How would it feel to eat chocolate knowing that it’s good for you and for the folks who grow your beans? With all the news about child slave labour on plantations, many of us are turning to Fair Trade brands such as Camino, Divine, After Eco and Maple Leaf Chocolate.
Chocosol is a horizontal trade organization that works with about 500 farmers in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco and other parts of Mexico. The farmers grow cacao beans, mostly in shady forest gardens on communal lands. The forest gardens produce a variety of crops using farming methods that sustain the fertility of the land and prevent erosion. Chocosol also works with some organic plantation style farms which are protecting traditional bean varieties.
My partner and I recently attended a workshop at Chocosol to learn how gently-roasted cacao beans are stone ground into a mass and mixed with spices to make traditional Mayan drinking chocolate. For this they use the whole bean, including the shell where many of the nutrients and antioxidants lie. For eating chocolate, which is smoother in texture, the shells are winnowed off and then the cacao mass pours over a turning wheel in a special tempering machine.
We enjoy a variety of samples with spices like chili, achiote, cinnamon and vanilla. My favorite is Five Chili Bullet, which combines sweet and heat. The workers remind us that chocolate originates, not as candy, but as a sacred and medicinal food.
I have fantasized about growing my own chocolate beans but it’s not an easy plant to raise indoors. It needs a lot of humidity, space and attention. For now, I’ll trust my chocolate to the farmers of southern Mexico and the organizations that work respectfully with them.