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By Mike Gaworecki
At COP23, the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany that wrapped up last week, top cocoa-producing countries in West Africa announced new commitments to end the massive deforestation for cocoa that is occurring within their borders.
Ivory Coast and Ghana are the number one and number two cocoa-producing nations on Earth, respectively. Together, they produce about two-thirds of the world's cocoa, but that production has been tied to high rates of deforestation as well as child labor and other human rights abuses.
By Davis Harper
For several years, chocolate barons have devastated forests to make room to plant cocoa, a crop that naturally grows in shade. Now, a report from Mighty Earth—a nonprofit that works to conserve threatened landscapes—shows new evidence that illegal deforestation is occurring in protected areas; specifically, in the national parks of West Africa.
The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce a combined 2.6 million tons of chocolate—60 percent of the world's supply. It's no wonder so many of these nations' protected lands are at risk. According to Mighty Earth's report, 10 percent of Ghana's tree cover has been replaced by cocoa monocultures. The Ivory Coast, once heavily forested and extremely biodiverse, has lost seven of its 23 protected areas to cocoa. Due to habitat loss, its chimpanzees are now endangered, and its elephants are nearly extinct. This means that companies like Mars, Nestlé, Hersey's and Godiva are on the hot seat for making products using cocoa grown by uncertified sources.
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According to Fortune, the $35 billion chocolate company already has wind farms in Texas and Scotland that power its U.S. and UK operations. Under the new initiative, Mars is pledging to add wind and solar farms to another nine countries by 2018 and is aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain by 27 percent by 2025 and 67 percent by 2050.
By Brianna Elliott
Dark chocolate is incredibly healthy and nutritious.
However, there are many brands available and not all of them are created equal.
Dark chocolate is incredibly healthy and nutritious.Shutterstock
Some are better than others, based on the ingredients and processing methods.
So which one should you choose?
Follow this guide to find out everything you need to know about selecting the best dark chocolate.
What Is Dark Chocolate?
Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to cocoa. It differs from milk chocolate in that it contains little to no milk solids.
It also goes by other common names, including bittersweet and semisweet chocolate. These differ slightly in sugar content, but can be used interchangeably in cooking and baking.
Usually the simplest way to know if your chocolate is "dark" or not is to select one with a 70 percent or higher total cocoa content.
Dark chocolate is well known for its powerful antioxidant activity. In fact, it has been shown to have a greater antioxidant effect than many high-antioxidant fruits like blueberries and acai berries (1, 2).
Bottom Line: Dark chocolate is a mixture of cocoa, fat and sugar. It is rich in antioxidants and may provide health benefits for the heart and brain.
Ingredients to Look For
It is best to choose dark chocolate made with as few ingredients as possible.
The best dark chocolate always has chocolate liquor or cocoa listed as the first ingredient. There may be several forms of cocoa listed, such as cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and cocoa butter. All of these are acceptable additions to dark chocolate.
Sometimes other ingredients are added to dark chocolate to improve its appearance, flavor and shelf life. Some of these ingredients are harmless, while others can have a negative impact on the overall quality of the chocolate.
Sugar is often added to dark chocolate to balance its bitter taste.
While sugar is an important component of dark chocolate, some brands go overboard.
It is rare to find dark chocolate that doesn't have added sugar. A rule of thumb is to choose a brand that does not have sugar listed first on the ingredients list.
Better yet, choose one that lists sugar last.
Note that the higher the cocoa percentage, the lower the sugar content will be.
Lecithin is an optional ingredient in dark chocolate. It's added to many store-bought chocolates as an emulsifier. It keeps the cocoa and cocoa butter from separating and helps blend flavors.
It is commonly derived from soybeans, so you may see it listed as soy lecithin on the label. Soy lecithin is used in such small amounts in chocolate that it shouldn't pose any concerns about health effects or quality.
When you're selecting a brand, keep in mind that lecithin isn't absolutely necessary to make chocolate.
High-quality dark chocolate shouldn't have any milk added to it.
The only exception would be milk fat. This is essentially butter that has had its moisture and non-fat solids removed.
Chocolate makers sometimes add milk fat to dark chocolate to soften it and add flavor.
Just like lecithin, milk fat is not required to make dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is often flavored with spices, extracts and oils to improve its taste.
The most common flavoring you will see in dark chocolate is vanilla.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to differentiate on a food label which flavors are natural and which are artificial.
If you want flavored dark chocolate, choose one that is organic. That way you can be sure the flavors are not artificial.
Although it's becoming less common to add trans fat to chocolate, manufacturers sometimes add it to improve shelf life and consistency.
To make sure your chocolate doesn't include trans fat, check the ingredients list. If hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil is present, that means the bar contains trans fat.
Bottom Line: Only a few ingredients are required to make dark chocolate. Avoid brands made with trans fats or large amounts of sugar.
The Optimal Cocoa Percentage
Dark chocolate brands have a wide range of cocoa percentages, which can be confusing. When you're choosing dark chocolate, look for bars that have a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher.
Higher-percentage dark chocolate contains a higher concentration of antioxidants and nutrients compared to chocolate with a lower cocoa percentage (1).
Chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage also tends to be lower in sugar.
Bottom Line: The healthiest dark chocolate contains a cocoa percentage of 70 percent or higher, which provides more antioxidants and health benefits.
Avoid Alkalized or Dutched Dark Chocolate
Dutching is a chocolate processing method that involves treatment with alkali, otherwise known as alkalization.
This method is used to change the color of the chocolate and reduce the bitter flavor.
For this reason, chocolate that has been Dutched should be avoided.
To check whether chocolate has been Dutched, check the ingredients list for something along the lines of "cocoa processed with alkali."
Bottom Line: A process called alkalization, also known as Dutching, has negative effects on the antioxidants in dark chocolate.
Choose Fair-Trade and Organic Chocolate
Choose chocolate made from fair-trade and organic cacao beans whenever possible.
Growing and harvesting cacao beans is a difficult process for the producers.
According to Fair Trade USA, you can ensure the cacao bean farmer earns a fair price for the product by buying fair-trade chocolate.
Choosing organic chocolate may also reduce your exposure to any artificial chemicals or pesticides sprayed on the coffee beans.
Bottom Line: Fair-trade and organic chocolate supports cacao farmers and reduces your exposure to pesticides and artificial chemicals.
A Few Brands to Try
Here are a few high-quality dark chocolate brands for you to check out.
Alter Eco chocolate is fair-trade and organic. They have many types of dark chocolate bars to choose from.
The richest chocolate you can get from them is their Dark Blackout bar, which is 85 percent cocoa. It only contains 6 grams of sugar and four ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw cane sugar and vanilla beans.
Pascha Chocolate makes chocolate in an allergen-free facility, so their products are free from common food allergens such as soy, dairy and wheat.
They have a variety of dark chocolate bars that contain up to 85 percent cocoa.
Their commitment to making high-quality chocolate is impressive. They take pride in using only essential ingredients to make their products, such as cocoa, sugar, vanilla and some fruit.
Antidote Chocolate makes potent organic chocolate with ethically sourced cacao beans. Their bars are low in sugar and high in nutrients.
All of their dark chocolate bars have a cocoa content of 70 percent or greater. They even have a bar that contains 100 percent raw cacao.
Equal Exchange chocolate is fair-trade and organic, made with high-quality ingredients.
They carry an Extreme Dark chocolate bar that is made from four ingredients, contains only 4 grams of sugar and has a cocoa percentage of 88 percent.
Keep in mind that these are just a few suggestions. There are many other manufacturers that produce excellent dark chocolate, including Lindt, Green & Black's and others.
Bottom Line: There are many brands of high-quality dark chocolate to choose from. A few examples include Alter Eco, Pascha, Antidote and Equal Exchange.
The best dark chocolate has distinct characteristics, including the following:
- High in cocoa: 70 percent or higher cocoa percentage.
- Cocoa comes first: Cocoa or a form of cocoa is the first ingredient.
- No unnecessary ingredients: Avoid dark chocolate that contains trans fat, milk, artificial flavorings, high amounts of sugar and other unnecessary ingredients.
- No alkali processing: Alkali processing is also known as Dutching. Avoid chocolate processed this way.
- Fair-trade and organic: This type of dark chocolate is more likely to be high-quality, ethically sourced and pesticide-free.
Follow these tips to make sure your dark chocolate is high-quality, rich in antioxidants and of course, delicious.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
By Meg Wilcox
Read any article about Haiti's environment and you'll encounter the same grim statistic, that 98 percent of the country is deforested. That's hard to fathom. How could a country possibly have only two percent tree cover?
Death by a Thousand Cuts, a 2016 film that tells the tale of a brutal murder related to Haiti's charcoal trade, shines a light on the forces behind the nation's dismal environmental state.
Trucks carrying bags of wood charcoal, the major cooking fuel source for Haitians and a key driver of deforestation.Patrick Dessources
Beyond the legacy left by the French, grinding poverty is a root cause, with per capita income in Haiti just $828 in 2014. Two-thirds of Haitians are subsistence farmers and the vast majority cook their food with wood charcoal. Charcoal production fuels deforestation, which leads to soil erosion, loss of productive agricultural land and a vicious cycle of poverty.
But, wait, what does this have to do with your chocolate bar?
Chocolate, of course, comes from cocoa, which grows on trees. It needs shade and that means cocoa farms are often found in forests, at the base of mountains. Cocoa is, surprisingly, Haiti's third largest export crop. In fact, if you visit Haiti's verdant cocoa region in the north, near Cap-Haïtien, that 98 percent deforestation statistic belies what you'll see.
Cocoa grows in Creole Gardens, rare forested areas in Haiti. Pictured are Nocelyn Preval aka "Chiquito," a worker at a cocoa processing facility and cocoa farmer Merviel Chilmise.
In northern Haiti, some 4,000 smallholder farmers harvest cocoa in agroforestry systems called creole gardens. Garden is an understatement, as these dense tangles of vegetation are forests with larger coconut, breadfruit, mango and avocado trees that tower over and offer shade to the smaller cocoa trees, as well as food for the farmers. Smaller banana trees are also intercropped into the system.
Cocoa farms are one of the few places in Haiti with standing trees and cocoa farmers have incentive to protect that greenery. Pierre Daniel Phelizor, for example, a cocoa farmer of 15 years, told me that his favorite pastime is planting new trees and that he runs a small nursery, selling cocoa, breadnut and mango trees to other farmers. Phelizor does not sell his trees to the ubiquitous charcoal traders.
Pierre Daniel Phelizor, Haitian cocoa farmer says he's "doing real business with his cocoa trees" now that he's selling into the specialty chocolate market.
So what does this have to do with your choice of chocolate bar? Bear with me.
One way to fight deforestation is to expand the production of cocoa and other tree crops in Haiti, like mango and avocado—and at the same time also help improve Haitian's lives and keep them from turning to the lucrative charcoal trade in the first place.
Fermented cocoa beans drying at Produits de Iles S.A.(PISA), a private cocoa processing company in the north of Haiti.
"In terms of reforesting the country, cocoa is one of the best crops you can use," said Ralph Denize, of FOMIN (Multilateral Investment Fund) in a phone call. FOMIN is partnering with Catholic Relief Services, a financier Root Capital and the Swiss Government to help expand and strengthen Haiti's cocoa industry.
Haiti currently exports only 4,000 metric tons of cocoa per year, a big drop from its peak of 20,000 metric tons in the 1960s and far less than neighboring Dominican Republic, which exported 70,000 metric tons in 2014.
Gilbert Gonzales, inside the cocoa fermentation facility at the company he founded Produits de Iles S.A. (PISA), in the north of Haiti.
Revitalizing the industry is one way to help expand Haiti's forest cover.
And here is where your choice of chocolate bar comes in.
The vast majority of Haiti's cocoa beans are sold and exported in their raw, unprocessed state for mass-produced chocolate. Farmers earn very little for that and it's one of the reasons why cocoa production has dropped in Haiti. A quasi-monopoly buyer has also kept prices paid to Haitian farmers low.
Fermented or processed, beans are what dark chocolate and specialty chocolate bars are made from and they can earn farmers up to twice as much.
To date, however, there are scant few fermentation processing facilities in the country where Haitian farmers can bring their beans.
Now different players in the cocoa industry are working to expand that fermentation capacity, from private companies and farmer cooperative associations to specialty chocolate manufacturers and financiers. They aim to rebuild Haiti's cocoa industry while providing farmers with a better life.
Taza Chocolate's single origin Haitian chocolate bar.
"Moving from unfermented to fermented cocoa is about keeping the value added in the country," Denize told me.
And that in turn motivates farmers like Phelizor to take good care of their trees. Phelizor says in fact that he is "doing real business with his cocoa trees" now that he's selling into the specialty market.
If you buy a standard issue milk chocolate bar, you're likely eating a blend of cocoa beans from different countries, with a lot of sugar and fillers to boot. If you buy what's known as a "single origin," specialty chocolate bar you can actually select where the cocoa beans were grown. And if you're a chocolate connoisseur, you can pick the flavor, as each origin has distinctive notes, much like wine and coffee.
You can do that now for Haiti, which happens to produce an exquisite chocolate flavor, with fruity notes, owing to its prized cocoa varietals. The first chocolate manufacturer in the U.S. to produce and market a single origin bar, with 84 percent Haitian cocoa beans, is Taza Chocolate. Taza is the pioneer, but we can expect to see more chocolate bars marketed with Haitian cocoa, as Uncommon Cacao, a broker that sells to many specialty chocolate manufacturers, has recently entered Haiti's market.
So the next time you buy a chocolate bar, think about choosing one made with Haitian cocoa and make a small contribution toward helping to reforest the country while improving impoverished farmers lives.