Most of the chocolate we find in supermarkets come from large factories where chocolate bars are mass-produced. But in recent years another kind of chocolate has started to emerge, made by small producers who value the artisan craftsmanship of chocolate making. This kind of chocolate is also known as craft chocolate.
But what really is craft chocolate and how does it differ from industrial chocolate? Stay with us as we explore the wonderful world of craft chocolate.
Craft chocolate: The definition
Craft chocolate refers to chocolate that’s been produced on a small-scale and where the quality and sustainability of the cacao beans is prioritised. There currently is no legal definition of craft chocolate, therefore anyone can technically call their chocolate craft.
So how can we ensure the chocolate buy really is craft? By researching the chocolate company, finding out where they source their beans from and how involved they are in the entire bean to bar chocolate making-making journey.
Many craft chocolate makers are involved in almost every step of the process, from sourcing the cocoa beans to manufacturing the final product. This allows them to have complete control over the quality of their chocolate and create unique fine flavours that you won’t find in many supermarket chocolate bars.
The history of craft chocolate
Although the history of chocolate goes back thousands of years, craft chocolate didn’t start until the early 1990s. In 1993 when the founder of Domori Chocolate, Gianluca Franzoni travelled to Venezuela to research the rare Criollo bean.
He eventually founded the Ciollo Project in 1997 in an attempt to preserve and prevent the extinction of Criollo cacao varieties. According to Domori, the amount of Criollo cacao available on the market in the early 2000s was just 0.001% of global product. Today, it’s around 0.01%.
Thanks to the Criollo Project, several chocolate makers in Europe and the US started to produce chocolate using these rediscovered cacao varieties. For example, Scharffen Berger chocolate from California, USA, who was founded in 1996, was experimenting with batches of chocolate from up to 30 different varieties of cacao.
Unlike the mass-market chocolate production at the time, Scharffen Berger focused on small-batch, high-quality chocolate. Their focus was extracting the various flavour profiles of different cacao beans, sourced from specific growers.
By the early 2000s more and more craft chocolate makers started to pop-up. Eventually the International Chocolate Awards were founded in 2012, which is an independent group of panellists from around the world that evaluate chocolate bars based on their fine flavours.
Today, the craft chocolate market is stronger than ever with thousands of small chocolate producers popping up all over the world from Hawaii to Thailand. The expansion of craft chocolate is largely thanks to a shift back towards small-scale production as people have become more interested in where their food comes from and how it’s made.
Why should I choose craft chocolate?
There are several reasons why you might want to choose craft chocolate over mass-market chocolate. From ethically sourced beans to great taste, here are some of the reasons:
It’s better for the farmer.
Inequalities within the cocoa industry are well known. Whilst the chocolate industry is valued at over $89 billion, the harsh reality is that the average cocoa farmer in West Africa currently earns less than $0.80 a day. Many craft chocolate makers source their beans directly from the farmer or from sustainable cooperatives that ensure farmers are paid fairly whilst taking care of the environment.
As Tom Rogan from Goodnow Farms Chocolate explains: “One of the most important is to ensure farmers receive a fair price and one which is considerably higher than commodity rates. Inequities in the cacao supply chain are well known and we’re dedicated to making a positive difference in how farmers are compensated, especially considering the extra time and effort involved in growing and producing fine flavour cacao.”
It’s better for the environment.
Bulk cacao for mass-market chocolate is often grown in monoculture plantations, which has been linked to the ever growing issue of deforestation. Cacao farmers and cooperatives of fine cacao are busy working to conserve the last remaining biodiversity hotspots and protect ancient cacao varieties.
One craft chocolate maker who closely works with local farmers to reforest rainforest and preserve ancient cacao varieties is Original Beans. Original Beans takes pride in discovering some of the rarest varieties of cacao in the world. They told us they have a dedicated Bean Team which, “roams the remotest corners of the world, often working on-site with indigenous tribes such as the Arhuaco in Colombia or the Zoque and Tzotsil indigenous people in Mexico abandoning the often common slash-and-burn and switching to semi-wild land use instead with mixed cocoa crops, which is much more sustainable.”
It’s better for you.
Studies have found that cacao is packed with antioxidants and flavanols. Antioxidants and flavanols can be beneficial to cardiovascular health, provide anti-inflammatory properties, and help regulate blood sugar levels. However, not all chocolate contains the same amount of antioxidants.
Many mass-produced chocolates use beans that are alkalised. Alkalisation of cacao is a process of adding alkaline substances to cacao beans to neutralise their acidity. Unfortunately, this process has been shown to strip the beans of their vital antioxidants and flavanols by up to 80%. As a result, mass-produced chocolate generally has lower levels of antioxidants and flavanols than craft chocolate.
Craft chocolate is a delicious and ethical alternative to mass-produced chocolate. When you choose craft chocolate, you are supporting farmers, cooperatives, and small-businesses from around the world who are working to make a positive difference in the cocoa industry. Not to mention, there are thousands of craft chocolate makers each with their own unique style and recipes of making chocolate. So, what’s not to love? Start exploring the world of craft chocolate today!