Raw chocolate: all your questions answered

Want to know the difference between raw and commercial chocolate? Hannah Corr answers your raw chocolate conundrums and takes a look at whether it really is better for the planet

Chocolate is chocolate, surely? Well yes... and no. The process for making chocolate is fairly simple: heat cacao beans, grind into a liqueur, add fat and sweeten. However, subtle alterations at any of these stages can result in wildly different chocolate bars. The fundamental difference between your commercial chocolate bar (such as Cadbury’s or Green & Blacks) and raw chocolate is this: the cacao in raw chocolate is never heated above 45°C, unlike commercial chocolate which is roasted at 130°C, meaning all the anti-oxidants, enzymes and nutrients remain intact. What's more, whereas most commercial bars are chock full of sugar, milk, saturated, hydrogenated fats and flavourings, raw chocolate is made up just four simple ingredients; cacao beans (chocolate), cacao or coconut butter (fat) and agave syrup (sweetener) plus natural essential oils, berries and nuts for flavouring.

The green credentials of raw chocolate stand up to scrutiny too. Most raw chocolate is produced by smaller companies with transparent sourcing policies, which means that most of it comes from small Fairtrade famers and collectives in Ecuador and Peru. Many are also  organic so free from pesticide residues. But the biggest green plus is the minimal use of energy needed to produce raw chocolate. Because the cacao is heated at a low temperature, very little energy is used. Even the flavourings tend to come from low energy sources, with sundried fruit and nuts topping the extras chart.

Nutritionally, cacao is a powerhouse of over 300 nutritients including antioxidants, flavonoids, fibre, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium. It also contains tryptophan, known to ameliorate depression, and the bliss inducing chemicals anandamine and phenylethylamine which simulate the feeling of falling in love. Oh, and it’s an aphrodisiac. Raw chocolate producers also sprinkle in a healthy dose of superfoods such as goji berries, which are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C, acai berries containing vitamins A,B, C and D, lacuma powder, which is a natural sweetener and high in iron, and Maca, which is an energy boosting and hormone balancing powder from the Andes.

So what are the downsides? Like most chocolate, it is a stimulant in sensitive people and it melts immediately on contact with the skin, meaning lots of finger licking (which might not be a bad thing depending on your point of view). But the biggest criticism so far has been the way it tastes. While it's undoubtedly better for your health, if you’re used to eating Dairy Milk, you're likely to find it bitter. If, on the other hand, you enjoy dark chocolate, raw chocolate is worth trying out - it won over two thirds of the Ecologist office anyway. Here are five of our favourites:

Conscious Chocolate
Conscious Chocolate have been making organic raw chocolate since 2006. Free from pesticides, dairy, gluten, soya and refined sugars, their rich chocolate bars are flavoured with natural essential oils and sundried fruits and nuts. They currently have 15 types of chocolate to choose from including The Nutty One (brazils, cashews, hazelnuts and walnuts) and Love Potion No. 9 (which contains hormone boosting Maca and aphrodisiac rose oil). Conscious was definitely the office favourite.
Find out more: www.consciouschocolate.co.uk

The Raw Chocolate Company
As well as being ethically sourced and Fairtrade, the ingredients used by the Raw Chocolate Company are what they proudly call ‘low-processed’. These are ingredients which have been grown, and gathered in the most natural way so that less energy is used in their preparation. Their current range includes Mint with Xylitol, Goji Berry and Orange and Pitch Dark. The Dark Chocolate with Orange and Xylitol was particularly good but the jury was out on the Vanoffee bar made from carob and lucuma powder. They also supply a whole range of lovely ingredients to make your own.
Find out more: www.therawchocolatecompany.com

As well as ticking the organic, ethically sourced and good for you boxes, Ombar have gone one step further and produced the UK’s first probiotic chocolate. They add their very own friendly bacteria, which is known to be hugely beneficial to the health of your gut - think Yakult but in chocolate form. Their Probiotic Coconut was a tropical dream, and contained both coconut sugar and cream. Other delicious flavours include Acai & Blueberry and Probiotic Strawberry.
Find out more: www.ombar.co.uk

According to Rawr, their bars are guilt free chocolate. With their organic and ethically sourced ingredients, low process manufacturing and superfood additions, they are not wrong. They also point out that because they have a low GI, they are the perfect sweet treat for diabetics. Top picks include Passion (goji berry and vanilla), After Dinner (mint), Zesty (orange) and Heatwave (made with chilli, just like the Aztecs used to make it).
Find out more: www.rawrchoc.com

Mulu Chocolate
Rather than creating a range of flavours, Mulu have directed all their energies into perfecting three delicious bars – Dark, Dark with Raw Cacao Nibs, and Silk - their milk chocolate equivalent but without the milk. Their cacao powder, butter and nibs are all ethically sourced from small scale producers in Ecuador while the vanilla they use to subtly flavour their bars is from an organic co-operative in Papua New Guinea that sundries their pesticide-free pods on the mountain side. Mulu also keep their packaging raw by using only recycled cardboard, veggie dyes and biodegradable wrappers.
Find out more: www.muluchocolate.co.uk


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