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From Bean to Bar: Reconnect With Ethical Chocolate

Chocolate tutor and founder of Chococo, Claire Burnet believes that as a nation, we have a massive disconnect with chocolate. She has travelled the world to ensure she harvests chocolate from the most ethical sources and now she wants to challenge people’s perception of chocolate.

A World of Difference

Each Chococo chocolate house in Dorset and Devon is full of melt-in-the-mouth individually crafted and freshly made chocolates. Chococo gets through 20 tonnes of chocolate a year so they make sure it is the best, but founder Claire Burnet believes that us Brits have lost an inherent understanding of what makes proper ethical chocolate and we need to re-educate our palates.

“As a nation us Brits are a long way behind in understanding chocolate compared to folk on the continent because we have been indoctrinated by a few massive brands here in the UK. The disconnect is huge between what most people’s palates think of as chocolate and actually what proper premium fine chocolate tastes like,” explains Claire who says that the continent doesn’t have this problem because the main brands there are made with pure cocoa butter and no vegetable fats.

“In the UK the biggest brand by a country mile has very little cocoa in it. They’re very high in sugar and they replace some of the cocoa butter with vegetable fats in, one of which is palm oil. There is no place for palm oil in chocolate at all. There is no excuse. It is an environmental disaster and they’re just cutting costs.” She describes how chocolate made with palm oil also leaves a very sticky layer on the inside of your mouth – and when you eat them, they taste of sugar, they don’t taste of real chocolate.

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“There is a world of difference between industrial chocolate which is bad for you and the fine chocolate we work with,” says Claire who believes that we should never feel guilty about eating fine chocolate.

“Yes, there is fat in there but research proves it is good fat like olive oil. Cocoa contains loads of good stuff such as magnesium and antioxidants, it prohibits the development of plaque on teeth, it contains phenylethylalanine, the chemical you release when you’re in love, it is good for your arterial blood health and blood flow. There are loads of good reasons to eat proper fine chocolate. Cheap chocolate simply fuels our nation’s sugar addiction but it doesn’t have to be a sugar fix. You can be a chocoholic, you don’t have to be a sugar-holic.”

Ethical Chocolate, From Tree to Cocoa

Ethical chocolate is a slow food by the very nature of how it is harvested from the tree to create cocoa. It takes six months for the fruit to ripen into the pod. “You then have to cut every pod off the tree by hand in cocoa plantations around the world. Every pod is cut open by hand, all the beans are scoped out by hand and then dried for at least a week. They’re then fermented for at least a week and that fermentation process takes the beans to over 50°C so by definition cocoa is not a raw product.” Claire explains how proper chocolate is only roasted for about 25 to 30 minutes at about 120°C to sterilise the beans, and this makes it easier to peel the shell off. Then they are shelled and chopped into cocoa nibs, which is 100% chocolate.

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“Cocoa nibs are delicious sprinkled on cereals or baked in cookies. When they are crushed, they begin to form a paste known as cocoa liqueur.” It’s not alcoholic, according to Claire that’s just the technical term. The liqueur is pressed to extract the fat which is the cocoa butter, a clear fat which sets white. The remaining brown cocoa powder gives chocolate its acidity and flavour.

Fine dark chocolate is dairy-free by definition; cocoa butter doesn’t actually contain butter! The cocoa butter is also the key to chocolate’s melting property: “it naturally melts at body temperature which is why the beauty industry uses it primarily for body butter skin moisturisers. But industrial chocolate brands replace some of the cocoa butter with vegetable fats so it has a higher melting point and can sit on supermarket shelves for longer!”
This is why cheap chocolates aren’t great for cooking with – they simply don’t have the same melting properties.

Claire has been lucky enough to visit the cocoa plantations that supply her and takes pride in the fact that she meets her producers face to face. “I was in Madagascar last May, and we were in Grenada five years ago. I see the factory where it is produced and we’re adding so much more to their local economy by getting them to produce chocolate in the country of origin rather than importing raw beans and producing chocolate in bulk.”

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She says that Chococo products go beyond fair-trade. “For us, it is about short supply chains and direct relationships. Unfortunately the fair-trade ideal is being abused as a marketing initiative by big industrials like Cadburys who have slapped fair-trade logos all over their packaging but they are still using palm oil. Galaxy have a Rainforest Alliance logo but they use palm oil too.” Claire’s Grenada chocolate bars do, however, have a fair transport logo and she explains why: “that chocolate was produced from local beans on the island in a factory that is solar-powered and they sail the bars in a boat across the Atlantic every spring. Wow!”

Liquid Gold

Claire’s philosophy is to let the chocolate be the hero.

Her house dark chocolate is 67% cocoa solids, and she produces bars and hot chocolates that go all the way up to an intense 100%, without any added sugar or glucose syrup.

Claire’s house milk chocolate from Venezuela contains 43% cocoa solids which is high for a milk chocolate. She explains that milk is always added as milk powder never as fresh milk so some big brand adverts are quite misleading. Milk content can vary but the norm is around 20%. White chocolate is just cocoa butter without the cocoa powder so it doesn’t taste of much – you need the combination of the two to get the full chocolate hit, according to Claire, and that’s why premium white chocolates often contain a lot of vanilla.

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“There is a natural level of acidity and tannins in chocolate, like tea and red wine, but that should be balanced by fruit notes. Chocolate is very much like red wine, some taste red berry fruity, like some of our Madagascan chocolates. Some of our chocolate from Vietnam is almost savoury and yeasty, sometimes there are Marmite flavour notes. Whereas our chocolate from Grenada has more citrus top notes with a soft finish on the palate,” describes Claire who enjoys the lingering aroma and taste in her mouth after every bite.

So there’s a myriad of fantastic artisan ethical chocolates made with care from different regions, estates, origins and countries – the flavour profiles are unbelievable which is perhaps why chocolate tasting is remarkably like wine-tasting and coffee-cupping. “When we do tastings, it’s a real lightbulb moment when people are blown away by the flavours and it is completely fascinating and enlightening.”

To reconnect with this delicious delicacy, taste chocolate from around the world and experience Claire’s passion and knowledge first-hand, book yourself onto a chocolate-tasting masterclass with Claire in Swanage, Winchester or Exeter and learn about the ethics of chocolate, how it is produced and crafted chococo.co.uk.

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