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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My New Year’s Resolution – Eat More Dark Chocolate!

A new year is upon us, resolutions have been made. Exercise more, go vegan, cut out the booze, eat more chocolate.

Yes, you heard me correctly. My resolution is to eat MORE dark chocolate. Much more!

MRP_1803Now obviously, being a chocolate taster / chocolate festival planner / chocolate educator, I am certainly coming from a pro-chocolate bias. However, on my journey to learn all I can about the all-powerful substance, I have learnt a lot about its health benefits, along with the benefits to the small chocolate makers business, the cacao farmer and the planet, in buying more of the good stuff (less of the bad).

What do I mean by the good stuff?

I’m referring to craft (or fine) chocolate. Chocolate which has been handmade in small batches by artisan makers who pay close attention to every step in the process. From sourcing the beans, to bringing out the distinctive flavours from each variety of bean.

Similar to craft beer, fine wine and speciality coffee, there’s no official definition of craft/fine chocolate. The way I define it is:

    1. It celebrates the diversity of the cacao origins and flavours from around the world.
    2. It prioritises ingredients of the highest quality.
    3. It respects and pays everyone in the supply chain fairly.
    4. It has an ingredients list which is minimal (ideally just cacao and sugar for a dark).

When you start to learn about chocolate, it’s impossible to ignore the fact the mass produced chocolate is, largely speaking, a blob of preservatives, additives and sugar. Cacao is far from the star ingredient. So instead of celebrating the diversity of the cacao bean, and taking us on a journey of exciting flavours, every bar is as predictable as the one before.

It’s not just the quality of the finished product that makes craft chocolate a much better choice. There’s also the ethical factors involved. In a nutshell:

Craft chocolate makers generally source their beans directly from the farmers or through a cacao farming co-operative. This means that the cacao farmers receive a fairer price for their labour – it may surprise you to learn that sometimes this can be 3 or 4 times higher than the Fairtrade price (or even higher).

Having this direct connection with the farmer also enables the chocolate maker to know for sure that ethical practices are in place on the farm.

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But, it’s not just for ethical reasons that I wish to buy and eat more dark chocolate in 2020. I also have science on my side! There is a ton of research out there telling us that cacao is unbelievably good for us… Here is just a snippet of what I found.

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate (minimally 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar) is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. It is proven to have positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity.

Chocolate is one of the few foods that taste awesome while providing significant health benefits. Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet!

Studies show that dark chocolate (not the aforementioned congealed blob)…

    1. Is nutritious – Quality dark chocolate is rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and a few other minerals.
    2. Is a powerful source of antioxidants – A study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than any other fruits tested, which included blueberries and acai berries.
    3. May improve blood flow and lower blood pressure – The bioactive compounds in cocoa may improve blood flow and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.
    4. May reduce heart disease risk
    5. May protect your skin from the sun – flavonols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.
    6. Could improve brain function – Dark chocolate may improve the function of your brain. Flavonols have neuro-protective effects. In other words, problem-solving, memory and general cognition skills are kept sharp when we eat chocolate or drink cocoa. 
    7. May reduce diabetes risk – Eating a little dark chocolate every day reduces your insulin resistance, which means you’re less likely to develop diabetes.

I hope that this has given you just a few more reasons to buy and eat fine quality dark chocolate in 2020. If you would like some inspiration for bars to try, Cocoa Runners is a good place to start (www.cocoarunners.co.uk) or you can email me on hello@celebratecacao.co.uk.

Happy New Year!