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With the wealth of information surrounding chocolate and cacao, much has been overlooked or misunderstood. Here, I dig deep into topics related to chocolate and cacao, as well as summarize current research being persued today.

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Dark Chocolate and Inflammation

Posted on April 7, 2017 at 12:40 AM

This is a summary and explanation of:

R. di Giuseppe et al. (2013). The Role of Dark Chocolate on Inflammation: A Bitter Taste for a Better Life.  Chapter 27, 371-378.

Chocolate contains flavanols (catechins, epicatechins, and procyanidins), which are antioxidants. These antioxidants inhibit oxidation, which is a process that results in free radicals causing damage to cells, and has been linked to aging and cell disruption or cell death.  It's a normal process within living organisms, but research has lead to the idea that one's current environment and diet may be speeding up this process.  Diets high in antioxidants may slow down the rate of oxidation, which could also slow down the rate of cell disruption that leads to diseases such as stroke and heart attacks.  It is currently a controversial area of research. 

di Giuseppe et al. begins to explain what sort of chocolate is the most beneficial.  Dark chocolate has a greater amount of these flavanols (antioxidants) than milk chocolate. The flavanols are contained in the dark, nonfat, solids of the cocoa bean, and so milk chocolate essentially dilutes the amount of polyphenols. In fact, it is believed that milk proteins may interfere with intestinal absorption. It's been observed that 200g of milk chocolate, or 100g of dark chocolate taken with 200 ml of full fat milk, both have reduced antioxidant capacity when ingested compared to just 100g of dark chocolate without milk (Serafini et al., 2003). Cocoa powder, which is the dark cocoa solid with much of the fat removed, has the highest flavanol content. However, dutched cocoa powder, which makes up nearly all the cocoa powder purchased in stores, has very little of the flavanols left, even less than dark chocolate itself. The alkalinization process that makes it "dutched" reduces the flavanol content.

Chocolate flavonoids as anti-inflammatory agents:

Engler et al. (2004) found that dark chocolate consumption increases blood plasma epicatechin, which helps with vasodilation. This in turn may help with cardiovascular disease, such as reducing risk of atherosclerosis (Wan et al., 2001).  Atherosclerosis is the condition of plaque build up and vessel hardening, which reduces arterial blood flow and can lead to strokes and heart attacks.  

Dark chocolate and platelets:

The anti-inflammatory effects of cocoa flavonoids can be measured by looking at platelet and endothelial cell activation.  Platelets flow to sites of tissue damage and close open wounds to reduce and stop blood loss.  However, they also add to the build up around damaged blood vessels; damage that free radicals may casually play a role in.  

Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease.   Platelets can enhance this thickening effect, and progress the atherosclerosis to the final development of arterial thrombosis.

Rein et al. (2000) observed a significant reduction in platelet microparticles 2-6 hours after ingesting flavonoid-rich cocoa beverage. It has also been shown to have an aspirin-like effect, inhibiting epinephrine-induced platelet function and activation (Pearson et al., 2002).  Aspirin prevents platelets from building up and forming a clot, thinning the blood, which is beneficial to those at risk for blood clots.  

Dark chocolate and eicosanoids:

Eicosanoids are metabolites that mediate the inflammatory processes.  They send out signals to induce swelling, redness, and heat.  Chocolate flavonoids may regulate the production of eicosanoids (Schramm et al., 2001), negatively affecting inflammation.

Dark chocolate and cytokines:

Cytokines are molecules that send messages out during times of immune response and stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of infection and trauma.  They also interact with eicosanoids.  

Chocolate flavanols (procyanidins) stimulate anti-inflammatory cytokines and control production of their pro-inflammatory counterparts. In a study on 25 healthy subjects, who ingested 36.9g of dark chocolate and 30.9g of cocoa powder drink for 6 weeks, reduced LDL oxidizability.  Low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, have a greater risk of being oxidized by free radicals than HDL.  Once LDL are oxidized, they become more reactive with the surrounding tissue, and can lead to blood vessel tissue damage.  Once the tissue is damaged, it leads to inflammation in the area that leads to plaque build up and arterial wall hardening, thickening, and decreased blood flow.    

Dark Chocolate and CRP:

C-reactive protein, or CRP, is used as a blood test marker for inflammation in the body. It is produced in the liver, and its levels will rise in response to inflammation. Flavonoid-rich foods (such as chocolate) have been shown to be inversely associated with CRP concentrations found in blood serum.

In a 1-week study of participants ingesting 100 g of dark chocolate, CRP levels in women (but not in men) were reduced by 23%. Platelet reactivity and LDL levels also decreased in all participants, with a rise in HDL levels.

di Giuseppe et al. (2008) compared 1317 subjects who ate no chocolate in the past year, with 824 subjects who ate dark chocolate regularly (median intake of 5.7 g dark chocolate per day), and found significant association between serum CRP and dark chocolate consumption. Dark chocolate consumers did somewhat have more healthy dietary habits (eating less meat, refined cereal, and alcohol), but adjustment for these and other factors didn't modify the association that dark chocolate eaters had lower CRP levels, but only slightly decreased the strength of the association.  They also observed that consumers of up to one serving (20g) of dark chocolate every 3 days had serum CRP concentrations that were lower than both non-consumers and those who consumed more than 20g every 3 days, suggesting moderation.  

di Giuseppe et al. suggest that small doses of dark chocolate could be more effective than higher doses. Since chocolate is high in fat, eating too much could increase total energy and saturated fatty acid intake, which could cancel out or decrease the protective effects of the polyphenols on inflammation.


Dark chocolate consumption, due to its flavanol content, is becoming associated with reducing inflammation, especially in regards to individuals with a high risk of cardiovascular disease.  The flavanols, also classified as antioxidants, can interact with molecules and cell communication to decrease vascular inflammation.  Although the benefits of chocolate, and even the benefits of antioxidants are still not fully understood and controversial, there appears to be some promise of their effect on reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.  di Giuseppe et al. do note that moderation is key, with too much dark chocolate consumption possibly canceling out its benefits at a more more moderate level of 5-7 g per day.  

Taste of chocolate affected by sound

Posted on March 12, 2017 at 5:10 PM



This is a summary and explanation of:

Carvalho et al. (2016). "Smooth operator": Music modulates the perceived creaminess, sweetness, and bitterness of chocolate. Appetite 108, 383-390.

In this experiment, participants tasted and rated chocolate while listening to two distinct soundtracks, coined "creamy" or "rough". What they didn't know was the chocolates they ate during both experiments were the same. The idea here is that the participant's perception of the chocolate will change according to the type of music they listened to.


What ideas and facts lead to this hypothesis?

Sound has a profound effect on our perception of food. Soundtracks have been used to modulate basic taste attributes such as sweetness or bitterness. As well, the more pleasant a person perceives a sound, the more they will perceive an odour to be pleasant (sensation transference). Since flavour combines taste and odour, sound may also affect overall eating experience.


The look of food also has an effect on the experience of it. Round shapes tend to be associated with creaminess and sweetness, and angular shapes tend to be associated with a food being bitter.


The bouba-kiki effect was considered, which states that people associated round/smooth visual or auditory cues with "bouba"-like words, and sharp/rough stimuli with "kiki"-like words. They found a flute's simpler sound wave was rated smoother than the complex sound of a violin.


Components of the experiment:

Participants were told they will be tasting chocolate while listening to music. The experiment lasted about 10 minutes. They were not given any details about the chocolate they ate.


1. Taste stimuli

While listening to the "creamy" soundtrack, they ate 4 chocolates in total. Two were 71% dark chocolate (one smooth dome chocolate, and one angular shaped chocolate), and two were 80% dark chocolate in the shame two shapes. While listening to the "rough" soundtrack, they ate the exact same line of 4 chocolates. The chocolate contained cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, and natural vanilla flavor).

2. Auditory stimuli

Two soundtracks were prepared, one corresponded to smoothness/creaminess, and the other to roughness.

The creamy soundtrack consisted of a loop-ascending scale of consonant-long flute notes, mixed with large hall reverberation.

The rough soundtrack consisted of a loop-ascending scale of three blended dissonant-dry pizzicato short violin lines.

The reasoning for the choice in soundtrack is that soft/smooth sounds correlated with long-constant legato notes. Hard rough sounds were associated with long-constant-legato notes. In a study by Eitan and Rothschild (2010) higher louder pitches/notes were rated as rougher/harder. Violin was rated rougher and drier compared to the flute.


The Findings:

Participants rated chocolates creamier when listening to the "creamy" soundtrack. Chocolate type (71% or 80%) did not have a significant effect on the participants. Chocolates also tasted sweeter when listening to the creamy soundtrack, which might be due to a positive correlation with creaminess and sweetness in the minds of the participants. Sweetness could be used as a proxy for creaminess, just as bitterness can be used as a proxy for alcohol level as seen by Stafford et al. (2012). As well, notes for creaminess are the same used to represent sweetness. Therefore, the creamy soundtrack could enhance the effect on texture while also giving the perception of the chocolate's sweetness. Participants also rated chocolates as tasting more bitter when listening to the "rough" soundtrack.


Overall, participants liked the creamy soundtrack more, but no significant difference was found in terms of participants enjoyment of the chocolates when comparing the two soundtrack ratings. That is, participants liking for the soundtrack didn't affect overall enjoyment of the chocolates. This part is key, since those in the industry can use music to alter the perceptual effect of food without altering its hedonic experience (whether they like it or not).  The shape of the chocolate didn't seem to affect the participant's rating of creamy or roughness.  


Limitations & further questions:

The author notes some limitations in the experiment. It's difficult to know if there is only one or several mechanisms underlying these sound-chocolate associations. It could be argued that the results reflect some form of sensation transference effect, rather than true crossmodal correspondence (which is using multiple sensory input such as auditory and taste and how they overlap with one another to affect the outcome)


There is also the possibility of cross modal attention, which is essentially multi tasking our sensory system. Doing so may cause delays, such as delay in visual cues if listening to the phone while driving. These participants were in a sense, multi tasking by actively listening while actively tasting. Does directing your attention to one sensory modality happen at the expense of others? Does an individual listen to the music, which affects their mood, then taste the chocolate? Or are they actively taking in the music while tasting, or tuning out the music while they focus on tasting? Some interesting questions to better understand the mechanisms behind this sound-taste correlation.

Chocolate and the brain. Cocoa flavonoids and the brain.

Posted on March 7, 2017 at 6:40 PM

This is a summary and explanation of:


Sokolov et al. (2013). Chocolate and the brain: Neurobiological impact of cocoa flavanols on cognition and behavior. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37 (10), 2445-2453.


This paper presents some good insight into how effects of cocoa flavanols on the brain are currently being studied, and reviews an array of papers on the issue. A more detailed look into the studies mentioned, with references, can be found in the bibliography of the resource above. Keep in mind, many of these studies observed benefits from ingesting "high-flavanol" cocoa. The levels exceed what you would normally find in even the darkest chocolate bar on store shelves today.  However, it's still interesting to see how the flavanols contained in chocolate and cocoa interact with the body.   


What are flavonoids?

Let's begin with the term antioxidants, which are an array of molecules found in foods that are currently being researched and debated. The reason they are such a hot topic is that antioxidants may fight disease and aging. There are many sources that will explain what an antioxidant is in more detail, but here I'll tell you how antioxidants and cocoa flavanols fit into what will be looked at here.


Antioxidant is an umbrella term for many different kinds of molecules. In this case, we are discussing polyphenols, which is a term given to the tannins found in cocoa. Tannins are also found in tea, coffee, red wine, and give the characteristic dark colour and dry feeling in our mouth. More specifically though, we are talking here about flavonoids, a category of polyphenols. Even more specifically, we are talking about flavanols (not to be confused with flavonols), a subgroup of flavonoids. Flavanols are found in many foods, but in regards to cacao we are concerned with two specific molecules we will be dealing with, namely catechin and epicatechin.


To summarise, Epicatechin and catechin are flavanols, which belong to a group called flavonoids.  Flavonoids fall under the category of polyphenols, which are (not always, but in this case) antioxidants.


Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavanols. Cocoa beans are composed of up to 20% flavonoids, flavanols being the most common. There have been many more studies that appear to link cardiovascular health with the flavanols found in chocolate. Here, Sokolov et al. review many studies associated with how flavanols in chocolate may be beneficial to cognition, memory, and overall brain health. This area of research has promise, but not enough work has been completed yet to confirm or fully explain many of these benefits.


How do flavanols impact the brain?

Sokolov et al. explains how flavanols act on the brain in 2 ways:


1. Flavanols can pass through the blood-brain barrier (as seen in animal studies) and interact directly with the neuron cells of the brain. They trigger gene expression and protein synthesis in these neuron cells, which help the neuron create proteins that either a) protect neurons or b) help communicate with other neurons. This in turn promotes: new brain cell growth, and neuron function & brain connectivity.


2. Flavanols improve blood-flow and promote new blood vessel growth in the brain and sensory system. Flavonoids help produce nitric oxide, which inhibits inflammation caused by atheromatous plaque adhesion molecules. As well, this improved blood flow supplies more oxygen and glucose to the neurons, and removes wastes products from the brain.


Epicatechin, a flavanol found in chocolate, is detectable in the blood 30 minutes after intake, peaks 2-3 hours after intake, and begins to decrease over few more hours after peaking. Sokolov et al. suggest that if flavanols can indeed penetrate the blood-brain barrier, and accumulate in the brain regions related to learning and memory, it could have a positive effect on cognition.


The Research Reviews


1.0 Neuroprotective action of cocoa flavanols in aging and neurological disease.


This section looks at how cocoa flavanols protect the brain in aging individuals, and those with diseases such as Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's, and stroke. These diseases are associated with lower levels of blood flow to the brain, and cacao flavanols have been shown to improve this blood flow.


Animal studies

1.1 Rozan et al., (2007) fed rats ACTICOA powder, which is specifically manufactured cocoa with very high levels of flavanols, much greater than you would find through more traditionally manufactured chocolate and cocoa. The rats fed ACTICOA had reduced free radical production after heat exposure, improved cognitive abilities, and better able to reach the goal in a Morris water maze. Bisson et al., (2008) had similar results on cognition with aged rats and ACTICOA.


1.2 Fernandez-Fernandez et al. (2012) worked with mice who were bred to have the human equivalent of the human Alzheimer's disease.  They fed them the LMN diet, a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols from dried fruits and cocoa). Once the amyloid plaques formed (which are proteins that build up around the neurons, blocking and preventing cells in the brain from communicating), they were fed this diet for 5 months, and began being tested after 3 months of the LMN diet. They saw reversed behaviour effects of the aging and "Alzheimer's" mice. When the mice were fed the diet before the plaques developed, they noticed a decrease in the peptides (Amyloid beta, AB, which are main components of amyloid plaques), which suggests delayed amyloid plaque formation.


1.3 Arendash et al. (2007) also fed mice a polyphenol and omega-3 rich diet, but didn't see the "Alzheimer's" mice benefit, except for some behavioural actions such as maze entries and open field activity.


Human studies

1.4 Nurk et al. (2009) looked at cognitive performance and flavonoid intake from chocolate, wine and tea on elderly Norwegians. Chocolate, wine or tea consumers had significantly better test scores, and lower prevalence of poor cognitive performance. Individuals who consumed all three foods had the best test scores and the lowest risk of poor test performance. The results were also dose-dependant, with the effect most pronounced for wine, and then chocolate.


1.5 Letenneur et al. (2007) did a 10 year study on flavonoid intake from multiple foods, and found better cognitive performance and better evolution of performance over time, especially in those whose intake of flavonoids was greatest.


Clinical studies

1.6 Sorond et al. (2008) noticed an increase in mean blood flow velocity in the middle cerebral artery by 8% in the 1st week and 10% in the 2nd week after consuming high-flavanol cocoa. This increased blood velocity can in turn benefit patients suffering from dementia and stroke, where lack of sufficient blood flow leads to such conditions. Flavanols act directly on the walls of the blood vessels in the brain, allowing the blood vessels to vasodilate, improving oxygen delivery to surrounding tissues.

There isn't any proven association between intake of antioxidants and Alzheimer's disease. However, we know the breakdown of blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the brain, leads to mild cognitive impairment, which may then lead to Alzheimer's. Since flavanols interact directly with the blood vessels of the brain, and can pass the blood-brain barrier and interact with neurons, they may slow down the transition from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's, but more research needs to be done here.

1.7 Commenges et al. (2000) did a trail with 1367 patients 65 and older, where 66 developed dementia. Although the flavonoids they consumed were not from cocoa, their results showed that antioxidant flavonoid intake was inversely related to risk of dementia.


1.8 Desideri et al. (2012) looked at individuals with mild cognitive impairment, who consumed either 990 mg, 520 mg, or 45 mg of cocoa flavanols. Those who consumed 990 mg and 520 mg required less time during their cognitive tests. Verbal fluency was significantly better for the 990 mg group than the 45 mg group. The 990 mg and 520 mg groups also exhibited decreased insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid peroxidation (peroxidation is the breakdown of the lipids that make up the cell membrane).


1.9 Buijsse et al. (2010) found a strong inverse correlation between chocolate consumption and stroke risk.


1.10Rautiainen et al. (2012) found dietary antioxidants had a 17% stroke risk reduction in disease-free women, and a 45% risk reduction of hemorrhagic stroke in women with a history of disease.


2.0 Neuromodulation of cognition, mood, learning, and memory.


Human studies:

2.1 Crews et al. (2008) saw a higher pulse rate on older adults who ate 27g of dark chocolate daily for 6 weeks. No effects on blood pressure or cognitive variables were observed.


2.2 Scholey et al. (2010) fed healthy young adults high-flavanol drinks (994 mg and 520 mg), and after performing cognitive and rapid visual processing tests, noticed better performance on both tests on those who took high-flavanol drinks as opposed to the control.


2.3 Field et al. fed 35 g of high-flavanol (720 mg) chocolate to healthy young adults, and observed improved visual contrast sensitivity (reading numbers with varying luminance), working memory for location choice reaction time, and the time required to detect direction of coherent motion.


2.4 Pase et al. (2013) had individuals take ACTICOA (high-flavanol) dark chocolate daily for 30 days. Cognition appeared to be unaffected, but after 30 days, the high-dose group (500 mg) self-rated themselves with improved calmness compared to the placebo. This suggests cocoa flavanols may have some positive effects on individuals suffering from clinical anxiety and depression.


2.5 Francis et al. (2006) observed a single acute dose of 450 mg of cocoa flavanol increased cerebral blood flow, again suggesting potential treatment of vascular impairment such as dementia and stroke.




It's important to note that flavanol content of chocolate and cocoa vary to a great degree depending on the variety of cacao bean, the origin of where it grew, and how the chocolate or cocoa was processed and manufactured. This variability in flavanol content may be responsible for the mixed outcomes of studies.


We can see that cocoa flavanols can have an array of effects on the brain, blood vessels, and behaviours associated with cognition. For this reason there is promise that cocoa flavanols, whether at natural levels or manufactured high-flavanol levels, may have benefits to diseases associated with the breakdown of neuron and blood vessel systems in the body.


As well, how we take chocolate (consuming dark chocolate with milk results in reduced antioxidant capacity), and other constituents of cocoa (such as tryptophan), also affect to what degree we benefit from cocoa flavanols.

The flavour of chocolate explained

Posted on December 10, 2016 at 3:05 PM

Understanding the process of chocolate will help you understand which aspects are important to building the flavour of chocolate.  Great tasting chocolate is the end product of all these steps being dealt properly.  Failure to do so will lead to a chocolate that may not be dynamic and satisfying, for which quality chocolate surely is.  

Chocolate flavour is determined by:


  1. Variety of cacao
  2. Environment
  3. Growth & harvest
  4. Fermentation
  5. Drying & storing seeds
  6. Roasting
  7. Other ingredients
  8. Conching or grinding
  9. Aging
  10. Tempering
  11. Packaging & storing chocolate



The Variety Cacao

There are many varieties of the Theobroma cacao. The main ones you hear about are criollo, trinitario, and forastero. There are also other varieties such as nacional, amelonado, porcelana, some of which are varieties within one of the first three already mentioned. Criollo cacao only makes up 1-3% of the chocolate made in the world, and researches state that no pure criollo even exists anymore. It's very aromatic, flavourful, and not very bitter or astringent. Forastero is much more robust, bitter, and not as aromatic. Chocolate made with criollo will generally be less bitter, and have more subtle aromas found within it. Trinitario is a hybrid of criollo and forastero, makes up 10-15% of the world's chocolate, and is also considered an aromatic and flavourful cacao leading to flavourful chocolate.  Most of the artisan chocolate sold today is made with a cacao that is hybridized between different varieties, with a focus on final aroma and flavour of the cacao bean.  Chocolate that is mass produced tends to be made with varities that contain less favourable aromas, and ends up being processed in a way that is less dimensional and flat as far as flavour is concerned. 



The soil and the climate greatly affect the flavour of the cacao seeds. Depending on where the trees are grown and what minerals are in the soil, the same variety grown in different regions can produce cacao seeds with very different aromas. As well, batches of cacao from the same region can taste different due to the climate and environment changes from year to year.  This idea of terroir is associated already with wine and coffee, but is also being applied to chocolate as well. Many artisan bars will highlight the origin of the cacao beans, which will give the chocolate eater an idea of what flavours to expect.  Chocolate made with beans from Madagscar tend to be more tart than chocolate made with beans from Bolivia, which tend to have more nutty and toasted flavour notes.  Sometimes, like coffee and wine, regions may be marketed as better than others, which may push the price of a chocolate bar up depending on its regions.  However, where the cacao grows only part of the final flavour and quality.  Chocolate made from beans grown in Madagscar can be of high and low quality.  A region dictates more the aromas likely to occur in the beans, but not the quality itself. However, that said, there are regions that grow varities (as mentioned above) that are less flavourable, and so those regions are generlaly not associated with high quality cacao, not because of the region, but because of the varity of cacao they grow.  


Growth & Harvest

How the growers propagate and harvest their cacao impacts the final flavour. Choosing to propagate trees that produce aromatic cacao as opposed to trees that produce bigger pods and seeds, and harvesting them during their optimal ripeness will also ensure good tasting seeds. Being careful to open the pods, not to cut into the seeds or delay their arrival to the next stage, fermentation, will also maintain optimal quality of the seeds.  Optimal growth and harvest will depend on how much resources the growers have, as well as their level of skill and education on growing cacao.


Fermentation is crucial to the flavour development of cacao. During fermentation, the seeds, still covered with the flesh of the fruit, are carefully allowed to ferment from 2-7 days depending on the cacao. The fruit decomposes, and fungi, yeasts, and bacteria are allowed to grow. They in turn develop the aroma, flavour, and colour of the seeds. The cacao seeds themselves don't ferment, but are affected by the fermentation of the fruit surrounding them. The molecular makeup of the seed itself changes, allowing for the development of molecules that are the flavour precursors to the chocolate flavour that will develop in later processes.

Fermentation is very imporant in building the flavour of the final product that growers become very skilled in this area.  If the fermentation is not carried out properly or according to the standards required, the growers may lose an entire harvest or batch of cacao, which affects their livlihood and has a great impact on their future as a cacao grower.  Many growers have been growing and fermenting cacao for many generations, while others are quite new and still learning.  When chocolate makers seek out quality beans in different regions of the world, working with the growers on how they want them fermented can be a challenge on both sides.  Growers take pride in their process, while manufacturers are very specific with what flavours they are trying to achieve.  Changing procedures in order to change the flavour of the beans is something both parties need to work on together.  This is why some artisan bean-to-bar makers have a direct relationship with the growers themselves.  


Drying & Storing Seeds

Once the seeds have been fermented, they are laid out to dry, either in the sun or heated underneath from a burning fire. Drying also is important in developing the flavour. Timing is important, since cacao that is dried to slowly is susceptible to mould. However, quickly drying the beans doesn't allow for the flavours to develop properly. Climates where rain is an issue, care needs to be taken to cover seeds before showers, or at night to prevent dew from developing on the seeds.


Seeds are normally stored in burlap sacks, which allow for odours to pass through. Cacao seeds need to be stored away from strong odours, as well as from high humidity or temperature drops that may allow for the growth of moulds.



Roasting builds the final flavour of cacao bean.  Depending on the variety of beans, the origin, season of the harvest, and what the chocolate maker is trying to acheive, roasting times will vary.  Those precursor molecules developed during fermentation are transformed into the aroma and flavour of what we know as chocolate.  If the flavours during fermentation were not optimal, roasting will likely not help the desired flavour to be acheived.

The Maillard reaction also occurs between the proteins and sugars within the cacao bean, building on the flavour precursors to give us a bean with a more desirable taste. Roasting above 120 degrees Celsius also kills all the bacteria.


Other Ingredients

The type of sugar, milk powder, and flavours added to chocolate will also determine the final flavour. When they are added also determines flavour. Some milk chocolate is made by combining liquid milk with cocoa bean and sugar, and dried together. This allows for the Maillard reaction to occur, which requires proteins and sugars in the presence of water under heat to occur. Milk chocolate made this way tends to have more baked or caramel-like flavours. Adding more cocoa butter or ingredients that change how the chocolate melts in your mouth will also affect how we taste the flavours within it. Too little sugar in the chocolate, such as chocolate above 80% cacao, is quite astringent and makes it difficult for us to pick up more underlying delicate flavours. Too much sugar masks much of the flavours, and again, makes it difficult to pick up certain aromas.


Conching or Grinding

Conching is a process that grinds the particles in chocolate below 30 microns, so that our tongue can't detect any graininess. In the past, grinders and the conche would be separate, but today they can be part of the same machine, since grinders do a better job today of milling the particles within chocolate.


It also fine-tunes the flavour of chocolate so to speak. During the process of conching, the acidic and harsh volatiles (aroma molecules) evaporate from the chocolate due to the movement and heat produced from friction within the machine. This mellows out the flavour, leaving behind the more desirable and delicate flavour that the acidity tends to mask over. However, favourable volatiles are also evaporated during this process, and if conched for too long, even the favourable aromas will evaporate, leaving behind a very bland or less aromatic chocolate.  


After the chocolate reaches what the manufacturer feels is optimal flavour, it is allowed to set in blocks, and the blocks of freshly made chocolate are aged in a room void of strong odours and kept cool and dry. The aging further develops the flavour, mellows it out, and each manufacturer prefers different times for aging their chocolate, but usually at least a few months.



Tempering is the process of forming the cocoa butter in chocolate into the 5th (V) polymorph form. This form of crystallization gives the chocolate the properties most desired. These properties include a dark, uniform brown colour, shiny, hard, and with a good snap if broken. Chocolate not in this form tends to be mottled, whitish, brittle, and or dull. Tempered chocolate not only looks and feels pleasant, but the flavours within chocolate are best received by us when it is in its tempered form. Tempered chocolate melts just below body temperature, allowing the fats and aromas to escape over our tongue and into our nasal cavity and be taken in by our receptors. Untempered chocolate doesn't taste as pleasant, doesn't melt as nicely, and is not considered proper form for eating chocolate.


Packaging & Storing Chocolate

Once chocolate is properly tempered, it is best eaten within 6 months to a year. Chocolate contains tannins and is high in fat, which means bacteria can't survive or grow in it, and so can last for years. However, the flavours dissipate over time. Eating a chocolate bar 6 months after it was made or 2 years later will result in very different tastes. The flavours that were enjoyed from the 6 month old chocolate have muted or disappeared altogether from the 2 year old chocolate from the same bar or batch. Chocolate is best kept in a cold, dry environment, sealed well, away from other strong odours, and not for over a year.

Final Comments

It's not an easy task to answer what is good chocolate, as you can see there are many aspects that affect the taste and quality of chocolate.  The more consumers are educated on how chocolate is made and how it affects the final product, the more push there will be for makers to seek out optimal processes to achieve better tasting chocolate.  The blind spot consumers have on the process of chocolate allows many manufacturers to create mediocre chocolate and sell it as something it is not.  Being an informed consumer will allow you to discern what is quality chocolate, and the value you place on it will encourage those doing a great job making chocolate to continue. 

-Geoseph Domenichiello

What is quality chocolate?

Posted on November 19, 2016 at 1:15 AM

It's a mouthful!  So get comfortable. 

Your average mass produced candy bar (a chocolate covered bar containing mostly non-chocolate ingredients) or chocolate bar in most stores is around $1-$2. The cost for an artisan chocolate bar is anywhere from $5-$12, and as high as $24 in rare cases. The question that comes up then is, "why would one spend that much more on chocolate?" The short answer is: all chocolate isn't created equal, and you're paying for quality.


If that is the case, then what is quality chocolate? This is a very important question, but unfortunately, not a simple one to answer. The reason is that the raw ingredient, cacao seed, passes through many steps (at least 15 steps) in order to become chocolate. There are many points along the way that dictate the quality of the final product.


Basically, the quality of chocolate is determined by:


  • The variety of cacao tree the bean is from
  • Where and how the tree grows
  • How the growers:
    • harvest the cacao
    • ferment the seeds
    • dry the seeds
    • store the seeds
  • How the manufacturer:
    • roasts the seeds
    • chooses their ingredients
    • grinds & conches the chocolate
    • ages the chocolate
    • tempers the chocolate


This isn't an exhaustive list, but these are some of the main determinants of quality chocolate. This is why there is no simple answer.  As well, quality chocolate can mean different things to different people. Here, the term "quality" is meant to describe a process or ingredient of high standards within the chocolate industry, and in a way that optimises the natural flavour contained within the cacao seed.


Let us begin by discussing a few myths of what makes quality chocolate.


1.0 Myths of quality chocolate


1.1 Cacao percentage

Many believe the percentage on a chocolate bar dictates quality. The percentage on a chocolate bar reveals the amount of cocoa bean (or cocoa mass and cocoa butter) as a percentage of all the ingredients in the chocolate bar. The other main component being sugar. That is, a chocolate bar that only contains ground cocoa beans and sugar, and labelled as 70%, is 70% cocoa bean and 30% sugar. Many people proudly boast of eating only dark chocolate of a high percentage, implying that somehow a higher percentage dictates quality chocolate. As well, many well known chocolate manufacturers have, in the 21st Century, began displaying the percentages on bars, feeding into the idea that percentage dictates quality or health. Health benefits of chocolate are debated, but nonetheless, any health benefits that may be contained in chocolate will come from the cocoa bean (specifically the cocoa solids, aka "the brown stuff"). So it makes sense that the more of it in a chocolate bar, the more of the benefits you will be receiving from it. However, this still doesn't determine quality. More cacao solids or cacao bean, that is not quality to begin with, will not lead to a quality chocolate bar.


1.2 Country

Another idea in people's minds is the countries we associate quality chocolate with. When one thinks of quality chocolate today, then tend to go with Swiss, Belgian, or even French chocolate. Although these countries do not grow cacao locally, they manufacture the beans into chocolate, and have done so for hundreds of years. Over those years, these countries have made names for themselves, and handed down and shared the skills in making quality chocolate. However, many manufacturers of those countries also get away with using the term "Swiss" or "Belgian" as cachet, and a marketing tactic to get away with lower quality chocolate. Today, especially with the rise of artisan chocolate and bean-to-bar chocolate makers, quality chocolate can be made almost anywhere in the world.


1.3 "Artisan" & "Fine"

Just as not all chocolate is created equal, not all artisan chocolate is either. The reason why some countries are so well known for making quality chocolate is because they do. Many hold onto techniques and traditions that make for quality chocolate, passing it down through generations, and learning from one another. There has been a sharp rise in the bean-to-bar and artisan chocolate makers during the 21st Century, many of whom start up in regions not known for producing quality chocolate, or chocolate at all. Some do an excellent job of honing in what is required to make quality chocolate, and some are still learning. Some have other motivations, such as benefiting from the tags "artisan" or "fine" chocolate, without putting in the effort to making something great, but rather something decent enough to sell.



2.0 The aspects of quality chocolate

In order to be discerning of quality chocolate, one needs to understand what makes for quality chocolate.


2.1 The variety of cacao

Like many fruits and vegetable species, there are many varieties within that species. Think of grapes or coffee beans. As with cacao, there are many varieties. However, there is great confusion and debate over the varieties within Theobroma cacao. Many names of varieties are based on the local language of where it grows. The same variety can be called something else in another region where it grows. As well, much of the basis for the names given to varieties is based on the appearance of the fruit, or cocoa pod, and not on genetics. Much research is being done to unpack and understand the varieties of cacao.


The main varieties most people describe are criollo, forastero, and trinitario. Criollo is considered a fine flavoured seed, aromatic, and not very bitter. It is the variety the ancient Mesoamericans were growing. Within criollo, there are other types or sub varieties such as porcelana. Forastero is an umbrella term for varieties that are not criollo. They are more robust in flavour, often more bitter, and said to be not as aromatic as criollo. Forastero is used for about three quarters of the world's chocolate. The reason for this is that it's a hardier variety, not as susceptible to disease, and produces larger pods with more seeds, and therefore being more profitable. Trinitario is a hybrid variety of criollo and forastero, believed to have originated in Trinidad, hence the name. It is hardier and produces more than the criollo, but is also more aromatic and flavourful than the forastero. Criollo is considered a high quality variety because it can produce highly aromatic and flavourful beans that are not very astringent.


It's not that good chocolate can't be made from some forastero, but the criollo and trinitario tend to be more flavourful and aromatic, and so chocolate made with this type of bean can end up being much more flavourful and not as bitter as a forastero made chocolate. However, they are more expensive to purchase, more difficult for farmers to grow, and so only make up a small percentage of the world's chocolate.


2.2 The origin of cacao

Where cacao is grown has a large impact on the flavour of the cacao bean. This is what has lead to chocolates with the labels "single origin" or "single plantation". A particular variety, grown in a particular area, will grow seeds that contain certain aromas and flavours, sometimes being very favourable. Of course, the use of single origins can also lead people to assume any chocolate made with cacao from that region is going to be quality chocolate. This is not always the case (see section 2.3). It is true that cacao from Madagascar tends to be quite fruity, with strong notes of citrus flavoured fruits. Cacao from Ecuador tends to be more earthy, with notes of baked bread, coffee, and biscuits. However, that being said, even if cacao originated from this area, and even if it was of the trinitario or criollo variety, won't necessarily lead to quality chocolate.


2.3 Growing, Harvesting, Fermenting, and Drying.

Just as some chocolate makers may have better skills and knowledge and producing quality chocolate, so do farmers vary in their skill level or knowledge in producing the best cacao beans possible. There isn't much they can do about the variety or the environment once the trees are growing there, but how they harvest and what they do next is crucial.


2.3.1 Growing
How trees are propagated also affect the future quality of trees in a particular growing area. Some farmers may choose or feel pressured to propagate more trees from the ones that produce the biggest pods or most fruit. This makes sense from an economical standpoint in their vulnerable economy, but for quality purposes, this isn't always best. Instead, some farmers, choose to propagate trees that are most aromatic and produce the best quality seeds. However, farmers need incentive for this, such as being paid more per kilo for their beans by those who will be purchasing them.
2.3.2 Harvesting
Care must be taken in harvesting the cacao. The pods are usually cut off the trees with a machete, in a way that doesn't damage the tree for future pod growth. The pods are then open, allowing the seeds to be exposed. Care must be taken not to cut into the seeds, or they will mould and affect the batch of seeds they are contained in. As soon as the fruit around the seeds is exposed, they begin to decompose. This leads to the next step of fermentation. However, if the seeds are not fermented soon enough, they will not ferment properly in the next step.
2.3.3 Fermentation
Fermentation is crucial to flavour development in cacao seeds. Fermentation develops the precursor molecules that later on will create the chocolate flavour molecules. However, not all cacao growers around the world ferment the cacao beans optimally. This may be due to lack of knowledge and training, or perhaps with pressure from their buyer who is not as concerned with optimal flavour of beans. If beans are not fermented properly they can become very sour, mouldy, or have other strong off flavours that damage the quality of the crop and are irreversible. Sometimes these poorly fermented beans may still be used or mixed in with quality beans, giving the final chocolate product an off flavour.
2.3.4 Drying & Storage
Drying occurs right after fermentation. It prevents the fermented beans from moulding or developing unfavourable flavours if left too long. Drying must be done quickly enough that the fermented seeds don't mould, but not too quickly that the flavour doesn't develop properly. As well, cacao seeds are often dried out in the open, and have to be carefully guarded from rain and other outdoor odours.
Cacao seeds are usually stored in burlap sacks. They also have a very thin husk. Therefore, any strong outside odours can penetrate the sacks as well as the husks, and permeate into the seeds. If sacs are left in moist or humid conditions, they may grow mould, which flavour may end up inside the bag

3.0 Roasting Cacao

If one is trying to develop quality chocolate, they would have located growing areas that grow quality varieties, producing aromatic seeds, and have trained farmers to properly grow, harvest, ferment, dry, and store the beans in order to keep the integrity of the bean. For most cases in the world, at this point, the raw ingredient, cacao, is not in the hands of the manufacturer. They must clean and sort the beans before roasting, in order to remove debris that would be hazardous inside the chocolate, add unfavourable aromas, or ruin the machinery.


However, the timing and process of roasting is not as straightforward as roasting it on a pan in the oven. The timing and way the cacao seeds are roasted is one of the final stages in developing the desirable flavour of chocolate. Quality roasting is when a manufacturer places importance on developing the best taste from the cacao beans through optimal roasting techniques.


The fermentation, if done properly, developed the precursor molecules, and now roasting develops them further into molecules that give us that chocolate flavour. Some chocolates may contain flavours such as honey, raspberry, strawberry, almond. These flavours will only be obtained if the quality beans are properly roasted. Over or under roasting the beans may not allow these flavours to come forth later on. As well, different batches of beans from the same farmers will require different roasting times as well, something a quality manufacturer will pay attention too.


If a manufacturer wasn't interested in obtaining aromatic flavourful seeds, they may have seeds that are quite astringent and perhaps unpalatable even after roasting. In this case, they may roast the beans quite far in order to rid or mask the unfavourable flavours due to lack of care in preceding steps. As well, in order to be more efficient, they may not take into account the different batches, bean sizes, and roast beans to the same degree until they all taste similar. This may be beneficial when there are unfavourable flavours, but this also removes any chance of favourable aromas to come through.


4.0 Ingredients

Whether or not a manufacturer uses aromatic and quality beans or not, the cacao solids, the bean itself, tends to still have similar levels of nutrients and health benefits. Some research has pointed out that heat and roasting begins to diminish these health benefits, especially when it comes to antioxidants. However, it's the other ingredients that have a great impact on the quality and taste of the chocolate.


For a purist, chocolate contains cacao bean (which is roughly 50% cocoa butter, 50% cocoa solid) and some sugar (40% or less). Milk chocolate will contain milk powder, sugar, cacao, and vanilla. Most of the chocolate today also contains soya-lecithin, a surface active agent that makes chocolate easier for the manufacturer to use. Some manufacturers use other fats to replace to reduce the amount of cocoa butter contained in the chocolate. Cocoa butter can often be sold at a profit, and a cheaper fat alternative can be used in its place. These other fats may be hydrogenated vegetable fats, or cocoa butter substitutes.


For the manufacturer not interested in optimal flavour beans, adding high amounts of sugar and or other flavour enhancers will compensate for poor quality cacao beans by masking the poor flavours or lack of flavour in the chocolate. Vanilla is a common ingredient, but for most chocolate in the grocery store, it is replaced with artificial vanilla flavour. A misleading term is the term "natural". Many chocolate bars will contain the words "natural vanilla flavour" or "natural flavour". In reality, there is nothing natural about the flavour. In fact, the natural vanilla flavour contains no vanilla whatsoever. It's a synthetically created flavour, that uses organic ingredients, but not vanilla specifically.


In the 17th and 18th Century, European chocolate was known to sometimes be adulterated with chickpea flour, lentil flour, potato starch, brick dust, and animal fats. Today, adulteration is more sophisticated, such as "natural vanilla flavour", or synthetically modified fats, whose intended purpose is not to better chocolate, but to better profits for those producing it.


5.0 Conching & Grinding

Conching was invented by Rodolphe Lindt of Switzerland in 1879. What this does is two fold. It reduces the particle size of chocolate, making it feel very smooth and creamy on our tongue. It also allows strong acidic and harsh flavours in the chocolate to evaporate, leaving behind the more delicate favourable aromas. If fermenting develops the precursors to the chocolate flavour, and if roasting develops the chocolate flavour, conching refines it.


Today, grinding machines do a better job than they did in the 19th Century, and so a conching is not necessarily needed. When the cacao beans are ready to be ground, they can be ground together with their ingredients in the same machine, which also, in essence, conches the chocolate as well.


Poor quality beans tend to be roasted very far in order to diminish unfavourable flavours. However, this often leaves a very bitter and dark roasted flavour, not appealing to many people. In this case, the chocolate can be ground or conched for extended periods of time in order to mellow out the flavour. Good quality beans may not be optimally ground or conched. New manufacturers may not have worked out how to obtain the best flavour and texture in their chocolate, and may sell chocolate that many seasoned chocolate eaters may find difficult to digest.


Conching allows the harsh volatile aromas to evaporate, but if over conched, then even the favourable flavours will leave the chocolate as well. What you are left with, is a chocolate that is not very dynamic in flavour. However, this is compensated with other added flavours and ingredients.


6.0 Aging and Tempering

After the chocolate has been fully developed, it is allowed to set in blocks and aged, usually for a few months. This allows the flavours to mellow and develop to the manufacturer's preference. Once they have been aged, the blocks are melted and tempered into chocolate bars or used for filled chocolates and other confections. Tempering chocolate allows the fat molecules to set in a specific form. When this happens, the chocolate is dark, shiny, hard, and also tastes its best. The aging and tempering state are important final steps in determining how the consumer receives the chocolate. If chocolate is not tempered properly, it will not taste as good as it can taste, even if all the other steps were done properly.


Nowadays, most manufacturers do temper their chocolate properly. It's how they are stored and transported that can affect the temper, which in turn affects the taste. As well, some


7.0 Bringing it all together

Again, what makes quality chocolate? As you have read, many things can lead to quality chocolate. The chain of events is long and laborious. Those who grow the cacao beans usually never see the end result, and those who make chocolate don't fully understand the agricultural aspect of it. Someone along the lines may have good intentions for making quality chocolate, but if at some point a step or process fails to maintain quality, the end product will suffer.


One may have sourced great cacao that was properly grown, harvested, and fermented. However, if that manufacturer doesn't have the knowledge or skills (or care) to maintain that quality during the next phase, then the quality of the chocolate will be poor, regardless of the quality of cacao bean used. As well, if a skillful chocolate manufacturer uses poor quality cacao beans, or quality cacao beans from a poor batch that were not fermented properly, there isn't much they can do to fix that in the manufacturing phase. If a manufacturer adulterates chocolate with ingredients not meant to enhance quality, then no matter how the bar is labeled, where it was made, or who it's associated with, will it be high quality chocolate.


To be fair, it's a difficult process to manage. The Mesoamerican kings had all the resources they needed to allow for the best chocolate. Spanish and European royal courts could afford their chocolate makers to take their time and source the best ingredients to create the finest tasting chocolate. Today, chocolate is a billion dollar industry, where time and costs are important at every level of the chain. It's easy in theory to know how quality chocolate should be made, but making it happen is much more difficult. Yes, there are those whose intentions are just to make a profitable product that is good enough, but there are those with intentions that are more associated with the integrity of the chocolate itself. That said, there are those who can balance it out well, who can make quality chocolate, or who are on their way to making better quality chocolate.


The final say is the consumer. You have to enjoy what you are eating. You also have to understand what you are eating. Choose chocolate you enjoy, learn about how it was manufactured, and learn what separates it from the rest. Eat and compare. Ask questions. Understand who is behind the chocolate you are consuming, where it comes from, and then decide with your wallet where your resources will go, and who you will encourage to keep making chocolate.


- Geoseph Domenichiello

Bean-to-bar. Taking chocolate into your own hands.

Posted on October 5, 2016 at 10:05 PM


Bean-to-bar is a term popping up today all around the world. It's a new chapter for the history of chocolate, but what is it exactly? It's important to first understand a little about the history of chocolate.



1.0 A very brief history of chocolate

Chocolate has been around since about 3800 BCE, which makes it over 5000 years old as far as we know today. However, chocolate was a drink for most of its history, which began in South and Mesoamerica. The cacao seeds were fermented, roasted, and crushed into a paste. The paste was mixed with water and local Mesoamerican spices, and taken as a drink. It was also used as an ingredient in gruels and possibly other foods.  This is how chocolate was consumed for most if its history.

When Spain brought chocolate to Europe, it was also consumed as a drink, but with old world flavours and ingredients, including sugar. In 1847, Fry & Sons invented the first eating chocolate, and the chocolate bar was born.  This is when chocolate, as we know it today, came into exisitance.  Imagine a world in the future where tea is assocaited with something we eat, instead of a drink.  This is how revolutionary the chocoalte bar was.  During the industrialization era, with great achievements in manufacturing and mechanization of processes, chocolate became mass produced in England and the United States, with other countries following suit.  This made chocolate cheaper, and accessible to most people in the developed world.  Even before the eating chocolate was invented, chocolate makers in 17th & 18th Century Europe would adulterate chocolate with other ingredients to make it cheaper or to make a greater profit. Regulations were established to prevent this from happening. The industrialization era also saw chocolate becoming adulterated again, this time with high amounts of sugar, cocoa butter substitutes, and synthetic ingredients. Again, certain countries such as France and Belgium in the 19th Century wanted stricter regulations on what could go into chocolate, and what defined chocolate.

During the 20th Century, the movers and shakers of the chocolate industry were in the spotlight for producing chocolate at the cost of poor working conditions where the cacao was grown, including child labour and slave labour. They were also hit hard, as many large food processing companies were and still are, with producing chocolate containing ingredients said to be harmful to human health such as synthetic fats, high sugar content, and artificial ingredients.

This lead to some companies to developing more transparency in how the cacao used to make their chocolate is grown, and how their chocolate is made. These manufacturers would have a direct relationship with the growers of their cacao, and often pay them a premium on their crops. This tactic is also known as "fair-trade", where the growers or producers of a particular food are paid well above what is normal in order for them to have a higher standard of living than what they may have had beforehand. This requires a greater effort from the manufacturer, that not all are willing to or want to put in. For those who do it successfully, they can make chocolate that is relatively more socially conscious, while also obtaining a better quality cacao and creating a better quality chocolate.  These ideals and ideas are what have become to be associated with the term "bean-to-bar" today.  

2.0 Bean-to-bar is also what it's not


2.1 Chocolate maker vs chocolate melter

Bean-to-bar is also a way to separate chocolate makers from chocolate melters. A chocolate melter, or chocolatier, will obtain already made solid chocolate, temper it, and form it into bars or filled chocolates. Think of it as a baker. A baker uses flour, a finely ground wheat grain to produce breads and cookies. They don't grow the wheat, or mill the flour. In the same way, a chocolate melter doesn't grow the cacao or mill the seed, but uses the ready made ingredient to make ganaches and other confections.  Most of all the chocolate shops you've been to are chocolatiers (chocolate melters) and don't manufacture the chocolate themselves. 

Bean-to-bar means that the manufacturer made the chocolate themselves, and didn't just melt and mould chocolate already made elsewhere. That's important, since many chocolate shops will sell chocolate bars sold as their own with their own name on it, when it's really the same chocolate most shops in the neighbourhood are using, produced by the same manufacturer.  Most companies today who make their own chocolate from the cacao seed will usually make that very clear to you.  When it doubt, ask.  It's not that chocolate melters are frauds, but that what they do is very different from what a chocolate maker does. Both are important in bringing forth creativity and gastronomical advancements to the world of chocolate. 

2.2 "Small" scale manufacturers

Although all manufacturers are essentially bean-to-bar, the term has grown to mean smaller scale or artisanal chocolate makers.  Nestle is essentially a bean-to-bar maker, since they take the beans and make chocolate bars.  However, their product is something very different from what small scale bean-to-bar or larger scale artisan bean-to-bar mekers produce. Bean-to-bar has grown to represent numerous small-scale chocolate manufacturers making a few dozen bars at a time sold at your local farmer's market, to manufacturers making thousands upon thousands of bars. What's different between these manufactures and the larger movers and shakers of the chocolate world (who make millions of chocolates at a time) is the scale of how much chocolate they make, but also aspects such as the quality of their beans, quality of ingredients, and the quality of the manufacturing to bring out the best flavour held within the beans they use.  Think of it as grocery store tomatoes (large scale industrial) vs farmers market or homegrown garden tomatoes (small scale artisan).  Anyone who has experience the difference knows that for the most part, the grocery store tomatoes are watered down when it comes to flavour, complexity and usually nutrition as well.  In the same way, a small-scale artisan chocolate maker focuses on bringing forth subtle and not so subtle flavours within the chocolate, as opposed to a flat tasting mass produced chocolate bar. 


3.0 The degrees of bean-to-bar

Today, bean-to-bar can mean many things, but when a manufacturer includes that on the label of their chocolate, it is understood that the manufacturer knows where the bean is coming from, and processes it themselves from bean to the final product in their facility.  Their focus is the quality and the flavour within the chocolate.  


3.1 From tree to bar

There are some bean-to-bar manufacturers that actually grow their own beans, and make the chocolate at the same or close location of where the cacao was grown. This is rare, since most cacao is grown near the equator, and most chocolate is produced in developed countries closer to the North and South poles. This bean-to-bar chocolate is difficult to make, since chocolate is sensitive to heat, and cooling in cacao-growing countries is usually very costly for them. Nevertheless, it does exist in places such as Madagascar, Vietnam, and Peru to name a few.  


3.2 Direct control

Sometimes the manufacturer visits the growers and helps them achieve better growing procedures or simply builds a relationshp with them. They have a direct relationship with the growers, and pay them directly, often at a premium, which in turns makes their chocolate more expensive.  The growers pay closer attention to the procesures of processing the beans to the chocolate makers liking.  Many growers around the world take pride in their cacao products.  However, pressure and lack of funds or education on growing pushes some to produce cacao beans that are less desirable to the artisan chocolate maker, but fine for the larger companies who have a different focus.  These direct relationships and monetary insentives encourage quality cacao growth and processing in a commodity and profit driven world market.  


3.3 Much control over the process

Most other times the manufacturer uses a cocoa bean broker, which in this case, may know where the beans come from, but the makers do not actually have a direct relationship with the growers themselves. They usually pay a premium for these beans, as they tend to be of higher quality.  Their trust lays in the transparency of the broker, and may visit the plantation they come from to see first hand where their beans are coming from.  Many chocolate makers, especially small scale and new makers, don't have the funds or time to travel the world and spend time on the plantations, and so the cacao bean brokers are of great value to them, and encourages them to make high-quality chocolate products. 


3.4 Some control over the process

Bean-to-bar can also mean a chocolate maker only has their hand in some of the steps of the chocolate making process, but not quite from beginning to end. It's not to say this is somehow misleading or sinister, but that bean-to-bar is not a black and white definition, and can encompass different ways of producing bean-to-bar chocolate.  They may purchase  higher-quality beans that are alrady ground and already roasted, and so their control over the final product isn't as great as those mentioned earlier.  


4.0 So is it best to buy bean-to-bar?

Bean-to-bar, or sometimes referred to as artisan chocolate, began as a way for chocolate manufacturers to have a hand in the whole process of chocolate making in order to ensure that people (particularly growers in poorer countries) are treated fairly, that quality is controlled, and that the consumer can enjoy great tasting chocolate.

Not all bean-to-bar is created equal. Although some bean-to-bar makers may have good intensions, and good marketing, their product may not stand to the test due to lack of skill, knowledge, or focus on what is important in making good quality chocolate.  These manufacturers usually boast transparency, so get to know them. Ask them questions about what they do and what they have control over. Ask in a way that is respectful, and non-judgemental, as like I mentioned earlier, there are degrees when it comes to how much control a manufacturer has in the process. Ask questions, while tasting their product, and make the decision for yourself.  Don't rely on their awards and what others are talking about.  Many in the food industry pay a great deal of money to end up on a cities "Top 10" list of great food.  As well, it's difficult today for those in the food industry to not win an award.  Although it's important to compete and encourage each other to improve, awards are more a way to improve marketing than distinguish quality.  

The final say in quality chocolate or food in general should be your informed judgement. It's for you to decide what is and isn't delicious.  What you want to value and put into your body. Decide with a discerning palate, and from a place of knowledge.


- Geoseph Domenichiello