Making Sense of Chocolate Bar Labels

Moroccan Mint

Moroccan Mint

It used to be simple to read a chocolate bar’s label.  The problem was finding a good chocolate bar.  Now there are chocolate makers all over the world and you can buy some of the top chocolate bars at your local grocer and drug stores.  The problem now?  What do all of these terms on the label mean?  Here’s a run down on what the terms mean and if it really matters.

First, for the confusing bits.  The world of the chocolate maker used to be they purchased the beans from a broker and then blended their own chocolate.  They may have even purchased their chocolate ready to mold.  In today’s day, chocolate has reached the plateau of wine.  The terms “single-variety”, “single-origin”, “single plantation” or “estate” and “blended” describe the origins of the cocoa beans they are using in their chocolate bars.  Remember that Theobroma cacao, also know as the cocoa tree or cacao tree, is very temperamental and will only grow within 20 degrees north or south of the equator.  Since the cocoa bean will only grow in a limited area, this type of labeling has become very popular.  The reason?  Chocolate lover’s have turned into chocolate connoisseurs. They want to know where their chocolate is being grown, who is growing it and what is influencing its growth. This type of labeling became popular about ten years ago due to the demand of the consumer wanting to know answers to their questions, but primarily for the chocolate makers to show they knew their buyers were smart.  They wanted to set themselves apart form the rest of the chocolate makers. They wanted to be different.

These terms are not regulated by any governing body, not the FDA in the United States, not the World Cocoa Organization.  These terms were made up by chocolate makers.  They do mean something though.  Here they are:

Estate chocolate, also known as single-plantation, refers to cocoa that is grown on one plantation.  Some of the chocolate makers now own their own plantations and some have exclusive agreements to be the only chocolate maker who buys from them.

Single-origin means that the beans are grown in a specific area of the world.  This is not the same thing as estate.  This means that the cocoa beans are coming from the same country only.  There may be cocoa beans from four different plantations, but the cocoa beans are all coming from Madagascar, for instance.

A single-variety chocolate is made from one variety of bean, either Criollo, Forastero or Trinitario.  Some of the single-variety chocolate bars may also be of single-origin.  They may also be from an estate.  A single-variety chocolate could in fact be both estate and single-origin.

A chocolate bar that is said to be blended is the broadest term, probably the most common, and not often marked as such.  It simply means that the chocolate has been blended with a selection of beans from different countries and varieties.  In most cases, the rarer Criollo will not be used in a blend due to the expense and rarity.  Chocolate makers want to show off that particular bean, not blend it with other beans.

Keep in mind that these terms may be regulated some day.  The truth is that although a lot of really amazing chocolate bars are coming out of these estate, single-origin and varietal cocoa beans, it does not necessarily mean that the quality is superior to that of blended chocolate.  The ability of making good chocolate lies completely in the hands of the chocolate maker and what nature gives them.

Annmarie Kostyk

Did you know you can get a free bee bar if you collect 8 wrappers? The instructions are barely visible to the naked eye but if you look carefully you will see the details printed inside the cover.

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