HomeGeneralThe Importance of Choosing Chocolate for Flavor and Sustainability

The Importance of Choosing Chocolate for Flavor and Sustainability

(This article appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

By: John Kehoe, Amy Guittard and Josh Johnson, Guittard Chocolate Company.

A flavorless, yet beautiful, heirloom tomato. And odorless long-stemmed rose. As pastry chefs and culinary professionals, you know firsthand how years of propagation and farming for quantity over quality has affected the rich, complex flavors and perfumes of fruits, vegetables and so many other ingredients. The same holds true for cacao where production worldwide has been affected by the quest for higher yielding varieties, often at the detriment of flavor. In taking such an approach, cacao is on a fast track to losing the diversity of flavor but also losing the flavors unique to each region where varieties are grown. Understanding the sustainability of where your chocolate comes from (as with other ingredients), will afford you the opportunity to invest not only in the flavor that you plate now, but ensure the availability of diverse and interesting flavors for years to come.

Sustainability in chocolate is just as much about a quality end product as it is about income generation for cocoa farmers. As farmers and industry strive for higher yields and disease resistance, chocolate-producing companies play a critical role in empowering cocoa farmers and breeders to recognize and protect their unique, historical flavor profiles by improving yields without compromising flavor. Guittard Chocolate Company has implemented a series of multi-pronged programs worldwide, under Cultivate BetterÔ, that seek to preserve flavor while also increasing yields. Cultivate Better collaborates with farmers and cooperatives within the supply chain as well as with governments and research institutions in producing countries to recognize and protect their historic flavor profiles, ensuring both a quality end product and better, long lasting income generation for cocoa farmers. We’ve collaborated with multilateral donors to ensure that this work is far reaching and long lasting.

Six years ago, USAID/World Cocoa Foundation’s Africa Cocoa Initiative partnered with us to establish a Flavor Lab at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) and to train a sensory panel, which continues to expand, grow and train. In 2019, our partners in Ghana helped us set up a lab for their sister cocoa producing country, Côte d’Ivoire at the Centre National de Researche Agronomique, CNRA. We will do the same in Nigeria and Cameroon in the near future. With the support Swisscontact and the Millennium Challenge, a flavor lab was set up in Indonesia at the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI). These institutions’ labs and sensory panels are instrumental in providing objective, professional flavor assessment of planting material so that breeding decisions can be made considering flavor together with productivity, disease resistance and drought tolerance.

A second, equally important function of the flavor labs is to train farmers and cooperatives on the importance of harvesting ripe, healthy cocoa, properly fermenting and drying the cocoa to obtain the optimal product and best price. Field training is central to bringing these core tenets to life. Working one-on-one with farmer groups and on-the-ground partners training programs highlight implications of flavor from harvest to the end product. Through our work in Ghana and with the USDA/CNFA MOCA project in the Ivory Coast, samples made at the flavor labs allow farmers themselves to taste the critical difference their practices make. This training helps farmers and cooperatives to make decisions for their businesses that will enable long-term success. From the farm level to factory all the way through to your menu, understanding and celebrating the farmer’s work towards cultivating flavorful cocoa illuminates the crucial role farmers play in providing a premium ingredient.

Cocoa sustainability ultimately has to address critical issues like child protection, deforestation and the underlying issues of farmer incomes and community development–which all tie in to quality, value and preservation of heritage cacao. By committing to the importance of cultivating for flavor, local government institutions responsible for breeding, farmers and cooperatives invest both in their futures as well as the future of their communities. Chefs and bakers can support sustainability, good labor practices, and ultimately, the preservation of flavor by working with chocolate-producing companies committed to these vital efforts. As Guittard Pastry Chef Josh Johnson explains: “I believe we have a responsibility as pastry chefs, to source ingredients in the same way we source all our farm grown ingredients; Know where your produce comes from and learn as much as we can about the producers, the farmers, and the practices. Every step has an impact on the quality and long-term sustainability.”

The whole truly is greater than the sum of the parts.

Photos courtesy of Guittard Chocolate Company

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