Chocolate Crisis!

James Vines

According to a headline in the Daily Mail earlier this year, “THE WORLD IS RUNNING OUT OF CHOCOLATE”. To me that sounds pretty worrying – I wouldn’t want to see a world without chocolate. But what is it we’re running out of? Why is it so important? And what solutions are there?

Seattle: Theo Chocolate Factory Tour

Image Credit: Flickr

What Is It We’re Running Out Of?

If you ever took a visit to Cadbury World in Bournville when you were younger, you’ll probably remember being shocked at the fact chocolate is made from beans. Beans grow on trees, fruit also grows on trees, fruit is healthy, so chocolate must be healthy too, right? That has always been my justification as to why chocolate must be good for you.

The actual process of turning cocoa beans into chocolate was lost on me when I was younger, however it turns out beans are pretty important when it comes to making that chocolatey goodness. It’s these beans that we’re running out of.

Cocoa beans are grown year round in countries like the Ivory Coast, before they can be harvested. The beans are split in two and harvested for their pods and pulp, which are then fermented in barrels for up to 7 days. Fermentation allows the chocolate flavour to develop and is a key part of getting that signature rich taste.

Following fermentation, the beans are dried, bagged, and sent to the chocolate factory to be roasted. The time and temperature of roasting is often kept secret, and is unique to each chocolate maker. Once roasted, the beans have their crispy shells removed before being ground. Grinding turns the beans into a pure form of chocolate which contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Some manufactures will remove the cocoa butter and replace it with cheaper vegetable fats. This is because cocoa butter is used in greater quantities in more premium chocolate bars to give a smoother texture and glossier appearance.

Further refining then occurs in a conching machine; this is also where the milk powder, sugar and other flavours are added. Deciding how long to conch for has the biggest impact upon the chocolates taste and texture –  it will vary depending on the maker’s skill and preference. The final step is to temper the chocolate, giving it that distinctive ‘snap.’

The whole process of chocolate production is thus, unfortunately, reliant on cocoa beans.

Why Beans?

You might be wondering if we can ‘fake’ chocolate, that is, make it without the beans. Well, making fake chocolate is harder than it sounds. The taste of chocolate combines over 400 different flavour compounds, and getting the right balance of all of these is pretty hard to replicate.  Also, without cocoa butter from the beans chocolate loses its “melt in the mouth” property. As we’ve seen, cocoa butter can be replaced with vegetable fats, but this technique often leads to a lower quality form of chocolate and is tightly controlled by EU regulations – take out too much cocoa butter and your chocolate is no longer allowed to be classed as chocolate. You are allowed to take out the cocoa solids however; this makes white chocolate!

Who Says We’re Running Out? Just Grow Some More!

I bet you didn’t know that the International Cocoa Organisation based in London is responsible for monitoring the world’s cocoa needs. They take the business of cocoa beans very seriously. Their job is to keep a constant track of the availability and price of cocoa beans throughout the year.

As of the end of trading on October 12th this year they put the price of cocoa at $2651.01 per tonne! The price of cocoa is affected by estimates of production and by weather conditions in the cocoa mega-producing countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, which collectively produce over 1.5million tonnes of cocoa every year. That’s nothing though compared to the Ivory Coast which, alone, is responsible for the production of over 1.6million tonnes of cocoa a year. It is only these tropical countries that are capable of cultivating the cocoa plant, and getting them to produce more is not always easy.

That sounds like a lot of cocoa, so where is it all going? Well, the EU is the world’s biggest importer of cocoa, taking in 53.24% of all cocoa imports. The International Cocoa Organisation published their latest quarterly bulletin in May 2016. Their forecast predicts that by the end of this ‘cocoa year’, the total world production of cocoa beans will be 4,039,000 tonnes of beans. However, consumption will be at 4,179,000 thousand beans; that leaves a deficit of 180,000 tonnes of beans in just one year! Luckily for us, the clever cocoa people know we have 1,432,000 tonnes of beans sitting in storage somewhere. In other words, we still have quite a few beans in our bank account, which is a good job too, as I don’t know of any banks that lend out cocoa beans.

So while it’s true that we are consuming more cocoa beans than we are making, we’ve built up a nice reserve of beans. This means that headlines such as ‘THE WORLD IS RUNNING OUT OF CHOCOLATE’ shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Your favourite chocolates will still be hitting the shelves for some time yet.

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