Before Valentine’s Day candy was even marked down on the 15th everything turned pastel and the next batch of treats were already hitting the shelves in preparation for Easter, as it too has become a leading commercial holiday for the chocolate industry. With such high demand for sweet and savory goodies, and possibly even more anticipation for the day-after sales, major corporations are pressured to provide and profit at accelerated rates. For us, it can be easy to get lost in the allure of satisfying our taste buds and overlook the large-scale production process that enables us to treat ourselves. When we buy products that allow us to indulge, we automatically associate that product – food especially, as it is also a vital amenity – with the feelings of being fulfilled, hearty, and healthy. The realty however, is that usually the labor and ingredients behind the most popular brands are less of a wholesome picture.
Chocolate is arguably the most desirable and decadent treat in all its mouth-watering forms. Even in highly processed brands, chocolate’s core ingredients are the cocoa bean and sugar cane, which come from all over the globe, mostly in South American and African countries, and a handful of islands in between. What this geographically and morally allows space for, sadly, is corrupt trade and labor practices. American companies are able to keep production costs down and the market price of the chocolate in general extremely low because oversea labor does not have to abide by the same standards we have here. This means forced child labor, preventing proper education and often leading to abuse, and wages so low that most farmers only make a couple hundred a year. These cocoa producing regions are also the ones plagued by the most dangerous social issues and are already financially unstable. After corporations purchase the chocolate, paying the most to the brokers between farm and factory rather than the farmers themselves, they adulterate the natural, rich flavors that the beans can produce with the right care, and instead butcher them with artificial sweeteners and other unnatural additives, giving the chocolate a generic taste ready for the mass market. Sure takes the decadence out of chocolate cravings.
But there are individuals who still care about product quality as much as they care about human equality. Why not take the time to study the edible luxuries nature has provided us with, and see how they on their own can provide an experience that goes beyond just eating a snack? Meet Brooklyn-based Raaka Chocolate, a company grounded on the importance of community development with a passion for raw – virgin – chocolate. Raaka receives all of its cocoa from family-owned and run farms and co-ops in the Dominican Republic and Bolivia, completely Fair Trade. This means the farmers are paid directly and at a promised $500 minimum above what the market price is for each ton of beans. Once in the factory, the beans are not roasted (as is the conventional method for converting the beans to chocolate) but kept in their raw, untouched form in order to evoke the deepest, fullest flavors that the beans can offer.
The Raaka bars vary from 71-85% dark chocolate and are vegan, nut free, gluten free, and combined with only other certified organic ingredients like stone-ground blueberries, unfermented rooibus tea, and Himalayan pink sea salt. In order to concoct the most unique and delicious batches, Raaka partners with some of the most high end and well-known local food and beverage vendors, like Cafe Grumpy for espresso, Tuthilltown Spirits for baby bourbon barrels, and even has an in with farmers in the prestigious Sambirano Valley of Madagascar, the world’s chocolate hotspot. The 7 bars produced by Raaka come with a handful of flavor notes, so bite in with a prepared pallet. Chocolate connoisseurs swear in just one bite of each bar they found bold tastes of golden plum, caramel, wine, vanilla, pistachio, citrus, oolong tea, berries, lavender, cinnamon, toffee, grapefruit, cocoa butter, and cardamom.
The virtue and unique style of production sets Raaka apart from any other chocolate company. Our minimally processed chocolate presents a luxurious alternative to standard chocolate made from roasted cacao. I love the complexity of flavor profiles of each bar. Every bite presents nuances you may have never detected. – Katie Reidy, production assistant at Raaka.
Before you can even experience what’s inside the chocolate, Raaka tempts you with their exquisite packaging – designed by local artist Elissa Barbieri and 100% eco-friendly. The paper is post-consumer recycled and chlorine free, is labeled with soy ink, and processed by wind-powered generators. Taking its environmental stewardship one step further, Raaka makes their production a full-circle experience, donating all waste (bean husks) to the Edible Schoolyard NYC program. Through this after-school initiative, children are able to plant community gardens using the chocolate husks as both a mulch and a fertilizer, as the natural, unroasted shells are still chock-full of nutrients.
So what’s next for Raaka? First and foremost, making it into your hands, and mouths. Next, relishing in the glory of accepting its first Good Food Award, dubbing it “tasty, authentic, and responsibly produced” by its nation-wide food producing peers. And the bigger picture: partnering with farmers in Haiti – a country whose demise can largely be blamed on the exploitation of its sugar cane for decades – to get cocoa farming back into the economy, ethically. So take a break and bite into something that tastes good and feels good to eat. Treat yourself to the dark, rich, sustainable chocolate by Raaka, now through Lux&Eco!