Chocolate is the finished product of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao that means “food of the gods”. This tree evolved as a wild tree in South America and it is in ancient Mesoamerica where the Aztecs, Mayans, Toltec and other civilizations flourished and for whom the bitter drink made from the roasted cacao bean, spices and grains was considered sacred.
Indeed when Christopher Columbus encountered the island of Guanaja in the early 1500’s he was honored with a cup of the sacred drink by his hosts. While his appreciation for the drink had not yet been cultivated he was wise enough to realize its importance and eagerly traded some goods for sacks of cacao beans.
Western civilization is credited with the addition of sugar and milk, which reduced the chocolate’s astringency. Several important discoveries later launched chocolate into mainstream life. In 1828 a Dutch chemist invented of a two process step to extract cocoa butter from the roasted beans and form it into cocoa powder, developed by a Dutchman in 1828 and the later Swiss process in 1875 to combine milk solids and sugars into the smooth bar we know of as chocolate today.
The Alchemy of Chocolate
Modern Chocolate goes a step further. Like fine wine the impact of climate and soil, known as “terroir” on a particular variety of chocolate has much to do with flavor. Chocolate grows in a narrow climate belt north and south of the Equator. Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that cacao can be grown in. Harvesting, fermenting and processing further define the distinction between fine chocolate and ordinary chocolate.
The language of chocolate is also equivalent to fine wine. Chocolate can have floral, spicy, and citrus or tobacco aromas and flavors as well as varying astringency with the percentage of actual cacao used in a given product. Higher percentages do not automatically equate to a superior product as small amounts of sugar actually enhance the flavors and subtle notes of each variety, a balance that brings a given variety to its level of peak enjoyment. Today, chocolate is proving to be a super food, its health benefits just being uncovered. Chocolate is high in flavanols and anti-oxidants and has been shown to be positively related to artery health and brain function. Lucky us!
Like coffee, there are fair trade issues associated with chocolate that the public needs to be aware of. Poor families typically grow cacao on small farms. Larger plantations have been known to exploit child labor and not pay sustainable prices for crops from smaller farms. Chocolate is a relatively expensive crop to grow and produce and as the demand increases, the rainforest is cleared and diseases become more prevalent, shortages are cropping up on the world market. When a product is cheap we, as responsible consumers have to stop and ask why. Who is suffering because they are not being paid a fair wage for the fruits of their labor?
Sweet Paradise is committed to quality products that support sustainable agriculture around the globe. We will not knowingly purchase raw chocolate from conflict areas of the world where unfair labor practices exist and support our vendors who in turn promote and support sustainable agriculture. Our desire for a luxury product will never be at the expense of human suffering.
Aloha and Enjoy the Chocolate!