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Chocolate emerging from Indonesia, Venezuela and the Cote d'Ivorie - NY Times
Last modified: 2010-04-16 19:58:17

Chocolate once offered simple pleasure and easy choices: plain or with almonds? Milk or dark? Now, from many perspectives - including controversy about some aspects of its production - chocolate is viewed as a far more complex food.

Fine chocolate now shares the status of wine and cheese: connoisseurs have learned to taste differences among producers and even among cacao growers, with single-plantation and single-origin chocolates emerging from Indonesia, Venezuela and the Cote d'Ivoire. (The Theobroma tree, from whose seeds chocolate comes - Theobroma is Greek for "food of the gods" - grows in hot humid climates within 20 degrees of the equator.)

At the same time, the labor practices of cacao plantations, especially in the Cote d'Ivoire, have come under scrutiny: chocolate, and the slave labor sometimes employed to produce it, is one of the main issues for the global Fair Trade movement.

The international market for chocolate has boomed recently, especially in Asia, where chocolate is a relatively cheap Western luxury that appeals to growing middle class populations. (Compared with wine or extra-virgin olive oil, chocolate is plentiful and cheap - even the top-quality bars, like those from Valrhona, Michel Cluizel, Felchlin and Bonnat, top out at about $12.)

Handmade and artisanal chocolates are in vogue, as are eccentrically flavored chocolates that challenge our ideas of what a sweet treat should be: curry-scented truffles, bacon-studded milk chocolate bars, almond-jasmine-praline bonbons.

The production of chocolate has always been highly complex, the product of many careful steps - from sun-drying the ripened pods on the plantations where they are picked, through tempering, the process of heating and cooling the molten mixture to precise temperatures that give good chocolate its snap. Vast fortunes have been built on big and small innovations in the process: the Nestlé, Hershey's, Cadbury-Schweppes and Mars companies were all built on foundations of inexpensive, industrially produced chocolate.

More expensive chocolate is often measured in percentages of natural cocoa - defined as the cocoa butter and ground solids - but doing so as a measure of quality and flavor has become controversial. Certainly the glossiest, fanciest versions of chocolate are not necessarily the best.

Ultimately, the best way to seek out fine chocolate is - good news - to taste it. - Julia Moskin, May 1, 2008

NY Times Friday, April 16, 2010

Keywords: NY Times, chocolate, Cacao, emerging, Indonesia, cocoa, plantations
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