What Is Fair Trade Chocolate?
If you’re anything like me, you may get the terms organic and fair trade mixed up—after all, it seems like they should be interchangeable, right? Organic is good for the environment, and good for us, while fair trade is good for the workers, giving them a fair wage for their products. Because farmers and employees are paid more, you would think that the produce would be of higher quality. When I began my research on organic chocolate, though, I noticed that the certifications for fair trade and organic did not always go hand in hand. Some companies lauded their fair trade products, while others touted their organic ones. Surprisingly, not many companies had chocolate that was both fair trade and organic.
What Is Fair Trade?
Fair Trade USA (FTA) is a nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization that certifies products to become Fair Trade. How is a product certified as fair trade? Basically, FTA checks on and certifies the business transactions between U.S. companies and their suppliers, who are often in developing countries. Ideally, this ensures that the suppliers get paid fairly, work in safe conditions, and learn business skills so that they have the knowledge to compete in the global market. It is said that Fair Trade benefits more than 1.2 million farmers and their families in 70 developing countries—namely Africa, Asia and Latin America.
What Are the Fair Trade Principles?
1. As mentioned before, fair prices and credit for sustainable wages and better living conditions.
2. Safe working conditions and a guarantee that there will never be forced child and slave labor.
3. There should be direct trade between fair trade groups and importers, as opposed to dealing with middlemen.
4. Fair trade funds are set aside for projects that the local communities democratically choose, such as healthcare, scholarships, schools, leadership training, quality improvement, organic certification, environmental protection and women’s rights.
5. Dangerous agricultural chemicals and GMOs are prohibited in order to protect farmers’ health and maintain precious ecosystems.
Are Fair Trade Products Also Organic?
While Fair Trade USA claims to “promote” organic products, just because a product is fair trade, do not assume that it is automatically organic. As of now, if a product is fair trade, the only environmental impact that implies is:
· A restriction on the use of pesticides and fertilizers
· No GMOs
· Proper management of water, waste and energy (this is quite vague!)
· Protection of the water resources and natural vegetation
Which Products Are Fair Trade?
In the United States, only certain products are certified fair trade. These include:
· Coffee and teas
· Fresh fruit and veggies
· Some ingredients used in drinks, body products and spirits
Which Chocolate Products are Fair Trade?
Luckily, there are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to chocolate. You can search online at Fairtradeusa.org for a list of the companies and fair trade products, or go to the store and look for the seal of fair trade (it looks like a person holding 2 baskets). If you don’t know where to start, here are some of my recommendations for fair trade chocolate products. Oh, and an extra bonus—these are all organic as well!
My Picks for Fair Trade and Organic Chocolates—So Far!
1. Alter Eco:Dark Chocolate Quinoa Midnight Crunch. Made with 61% cocoa, this bar is smooth and bold with a clean finish. There are hints of fruit, and the semisweet chocolate balances nicely with the subtle nuttiness of the quinoa, which, along with the cacao, comes from Bolivia. If you love quinoa (really, who doesn’t???) you will love this. Extra bonuses for this particular bar: it is vegan, contains no emulsifiers, and is soy-free and gluten-free.
2. Equal Exchange:Mint Chocolate. Made with 67% cacao, the second you open the packaging the aroma of fresh mint hits you with herbaceous intensity. Another semisweet choice, this chocolate has a lovely mint taste and a delicate crunch from the peppermint crisps. Even though there is more cacao in this bar, there is also more sugar and a touch of vanilla, which makes for a lighter and sweeter finish. Extra bonus? Inside the packaging are blurbs about their “farmer partners,” various co-operatives that they work with in different countries such as Peru and the Dominican Republic.
3. Green & Blacks: Dark Chocolate with Orange & Spice Flavors. Although it is unclear what the “spice flavor” is, I tasted hints of clove and vanilla under the more boisterous flavor of sweet orange. This is 55% cacao and has a more chalky texture than the others, but it also has a soft finish with an almost floral aftertaste. This is a chocolate I picture eating by the pool on a warm summer day…
4. Theo: Bread & Chocolate. This was recommended to me by my aunt who used to live in Seattle, where Theo sets up shop. Just from the packaging alone (A mom and baby cat eating bread and chocolate from saucers), I had a feeling that I was in for a whimsical treat. With 70% cacao content, this is the first bittersweet contender on my list and is not for the faint of heart. The initial flavor is bold, bitter and robust, much like a dark cup of coffee. With the addition of the “French bread” there is a welcome sweetness from the butter and vanilla bean. I was impressed with the sheer complexity of tastes in this bar, and how the finish was slightly salty—just like a real baguette. Magnifique!
5. Madécasse: 75% Cocoa Dark & Bold. Technically, this chocolate is not certified organic or fair trade. However, the story intrigued; Started by a group of Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar, the owners claim to pay fair prices to farmers and do something “unheard of.” Namely, they make their chocolate in Madagascar. As the package states, the flavor profile is indeed “bold dark” with hints of “dried cherry,” but also, I tasted hints (I swear) of dried tobacco or some other roasted leaf. The chocolate finishes with a smoky edge, and a little definitely goes a long way. A bonus? The makers work directly with the Ezaka co-operative in Madagascar, providing them with the training and equipment they need to succeed financially.
If you're unsure of what organic chocolate is, be sure to read my other hub!