I am sweet, but I also have my dark side! I am and have always been a symbol of love, indulgence, richness, and joy. Kids wear me smeared across their faces and on their fingertips as a symbol of the ultimate childhood satisfaction. I am an ideal and iconic Valentine’s Day gift for celebrating romance. But prepare your chocolate-loving hearts to break just a bit because my life is not entirely sweet.
I come from an evergreen tree in the genus Theobroma that grows football-shaped pods. I don’t come from its branches, like most of the fruits do, instead from the trunk. The pods have a skin made up of leather-like material that covers a slimy, sweet-sour flesh and hosts roughly 40 seeds each.
More about myself
I was first grown around 5000 years ago in current-day Ecuador for booze; yes, you heard that right! My flesh can be fermented into an alcohol-based beverage. But soon enough, my seeds that are known as cacao beans became the prime focus. The Mayans dried and roasted them into cacao nibs, which they, afterward, grin them into cocoa flour. After this, they blend it with water to make a drink. There was an early European colonizer who tasted the mix and said that I was more a drink for pigs than for humanity. But he grew to enjoy the beverage, denying his words as aristocrats across Europe began enjoying a similar blend made with rose water, egg yolks, or almonds.
Beyond providing satisfaction to the early human sweet tooth, cacao beans have turned out to be full of antioxidants, fiber, monounsaturated fats, flavonols, and other compounds that 21st-century human race knows is vital to overall health. Flavanols inside me are good for lowering the blood pressure. Even the bitterest compound in me, known as theobromine, is believed to be good for the heart and brain. I was exclusively available to the upper-class people of the society until the Industrial Revolution came.
To be honest, I did not become a treat to the masses, even after technological advancements in the world. To this day, I am a product of hardship and labor. Once Portuguese and Spanish colonizers realized the cacao was a gold in the agricultural field, they relied on the transatlantic slave trade to populate cacao plantation in regions such as Brazil. Shamefully, this horrible story continues to this day as much of the chocolates you buy at the grocers is produced with the help of approximately 2 million West African children who don’t get paid for their labor.
If you have decided to lose your sweet tooth at the thought of this unsavory background, there is a best way to consume me. All you have to do is just look for the labels on the chocolate that indicate ethical labor standards. There is a brand known as Tony’s Chocolonely, which is explicitly devoted to eradicating slave labor from the chocolate industry. Surely, it will cost you a little extra, but it won’t leave a sour taste in your mouth.