March 2011

Icelandic Chocolate

We usually associate chocolate with beans grown in tropical climates. So it can be a bit strange to think about chocolate coming from cold places like Iceland The Noi Sirius company was founded in 1920 in Iceland. They are the largest confectionary manufacturer in Iceland with 60% of the domestic production and over 30% of the market for confections in Iceland. They have a wide range of products but chocolate is their specialty.

Endangered Species and Chocolate

 Chocolate is so good that we usually don’t need any additional inducement to buy it. But, it is always nice to contribute to a worthy cause at the same time that you are enjoying good chocolate products. Endangered Species Chocolate (ESC) is a brand of chocolate products that allows you to do this.

ESC is a privately owned company founded in 1993 in Oregon’s Rogue Valley. ESC was started with the purpose of increasing awareness and helping to halt the decline in many species of plants and animals. They are dedicated to the ethical production of organic shade grown cocoa beans purchased from family-owned farms where the income of the farmers goes into the local economy.  They contribute 10% of their net profit to fund species and habitat conservation efforts.

How Ethical is Your Chocolate?

Green is big these days. Organic is in. Fair trade is popular. People are concerned about where and how food is grown and how that food gets to their table. What about the ethics of chocolate? Go into any store and look at the chocolate bars for sale, you will see that many of them say that they are “organic.” This should mean that they are grown with a minimum of fertilizers, pesticides and polluting cultivation as well as produced with other "organic" ingredients. They should also be produced with a minimal impact on the planet. Some companies sell chocolate bars that say that they will donate part of their profits to worthy causes such as endangered animal protection. Some bars will say that they are “Fair Trade” meaning that the growers are compensated fairly for their work. One of the most ethical companies I have come across is named Dagoba.

What is in Chocolate?

or: Why Does it Make Us Feel SOOOO Good

I love chocolate. I love the way it smells, the way it tastes and the way it feels. Chocolate is readily available everywhere in many forms. But what is actually in chocolate that makes us love it? It turns out that there are a lot of chemical reasons that chocolate is so popular.

Cocoa contains a small amount of caffeine. Caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee. Its chemical name is 1, 2, 7-trimetnylzxanthine. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system which leads to elevated heart rate. It attaches to dopamine and adenosine receptors in the brain which leads to feelings of pleasure. I had to stop drinking coffee because it made my heart race too much.  The small amount in chocolate is enough to stimulate me without making my heart do the Indy 500.

Related to caffeine, another stimulating chemical called theobromine is found in cocoa. It is know chemically as 3,7-dihydro-3,7-dimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione. Theobromine is the only ingredient in chocolate that has medicinal use. It is used to widen blood vessels and stimulate hearts. Research has shown that it may be useful for cancer treatment as well. I once had enough very strong dark chocolate that I experienced an elevated heart rate so now know enough to limit my intake.

In Search of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

 Burt and I love chocolate chip cookies. I bake a pretty mean cookie but I am so busy that I don’t get around to it often enough to satisfy Burt’s insatiable need for them. This means that we have to buy our cookies somewhere else.  We have tried many different cookies from many different sources in the Seattle area and have even ordered cookies from specialty shops in other states.

Chocolate and Politics

 

Chocolate is readily and cheaply available in any grocery store. You just go in, make a selection from a big variety and pay for it. Unless we are in the chocolate industry, we are mostly ignorant of the social, economic and political realities of chocolate production. But, like any commercial crop in the world, there are impacts on the people in the countries involved.