Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
The new law hands unprecedented power over to the chocolate industry in a country that is the world's largest chocolate producer. A broad range of advocacy groups for workers and for the environment have warned that the new forestry codes, which the country's National Assembly recently ratified, will usher in a new wave of unsustainable cocoa production and allow for massive deforestation in forests that are already degraded with deforestation levels over 75 percent, as The Guardian reported.
The law reclassifies 7,700 square miles of protected forest as "agro-forest" and hands control of the forests over to international companies.
"We are opposed to further deforestation of these areas," said Youssouf Doumbia, president of the Ivorian Observatory for the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources, a civil society organization consulted on the proposals, as The Guardian reported. "Politicians have authorized the construction of infrastructure in these agro-forests – but if we do that, it's an open door for the pure and simple disappearance of our forests. They will be wiped out."
Cocoa farming in West Africa, which produces over 60 percent of the world's chocolate supply is known for its unsustainable slash and burn practices. That is where forest is cut down and burned before planting, and then, when the plot was no longer fertile, the farmer moved to fresh forest and repeated the process, according to Michael E Odijie, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, who wrote a recent essay on the plight of West African cocoa farmers for Quartz.
So much forest has been cut down over the last 60 years that there is barely enough left for slash-and-burn. Since 1960, forests in Ivory Coast has decreased from 16 million hectares, roughly half the country, to less than 2 million by 2005, according to Odijie's essay.
The new law, which allows for 24-year land leases, will lead to a loss in property rights for Indigenous communities and create a monopoly for foreign companies.
"There's a risk of a massive land grab situation," said Julia Christian, forest campaigner at Fern, a Brussels-based organization working with cocoa growers, as The Guardian reported. "They're lands currently run by independent, small-scale farmers – but it's going to become a monopoly with companies given exclusive rights to buy cacao."
The rampant deforestation that has occurred since 1960 to meet the world's demand for chocolate has pushed native animals like chimpanzees and forest elephants to the brink of extinction.
The Guardian reported that a Global Forest Watch report showed that Ivory Coast had the second highest increase in deforestation rates in the world. Unrestricted deforestation means the Cavally Forest will disappear entirely by 2061 and the Goin Debe Forest by 2071, according to a report by Mighty Earth. The Mighty Earth investigation found that Ivorian cocoa has depended on protected areas. Since 2000, cocoa planting claimed half of Mont Péko National Park.
In addition to trampling over the forests, the West African cocoa-industry has a horrible record of human rights' abuses. There are more than 2 million children working on West African cocoa plantations and trafficking and slavery are rampant, according to The Guardian.
Farmers often earn less than one dollar per day while working in oppressive heat. They earn 6 percent of a chocolate bar's sale price compared to 80 percent for the manufacturers and retailer, according to Fern, as The Guardian reported.
Cocoa: why the European Union must act now to eliminate deforestation and child labour from the chocolate we love https://t.co/6Sv9gUprvP— Heather Kingsley (@Heather Kingsley)1543852972.0
If you love chocolate, but don't want to support deforestation or human rights abuses, there is sustainable chocolate in the marketplace. So, before stocking up on Halloween candy, you might want to look at the Green America Chocolate Scorecard, which ranks major chocolate companies on their sustainability practices and human rights efforts in cocoa supply chains.
Spoiler alert courtesy of the trade publication Material, Handling & Logistics: the three lowest graded companies were Godiva (F) and Ferrero and Mondelez (both Ds). They ranked worse than Lindt, Hershey (both C), Mars and Nestle (C+).
Meanwhile, Guittard scored a B+. Alter Eco, Divine, Endangered Species, Equal Exchange, Shaman, Theo Chocolate and Tony's Chocolonely all received As.
Picture this: a world where chocolate is as rare as gold. No more five-dollar bags of candy on Halloween. No more boxes of truffles on Valentine's day. No more roasting s'mores by the campfire. No more hot chocolate on a cold winter's day.
Who wants to live in a world like that?
Unfortunately, we all could be if our climate keeps changing.
So how will the climate crisis affect one of the world's most beloved culinary delights? The verdict doesn't look good for chocolate lovers worldwide — and more importantly, it's a threat to the farming communities that depend on cacao for their livelihoods.
Cacao is in Trouble
Cacao, or the cocoa bean, is the main ingredient in chocolate. A rather picky plant, it grows only in the warm, humid regions near the equator, largely in areas designated as rainforests. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cacao trees require steady temperatures, high humidity, lots of rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind to thrive.
Cacao is grown in the regions highlighted in red below:
The climate crisis is already affecting many of the world's crops, including another fan favorite: coffee. Unlike coffee, which suffers most from rising temperatures, cacao is impacted most by decreased humidity. Regions where cacao grows best often have humidity levels of 100 percent during the day and 70–80 percent at night.
One major (and often under-discussed) facet of the climate crisis is its impact on the water cycle. As the globe heats up, the stages of the water cycle become more erratic and floods and droughts become more prevalent and extreme. In tropical environments, rising temperatures lead to increased evaporation rates and decreased humidity, causing cacao crops to suffer.
A 2013 report found that the land area suitable for the cultivation of cacao is shifting dramatically. The optimal growing altitude in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, which combined produce over 50 percent of the world's cacao, is expected to rise between 800 and 1,150 feet by 2050.
As suitable growing conditions are pushed uphill, some plots of land will have to be abandoned entirely, and others are likely to experience a dramatic drop in crop yields.
Impacts on Cacao Farmers
The cooperative employs direct trade practices, in which they purchase cacao directly from the local Kichwa people.
The Kichwa remain true to the traditional farming techniques practiced by their ancestors. They grow cacao in chakras, or jungle gardens, that incorporate the tree into the existing rainforest. The result is a decadent variety of all-natural cacao, with no deforestation necessary.
Kallari farmers must now travel deeper into the jungle to harvest their plants. This fact – coupled with changing weather conditions making it more difficult to grow cacao in the first place – puts entire communities like the Kallari farmers at risk.
Kallari generates a portion of its revenue from the sale of chocolate bars, but relies mostly on contracts with European distributors for large quantities of wholesale cacao. Without the ability to provide the best price for the cacao, distributors are quick to turn to other sources.
It's not hard to imagine what could come next. Entire regions could be left without any competitive advantage in the (very competitive) global market. Some cacao farmers may even be forced to clear rainforest land to farm other crops. Which would destroy natural habitats and add carbon to the atmosphere, all while losing precious farming traditions in the process.
Many farming families — whose money is already spread very thin — rely on cacao sales as their only source of income. The Fair Trade Foundation, a global leader in workers' rights, states, "ninety percent of the world's cocoa is grown on small family farms by about six million farmers who earn their living from growing and selling cocoa beans."
All that said, we know what you're thinking, "How will I get my chocolate fix in 2050?" The answer is that you might not at all.
In an interview with the Independent, John Mason of the Nature Conservation Research Centre said, "In 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."
This has many chocolatiers predicting that while chocolate won't necessarily go away entirely, the market may shift from cheaper, more-accessible candies like Hershey bars and Cadbury eggs toward more luxurious chocolates.
Chocoholics: get ready to pay top dollar for what's left of the world's chocolate come 2050 – or perhaps even sooner.
Adapting: The Future of Chocolate
So how can we avoid this chocopocalypse?
Farmers in the Bahia region of Brazil have come up with an innovative solution: the Cacao Cabruca Agroforestry system.
Under this system, cacao trees are planted in the shade of other trees, protecting them from sun, wind, and pests. This technique has been used since the early nineteenth century, but has experienced a surge in popularity due to the rapidly changing climate. In some regions, farmers transplant trees solely for the purpose of providing shade for their cacao.
This system also provides another benefit: it averts deforestation, maintaining the nutrient content of the soil and absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.
But innovation doesn't stop in Brazil. Farmers in Indonesia are working closely with the Rainforest Alliance to implement practices like this as part of a broader commitment to climate-smart agriculture, or CSA. Climate-smart agriculture is an umbrella term for a variety of agricultural practices, all designed to combat the climate crisis while preserving farms. Some of these include replacing synthetic fertilizers with organic compost, planting cover crops to improve soil health, digging trenches to control erosion, and using natural pesticides.
And the good news is that embracing CSA isn't just good for the planet as a whole – it can also be good for individual famers and their crops. Sustainable techniques that focus on soil health have been shown to improve crop yields as well as plant resilience to numerous climate change impacts.
Meanwhile, back in Ecuador at Kallari Association, tourists can visit el vivero, or the plant nursery, which features an experimental plot of different varieties of cacao. The goal is to find a variety that can withstand warmer, drier conditions.
We know that big problems require big solutions.
Farmers and scientists around the world are putting the most innovative practices in sustainable agriculture to work in the field. But if we're going to save the world's culinary treasures, we must all work together to stop this crisis. Bold, swift action on climate will ensure that many generations to come can enjoy the creamy delight of a chocolate bar.
Want to take action on the climate crisis and do your part to protect the world's chocolate supply and the farmers who provide it? We're here to help.
The Climate Reality Project works around the globe to raise awareness of the climate crisis and inspire bold action in communities everywhere. Get involved in your local community by joining one of our local chapters or sign up for our email list to find out how you can fight the climate crisis and protect the world's culinary delights!
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
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.
The so-called "Frameworks for Action" that were announced by the two countries last Thursday not only aim to halt the clearing of forests for cocoa production, especially in national parks and other protected areas, but to restore forest areas that have already been cleared or degraded. They also include commitments to developing alternative livelihoods and crop diversification strategies for cocoa farmers who will be impacted by the conservation plans. (Ivory Coast's action plan can be seen here; Ghana's here).
While halting deforestation is key to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement, recent research has shown that rehabilitating degraded forests is just as important if we are to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.
A number of major players in the chocolate and cocoa industry have already signed on to the Frameworks, including Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Godiva, Hershey, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, Olam, Sainsbury's and more.
According to an investigation by the Washington, DC-based NGO Mighty Earth, much of the cocoa purchased from producers in Ivory Coast and Ghana by these chocolate companies is grown illegally in national parks and other protected areas. In several national parks, the group's investigators found, 90 percent or more of the land has been converted to cocoa production operations.
"Less than four percent of Ivory Coast remains densely forested, and the chocolate companies' laissez-faire approach to sourcing has driven extensive deforestation in Ghana as well," Mighty Earth reported. Aside from destroying habitat relied on by wildlife, this deforestation has also pushed protected species like chimpanzees, elephants, leopards and pygmy hippos into increasingly smaller forest fragments, where they are far easier to hunt and thus more likely to be killed by poachers.
"The ancient forests of our nation, once a paradise for wildlife like chimpanzees, leopards, hippopotamus, and elephants, have been degraded and deforested to the point that they're almost entirely gone. This deforestation is due principally to the cultivation of cocoa," Kouamé Soulago Fernand, the general secretary of ROSCIDET, a network of environmental and sustainable development NGOs in Ivory Coast, said in a statement.
"Our country has become dependent on a cocoa industry that destroys forests and the whole range of ecosystem services they offer the country. We must achieve a sustainable cocoa industry that respects forests and that actually benefits communities and the country's economy. The big chocolate companies must make financial and technical contributions to support the government's conservation efforts."
The new zero deforestation commitments made by Ivory Coast, Ghana and major chocolate companies could have implications outside of West Africa. The destruction of the two countries' rainforests has pushed them to the brink of exhaustion in terms of agricultural viability, leading the chocolate industry to begin considering expansion opportunities in other rainforest regions, such as Africa's Congo Basin, the Amazon in South America and the Paradise Forests of Southeast Asia.
"As an immediate next step, the chocolate industry must announce that it will extend its commitment to No Deforestation Cocoa to chocolate production around the world," Mighty Earth said in a statement. "It's great that the industry is taking steps to protect chimpanzee habitat in Ivory Coast, but that doesn't mean anyone wants to eat a chocolate bar that killed an orangutan in Indonesia or a sloth in Peru."
The announcement of the Frameworks for Action comes after the UK's Prince Charles met with leading chocolate industry companies earlier this year to urge them to root deforestation out of their supply chains. The companies pledged at the time to come up with a plan they could announce publicly when the climate talks in Bonn kicked off in November.
"Prince Charles' longstanding and profound commitment to rainforest conservation has translated into an initiative that may be remembered years from now as the moment West Africa's forests began to grow back," Mighty Earth noted.
But the group warned that the Frameworks represent the beginning of efforts to solve the deforestation crisis in Ivory Coast and Ghana, not the end goal. "There is a lot of work indeed to be done before consumers can feel good again about consuming some of their favorite chocolate brands," Mighty Earth said in a statement. "But consumers and West Africans can at least know that the chocolate industry and their governments are finally setting about the task in a serious way."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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.
"Chocolate companies have taken advantage of corrupt governance in Ghana and the Ivory Coast to deforest parklands," saic Glenn Horowitz, CEO of Mighty Earth. With a rising demand for the world's guiltiest pleasure, chocolate companies are also taking advantage of farmers—on average, these growers are paid less than 80 cents a day. "The main issue is that chocolate producers have neglected to establish a direct relationship with cocoa growers," said Horowitz.
The new report documents cocoa beans' journey through the supply chain: Middlemen, called pisteurs, buy the crop from settlers and transport them to neighboring villages, where they are sold to cooperatives (more middlemen), who sell them to agribusinesses, who then sell them to major chocolate producers.
Despite extensive sustainability initiatives proposed by chocolate corporations like Mars, deforestation rates remain high, and cocoa farmers' wages low—and these companies continue to illegally source cocoa from protected areas. Horowitz hopes Mighty Earth's report will function as a wake-up call, and preface a shift from promises to actions. "Chocolate producers have the power to demand deforestation-free cocoa, and that growers are paid well in the process. We've seen this change in other commodities, such as palm oil, for instance—in which case, consumer companies and traders set strong conservation and human rights standards that, when well-implemented, have made a big difference on the ground."
It's a far-from-impossible task. Several sustainable cocoa companies manage to not only produce cocoa without destroying rain forests, but also to give a fair share of proceeds directly to their growers—in many cases, local smallholder farmers. So, what's stopping major producers from doing the same?
In response to Mighty Earth's report, Amy Truelson, senior manager of external affairs for Mars, wrote, "Mars and the World Cocoa Foundation agree with many of the report's recommendations, notably the importance of forest protection and restoration, sector transparency, joint action for monitoring and compliance, and protecting indigenous community rights. We fully support the World Cocoa Foundation's position that there should be no conversion of any remaining forests in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana for cocoa production." Purportedly, Mars continues to strive toward its goal of sourcing 100 percent of its chocolate from certified sources by 2020 (the company is currently at 50 percent).
Nestle, Hershey's and Godiva did not respond to requests for comment.
The pressure surrounding the issue is mounting. Case in point? The recent pledge that 12 of the largest cocoa and chocolate manufacturers in the world made to Prince Charles of Wales—a longtime proponent of a more sustainable chocolate industry in the name of climate change mitigation. Earlier this year, the Prince of Wales met with companies including Mars, Nestle and Ferrero in London to solidify their commitments to develop a plan to end deforestation in the cocoa industry, which they'll present to the United Nations Framework Convention during next month's Climate Summit.
Horowitz has high hopes for change in the chocolate industry. Still, he warned, "These companies have to understand that they can't just pay lip service to conservation. They're going to have to change the way they do business."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
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.
"This is a critical moment," said Mars CEO and president, Grant F. Reid. "Never before has the responsibility been greater for businesses to step up and help create a healthy planet and a healthy society. Business needs to lead to help deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement."
Barry Parkin, Mars' chief sustainability officer, told Business Insider that the $1 billion green investment was not motivated by POTUS' controversial decision to exit the global accord.
"We're not interested in the politics here—this is about policy," Parkin explained. "We believe in the scientific view of climate science and the need for collective action."
However, he noted, "We're clearly disappointed that the U.S. administration has chosen to withdraw from the Paris agreement."
Mars' website shows that the Sustainable in a Generation plan will focus on three areas with goals in each category:
1. "Healthy Planet"
- Reduce total greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain by 27 percent by 2025 and 67 percent by 2050.
- Eliminate water use in excess of sustainable levels in the value chain.
- Helping to stop, prevent and reverse practices that degrade land and put pressure on natural ecosystems, with a goal of holding flat the total land area associated with their value chain.
2. "Thriving People"
- A goal for everyone working within Mars' extended supply chains to earn a sufficient income to maintain a decent standard of living.
- Improve working lives, from factory workers in Chicago to farmers in Cote D'Ivoire. The goal is to treat workers with fairness, dignity and respect.
- Women earn only 10 percent of the world's income and own less than one percent of the world's property. Mars aims to unlock opportunities for women in the company's workplaces, marketplaces and supply chains.
- Mitigate food safety and security risks around the world.
- Invest in science and product design to improve the nutrition of products while making them the right size for the eating occasion.
- Market products in ways that will help billions of people lead healthier, happier lives.
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.