Vocabulary is always a hot topic in the chocolate industry.
Defining terms like “bean-to-bar”, “small batch”, “single origin” and “artisan” is a daunting experience. There seem to be no accredited authority that can give practical guidelines. Without a set of objective rules, perception is all there is. The industry ends up in a big chaos of opinions, beliefs, legends and lies.
If professionals are unsure, consumers don’t even know where to begin.
When shopping for chocolate, signs of objective quality are often missing. Certifications, countries of origin, creative marketing claims and fancy packaging hide the true value of a product. Scams are always around the corner.
Among the most abused words, FINE CHOCOLATE is the inconvenient puzzle that nobody dares to resolve.
“We feel fine chocolate and chocolate products should only contain the ingredients on the following lists”.
The Fine Chocolate Industry Association tries to draw the line in terms of ingredients. Among the indications, it suggests that dark chocolate should contain a maximum of 5 ingredients: cacao liquor, sugar, cacao butter, lecithin and vanilla. This suggestion is great, because it forces consumers to look at the ingredients list. Unfortunately, it is of no use when on the market there are 300+ companies making the same exact product.
In fact, the latest trend among engineers, designers and corporate workers is to jump on the bean-to-bar craft chocolate bandwagon. This results in an endless list of chocolate bars made with only cacao and sugar available on the market.
Can they all be defined as fine chocolate?
Not so quickly.
What divides “fine food” from “ordinary food” is a perceived superiority in the satisfaction of the senses. To achieve this goal, extraordinary abilities are united with excellent ingredients. It’s a combination of these two that justifies the higher price paid for fine food.
It becomes clear that listing the right ingredients is not enough to define a “fine chocolate maker”. The definition must have something to do with both GREAT skills and HIGH-QUALITY ingredients.
If these two elements are in place, the result should be chocolate that take consumers’ breath away.
The problem is that also consumers are on a learning journey. Their breath could be taken away by chocolate that can’t be really defined as “fine” just because they don’t have better terms of comparison. It all depends on their own experience and training.
This opens up many opportunities for chocolate makers that want to play around with questionable practices.
Some chocolate makers may not be so transparent with what happens in their laboratory, and pretend that their chocolate is “fine chocolate” when it is not.
Based on the parameters of Great Skills and High Quality Ingredients, here are some questionable practices often hidden from unaware chocolate consumers.
FINE CACAO MIXED WITH CHEAP INGREDIENTS
A “fine” product implies that ALL the ingredients used in its creation are of much-valued sources. When it comes to bean-to-bar chocolate, craft makers pride themselves in the use of fine cacao. Guaranteed origin, selected varieties and accurate post-harvesting process. Their approach is admirable. But what about the rest of the ingredients?
Transparency is not so welcomed in this case.
Fine cacao might be used in conjunction with despicable additions. Cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, inclusions. The origin and quality of these ingredients might be intentionally kept in the shadow by dishonest professionals.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Big Manufacturers Cash In On Craft Chocolate Terms
For example, a chocolate maker might use Akesson’s cacao beans, but then add cocoa butter from Callebaut. Detailed info will be found on the packaging about the renowned Madagascan origin. No mention of the cheap Belgian manufacturer instead.
Can this be called “fine chocolate”?
FAKE BEAN-TO-BAR CHOCOLATE
There is no University of Chocolate Making. No degree, certification or minimum set of abilities is required to own the title of “chocolate maker”.
In 2016, all chocolate makers are either self-taught, acquired their skills under a Master chocolate maker or started as pastry chefs. The learning curve is high and steep, but potentially anyone can start making and selling chocolate at any time. The only requirement to own the title of “chocolate maker” is to actually start from the beans to make chocolate.
The definition of “bean-to-bar” has blurred boundaries. Some experts say that bean-to-bar makers need to own the plantation. Some others are satisfied with direct trade. Some more accept the use of distributors and intermediaries. Nonetheless, everybody agrees that the BARE MINIMUM is having cocoa beans entering the kitchen and chocolate bars leaving it.
Unfortunately, many are the cases of coverture-to-bar and nibs-to-bar chocolate.
Coverture is chocolate already made by someone else, usually in the form of pastilles packaged in big plastic bags. It only needs to be melted and poured into molds. The effort is minimum, and its use cannot qualify a professional as “chocolate maker”.
Nibs are instead roasted cacao beans separated from the husk and broken into pieces. Since roasting is a crucial step in defining the flavor of fine chocolate, professionals that skip this process and start from cocoa nibs are not chocolate makers. Their products cannot be claimed as bean-to-bar chocolate.
Dishonest professionals will try to get away with murder also in this circumstance.
MIXING GOOD AND BAD BEANS TOGETHER
Everybody knows that fine cacao is expensive. But not so many also know that is risky business.
Chocolate makers pay in advance for their cacao beans, but never know what to expect. Big containers come from faraway exotic countries, and the content is always a surprise. What to do if the beans are covered in mold, bad-fermented or simply unusable?
Some makers decide to lose money to stay true to fine flavor. Some others will find ways to make up for the bad quality.
Mixing “bad” cacao beans with “good” ones is a common practice among sneaky chocolate makers. For a decent result, they can save a lot of money. Poor-quality cacao beans can be a small addition to high-quality ones to make “volume”. Or it can be the other way around. High-quality beans are added to a big quantity of poor-quality ones to bring a somewhat satisfying amount of flavor.
Makers that use this practice should not be marketing their products as “fine chocolate”.
How can consumers be sure that they are buying fine chocolate then? The one made by skilled hands using only excellent ingredients?
Thankfully, there is no marketing technique that can compromise the taste buds. An experienced mouth recognizes when chocolate was made with the necessary care. The more craft chocolate is consumed, the less the use of cheap ingredients will stand a chance.
As for the use of false claims regarding the chocolate making process, starting a direct conversation with the maker is essential in getting closer to the truth. Those who hide behind fancy terminology will easily be put on the spot.
Truth is that, if objective standards were put into place to define fine chocolate, chocolate makers will be forced to be more transparent with what happens in their laboratories. Consumers wouldn’t need to keep wondering no more.
What is YOUR definition of Fine Chocolate?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.