bitter chocolate

Earlier today, Trina Stout brought to our attention a food crime in progress: the FDA is quietly preparing to let manufacturers adulterate chocolate by replacing cocoa butter with cheap vegetable oil.

This will allow them to cut costs on candy bars and use cocoa butter for more valuable purposes — thus undermining the quality of the chocolate most people eat and further brutalizing palates.

I did some checking around, figuring I’d find Archer Daniels Midland’s paw prints on this ignoble effort. I did.

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By its own reckoning, ADM is the the “world’s premier producer of cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolate.”

An industry trade group called the Grocery Manufacturers of America is leading the lobbying effort. ADM is a member.

The Chocolate Manufacturers Association is also involved — and ADM is one of only nine members, along with fellow food-processing powerhouse Cargill. The small size of that group is an indication of how consolidated the chocolate market is.

Curiously, the effort to lobby the FDA to weaken chocolate codes has won allies among industrial-meat interest groups. According to the PDF Trina links to, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., the National Meat Institute, National Fisheries Institute, the National Meat Canners Association … all are allying themselves with the movement to adulterate chocolate.

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Weird. Are they hoping to get tallow and fish oil into chocolate? Or just being good industry soldiers?

At any rate, it’s always important to note that the dominant chocolate makers profit from unsustainable growing practices and even slavery to bring you those one-dollar Snickers bars.

To hell with them. Savor chocolate sparingly — and buy it from small artisanal producers that give growers a good price. If someone knows of a list of fair-trade chocolate producers, please link to it in comments.

My new favorite chocolate comes from a small U.S. producer called Amano. The bar I had recently, derived from Madagascar beans, had a deep, almost port-wine like flavor that went on forever.

Amano isn’t fair-trade certified, but here is how it describes its buying practices:

Since Amano is concerned only with the highest quality cocoa beans, Amano always pays farmers and co-ops significantly more for their product than is set by the “fair trade” organizations. Unfortunately, it costs significant amounts of money for the farmers to become fair-trade certified in addition to it being a long drawn out process. Many farmers simply cannot afford it. At Amano, we believe in paying a premium price for premium cocoa beans. The prices we pay are measured in multiples (i.e., 3-4 times) the London Cocoa Terminal Market price. This not only ensures that we obtain the highest quality beans available but this also ensures that the farmers we work with not only can provide for their families but are encouraged to produce a high quality product and improve their farms. We don’t pay the prices we pay to get a label on our box — we do it because it is the right thing to do.