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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
Nui makes an intense and flavourful raw dark chocolate ($7.50 for 70g) that's made in Australia from Vanuatu-sourced, sustainably grown and Fairtrade-certified cacao. The 80 per cent blend is sweetened slightly with raw cane sugar and has a generous helping of solid cacao nibs for extra texture and punch. www.nuigeneration.com
Lindsey & Edmunds chocolate slabs ($16.50 for 175g) are a little bit fancy and a whole lot delicious. Australia’s first handmade certified Fairtrade and organic chocolates (Australian Certified Organic) have subtle, melt-in-your-mouth white, milk and dark flavours accented with a variety of tastes, including wild-harvested cape gooseberries and sour cherries. Made in Canberra. www.lindseyandedmunds.com.au
Green & Black's chocolates ($3.99 for 100g) with smooth and intense flavours such as the orange and spice infused Maya Gold and the velvety rich Creamy Vanilla White Chocolate, are an addictive delight. Made in Italy by a UK company, they’re certified organic by the UK Soil Association and though Maya Gold has always been Fairtrade-certified, most other varieties are soon to follow. www.greenandblacks.com
Alter Eco Swiss-made chocolates ($6.95 for 100g) are Fairtrade-certified and made with organic ingredients certified by Quality Insurance International. The range of darks, including Crystalised Orange Peel and a refreshing Mint are gorgeous, and the Milk Cajou, with its cashews and raisins, is particularly morish. www.alterecopacific.com
Plamil eco-aware chocolates will have vegans rejoicing. The hand moulded premium range ($3.25 for 50g) includes a scrumptious Rum-flavoured Chocolate and Raisins and a bold Dark Chocolate with White Mint Chocolate chips. They're made in a renewable energy powered factory in the UK, certified organic by the Soil Association and available through www.veganperfection.com.au.
For more ideas for guilt-free indulgence this Easter, check out the April/May issue of G magazine. Also look for local companies Scarborough Fair, Cocoa Rhapsody, Chocalatier and Organic Times, and from abroad Askinosie, Oxfam, Booja-Booja, Endangered Species, Dagoba, Kaoka and Artisse.
Did you know?
- Chocolate is produced from the roasted beans of the cacao tree, whose botanical name, Theobroma cacao, means ‘food of the Gods’.
- Chocolate was first discovered around 600 AD by the Mayan Indians of Central America, who made a spiced cacao bean drink called ‘chocolatl’.
- It takes an entire year’s crop from a single cacao tree (20-30 pods) to make 450 g of chocolate.
- Though native to Central and South America, around 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in Africa. The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the world’s largest producers.
- Over 3.5 million tonnes of cacao beans were produced globally in 2008/2009.
- 53,000 tonnes of cacao beans are imported into Australia each year.
- Australians eat around 120,000 tonnes of chocolate confectionary each year – almost 6 kg per person!