No more than four
Get a m!lk chocolate that’s a real chocolate (even by law)
“Cane sugar, cocoa butter, rice drink powder and syrup, cocoa mass, tiger nuts, hazelnuts, vanilla, sea salt”. There are at least seven ingredients in this best-selling vegan mylk bar from a European-wide organic chocolate brand. By law, this product on the chocolate shelf cannot call itself chocolate. So why is it on the chocolate shelf and what exactly is it?
It is, paraphrasing food writer Michael Pollan, a food-like product of the type the Big Food industry has been stuffing us with for decades. Ultra-processed junk foods usually come in four intense flavours - salty, sweet, acidic, fatty - and, by now, account for half(!) of consumers’ daily caloric intake in some Western countries. More than 2 billion people are overweight, and 600 million are obese as a consequence. The chocolate industry’s big players, Big Candy like Barry Callebaut, Mars and Lindt, are all profiting from the junk food pandemic.
So resist we will. This time in the form of a climate-positive, delicious vegan m!lk chocolate which can claim to be a chocolate not only by law, but also by its taste. At Original Beans we follow a simple mantra when it comes to ingredients: “No More Than Four”. And so our Esmeraldas Vegan M!lk is based on three simple ingredients: cacao, cane sugar, and almonds. (Actually, there are four ingredients, since the cacao butter is pressed not from Esmeraldas Arriba, but from Dominican Trinitario beans. But we didn’t count that double for the other chocolate-type vegan mylk either.)
It was Leonardo da Vinci who said that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Leonardo may never have consumed chocolate, but in his practical, open mind would have appreciated the three stories of simplicity we are about to tell you. One about cacao, one about sugar and the final one about almonds, a product that was new to us and of which we learned a lot in the course of making the Esmeraldas 50% Vegan M!lk. (And so much is still to learn...)
In the end, it’s the cacao that makes the chocolate; that is, when you allow its flavours to come through, rather than suffocating them with too many other ingredients.
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Ingredient 1: Cacao
On a little clearing in one of Ecuador’s last Pacific rainforests, we meet Fernando. Fernando belongs to the indigenous Chachi community who have been growing rare Arriba cacao beans for a long time. Nestled at the edge of the Cotacachi Cayapas Nature Reserve, many hours up the Cayapas river, his cacao garden holds several hundred pure Arriba Nacional cacao trees. This rare cacao varietal is known for floral and nutty flavour notes. Just this year, with the support of Original Beans’ One Bar : One Tree programme, Fernando and his peers in the Chachi community built a large new tree nursery to replenish their Arriba cacao gardens. The work on this project was hard, but also a lot of fun, since the entire community came together to sweat and curse and laugh for several days as the roof construction for the nursery went up and hundreds of cacao beans deep into the seedbags. Jan, our Head of the Bean Team, was there with them not to advise from the sideline, but to help right where it’s needed. “A high cacao price helps our families and our forests directly”, says Fernando and confirms why it’s important to pay a multiple even of the Fairtrade price, as we do (1,75 times Fairtrade in 2020). In the end, it’s the cacao that makes the chocolate; that is, when you allow its flavours to come through, rather than suffocating them with too many other ingredients.
Ingredient 2: Sugar
The very same holds for sugar. A well grown, simply processed cane sugar from a good origin makes a lot of flavour difference. And so we travel some three thousand kilometres south-east of the Cachi to Guarambaré in Paraguay where we meet Araceli. A young woman in her 30ties, she has worked for the La Felsina sugar company for several years. On a tour through the mill, she tells us how the company was started nearly 100 years ago by an Italian immigrant family. Today, La Felsina is a leading craft sugar maker in Paraguay, the country which leads organic and fairtrade cane sugar production worldwide. Araceli makes the point that sugar from cane grown here has a 40% lower carbon footprint than European sugar from beet. Soil compaction and high energy costs weigh heavily on the beet sugar, and sea freighting La Felsina’s products across the ocean is just a fraction of that.
But making the most of the tropical sun’s regenerative powers is not the only benefit of sourcing here. Social responsibility at La Felsina includes employing hundreds of local people and funding their children’s schools.
In the end, it comes down to taste again. There is a lot of sugar in the Esmeraldas Vegan M!lk, all in all 30%. But while this chocolate is a sweet treat, its sweetness is light, and balanced, and natural. A sophisticated sweetness, Leonardo would say.