Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chocolate Labeling Revisited

Earlier this year I posted about how labeling in chocolate can be inaccurate. At the Northwest Chocolate Festival (NWCF), there was a lot of disappointment with chocolate labeling.

One repeated issue seemed to be the use of the traditional terms of Criollo, Trinitario and Forastero to indicate the type (and implicit quality) of cacao (as I explained in an early blog post about cacao trees).

Multiple presentations at NWCF explained that there is no longer any pure Criollo cacao, and that all quality cacao is now pretty much Trinitario that is closer to Criollo on the spectrum of hybridization between Criollo and Forastero. Some people felt that labeling anything as Criollo is deceptive. It also depends who you ask. As one chocolate maker explained, since Criollo means local and Forastero means foreign, if you ask a farmer if his cacao trees are Criollo or Forastero, he'll look at you as if you're stupid: of course they are Criollo (i.e., local)!

Ten distinct genetic types of cacao have actually been identified, and yet none of those names is used in labeling chocolate. Using the three terms of Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero is obviously less meaningful.

The other labeling concern at NWCF was the near universal disdain regarding Fair Trade, which typically requires only 5% or so above market prices. Such pricing is insufficient to pay for the higher costs of growing quality cacao. The chocolate makers I spoke with said they paid anywhere from 30% to 400% higher than market prices for their quality beans (sometimes fermented and dried in a manner they requested). One maker cynically suggested that fair trade certifications seemed to be primarily for marketing and for generating money for the certification organizations.

Because much of the quality cacao is grown on many small (e.g., 1 hectare) farms and then the cacao from multiple farms are brought together for fermentation and drying, the cost of certifying those individual farms is too expensive. Many such farms are organic, but they are uncertified. Similarly, chocolate makers are often paying higher than fair trade prices, but aren't certified. Thus, both labels may be lacking on their products. I try to capture this distinction in our reviews and explicitly mention in the text about certifications.

An ideal label for me would include everything from accurate genetics of the cacao to the detailed dates and methods of harvesting and processing it into chocolate -- way too much information for a reasonable consumer. Another piece of information I would like to know is whether or not any added cocoa butter is made from the same cacao beans as the rest of the chocolate (or if a less expensive cocoa butter was used). One member of the audience in a class asked about finding out the percentage of the retail price of a chocolate bar paid to the farmers for their beans.

Beyond ingredients, what information would you want?

1 comment:

  1. As always, a very informative post.

    The information that I want most of all is the region of the country where the cacao was grown. This is important to establishing terroir. If possible, I'd also like to know the name(s) of the cacao Co-op or the farmers too.