Where does the best chocolate come from?
If you ask a room full of people where they think the best chocolate comes from you will get a million different answers. Some will think about beans, some about who makes it and others about their favourite flavours! Most would say that it’s a matter of personal taste as to what is best. Without a doubt, personal taste is important but we think there is a lot more to consider as well. For us, what makes chocolate the best is a combination of where it comes from, who grows it, how it’s grown and the ethical policies and practices of the companies involved in producing the cocoa and chocolate. Then there is the way it’s manufactured, which is also key in determining the flavour.
We love Belgian Chocolate
With so many considerations, how can you be sure you’ve made the best choice? We think that Belgian is best and the Belgian chocolate we use combines all of the right qualities. From the point of harvesting the bean-bearing pods from the trees, the cacao beans go through many stages of processing before they are turned into cocoa solids from which chocolate is made. How the beans are processed greatly affects the quality, flavour and consistency of the chocolate. What makes chocolate Belgian? It means the cocoa is processed and produced by a method that was first pioneered in Wieze, Belgium, and is still used today. It’s this process that gives Belgian chocolate its distinctive smoothness and aroma.
When we started making chocolates, there were many months of research, taste-testing a great number of products to see which worked best for our recipes and Belgian chocolate was the clear winner. Belgian chocolate has a wonderfully smooth, melt-in-the-mouth quality that makes a brilliant base for our wide range of filled chocolates, chocolate bars, pralines and nuts. We use white, milk, dark and bitter dark Belgian chocolate, depending on the flavour and recipe. Because of the rich, smoothness of dark Belgian chocolate it is an ideal base for the flavours of our Vegan Truffles. The chocolate that we use for our Sugar-Free Dairy Cream Truffles is also Belgian, the only difference from traditional chocolate is the way it is sweetened, as the sugar free version uses maltitol (grain-based) sweetener rather than sugar.
Where do the best beans come from?
Cacao trees can’t grow in Europe because the climate isn’t suitable. The cacao tree, which produces the large pods containing cocoa beans, grows in a restricted belt around the earth, between 20’ north and 20’ south of the equator. This limits it mainly to part of South America and parts of Africa, although 23 countries are recognised globally as being cocoa producers. The quality and flavour of the cocoa varies from plantation to plantation, from continent to continent and from year to year, depending on the climatic conditions at the time of harvest.
Single-origin or blends?
When chocolate is described as “single-origin” it means from one plantation and one harvest. “Select”, on the other hand means a blend of beans from more than one plantation and probably more than one year’s harvest. You can read a handy guide to the differences here. Single-origin chocolate flavours will be individual and vary, but a select chocolate will give you a much more reliable flavour year on year. This is a matter of taste! Fans of single-origin chocolate will know that their taste experience can vary with the harvest. Our Great Taste Award-winning Orange Dairy Cream truffle, for example, needs to have consistent flavours in all the recipe ingredients. If they were to vary from season to season, we wouldn’t be selling the actual product that won the award! We love the reliability and smoothness of select Belgian chocolate and the way it combines with our own recipes, so our customers know what to expect.
Where are the best growers?
70% of the world’s cocoa beans come from the West African countries of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Ivory Coast and Ghana together grow more than half the world’s cocoa. Some are huge commercial operations owned by international companies, employing the local population as plantation workers. Other commercial plantations are owned and worked by resident farmer-growers on smallholdings, but most have then to sell their beans to the big organisations.
Sadly, the employment practices of cocoa growers and producers have been dire, and slavery - child slavery in particular - has been commonplace in the African cocoa industry. Thankfully this is now in decline, but we spent many months researching not just the flavours, but also the practices of the main production companies before deciding which we would use for our cocoa and chocolate. It wouldn’t matter how great the flavour, we would never, ever, use a supplier unless they had excellent traceable, environmental, ethical and social policies and procedures.
The cocoa for our chocolates comes from West Africa and our supplier has been ploughing profit back into the growing communities for generations, to help empower the resident farmers to improve their lives, their skills, their education and health care. This is described as “Fairly Traded” cocoa because the growing communities are supported and the companies whose cocoa is Fairly Traded, have transparent and ethical policies and practices. There is no actual branding for Fairly Traded cocoa and chocolate, but responsible chocolatiers would always check the origins and ethics of any cocoa and chocolate they use.
Fairtrade is a branding that shows cocoa and chocolate products have been vetted by global trade organizations to ensure that farmers receive adequate compensation for their crops. Fairtrade cocoa producers receive a higher price for their cocoa beans, enabling them to meet strict criteria about their production and employment policies and afford the Fairtrade certification fees. The Dominican Republic is a world leader in Fairtrade Certified cocoa. Fairtrade only applies to a very small amount of world cocoa production.
Where is the best chocolate made?
That’s almost impossible to answer! There are industry giants, like the Hershey factory in the USA, which is the world’s largest chocolate factory. Then there are household names such as Cadbury and Rowntree’s, Ferrero in Italy, Godiva in Belgium and Barry Callebaut in Switzerland. Some make chocolate for industry use, some make their own individual chocolates for global sales and some do a bit of both!
There’s also thousands and thousands of artisan chocolatiers and larger companies producing tremendous hand made chocolates. Each will have their own preferences and source their chocolate accordingly. Some will buy chocolate from a large producer and then finish it to their own recipes, producing uniquely flavoured hand made chocolates (this is what we do at The Pod). Others will be “bean to bar” producers, working the cocoa beans through all the various stages until they have chocolate that they then finish to their own recipes. Bean-to-bar chocolates will be very individual and generally more expensive than those made from semi-finished chocolate sources.
Research is Good
As a customer, you will no doubt have your favourite type of chocolate – maybe you love dark bitter, or white? You will probably have your favourite flavours. Do you love coffee and chocolate combinations? If you do, check out our Barista Collection, which really demonstrates how versatile Belgian chocolate is! It may be that South American single origin cocoa is your favourite. Check out cacaoprieto for some incredible single-origin slabs. With so much variety and choice available we are very lucky, but it’s also a bit of a minefield! There is much more information available now that helps people make informed decisions about which products to buy.
Keep your chocolate conscience clean
We know that with every purchase we make of our base chocolate and cocoa, a contribution is being made to improve the well-being of the growers and their communities. So, when you buy from us you are joining in helping improve their lives. Whatever your preferences, our main hope is that you will always find out as much as you can about the source of the chocolates you are buying, and make sure that the cocoa comes from ethically farmed plantations as well as tasting great!