Chocolate In A Changing World Of Cacao

Chocolate. Loved by many, a rich, decadent confection that has been a part of the American tapestry for as long as any of us dare to remember. All the chocolate you could want forever, right?

Wrong. This sweet treat and the world that produces it are changing before our very eyes.

Cacao beans are used to make chocolate.
Cacao beans, used to make chocolate, dry in the sun in Western Samoa; circa 1955. [Photo by John Titchen/Three Lions/Getty Images]

The process is relatively straightforward. Harvesters around the world grow cacao, largely in Africa’s Ivory Coast and Ghana as well as Indonesia. Raw cacao beans are dried and fermented, then shipped by the ton to chocolatier factories around the world where the beans are roasted, pulverized, and mixed with varying proportions of milk and sugar to produce chocolate, a favorite for people in countries all over the world.

What’s the fuss then? What’s going on? As Raw Story has very recently reported, chocolate bars are “changing shape, getting smaller, or contain a lower cocoa content, so they just don’t taste as good.” The report continues to cite this recent turn of events as the result of industry cost-cutting decisions in the face of increased prices for raw cacao and cocoa butter.

It’s not the first time we’ve been skimped in response to market pressures. CNN Money shed light on the miniaturization of food packaging and the quantity they contained at the start of the “Great Recession” that began in 2008. Chocolate is no different. In fact, this should come as no surprise when taking into account the exotic nature of the raw materials and resources required to ship them intercontinentally, as well as the concerns over a changing ecological climate and child labor. Some 2.1 million children were put to work harvesting cacao in the Ivory Coast in Ghana in the 2014/2015 season.

What’s more, within the next twenty years we may miss the days of yore when high-quality chocolate was considered relatively affordable. Futuretimeline.net, a prominent resource that tracks current news and projected trends that shape our future, sees chocolate bars as a luxury, “rare and expensive as caviar” by 2031.

The origins of chocolate stretch back millennia to the region of Mesoamerica, home of the Mayans and Aztecs. We know from archaeological discoveries and interpretation that these ancient peoples made chocolate into a drink called xocolātl, or “bitter water”, the word and preparation proving to be the origin of modern-day “chocolate.”

Chocolate has been tampered with a lot longer than recent months, however. York Peppermint Patties have contained PGPR (polyglycerol polyricinoleate), a viscosity-reducing agent derived from castor oil, since an industry-wide switch in 2006. The choice to use this cost-cutting compound instead of traditional cocoa butter marked the end of an era of more recognizable ingredients in the world of chocolate.

Chocolatiers often use fresh and premium ingredients when crafting chocolate.
Chocolatier Ricardo Trillos, crafts bonbons with chocolate made from Venezuelan cacao beans; Miami, Florida, February 2015 [Photo by Lynne Sladky/AP Images]
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If you look hard enough, you can still find glimmers of chocolate-covered hope, however. It may come with additional expense, however if you find family-run or small-scale chocolatiers who use a more natural process and pronounceable ingredients, you can count yourself a winner.

The deliciousness of chocolate comes with a host of medical benefits, many of which are becoming more understood as time goes on. The lowering of cholesterol, prevention of memory decline and reduction of heart disease and stroke are just a few perks you can feel good about when consuming chocolate, according to Medical News Today.

As our planet and environment continue to evolve before our very eyes, there are definite actions that can be taken to ensure that chocolate and the cacao required to produce it remain sustainable for decades to come. One can only imagine the multitudes of people that hope for the continued affordability of their favorite treat.

As long as our collective confidence in human ingenuity and optimism for future solutions withstands never-ending challenges, you can rest assured that chocolate will be a part of our earthly landscape for a long, long time.

[Photo by iStock]