Organic and fairtrade chocolate

You can pay a premium for organic and fairtrade chocolate, but do they taste any better than standard chocolate?
 
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01 .Introduction

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With a growing number of organic and fairtrade products on the market, chocoholics can now indulge themselves in good conscience (the waistline’s another matter). We set out to find the top buys, by asking 30 CHOICE staff members and three experts to taste 11 different types of organic and fairtrade chocolate blocks - five milk and six dark. The dark chocolate ranged from 46% cocoa content to 72%.

In general, despite their premium price, our test found most of these chocolates taste pretty ordinary; it seems you buy organic and fairtrade chocolate for a clear conscience rather than the taste. However, our experts say there are a few in the bunch that compare favourably with good commercial blocks. Interestingly, our staff and experts didn’t agree on the milk chocolate, but there was general consensus on the dark.

How we test

Our experts and 30 CHOICE staff members assess 11 different chocolates. Brand names are disguised as much as possible without marring the appearance of the chocolate. The lay panel scores the chocolate on a scale from 1-5 – 1 being “like a lot” and 5 being “dislike a lot” – and comments on why they give the rating. Our expert panel provides an overall score out of 10, taking into consideration appearance, aroma, texture and taste. Thank you to our expert panel: Matthew and David Gee run a chocolate appreciation workshop at Barista Basics Coffee academy in Sydney. Fiona Mair is CHOICE’s home economist; she has extensive experience in food and beverage judging.

 
 

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Dark chocolate

Our staff and experts generally agreed on the pick of the dark chocolates. Alter Eco Dark Chocolate Velvet Touch of Organic Milk topped the staff panel test, with Green &dark_velvet Black’s coming a close second; these two tied for the top spot with the experts. Alter Eco caused a little controversy, however; its high cocoa butter content and the presence of milk mean it can’t be considered a true dark chocolate. Some of the hard-core dark chocolate lovers among the staff complained that it was “too soft and sweet for a dark chocolate” and “disappointing”.

Our in-house expert judge, Fiona Mair, also marked it down for its similarity to milk chocolate, but would have scored it well in that category. With a higher cocoa content than regular milk chocolate, it could be considered a dark chocolate for the milk chocolate lover. Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate, on the other hand, is a more authentic dark chocolate.

Loving Earth deserves a dishonourable mention, with both the staff panel and experts placing it last. It is also the most expensive, at $7.90 a bar. This was the only raw chocolate in the test, included because it looks and is packaged like a traditional chocolate block. As the cocoa isn’t heated during the production process, this product isn’t going to have the same texture as regular chocolate. The agave used instead of sugar also adds to its different flavour. If eating raw food appeals to you, you may find this product appealing – just don’t expect it to be exactly like regular chocolate. 

Milk chocolate

Our staff panel and experts didn’t see eye-to-eye on the milk chocolate. Cadbury Dairy Milk topped the list for the staff panel, but came bottom for the experts. cadburyWith all plain Cadbury Dairy Milk blocks now carrying Fairtrade certification, it was interesting to see how it fared against the lesser known brands. Staff found it “sweet” and “pleasant” – “a good, traditional-tasting milk chocolate”. It didn’t score quite so well for some of the dark chocolate lovers in the group, who found it too sweet and tasteless – “lacking cocoa flavour”. Our experts described it as  “an average chocolate bar – not unpleasant, but not top-ranking” and “commercial and ordinary, with not many redeeming features”.organic 

 

The experts scored Aldi’s Just Organic Milk at the top. While they deemed Cocolo to have a more complex flavour profile, with dairy notes, Just Organic is better overall. “It’s the best value-for-money chocolate out of all of them – excellent quality for $1.99 a block,” said David Gee. It also covers all organic and Fairtrade certification bases. Green & Black’s fared quite well among the staff panel, with Just Organic claiming third place and Cocolo rounding out the bottom of the list.

 

 

chocolate-table

USING THE TABLES Experts score each chocolate on a scale of 1-10, “1” being poor and “10” being amazing. Scores are then averaged.
Staff rank Chocolates are ranked according to staff taste test scores, with “1” being the most preferred. Ethical trade policies only refers to a company that is not fairtrade-certified, but has ethical trading policies in line with fair trade principles. Price per 100g is based on prices paid in Sydney stores in October and November, 2010

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The darker side of chocolate

Cocoa production is fraught with both human rights and environmental controversy, most notably:

  • Deforestation Cocoa farming is estimated to be responsible for the loss of millions of hectares of tropical rainforest. In Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire, only small patches of original forest still stand in the wake of cocoa farming. The average cocoa plantation is productive for about 25 years, then more land is cleared to make way for the next. Unless sustainable farming practices are implemented, our current demand for cocoa means continuing deforestation.
  • Pollutants Cocoa farmers use agricultural chemicals to limit losses from disease and pests, which can run off to the surrounding environment. While the final product may only have trace residues, producers are at risk; with most farms located in the developing world, safety precautions are not always taken or enforced, leaving farmers vulnerable to high levels of these chemicals.
  • Poverty More than 30 developing countries grow cocoa, produced mainly by farms that are family-owned and run, with cocoa their sole source of income. Many of those small farmers have no access to the market and are unaware how much their crop is worth; they’re often paid lower than the market price by middlemen. There is a long chain from bean to bar, so farmers only receive a small piece of the pie.
  • Child labour The sad reality is that the chocolate treat in your child’s lunchbox may be produced using child labour. In some countries it is accepted cultural practice for children to work on the farm as a transition into the family business. But some of these children are exposed to dangerous farming practices: they administer agricultural chemicals without protective clothing and work long hours, keeping them from school. Trafficking children to work on other farms is not uncommon.

The Fairtrade and organic movements

Between 2008 and 2009, retail sales of fairtrade-certified products in Australia and New Zealand increased by 58%, while the number of buyers of organic products doubled in the five years up to 2008. More products have both fairtrade and organic certification, meaning you can be doubly sure your chocolate is ethically tasty.

Fair trade chocolate

The fairtrade movement was started in the 1950s by not-for-profit importers wanting to alleviate poverty and improve the livelihoods of struggling producers. Over the years, alternative trade organisations began popping up all over the world. Twenty-four organisations worldwide now form Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International (FLO), which sets fairtrade standards and coordinates the movement. Fairtrade guarantees a fair price for farmers (the fairtrade price), protecting them from world market fluctuation. They also receive an additional sum (the fairtrade premium) for investment in their business and community. The standards also prohibit child labour.

The Fairtrade Association says this system benefits farmers and producers through:

  • A fair and stable price for their produce.
  • Security of long-term contracts.
  • Investment in local community development.
  • Improved working conditions.
  • Environmentally-sustainable farming methods.
  • Support in gaining the knowledge and skills needed to operate successfully in the global economy.

The Fairtrade symbol on a label means a product’s ingredients have been obtained in line with fairtrade policies; that the manufacturer and product, from bean to bar, are independently audited to ensure the policies are followed. However, our analysis of endorsement schemes (see CHOICE, March 2010) found that Fairtrade certification falls short on one aspect – it is generally given to “producer organisations” rather than individual farmers.

These organisations can be comprised of hundreds or sometimes thousands of farmers, meaning a “group certification” model is followed. For verification, a random check of a representative sample of individual farmers is conducted, meaning some farms may never be visited – an unavoidable reality, as it is implausible for Fairtrade to inspect every single farm each year. The system also favours small producers, so manufacturers are limited to a specific group of producers if they want to be Fairtrade-certified.

Organic chocolate

Organic cocoa beans are produced using farming practices that work in harmony with the local ecosystem to ensure sustainability. This results in a farm that can continually produce crops without depleting the soil of nutrients – meaning no more forest-clearing. Organic farming also emphasises renewable resources and conservation of energy and water. No synthetic chemicals are used, so minimal residue is left in the finished product and workers are not exposed to high levels of synthetic pesticides or agricultural chemicals.

Certifying bodies in various countries set standards that must be adhered to in order to carry a certification logo; certified companies are audited to ensure compliance with the standards. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service established a national organisational standard, and seven Australian organisations are accredited to certify products. In our investigation of endorsement schemes, we highly recommended the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and NASAA Certified Organic (NCO) organisations for their conduct, standards and transparency. Imports certified under a foreign system must also meet Australia’s National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic Produce and have documentation to support this.

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