It has been said that the beginnings of chocolate production,which is now a food product that delights and teases the taste buds of adults and children alike the world over, originated in Mesoamerica. It is said to date back to 1900 BC and was used in Maya and Aztec ceremonies and events. In fact, sometimes during the Aztec civilization, cacao beans were paid as a sort of tax by those who were conquered. Once the beans travelled to Europe, however, the form of the food product changed. Chocolate had additional ingredients added – refined sugar and also milk. In the 1800s, the Cadbury chocolate producers found a way to emulsify the process of making chocolate to turn it into a solid form, which then became the product that we would recognise today – the chocolate bar. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, things changed further to refine the making of chocolate goodies including the squeezing out of cocoa butter to create hard chocolate. And of course, once the processes relating to chocolate production were mechanised, the levels of output increased considerably and chocolate was made available to a much wider consumer base. These days, West Africa produces most of the cocoa used in the globe, especially Cote d`Ivoire. Published statistics suggest that this continent is responsible for the production of nearly two thirds of cocoa.
These days, chocolate consumption is – as you no doubt are aware – very popular. However, although it is a much loved food stuff, not many of us realize the conditions within which it is produced. There have been arguments that those who produce cocoa (and coffee for that matter too) can be exploited and live in poverty. Some commentators have described these labourers as modern day slaves. Sadly, many children are included in this definition. Reports by some journalists in 2000 said that children, aged between 12 and 16 years old, were enslaved and sold to plantation owners. The work is hard and the hours are long – in addition, the cocoa bean farming process uses dangerous machinery and equipment such as machetes and pesticide. In response to awareness of this problem, consumers have an option to opt out of supporting these practices. The Fair Trade organization will certify chocolate (or coffee and other products) with its seal of approval when the products comply with their standards. For instance, these criteria relate to the wages paid to labourers, their working conditions and health and safety procedures and the use of environmentally sustainable methods. If you make the Fair Trade choice, this means that when you bite on a certified Fair Trade bar of chocolate or put Fair Trade coffee in bean to cup coffee machines you can enjoy the product even more.