How to tell if your chocolate is ethical?

Bean to bar chocolate - photo by Jennifer Earle

There are five clues that you need to look out for. The trouble is that big manufacturers of chocolate know that these thing, too. I’m going to tell you exactly what you should look out for to make sure that you are not being tricked by these big companies. 

The 5 Clues to check if chocolate is slave-free, ethical, sustainable and great tasting.

  • Ingredients
  • Price
  • Awards
  • Certifications
  • Stories / Detailed Informations

Let’s get into it, shall we?

How to tell if your chocolate is ethical

1. What are the ingredients of good quality dark chocolate?

The best craft chocolate makers – who tend to also be the ones producing sustainable and ethical chocolate – will only list their ingredients in a plain dark chocolate as:

1. Cocoa beans (or cacao beans) and

2. Sugar.

Some of the great ones will also use sunflower lecithin or soy lecithin. This is less common, but they could still be a fantastic maker.

The other thing you might see is cocoa butter (also written as cacao butter). Some makers add more than you find in the natural ratio of the cocoa bean. This is ok.

That’s it.

Unless it’s a flavoured bar you don’t want to see any other ingredients. And, if it is flavoured, you only want to see the actual ingredients listed and NEVER the word “flavour” (or “flavor” for my North American friends).

2. What price should ethical and delicious chocolate be?

This is such a big indicator.

In my opinion, it is not possible to have a truly sustainable and ethical and great tasting chocolate for less than £5/$8 per 100g. Most will cost lots more. The only way they might be as low as this is if they are taking a lower margin hoping to get greater volume.

At this price these probably won’t be made from the most premium tasting cocoa beans, but I’d trust that the farmers COULD be being paid a wage that is truly fair and sustainable.


3. Academy of Chocolate Awards, International Chocolate Awards and others

This is the easiest way to ensure your chocolate will be ethical, sustainable AND delicious.

Not only has it been tasted by multiple people who are experienced in trying lots of premium chocolate 👋🏻 🤓, the makers have to meet the above criteria for ingredients in order to be included in the Academy of Chocolate Awards, the International Chocolate Awards and most of the other fine chocolate awards around the world.

If a chocolate bar doesn’t have an award it might still be all of those things. Not every maker wants, or can afford, to enter awards, or maybe they’re too new.

4. What do Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Organic Certifications mean?

This is a massive red herring.

The most delicious chocolate will be unlikely to have any of these certifications, with the exception of organic.

The best craft chocolate makers pay between 20% and 200% more to farmers for cocoa beans, than the premium price implied for any of these certifications.

The certifications are used by big companies to make you think they’re doing better. They are doing “better” by using them, but not by nearly enough.

There’s also the trick of “fair trade balance” where, as long as an equivalent percentage of beans purchased have the certification that’s used in one of the sub-brands, that sub-brand can carry the certification. Even if the actual beans used to make the chocolate might not have the certification. This gives a halo effect to the whole brand without the cost of purchasing ONLY certified beans.

The certifications have a cost to the farmer and for truly great cocoa farmers it generally isn’t worth this cost because the farmers can already get a higher price for their cocoa beans than these certifications would warrant.

Organic adds a premium price at every level and getting this certification requires a commitment to sustainable agriculture as well so it’s great, but the certification isn’t always an investment every farmer can afford to make.

5. What chocolate information is important on packaging?

Cocoa percentage and country of origin of the cocoa beans IS A MINIMUM.

It won’t tell you anything about quality, despite what some supermarket chocolate brands would like you to believe.

The more information the chocolate manufacturer provides on their packaging about the origin of the cocoa beans (plantation, variety (though this is questionable for many), name of the farmer, the year of the harvest, etc.) and the process they use to make the chocolate (roasting temperature, conching time…), the more likely they are to be making truly craft chocolate and therefore paying high prices for their beans that will make their chocolate a viable source of sustainable income for the farmers growing the cocoa beans.

There’s not a lot of point in shouting about all of the above unless you’re paying for great quality cocoa beans, though it might not be long before big manufacturers try to trick us with this as well.

Don’t be concerned if there isn’t much of this information if they meet the other criteria.

Don’t be fooled by fancy stories either. Some companies talk a great talk without buying premium beans at a premium price.

Have a listen to the first ten minutes of this podcast for more detail:

You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts!

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