National chocolate week

The 7th of October marked the start of national chocolate week!

For me chocolate is an interesting food because it works on so many levels - mind, body,  spirit and political. Associated with pleasure and melt in the mouth enjoyment, chocolate stimulates the senses and evokes memories in a way that nothing else does. Often given as a gift, chocolate  has a rich and fascinating history.

As far back as 1100 BC there is evidence of a bitter drink known as xocolat. The Aztecs revered chocolate and it played a central role in religious ceremonies and priests would offer cacao seeds to the deities. In  the 19th century chocolate came to England. The Cadbury family developed an emulsification process to make solid chocolate  and the chocolate bar was born. We now have a global multi-million dollar industry with some top brands dominating the market.

Although chocolate originally came from America most of the world's chocolate now comes from West Africa, mainly the Cote d'Ivoire.  Harvesting the beans is labour intensive and the beans need to be fermented for days under large banana leaves before they are ready to be processed. There are only 3 types of cacao bean  used in chocolate making - the Trinitario, Criollio and Forestero bean; the latter being  used in 98% of chocolate production. Due to it's distinctive flavour  the UK chocolate manufacturer Green and Black's only uses the Trinitario bean, which is grown  in either Belize or the Dominican Republic.   Since the 1990s Green and Black's have been trail blazers in the industry, only using quality organic chocolate, produced ethically. Their farmers grow from the heart using the natural bio-diversity of the rain forest to protect the beans from disease. In 1994 Green and Black's produced their first Fair-Trade chocolate, Maya Gold, and this certification has extended across the brand now to include all their products. The company are committed to funding and supporting  local farmers and their communities around the world and use ethical sourcing standards based on international labour conventions, the UN declaration of human rights, the ethical initiatives base code and the soil association organic standards.

Green and Black's and other quality chocolate producers do not use vegetable oils or butter fats in their chocolate production and  their dark chocolate is at least 70% cocoa solids. Whereas those at the mass produced  - sometimes referred to as  the "bad chocolate" end  of the market - can often use  as little as 7 % cocoa solids in their product. Some using artificial vanilla and vegetable oil to mask poorly fermented/roasted beans.

Over the last few years research has demonstrated some health benefits  associated with eating modest amounts of quality chocolate, which contains  at least 70% cocoa solids. The main benefits being some protection from cardio-vascular disease, the lowering of blood pressure and, by stimulating the production of serotonin,  there are some mood  enhancing effects.

So, behind every piece of chocolate  there is a human interest story of truly global proportions. Give it some thought when you next make your purchase.

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