The big business of commodity cacao

IMG_3692.PNGAlmost all of the cacao grown and consumed around the world today is made up of what is known as “commodity” or bulk cacao—depending on who you talk to, that means anywhere from 85%-95%. (The word “commodity” is often used because this unassuming little bean happens to be one of the most highly traded commodities on the open market!)

Chocolate is used in a LOT of products, and commodity cacao is bred for production. The pods are bigger, there are more beans per pod, and the plants are more resistant to pests, drought, and adverse temperatures. Today, about 70% of commodity or bulk cacao is grown in the harsh conditions of West Africa.

The problem is, the flavor notes you’ll taste in commodity cacao tend toward the bitter, the sour, and the acrid. On its own, commodity cacao just isn’t that palatable (think of your mother’s baking cupboard, and the baker’s chocolate you probably sneaked a taste of—I know I did!). This is why most chocolate requires many added ingredients to make it taste good—just look on the back of the package.

Because of these strong, often unpleasant flavor notes, chocolate made with commodity cacao also tends to have a low percentage of cocoa mass (also called cocoa liquor), and a high percentage of sugar. This kind of chocolate is cheaper to produce, as cacao is easily the most expensive ingredient in any chocolate bar.

In addition, the vast majority of commodity cacao users are aiming for what’s called a monoflavor: every Hershey’s Bar, every Cadbury you buy tastes exactly the same as every other one, and that’s what the producer wants. As in a lot of mass-produced food products, bulk chocolate makers strive for dependability, often at the cost of true quality.

That being said, I believe that chocolate should be fun, and I won’t thumb my nose at you if you like to enjoy the occasional Almond Joy, Twix, or Reese’s peanut butter cup!

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