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Chocolate. Made from a fruit that was once used as currency, the luscious substance has been revered for centuries. Although cocoa’s botanical designation translates to “food of the gods,” it’s best known as balm for our hearts.
Yet, it can also be a source of heartbreak. In Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer of cocoa, farmers earn about $1 per day. Additional research by Fairtrade International has shown that even their certification—one that pays higher premiums for cocoa—hasn’t succeeded in ensuring farmers earn a living wage.
This crushing poverty undergirds other challenges in the cocoa sector, including child labor and staggering rates of deforestation. According to an assessment funded by the United States Department of Labor, between 2013 and 2014 over 2 million children were engaged in child labor in the cocoa sector in Ivory Coast and Ghana, most of whom participated in “hazardous work.” (These top two producing countries are the most scrutinized, but the problems exist in other countries, as well.) From an ecological perspective, a series of investigative reports by environmental watchdog Mighty Earth determined Ivory Coast has lost approximately 90 percent of its forests since 1960 due to cocoa cultivation. In Ghana, the organization found “deforestation for cocoa has been so extensive that the country could lose all of its forests outside of protected areas.” The report adds that much of the cocoa—typically found in a lot of the candy bars we know and love—“was grown in monocultures without shade and with lots of pesticides, aggravating already severe environmental problems.”
If we want a future that includes chocolate, these problems have to be addressed. And while they may seem abstract, they aren’t insurmountable. That is, if the industry, governments, non-profit advocates, and consumers work together. As chocolate lovers, our job is to become more aware of challenges within the chocolate industry, demand legislation and corporate policies that demonstrate greater accountability around sourcing—and seek out chocolates that make the sector both more sustainable and delicious.
Here are five ways to start.
Special Edition “Alimenta la Solidaridad” Petite Deluxe Truffle Box from Garcia Nevett
Chocolatiers Isabel and Susana Garcia Nevett have an intimate understanding of the unique qualities of Venezuelan cocoa. Although they now reside in Miami, Florida, the sisters hail from Caracas. They work exclusively with cocoa from Venezuela, which is celebrated the world over for rare Criollo varieties of cocoa that offer up aromas of honey, nuts, and dulce de leche. Despite the country’s devastating humanitarian crisis, the crop continues to be sustained by courageous residents who recognize its historic and culinary value.
Garcia Nevett’s special edition box features flavors of their homeland (truffles made with passionfruit, rich 70 percent ganache, and anise and papelón, a derivative of sugar cane) and all proceeds support Alimenta la Solidaridad, a non-profit that feeds malnourished Venezuelans and trains local women to oversee operations.
Single Origin Drinking Chocolate, Belize 72 Percent from Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate
The trend toward single-origin drinking chocolates with more cocoa and less sugar has elevated hot cocoa to an art form, as demonstrated by this intense beverage with aromas of tart cherries, raisins, and dried plums. Dick Taylor is a standout because of its dedication to building relationships with farmers and paying fair wages for the cocoa they procure. The company has worked with producers in Belize who are part of Maya Mountain Cacao, a pioneer in direct trade cacao sourcing, for over eight years.
Dark Chocolate Coconut Clusters, 85 Percent Chocolate from Alter Eco
All of Alter Eco’s products are certified organic and sourced from small-scale farmers, including its moist, decadent clusters of roasted coconut, made with coconut from Sri Lanka enrobed by a thick layer of a blend of Latin America cocoas. “The company has stood out time and time again,” says environmental activist Etelle Higonnet, the lead author of Mighty Earth’s studies on deforestation. “Alter Eco specifically sources deforestation-free, chemical-free cocoa and has been helpful in the initial set-up of a public-private partnership for a nationwide deforestation-free cocoa plan for Ecuador. They show that when a company looks beyond its own supply chain, it can provide a spark for industry-wide transformation.”
BUY IT: Alter Eco Original Dark Chocolate Coconut Clusters, 3.2 ounce bag $6 on Amazon or $5 at Alter Eco
Dark Chocolate & Red Raspberry CollaBARation Bar from Askinosie Chocolate
Springfield, Missouri’s Askinosie Chocolate just picked up a well-deserved Good Food Award for its sharp and sweet dark chocolate-raspberry bar made with cocoa directly sourced by founder Shawn Askinosie from farmers in San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador, and blended with organic raspberries and a pinch of turbinado sugar. “One of our guiding principles,” Askinosie explains, “is that the justice of our chocolate is baked into our business model. Open books, profit sharing, community development, and school lunch programs [for our farmers] is what we do. It’s how we make chocolate.”
Tanzania/Kokoa Kamili 80% Dark Chocolate Bar from Enna Chocolate
Enna Grazier—the founder of Enna Chocolate—has been producing sumptuous, two-ingredient chocolates since 2015. One of her primary sourcing partners is Tanzania’s Kokoa Kamili, a producer that works with approximately 2,000 farmers in the Kilombero Valley and has a zero-tolerance policy against child labor. The chocolate reveals notes of lemon, plus a quality Grazier says “can only be described as ‘sparkle.’ Not a full effervescence, and not a heat. Just a glint of inspiration…a curtain drawing back to hint at something big.”
Originally Appeared on Epicurious