Bitter Chocolate

It’s one of the most highly advertised product categories in the world. Chocolate addicts brag about their devotion. Innumerable recipes zealously guarded combine it with nuts, liqueur, and fruits to melt in the mouth with a palette of exotic flavours. Chocolatiers have their own product lines, much like the fashion lines from Milan.  Or it is added to European loaf recipes like Babka. The research conclusions are impressive. Chocolate contains flavonoids and antioxidants that help to keep cancer and heart disease at bay. It’s supposed to uplift moods and keep you happy. Eat too much of it can plunge you into a depression as well. It still isn’t clear whether people turn to chocolates because they are depressed or the other way around. And it is the ultimate dealbreaker for those trying to stay on a diet. Chocolate has everything going for it – history, innovation, and controversy.

Much of the controversy centres around the origin of the bean. Extracted from labour farms in Africa where people work in inhuman conditions, the flow of cocoa into factories around the world is controlled from economies ruled by despots. In one of the countries from which chocolate is sourced – Ivory Coast, it is the single largest lever of power. In a rigged election where the political situation is fluid, a ban on the country’s exports is sending rising cocoa prices to stratospheric levels. To try and avoid the backlash that affects a $16 billion business in the United States a Fair Trade Certification was introduced to counter the exploitative methods of collecting cocoa.

In 2010, a cocoa trading company – Armajaro, cornered close to 7% of the world’s cocoa production. With their own weather stations at strategic locations, they were able to determine minute stock movements and profit from it. Since 2008, the price of chocolate has galloped nearly 150%. That makes it a market ripe for increased exploitation and down the line, customers around the world will end up paying through their nose for another one of life’s simple pleasures. The bitter aftertaste is likely to linger much longer than customers would like.