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Chocolate - rare good taste

February 2012  

 

Chocolate - rare good tasteFor most of our lives chocolate has been an affordable and very tasty addition to our lives. However, things might be changing.

There is increasing talk of a looming shortage as consumption continues to rise, assisted by the growing popularity for chocolate products in Asia. Chocolate has also found new favour in the western world after reports indicate it has some specific health benefits - dark chocolate has been attributed with high levels of flavonoid antioxidants and it has also been found to lower blood pressure.

Some chocolate experts predict that within eight years there will be a shortage of one million tons of cocoa against world demand unless huge new areas are set aside to farm it. The shortage would bring in big price increases and manufacturers may have to start increasing the use of nuts and other ingredients to bulk out chocolate bars.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cocoa tree which takes five years to produce its first beans, so there is no quick fix from sudden planting of new trees. The trees are also not that prolific - each tree only produces around 20 to 30 pods a year and inside the pods there are only around 30 to 40 seeds or cocoa beans. It can take a whole year’s crop from one tree to make just 1 lb (454 grammes) of cocoa.

There are three main types of cocoa trees; Forastero which is a hardy tree and produces the strongest flavoured beans; Criollo which are more common in central and South America and Indonesia and have milder flavoured beans; and Trinitario which is a cultivated tree found in the Caribbean, Cameroon and Papua New Guinea.

In the commercial world, around 40% of the world’s supply of cocoa beans currently comes from the Ivory Coast; with another 30% coming from other countries in West Africa. The other main countries involved in the commercial production of cocoa are Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.

Cocoa production is a highly sophisticated business with trading centres and careful pricing. There is a World Cocoa Foundation which says that currently there are around six million cocoa farmers across the world, with up to 50 million people depending on cocoa for their livelihood.

Once picked, the beans are usually fermented in the same country before export. The transformation into tasty chocolate is today a complex process often involving roasting, kibbling (breaking into small pieces) and winnowing when the brittle shells of the beans are removed to leave just the centre which provides the base for the chocolate that we eat and love.

Recent surveys still put Switzerland as the worlds’ leading consumer of chocolate, with Austria and Ireland not far behind.

However, they may soon find life is not so sweet. Experts are saying that unless more land is put under production for the cocoa tree and unless cocoa farmers are offered more help through training in techniques to boost bean production from their trees, tough times lie ahead for chocolate-lovers.

 

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