You probably think you already know everything you need to know about chocolate.
For instance: The higher the percentage of cacao, the more bitter the chocolate, right? The term “single origin” on the label indicates that the chocolate expresses a particular terroir. And wasn’t the whole bean-to-bar movement started by a couple of bearded guys in Brooklyn?
Wrong; not necessarily; and definitely not.
Americans spend $21 billion on chocolate every year, but just because we eat a lot of it doesn’t mean we know what we’re eating. And misunderstandings at the store can make it especially hard for chocolate lovers to figure out which of the myriad, jauntily wrapped bars crowding the shelves are the best to buy, in terms of both taste and ethics.
One thing that’s clear is that there are more varieties of handcrafted chocolates on offer than ever before, at prices that soar as high as $55 a bar.
According to the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, sales of premium chocolates grew 19% in 2018, compared with 0.6% for mainstream chocolate like the classic Hershey bar. Over the past decade, the number of small American bean-to-bar chocolate producers — the kind with cacao percentages and places of origin printed on those hyper-chic labels — has jumped from about five to more than 250.
But while creativity and technical acuity in chocolate making have blossomed, ethical and environmental concerns still plague the supply chain. Despite a 20-year effort to battle the systemic poverty, child labor and deforestation endemic to the industry, those problems may actually be getting worse.
It might seem a lot to think about as you choose your Valentine’s Day chocolates, but here are answers to some basic questions you may not even know you had.
How is chocolate made?
All chocolate, even white chocolate, starts with the fruit of the cacao tree, an equatorial, Seussian-looking plant with plump, bumpy, ovoid pods that grow directly from the trunk.