A story of female empowerment in the chocolate industry

For International Women’s Day 2020, I would love to share with you a story of true female empowerment in the cocoa industry.

Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates, makes chocolate using cocoa beans sourced directly from farmers around the world. Luisa is currently the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker based in Nottingham.

She has won several prestigious awards including a Gold from the Academy of Chocolate for her 92% Philippines, and two Bronze Awards for her Makira and Madagascan bars. These awards confirm the fine quality of her chocolate, which is fundamentally different in taste and ethos to mass-produced confectionery.

Everything Luisa makes is vegan, gluten-free, and made without refined sugar (with no compromise on taste), making her products a healthy, ethical alternative to mass-produced confectionery. Luisa says: “Not only do we make dark chocolate, but have also recently launched ‘casholate’, a delicious alternative to milk chocolate, using cashew nuts to give a creamy taste, as well as a range of truffles.”

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We asked Luisa to tell us a bit about herself, how she got into chocolate making.

“I started learning how to make ‘bean-to bar’ chocolate in 2017. This was after a year or two of making healthier chocolate treats from my kitchen and selling them at local small producer markets. At the time I was a teacher of Textiles, Art and Food, and I’d always had a love and appreciation of chocolate.

My emphasis now is on producing delicious high quality dark chocolate using directly sourced beans. We work directly with our farmers and monitor the crop to ensure quality.

We also pay them a direct trade price more than two and a half times the average farm gate price, which we believe reflects the true value of the cocoa beans and is a better than fair deal for the farmers.

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Could you tell us about your experiences in Colombia?

Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates is the commercial partner on an Innovate UK project to understand the importance of fermentation in the chocolate process, and to identify the microbes present during that fermentation. The project runs over three different crop cycles, and this enables us to identify any improvements in the taste of chocolate arising from the scientific data and the related changes in the fermentation process.

Going out to meet the farmers – Martha Castillo, Carmen Erazo and Yanira Linero, was incredible. I saw the beautiful valleys in which the cocoa pods are grown, and we shared stories about our families, our children and, of course, our harmonious love of cacao, which is the central connection of how our paths would be drawn together to create a beautiful journey of women in chocolate. It was such an exciting moment to be presented with three huge sacks of cocoa from the female cacao farmers, and I could not wait to start the chocolate-making process, turning this creation from bean-to-bar.

We are building a solid partnership with them. They are benefiting from feedback from scientists at the University of Nottingham, aswell as getting paid more than three times the Fairtrade price, and improved beans thanks to the project.

Building a close rapport with the female farmers has enriched my practical knowledge, and seeing the vital positive change farming cacao, and being paid a better-than-fair price for their beans, has made to the lives of each farmer, was the chance of a lifetime. “

Wow, what an amazing project this must be to be a part of. I can’t wait to try the chocolate that came from Martha, Carmen and Yanira’s beans (I have ordered some, so watch this space!).

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