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The darker side to traditional chocolate can leave a bitter taste in your mouth. The favourite indulgence food is made from the beans of the cacao tree, a rainforest species native to Central and South America that thrives in the shade - though the majority of the world’s crop is actually grown in Africa. To do this, swathes of native plant species are cleared to grow the cacao in fields in the sun - destroying habitat, disrupting the soil and leaving wildlife without a home. Taking the tree out of its shaded, protected environment also necessitates the use of fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals to help it grow, to fend off new diseases and keep interested bugs at bay. There are also some shocking labour issues to consider, with reports of the use of child labour and slavery on some cacao farms - identified a few years ago as a big problem particularly in the Ivory Coast, where over 40 per cent of the world’s cacao is grown.
But don’t let this dissipate your cravings for chocolate, because there are indeed environmentally and socially responsible growers and manufacturers out there! In 2006, organically grown cacao (shade grown in its native environment and chemical-free) made up about 0.5 per cent of the market, and Fairtrade certified 0.1 per cent - and these figures are on the rise, thanks to some big movements in the industry. For example, organic label Green & Black’s announced the majority of its line will be certified Fairtrade. Plus, Cadbury has just rolled out the first of its newly certified Fairtrade products.
As well as looking for organic and ethically produced chocolate, you can help lower the impact of your cravings by opting for raw chocolates, which don’t contain anything more than unroasted cacao beans and sweeteners, or chocolates with high cocoa percentages, which use less milk and sugar. Look for natural sweeteners such as agave and steer clear of chocolates made with palm oil (often listed just as ‘vegetable oil’) in lieu of cocoa butter.
Don’t know where to start? Check out these decadent treats…
Cocoa Farm is on the road to growing and using Australia’s first commercial cacao crop in the rainforest of Far North Queensland. In the meantime their cacao is sourced from abroad. Australian-made and available in tasty Milk and Dark, zesty Orange and sweet Honey and Almond, the chocolates ($3.50 for 100g) are Australian Certified Organic. www.farmbynature.com.au
Rawganic chocolates ($6.95 for 60g) are handmade on Queensland’s Gold Coast, come in a range of mouth-watering flavours, including a tingly Chilli & Lime and the exotic Hibiscus & Lucuma. Raw and vegan, the ingredients are sourced from organic and Fairtrade-certified cooperatives in Peru and Mexico. www.rawganic.com.au
Cocolo Swiss-made, Fairtrade chocolates ($5.50 for 100g) are hard to put down. The australian brand makes a deliciously textured White with Almond Crunch and the Dark Bittersweet lives up to its promising name. They’re also certified organic by Switzerland’s independent group bio.inspecta. www.cocolo.com.au
Loving Earth raw chocolates ($7.90 for 100g) are a decadent range with a little something extra, full of adventurous-sounding flavours, like Goji & Camu Camu, Lucuma & Macu and Activated Almond & Purple Corn. Australian made and owned, they’re Australian Certified Organic, made with Fairtrade-certified ingredients and tantalising to the tastebuds. www.lovingearth.net