Guide to Fair Trade Chocolate

Finding ethical producers in an industry that often celebrates shortcuts which guarantee bigger profits can be quite disturbing. Looking back on 100 years of history, it is evident that the number of companies who consider their global footprint has increased. Companies now think more about preserving and restoring the natural resources of the planet and establishing ethical business practices amongst whom they hire and where their resources come from.

In a Forbes article written last year, there were a recorded 6,000 companies that focused on the manufacturing and production around sustainable and ethical business practice and working environments. Today there are over 10, 000 companies dedicated to correcting unethical practices while supporting the rise of fair trade growers and sellers. While the business world has taken notice of a sustainable method of farming, there are other parties that have put their ideas into practice.

The Fairtrade System currently works with more than 1.65 million farmers across 74 different countries around the world to bring us some of the most delicious treats known to man — one being chocolate. There is a lot to consider when it comes to determining what type of chocolate person you are; do you opt for the mouth-watering bar of milk chocolate or a bar of decadent dark chocolate?

Research has suggested that each year, Britain consumes 660,900 tonnes of chocolate, which calculates to 11kg per person — or three bars each week. This highlights just how popular chocolate has become in our country along, but where does this delicious treat come from?

Cocoa from Bolivia: El Ceibo

The creation of chocolate requires very specific environmental conditions — making Bolivia a great place regarding the growth and production of some of the world’s best chocolate. Bolivia is however not the only producer to international markets, there are over six million growers, farmers, and processors across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to meet the demands of the rest of the world.

Chocolate is the delicious result of working early mornings and late nights from one of the world’s poorest country; Bolivia. Bolivia has an estimated population of 10.89 million people and sits alongside Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru in South America.

There is a long history of Bolivians cultivating cocoa, starting in the 1960s. Most growers live in the Alto Beni region, while many farmers grow cocoa, some have started to diversify their fields by growing organic bananas, citrus fruits, and vegetables, as well.

El Ceibo, which was established in 1977, works with 50 co-operatives across Bolivia and reaches out to around 1,106 men and 194 women farmers from different ethnic groups. Their mission is to provide opportunities to create global sustainable farms and programs that support Non-GMO farmers with hopes of combating the highly processed foods in the world market. El Ceibo pays each farmer a fair price for their produce and uses the profits to reinvest in grass-roots sustainable farms and schools. The majority of the additional money earned from their own fair trade cocoa is used to fund technical agricultural support, a programme that replaces cocoa plants with new seedlings and reduce deforestation.

Chocolate producers

History of Chocolate

The history of chocolate goes back to 1900 B.C in what is now known as Mexico and Central America with the Mayan Civilization. The Mayans were not the only civilization that held the cocoa beans in high regard, the Olmecs, Incas, and the Aztecs also placed great value in these small pods. The Aztecs believed that the cocoa beans were a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and its seeds were once used as currency. The cocoa beans were mashed into a paste and often drank with spices or corn puree, it was also used as an aphrodisiac.

With the Age of Exploration, cocoa beans made their way back to Europe where they were mixed with sugar, laying the foundation of the treat we love today. Chocolate was first introduced to the upper class and then trickled down to commoners. The production of chocolate became a large enterprise with merchants flocking to the west to find their own version of “brown gold”.  

The Spread of “Brown Gold”

In hopes of creating their own market, many merchants used the naturally warm environments of African countries and islands to mass produce this delicious pod. Located on the west coast of Africa, São Tomé is made up of two main islands, as well as several islets, and is often referred to as ‘Chocolate Island’. With a small population of 200,000 people, many residents’ incomes originate from cocoa and the island’s signature bean — criollo bean — which has been farmed there since the 1700s.

Chocolate manufacturing moved from Central America to the Caribbean Islands and South America, as the age of conquest and exploration consumed the monarchs of the world.

Today chocolate can be found in the markets of most first, second, and third world countries. The consumption rate continues to increase creating a market that Fairtrade capitalizes on to provide consistent revenue for helping farmers around the world.

A Brief History of Chocolate

Fair Trade Facts: Chocolate Edition

What are the main differences between traditional and raw chocolate?

Raw chocolate usually contains fewer ingredients than traditional chocolate — such as cocoa powder, cocoa butter, coconut blossom sugar, and raw fruit or seeds. Traditional chocolate can contain milk, soya, sugars, sweeteners, soya, and a host of artificial flavourings and preservatives. While Traidcraft’s fair trade vegan chocolate may not be raw chocolate, they have kept their recipe as natural as possible. By using World certified fair trade and organic cocoa beans without the addition of GMOs, cheap emulsifiers, highly processed oils, artificial colours, or preservatives.

Not only that, did you know that cocoa beans that are used for raw chocolate are never heated above 42 degrees Celcius? In commercial chocolate, the cocoa beans are roasted at a temperature between 130 and 400 degrees Celcius. When drying cocoa beans for raw chocolate, some cocoa growers just leave their beans outdoors to dry naturally in the sunlight. This brings you the best of the best with a fresh product garnered towards a bar of more natural chocolate.

What are the main differences between cocoa and cacao?

Cocoa and cacao are technically the same plant but are refined through different methods. While the terms cocoa and cacao are used interchangeably, generally the term cocoa is used in reference for cacao that’s been fermented, dried, and roasted at high temperatures. The bean is then pressed until all the oils are separated with the remaining solids becomes a prime ingredient — cocoa powder. While on the other hand Cacao powder is made in a very similar way but at a  much lower temperature bestowing a unique flavor that we all know and love.

Where is cocoa originally grown?

The Theobroma Cacao, native to Central America, has been used throughout history for nutritional and medicinal benefits. This scientific name for the tree actually translates as a food of the gods. These trees produce pods which contain 20-40 cacao beans — and it’s these beans that are eventually turned into chocolate. Theobroma Cacao trees grow at a more successful rate in a narrow band often referred to as the Cocoa Belt or the Chocolate Belt. This band extends up to 20 degrees north and south of the equator, providing the ideal climate for the Theobroma Cacao trees to flourish.

Was chocolate worth more than gold?

Chocolate was a big part of the Mayans, Olmecs, Incas, and Aztecs civilizations, cocoa beans were worth more than gold and were once used as currency. The Mayans maintained the value of cocoa beans by restricting the harvesting of the beans. Higher quality items were used to trade for cocoa beans, giving it a consistent value in their society. This type of trade continued until the arrival of European explorers who wanted to introduce their own currency to an already established system.

Have cocoa farmers ever tasted chocolate?

The majority of cocoa farmers have never tasted chocolate. Beans are shipped almost instantly to guarantee freshness and a higher quality product. In 2017, Traidcraft hosted Linda, a cocoa farmer from the co-operative Kuapa Kokoo, who grows fair trade cocoa for the Divine Chocolate Company.  She reminded us that any chocolate left lying around in Ghana usually melts right away due to the hot climate.

Many fair trade organizations have begun to build a closer relationship with their growers. By letting the farmers see the finished product from their months of labour, these companies are laying the foundation for a more sustainable agricultural world. While it is true that many farmers may never taste a chocolate bar or see where their produce ends up. With the new companies moving towards localizing resources and connecting directly with the growers rather than going through an organization, in the future, they hope to share more of the profits and product with the farmers who make the ingredients they buy possible.

Like Traidcraft and Divine Chocolate who not only give back to their farmers but also allow their growers to own a percent of the company giving them a say in a multi-billion dollar industry.

How does Traidcraft make a difference in the Fair Trade System?

Traidcraft stands as one of the pioneers of Fair Trade, they go above and beyond to provide ingredients straight from the source. Their chocolate brand Eat Your Hat was launched February of 2018, with the continued mission of preserving traditions and celebrating world cultures and creativity. For the last 40 years, Traidcraft has led the movement to connect with farmers while producing top of the line treats for moderate prices. They have used the profit from their different products to invest in the communities of “Chocolate Islands” also known as Sao Tome. These islands are only able to yield a small amount of chocolate with a rich and lingering taste.

How the chocolate you buy makes a difference.

Not all companies and organizations participate in the Fair Trade System, which is a sad but true statement. However, the companies that are working towards a more sustainable agricultural future want to make sure you know they care. Many of these companies will have a small sign or sticker that says “FairTrade” indicating both the quality and their commitment to supporting small community co-ops and farms.

Fair Trade chocolate helps to build schools, buy equipment, provide health care options, and many more. The purchase of one bar of chocolate helps to sustain a system founded in connecting growers, buyers, and sellers in one community of progress and diversity.

Knowing where your chocolate comes from can change the way you eat chocolate. So get out there and make a difference with your food choices.

If you want to learn about other Fair Trade brands then check out this post from The Independent.

As always my friends, stay happy, stay healthy, and keep moving forward.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Bravo! You can also follow me and read more on cocoa


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