All of your chocolate Easter eggs are the same: generic, sweet crap. It should be like this: cocoa beans and sugar. That’s chocolate.
Photo via dgjones
Mike Longman is the founder of Chocolarder, one of the UK's only small batch bean-to-bar chocolate producers. He only uses two ingredients to make his chocolate: ethically sourced cocoa beans and unprocessed sugar. By creating his own machines and testing different methods, he has picked apart the chocolate making process to find an ethical end product.
Every child loves chocolate.
But the chocolate industry has made its money by bastardising it. Every bar is the same—that generic, plastic, sweet crap. It's the stuff they're fixated with feeding kids, the stuff they can get them to crave.
It should be like this: cocoa beans and sugar. That's chocolate.
Instead, the chocolate industry completely over-roast the cocoa beans and get rid of the flavour; grind out the bitterness; add chemicals to adjust the pH and remove the acid flavour; chuck in loads of refined sugar to make it sweet and palatable without bringing the flavours that real sugar brings; pump in some palm oil to bulk it out; throw in some flavourings and preservatives and emulsifiers so it can sit on the shelf for a couple of years; and you get chocolate.
My eldest daughter gets one of my Easter eggs—which she eats over a long period of time—but she also gets bought five or six nasty Cadbury's Easter eggs. She'll eat about a quarter and get a massive stomach ache. She doesn't get a lot of chocolate, but she gets my chocolate. So when she eats chocolate full of palm oil and emulsifiers, it makes her ill.
That's why everyone thinks chocolate is incredibly bad for you—because it's rammed full of all the crap that goes into modern chocolate: emulsifiers, flavourings, refined sugars, and vegetable fats. We've forgotten that chocolate has always been a really healthy thing.
As a small batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker, I know how chocolate should be made.
The cocoa bean is four times bigger than a coffee bean. When roasted, the moisture inside cracks the bean apart. Remove the shell using a machine called a winnower, and you have the broken-up bean: those are the nibs. That's what you make chocolate from: the nibs and unprocessed sugar. No flavourings or palm oil, just cocoa nibs and sugar. Aside from the odd extra ingredients—honeycomb and wild gorse—that's all we use.
When I made my first bar I gave it to the wife to taste. She was like, 'Is that how it's meant to taste?' I knew I'd made chocolate then.
I was working at the New Yard Restaurant in Cornwall as a pastry chef when I fell down the rabbit hole of chocolate.
Before then, I was like everybody else. I thought Lindt was the upper echelon of the industry, but once I broke out of that, I was in love. There was always a chocolate dish on the menu. But there's only so much you can do with a bag of chocolate galets. I got bored.
I started experimenting. I used raw beans to make 100-percent chocolate; sweetening it, doing research, tasting cocoa nibs from all over the world, working out how to grind them down, and roasting them at different temperatures. I was obsessed. I no longer wanted to do the bread and the breakfast bits or the pastry section as a whole; I just wanted to learn how to make good, ethical, transparent chocolate—completely from scratch.
When I made my first bar, I gave it to my wife to taste. She was like, "Is that how it's meant to taste?" I knew I'd made chocolate then.
There are three strains of cocoa bean. The forestario is very hardy, bred to be very high-yielding and doesn't taste very strongly of anything, but can be made into cheap chocolate.
Then there's the trinitario: a hardy and decent-tasting fruit that grows all over the world, and ranges massively from really crap flavourless beans to amazing complex flavours.
When you start to realise who's gaining and who's losing, the world of chocolate is horrendous.
Finally, criollo—the heirloom dating back to the Mayans, and the finest cocoa that you can find anywhere. It's way more complex than the others and the range in flavour you can get is completely different. It ranges from deep, peaty whisky flavours through to light, peachy flavours.
We generally use criollo beans. The chocolate industry at large, of course, uses forestario.
All the strains grow well between the tropics but most of the world's cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast. They've got the market for exporting huge amounts of cocoa beans, so if you can turn a strip of land into a cocoa bean plantation you can make money out of it. It doesn't matter how good those beans are.
When you start to realise who's gaining and who's losing, the world of chocolate is horrendous. The money you pay for chocolate—where does it go? Seventy percent of the price you pay for chocolate goes to marketing. Fuck-all goes to the growers. They're exploited in a hideous way.
It makes very good business sense to keep Africa where it is because of the worthless labour. Cocoa beans are a cash crop. But because they come from a very poor belt of the world, they're not treated as one. The growers simply aren't aware of what they've got. I've seen a video of cocoa growers tasting chocolate for the first time. They think it's amazing. They don't know it's chocolate. They can't believe the beans they harvest make something so sweet, moreish, and delicious. And when they're told how much that bar is worth and learn it's a month's salary for them—it's heartbreaking.
If you've ever seen a cocoa tree, you'll know they're amazing. The fruits are amazing too, and the chocolates all right as well. And yet we've turned it into something that kids are addicted to.
It should be so much more.
As told to Gareth May.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in April 2015.