What are commercial chocolates?
Commercial chocolates, also known as industrial chocolates, mass-market or mass-produced chocolates are what many of us grew up eating as a treat. They are what we so often see in the candy aisle of grocery stores globally. These chocolate bars are produced and distributed on a massive scale everywhere and sold either affordably or cheaply. You may recognize some household names of popular mass-produced chocolate brands such as M&Ms, Ferrero Rocher, Cadbury, Lindt, Godiva, Snickers, Reese’s, and Hershey.
Some of the aforementioned brands are priced slightly higher and can sometimes be considered “gifting” chocolates or “fine” chocolates for their ostentatious packaging as well as what we have been conditioned to think is “good” chocolate. But that still beckons the question: what exactly are commercial chocolates?
It begins with the aim of production. Similar to industrialized coffee (compared to a specialty brew from an independent roaster), mass-produced chocolates are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste. The goal of production is to achieve a large amount of consistently flavored chocolate, with a heavy emphasis on economies of scale (large volume at a mighty low price).
Cacao from different a multitude of different sources are grouped together regardless of the variety of beans and then sold as bulk commodity cacao. Since flavors will be homogenized in the production process, it is not worth trying to sort the beans and maintain any of the individual flavor profiles of each type of bean. In fact, it could be “bad” if a bean had too much character and too vibrant of a flavor profile. As such, the production process is simplified as there is no regard for the sensory qualities nor the experience for the end consumer.
In order to really understand the differences between commercial chocolates and craft chocolates, we will have to delve into some parts of chocolate production.
As mentioned before, when commercial chocolates are produced, the whole aim is to ensure the consistency of taste. In order to do this with bulk commodity cacao beans, the manufacturers will alkalize the cacao beans by washing them in a harsh chemical solution. This way, the manufacturers can manipulate both the flavor and color of the beans by reducing the acidity. Then, to combat the bitterness and lack of flavor, vanilla extract and other artificial flavors are added as well as emulsifiers. While none of these ingredients are inherently bad, note that the aim is simply to ascertain homogeneity in every single bar.
Lastly, sugar. If you look at the ingredients list of most commercial chocolate bars, the first or second ingredient will be sugar. In other words, we are eating sugar flavored with cacao, and not cacao enhanced with sugar. This is the reason why chocolates have the unfortunate notorious tag of being unhealthy and are nauseatingly sweet.
A growing body of research has shown that sugar can be classified as “addictive”, and as we repeat the behavior of eating inordinate amounts of sugar, the amount of dopamine released (a hormone that causes a pleasurable “high”) by the brain decreases to adjust. As a result, we crave the substance and we crave more of it. Thus, when you pick up a generic commercially produced chocolate bar, you tend to inhale the entire bar in one seating (we were guilty of this before we were exposed to the real stuff!). Since as kids, most of us thought of these commercially produced bars as “rewards”, we have been conditioned to think that they are the gold standards. As we have more autonomy to purchase whatever we want as we grow older, we are conditioned to think that chocolates are just that. Sweet and unhealthy. Furthermore, we are constantly bombarded by advertisements and reminders of these sweet blocks of nothing. When we engender the thought of Cadbury, you would probably think of their famous song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and if Ferrero Rocher, you’d think of “Time to Say Goodbye”. These songs stick, and are used to trigger favorable and nostalgic memories, which can help in subconsciously influencing consumer behavior. You suddenly crave for a Kit Kat bar and instinctively want to purchase one at the grocery store down the street. The convenience, paired with consistent reminders, result in moving commercially purchased chocolate bars.
Now that you are relatively more informed of what commercial chocolates are, in the next blog post, we will be addressing what craft chocolates are and following that, the differences between these two. Stick around for more on how you can help the earth and contribute to a healthy community by eating chocolates. Now you can have your (chocolate) and eat it too!