Any day is a good day to eat chocolate as far as I'm concerned. But on no day is it so special as on Choc bar Valentine's Day, when heart-shaped boxes full of cocoa-based delicacies can keep people (well, me) happy pretty much all day.
That's particularly true if the cocoa is produced organically. Cocoa powder is derived from cacao seeds that grow in pods on the cacao tree. The tree's botanical name, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods," nomenclature with which I wholeheartedly agree. Cocoa "beans" are only called that once they're removed from the tree. What does any of this have to do with the environment? The cacao tree grows in the rainforest. Ideally, cacao trees will be grown on small farms, in the shade, to keep rainforests intact and reduce pesticide use.
Even better is organic cocoa that is also produced according to Fair Trade principles, ensuring that farmers are paid a decent wage for their work and no child labor is involved. In countries like Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, children are being used like slaves to produce cocoa, with profits going to fund the country's civil war.
Online, at natural foods stores and food coops, and increasingly at local grocery stores, you can find organic, fair trade cocoa and chocolate. Here are some brands to look for:
But which of these tastes best?
I asked the moms over at Green Moms Carnival for their faves. Here's what they recommend:
Jenn Savedge says, "My all time favorite is IgnaFire. They make an unprocessed chocolate that is out of this world. Honestly, there is so much flavor and texture in one bite of this stuff that it really takes the whole chocolate eating experience to a new level! I also love that their packaging is waste-free."
Jess Trevelyan, who blogs at The Green Phone Booth, raves, "I love Divine first and foremost for the flavor (both dark and milk). But also cause the HQ is here in DC so I can support a local business."
Lynn Miller of OrganicMania.com, has her favorite, too. "Diane, I love Black's and Divine. Divine is fair trade from Ghana and is based here in DC. Black's is often on sale at places like Giant (yay!).
Anna over at green-talk.com, did some serious research on the subject. "I went to the NYC chocolate fair this year and reviewed many of the organic chocolates," she reports. "I preferred dark chocolate with about 70-85 percent cacao. What I liked about the show is that the chocolate was not all offered at your local health food shops or was not made into bars. See the bark one or toffee one. I especially liked the foodie chocolate where it was infused with an herb or food ingredient. Try rosemary and chocolate some time. It is amazing." See Anna's articles, including Organic Chocolate Never Tasted So Good.
But be careful, warns Anna. "Just so you know, eating all that chocolate made me happy, but sick to my stomach in the end."
Got an organic or fair trade chocolate you love? Let us know!
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