Chocolate professionals love to get tangled up in vocabulary matters.
Setting strict definitions for every aspect of chocolate production and consumption is the new favorite hobby of cacao aficionados. Why? Because the fine chocolate industry is a fertile territory for such conjectures.
Many are the uncertainties in this sweet World other than the difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier, a ganache and a praline, and few others. Especially in the chocolate-making area, many terms are left to personal interpretations and different points of view. There is no approved dictionary to determine when a product or a company is in or out a specific category.
The reasons for such cloudiness are varied.
One might argue that the bean-to-bar movement is very young and full of self-made professionals, so that nobody has the authority to dictate the rules. Another reason is that not having a set of objective definitions allows many professionals to do and claim anything they want. Discrepancies and disagreements push far away the possibility of legal requirements and restrictions. Although this creates endless discussions in the industry, the broad audience of bean-to-bar chocolate consumers doesn’t seem to care that much after all.
One of the biggest points of disagreement is on the real meaning of SINGLE ORIGIN chocolate. Is single origin supposed to be a country? Or a region? How can we know for sure? Should we care?
While wondering the true meaning of single origin chocolate, the best bet is to ask directly to someone who has been working with chocolate for almost 10 years, has been making bean-to-bar for 2, goes to the place of origin (and his motherland) every 3 months to control production and works 10 hours a day immersed in chocolate machines.
Here is what Roger Rodriguez, VP and Head Chocolatier for Cacao Prieto in Red Hook, Brooklyn taught me on the true meaning of single origin chocolate.
Debating if single origin should refer to a country, a region, or a plantation is the wrong focus. There could never be a right answer for that.
If it’s a country, then it’s too large. If it’s a region/province, then consistency becomes a problem. If it’s a plantation, good luck with the production (unless you are Bertil Akesson). It’s not in defining borders that single origin chocolate differentiates itself from blends. The focus should instead be on the ingredients inside the bar.
Roger sources the beans for Cacao Prieto from small cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic. Every 3 months he visits the country that is also his motherland to ensure that cacao farmers are keeping high production standards. The interesting part is that you won’t find any cocoa liquor or cocoa butter in Cacao Prieto’s chocolate bars that didn’t come from those same beans.
No cocoa powder or cocoa butter from other places other than the Dominican Republic. THIS is our only certainty in defining single origin chocolate.
All cocoa ingredients come from the same place indicated on the packaging.
It doesn’t matter how big that place is as long as the cacao comes from there.
But here is the problem.
As mentioned above, legal definitions and regulations are hard to be found (and created) in the chocolate industry. No minimal percentage of cacao from the same place is required to claim that a bar is single origin chocolate. It’s up to the honesty of the chocolate maker to state if a bar is single origin or the result of a blend.
What can chocolate consumers do about it ?
There is no physical tool that allows a chocolate consumer to verify if all the cacao in a bar comes from the same country/region. But this shouldn’t be a justification for total apathy and blindness. Pro activeness is an incredible weapon to bring a curious mind closer to the truth.
Checking the company website, participating in factory tours and building a close relationship with chocolate makers are great strategies to gather precious info. Businesses that have nothing to hide are usually thrilled to share details about the production of their chocolate. Especially when they don’t just use cacao from one place but take it a step further.
Using only cacao from one origin is already enough to win the definition of single origin chocolate. Including also spices and other ingredients that come solely from that place brings single origin bars to a whole new level.
In fact, Cacao Prieto’s chocolate bars are the excellence of single origin. Roger only produces 72% cacao bars that are flavored with spices from Dominican Republic as well.
Should single origin chocolate have ALL and ONLY ingredients sourced from one place?
It’s not necessary to be so hardcore. Single origin cacao is enough to win such a definition on the packaging. But including other ingredients from that same place definitely adds extra value and bigger enjoyment of the typical flavors of a specific country/region.
The palate is not the only winner here though.
When chocolate makers consistently source their cacao beans from one place, like Cacao Prieto does, the entire community of cacao farmers from that specific place faces a tremendous economic growth. Consistent purchases guarantee a steady income to the families of cacao farmers. Instead of money being spread across different countries depending on the most favorable prices or latest trends, investments are constantly focused in one place. Roger gets almost emotional when he tells how he witnessed cacao farmers’ quality of life dramatically improving over time.
In conclusion, single origin chocolate can have different meanings that correspond to different layers of effort.
All cocoa ingredients coming from the same place is the basis for holding such definition. Having also other ingredients coming from the same place is a great added value. Sustaining the same communities over time is more than a packaging could ever explain.
What is YOUR definition of single origin 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.