5 Ways to Feel Even Better About your Chocolate Indulgence
Thank you to Alter Eco, featured in our August 2019 BWB, for this terrific article.
If you’re anything like me, you get a little overwhelmed in the chocolate aisle. There are so many choices! All with beautiful packaging designs, bright colors and mouth-watering flavours. How could you possibly choose just one (or even three). Here are a handful of things to look out for when scouring the shelf for your next favourite chocolate indulgence.
Always check the ingredients list. You’re looking for a short list of ingredients, all recognizable. If you can’t pronounce it, stay clear. Although a general rule of thumb is to maintain a diet of mostly whole foods, the nature of chocolate is that it is processed. Of course, cocoa beans can be eaten in their ‘whole’ state, in the form of cocoa nibs, but you don’t get that creamy indulgent satisfaction like a high-quality chocolate bar.
The three main ingredients of most premium chocolates are cocoa (or cacao) beans, cocoa butter and sugar. You may also find vanilla bean, to enhance the flavour of the chocolate base and a few other ingredients for bars that have ‘inclusions’ -- think almonds, fleur de sel and toasted coconut. You don’t need much more than that to create a delicious premium dark chocolate.
You’ve probably heard it countless times, ‘the higher the cocoa percentage the better’. And it’s true, especially if you’re paying attention to sugar in your diet. When 80% of the chocolate bar is cocoa beans, that means there’s only 20% of the remaining ingredients, like sugar and cocoa butter. So, in essence, high cocoa percentage means less sugar.
Similar to green tea or blueberries, cocoa beans are also high in antioxidants known as flavonoids, which help to eradicate free radicals from the body. These ‘superfood’ cacao beans provide a powerful boost to the brain, circulation, heart and skin. The higher the cocoa percentage, the more exposure to these beneficial antioxidants.
Organic and Fairtrade
Consumers are becoming more and more aware of what’s ‘behind’ the products they purchase. They want to be sure their dollars on spent on products and production processes that match their values. The best way to do this is to shop for products with third party verified labels. This guarantees that a neutral auditing organisation is verifying that the claims a brand makes are actually true.
The Organic certification label guarantees the chocolate (or the majority of the ingredients within the chocolate) was grown without the use of harmful chemicals or pesticides. This is important for not only the health of you and your family, but also for the health of the farmer who is growing those cocoa beans.
The Fairtrade certification label guarantees that the ingredients within the chocolate were grown by farmers who were paid a fair living wage for their labor. It also ensures that children were not used in the cultivation or production process.
But be mindful and check the ingredients list! Look for chocolates that use Fairtrade certified cocoa beans, cocoa butter, cane sugar and vanilla. It’s very common for chocolate companies to boast about being ethical and Fairtrade, but only source ONE fair trade ingredient.
Sustainable business practices
Energy and resources are needed to produce any product, and chocolate is no exception. But it is possible to look for chocolate brands that are conscientious of their impact on the environment. Look behind the brand name and beautiful packaging to understand how the company is taking responsibility for their production process. Do they monitor their carbon footprint, participate in reforestation or conservation programs, promote biodiversity in their fields or preserve traditional small-scale cultivation practices? Businesses should be sustainable and regenerative instead of solely focusing on their bottom line.
B Corporation is a great organisation and label to look for when shopping for sustainable businesses. B Corporations are triple bottom line companies like Patagonia, Etsy, Allbirds and Alter Eco that have passed the most rigorous standards for businesses that prioritize social, environmental, and community wellbeing.
Sometimes it’s what you DON’T see in the ingredients that counts the most.
Soy lecithin. Found in many chocolates, soy lecithin is basically the ‘fat’ from soybeans, a by-product from production of soy oil. It’s an inexpensive ingredient that creates an ideal consistency in chocolate. But since this can also be achieved with a little extra cocoa butter, we find soy to be an unnecessary ingredient for premium chocolate. Also, it’s important to note that soy is a common allergen and much of the soy produced world-wide is genetically modified.
Palm oil. Don’t get us started! Palm oil is not inherently unhealthy, aside from being high in saturated fat. But it’s the process in which it’s cultivated that is the most destructive. Thousands of acres of rainforest in South East Asia are cut down every day to grow oil palm trees, destroying habitats of endangered wildlife (like orangutans) and subjecting adults and children to unethical working conditions. But trying to avoid palm oil isn’t so easy. It can hind behind over 200 different names, like ‘vegetable oil’ ‘palmitate’ or ‘sodium lauryl sulphate’. In chocolate, palm oil is often used to create a smooth ganache-like fillings to truffles and nuggets. Be sure to look for companies that don’t include sneaky ingredients that could be palm oil.
GMOs. The process of genetic modification, which takes place in a laboratory, typically merges DNA from different species, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. Does that sound like something you’d want to eat? Not really. The best way to avoid GMOs? Look for the Non-GMO verified logo, or just buy Organic.