What do these all mean and which ones should you pay attention to when you’re choosing your chocolate? Good question! Some relate to labor practices, others relate to the environmental circumstances surrounding the farming.
Here at Root Chocolate, we’ve discussed where cacao farmers fit into the picture, the complications of importing cocoa beans, the benefits of slowing down our interaction with food, and the importance of supply chain, and the relevance of genetics. Now let’s talk about the external certifications that can factor into your decisions around chocolate purchases and consumption.
I’m not going to claim that one certification is better than another or that any one of these means your chocolate is sustainably produced and sourced, but let’s go into what each of them mean.
“The organic standards describe the specific requirements that must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic. Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.” Read more about the definition on the National Organic Program page of the USDA.
There are quite a few regulations involved in obtaining and maintaining this certification, including fees, inspections, and a waiting period, among others. The processes can be onerous for very small family farms, which is where most fine chocolate is grown. That said, many small farms refrain from using expensive pesticides and are considered “de facto” organic, even if they do not have official certification.
Learn more about organic chocolate and organic processes here:
- Ecole: Organic Chocolate
- USDA List of Certified Organic Chocolate Producers (search product: chocolate)
- International Cocoa Organization: Organic & Fair Trade
- Farm Wars
Eating local chocolate is a difficult concept for those of us who do not live within 20 degrees of the equator. Cocoa beans traditionally come from tropical places close to the equator. The only US state that naturally produces cacao is Hawaii. For chocolate to truly be local, its beans must grow in the same place as the chocolate production, which would all be the same place as the consumer taking that delicious bite of chocolate. You can find truly local chocolate at a few places, including the following:
- Lonohana in Hawaii
- Madre in Hawaii
- Chocolates El Rey in Venezuela
- Franceschi in Venezuela
- Pacari in Ecuador
- Madecasse in Madagascar
- Adi Chocolate in Fiji
- Marou in Vietnam
- Amma in Brazil
Alternatively, you can buy chocolate from local chocolate-makers, even though the cocoa beans may come from halfway around the world. For example, if you live in Portland, Oregon, buy local chocolate from Cocanu, Woodblock, Treehouse Chocolate, Pitch Dark, or Mana Chocolate.
Single origin chocolate is another label that you may find on your favorite chocolate bar. This means that the cocoa beans that constitute the bar you’re eating all come from the same country. They may even come from the same region or co-op or farm, but those parts are not guaranteed. Remember that the genetics vary even within the same cocoa pod? Well, there’s also wide variety among beans from a single country, not to mention region.
Valhrona made this concept popular more than two decades ago. The trend is still going strong! In fact, one of our favorite chocolate-makers, Dandelion, makes purely single origin bars. The logic behind single origin bars comes from the concept of terrior, borrowed from the wine industry. Beans take on a flavor based on the environment in which they grew, fermented, and dried.
Learn more about single origin chocolate here:
Look for Chocolate Labels, Part 2, coming out later this week, where we’ll go into depth about Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, and Direct Trade!