ethical chocolate

From Bean to Bar: Reconnect With Ethical Chocolate

Chocolate tutor and founder of Chococo Claire Burnet believes that the UK has developed a disconnect with chocolate. She thinks that we’ve lost our inherent understanding of what real chocolate should taste like.

On a mission to re-educate our palates, Claire travels the world to ensure she sources the most ethical, and real chocolate for her brand.

Here’s how Chococo are challenging our perception of chocolate.

A World of Difference

Chococo has chocolate houses in Dorset and Devon. Each 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’s the best. Claire told us:

“As a nation us Brits are a long way behind in understanding chocolate compared to folk in the rest of Europe. We have been indoctrinated by a few big brands.”

“The disconnect is huge between what most people’s palates think of as chocolate and what premium, fine chocolate tastes like.”

“In the UK the biggest brand by a country mile has very little cocoa in it. It’s very high in sugar and some of the cocoa butter is replaced with vegetable fats, one of which is palm oil. There’s no place for palm oil in chocolate and no excuse. It’s an environmental disaster and they’re just cutting costs.”

“The continent doesn’t have this problem because the main brands there use pure cocoa butter and no vegetable fats.”

Claire says that chocolate made with palm oil also leaves a sticky layer on the inside of the mouth. Plus, this kind of chocolate tastes of sugar, rather than real chocolate.

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“There’s a world of difference between industrial chocolate which is bad for us, and the fine chocolate we work with.”

Claire believes that we should never feel guilty about eating fine chocolate. “Yes it includes fat, but they’re good fats such as those found in olive oil.”

“Cocoa contains nutrients such as magnesium and antioxidants. It prohibits the development of plaque on teeth and contains phenylethylalanine, the chemical we release when we’re in love. It’s also good for the health of our heart and blood vessels. There are lots of good reasons to eat proper, fine chocolate.”

“Cheap chocolate simply fuels our nation’s sugar addition but chocolate doesn’t have to be a sugar fix. You can be a chocoholic, but you don’t have to be a sugar-holic by default.”

Ethically Sourced From the Beginning

Ethical chocolate is a slow food by the very nature of how it’s harvested. It takes six months for the cacao fruit to ripen in its pod.

“You then have to hand cut every pod off the tree across the entire cocoa plantation. Every pod is cut open and the beans scooped out by hand before being dried for at least a week”, Claire told us.

“The beans are then fermented for at least a week. The fermentation process heats the beans to over 50°C so by definition cocoa is not a raw product.”

Her beans are then roasted for 25 to 30 minutes at 120°C to sterilise them. This makes it easier to peel the shell off. The shelled beans are chopped into cocoa nibs making 100% unadulterated chocolate.

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“Cocoa nibs are delicious sprinkled on cereals or baked in cookies. When they’re crushed, they begin to form a paste known as cocoa liqueur. It’s not alcoholic, that’s just the technical term. The liqueur is then 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 – 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 for body butter skin moisturisers. Industrial chocolate brands replace some of the cocoa butter with vegetable fats. This gives it a higher melting point meaning it 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 brand. She takes pride in the fact that she meets her producers face to face.

“I’ve been to Madagascar and Grenada to see the factories where our chocolate is produced. We’re adding so much to local economies by encouraging farmers to produce chocolate in its country of origin. This is far better than importing raw beans and producing chocolate in bulk.”

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She says that Chococo products go beyond Fairtrade.

“For us, it’s about short supply chains and direct relationships. Unfortunately the Fairtrade ideal is being abused as a marketing initiative by big brands such as Cadburys. They have Fairtrade logos on their packaging but they’re still using palm oil. Galaxy have a Rainforest Alliance logo but they use palm oil too.”

Claire’s Grenada chocolate bars have a fair transport logo and she explains why:

“Our chocolate is produced from local beans grown on the island. The factory is solar-powered and they sail the bars across the Atlantic each Spring.”

Liquid Gold

Claire’s philosophy is to let the chocolate be the hero. Her regular dark chocolate is 67% cocoa solids. She also produces bars and hot chocolates that go all the way up to an intense 100%. All without any added sugar or glucose syrup.

Chococo milk chocolate contains 43% cocoa solids, high for a milk chocolate. She explains that in the industry, milk is always added as milk powder, never as fresh milk. Some big brand, well-known 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. 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 in tea and red wine. But they should be balanced by fruit notes. Some of our Madagascan chocolates in particular taste of red berries. Our chocolate from Vietnam is almost savoury and yeasty. Sometimes there are Marmite flavour notes.”

“Our chocolate from Grenada has more citrus top notes with a soft finish on the palate. It has a lingering aroma and flavour.”

The Truth Is in the Tasting!

Chococo offer a myriad of fantastic artisan ethical chocolates. Each is made with care and comes from different countries, regions and estates. The flavour profiles are unbelievable. Which is perhaps why chocolate tasting is remarkably like wine-tasting and coffee-cupping.

“When we hold tasting classes, it can result in a real lightbulb moment. People get blown away by the flavours. It’s completely fascinating and enlightening.”

Book yourself onto a chocolate tasting masterclass. You’ll learn to reconnect with this delicious delicacy, taste chocolate from around the world and experience Claire’s passion and knowledge first-hand. Claire holds classes in Swanage, Winchester and Exeter. We’ll see you there!

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