Now that I know what organic really means, I can never go back.
What Exactly Is Organic Chocolate?
Before writing this article, I always defined organic chocolate as "expensive" chocolate; I never stopped to research why it’s expensive, and what the difference is between organic chocolate and the big-name (cheap) stuff I usually bought.
One of the main differences is that organic chocolate is created using cocoa beans which have not been treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. True organic chocolate should not stop at the cocoa bean—any other ingredients included in the blend (sugar, milk, nuts, fruit, spices, etc.) should be organic as well. Of course, just because the label reads organic does not mean that it is totally organic; check the labels closely—your chocolate’s organic percentage could be anywhere from 70% to 98%.
How Do You Know If Your Chocolate Is Organic?
- There should be a label that reads: USDA Certified Organic. This can be either on the front or the back of the packaging.
- The USDA National Organic program forbids the use of preservatives, artificial colors, and GMOs. If you see any of these listed on the packaging, then your chocolate is not organic
- As mentioned earlier, organic farming should maintain and replenish soil for cacao trees without the use of harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers
- Ideally, organic chocolate is minimally processed, and in separate facilities away from conventional chocolate
What Is the Harm of Eating Conventional Chocolate?
After finding out all this information about organic chocolate, I became dubious in regards to my current big-name chocolate preferences. How, I wondered, was conventional cocoa treated and processed, if not cleanly and with safe environmental practices in mind? One of the most shocking discoveries for me was to find out that conventionally grown cocoa is one of the highest pesticide-using crops out there. For someone who consumes so much chocolate (almost every day), this did not sit well with my mind or stomach.
Here are some additional unpleasantries found in common chocolate:
- High fructose corn syrup: Also referred to as corn sugar, it is commonly found in sodas and other processed drinks and foods. Having too much HFCS has been linked to weight gain, cavities, and poor nutrition
- Artificial flavoring and artificial coloring: While studies are still being made on the effects of using chemical combinations to create "natural" tastes and colors (some claim it can cause allergies and exacerbates those with ADD or ADHD), I always was a bit perturbed to think of ingesting something called “red #5.”
- Wax! This I just find insulting…
Does Organic Chocolate Really Taste Better?
After hours of research, I was at least willing to try some organic chocolate to see if I could taste any difference in flavor and/or quality. Here are the ones I started with:
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Lake Champlain: Milk, Sea Salt & Almonds
My verdict? Small squares of organic bliss, especially if you are a fan of sweet and salty pairings. The chocolate has 38% cocoa content, the almonds give it a nice crunch, and the grey sea salt is splendid.
Dagoba: Lemon Ginger
This is for the dark chocolate aficionados; made with 68% cacao, the lemon essence is stronger than the ginger, perhaps because it’s crystallized. This bar is rich—and even richer is the fact that a portion of the proceeds will help fund tree planting projects in Costa Rica.
Vosges: Enchanted Mushroom
This self-described “haut chocolat” is indeed made with the finer things in life (many of which I have never heard of). The bar is entitled “Enchanted Mushroom” and contains reishi mushrooms (known for various health benefits), walnuts and 66% cacao. For a half-ounce bar, it is definitely a splurge, one that I wouldn’t recommend unless you are an adventurous eater. This was the strongest of the bunch, and the mushroom powder lent a bitter aftertaste.
Organic Chocolate Convert
Now that I’ve tested the organic chocolate waters and sunk my teeth into a few varieties of edible gold, I have to say this: common chocolate fails in comparison. Organic chocolate really does have a more generous, complex taste, and while it can be pricey, I find that I am satisfied with less. In the past (ahem, last week) I could literally devour an entire bar of big-name chocolate in one or two sittings. With the pure, smooth and mouthwatering flavors of organic, I’m happy with just a few squares. Now, more than ever, I love to give and receive chocolates with extraordinary flavor.
In conclusion: The light has been turned on for me; I can see clearly, finally, that chocolate is a thing of beauty and we should treat it (as well as those who make it and as well as ourselves) as such.
Of course, the danger of knowledge is that you are left hungry for more... this is why I decided to write an article on fair trade chocolate. Strangely, organic does not signify fair trade!
© 2012 Dana De Greff