The Big Story Behind A Small Bean

The Big Story Behind A Small Bean, Cacao Bean

Do you know where your chocolate comes from?!?! It might be easy to find out where it was manufactured from the wrapper but it’s unlikely to tell you where its ingredients are sourced. As a follower of Cococlectic you no doubt take an interest in the process that brings bean-to-bar chocolates to you and you’ve probably taken note of the exotic locations the cocoa beans are grown such as Bolivia or Madagascar. Bean-to-bar enthusiasts are used to products originating from Central and South America, the Caribbean or Hawaii. However, with 70% of the world’s cocoa coming from West Africa why do only two bean-to-bar companies in the U.S use cocoa beans from there?

With chocolate being mass manufactured what is seen as quality now is consistency. People want their favorite chocolates to taste the same every time. The majority of cocoa trees in Ghana are bred to produce a consistent bean that has a “cocoa flavor” that is perfect for mass produced candy bars. However, like grapes for wine, cocoa beans produce distinct flavors depending on their strain and terroir. The C-Spot has identified 8 primary and 37 secondary strains each with their own distinct flavor profile such as the Canoabo bean which has characteristics of “buttery nuts, caramel, and soft fruit”. Showcasing those flavors are one of the goals of single origin chocolate makers, which allows them to make unique batches every time.

But in sourcing their beans, U.S artisanal chocolate makers not only seek produce that are good quality and have a unique flavor, but are also dedicated to their ethics and quality. They take pride in knowing every step of the cocoa’s journey to them. Small plantations are often ideal and although they’re to be found in West Africa, they’re overshadowed by reports of child and slave labor on the commercial plantations. Many Americans tend to have very negative perceptions concerning West Africa, making them wary to invest there. Many have attempted to obtain beans from there, however it’s very difficult to find a source with a solid and reputable story. But it can be done. Although only 4% of the world’s bean-to-bar chocolates are sourced from West Africa, those chocolates are making a difference to an area that needs investment and growth. As well as helping to change perceptions of a place that is often associated with poverty and war by associating it with quality produce. So next time you unwrap a bar of chocolate, remember there’s a bigger story than you might think behind every ingredient. Then eat it.


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