A different way to buy chocolate for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day

Chocolates from Madame Delluc’s in Oakwood. CONTRIBUTED

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Chocolates from Madame Delluc’s in Oakwood. CONTRIBUTED

Valentine’s Day means chocolate for many of us. This year, make Valentine’s Day extra-special for your loved ones with a gift of Earth-friendly chocolate.

I recently asked a dozen MOON Co-op shoppers to taste and rank eight chocolate bars sold at MOON Co-op. The cacao beans in the eight tested bars were all organically grown by growers paid living wages.

In contrast, child labor, low wages, hazardous working conditions, and environmental degradation are unfortunately endemic in growing the world’s cacao beans. The major candy makers claim limited ability to address the problem.

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The eight tested bars each contained around 70 percent cocoa (Hershey’s bar is 11 percent cocoa). Much to my surprise, a clear favorite emerged.

The leader by a wide margin was Chocolove. Its founder and owner Timothy Moley started the company in Boulder, Colorado, after a stint working as a USAID volunteer in an Indonesia cocoa field.

Chocolove’s web site describes Moley as “tall and slightly eccentric” like Willy Wonka, and a consumer of two chocolate bars a day. Chocolove may have been favored because of its relatively smooth and creamy texture.

Two bars tied for second: Divine and Taza. Divine Chocolate was the only tested bar that added a fruit flavor (raspberry), and that favorably influenced some of the judges.

Divine is owned by Kuapa Kokoo, a co-op in Ghana with 85,000 member-owner farmers. Ghana’s cacao bean industry had been a poorly run government monopoly, until Kuapa Kokoo was allowed to organize a co-op to grow cacao beans and later produce candy.

Tied with Divine was Chocolate Mexicano made by Taza Chocolate, founded and owned by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton. Taza grinds and minimally processes the organic cocoa beans rather than creaming them into a smooth butter. The result is a grittier texture that appeals to some but not others.

Equal Exchange and Green & Black’s finished slightly behind Divine and Taza. Green & Black’s is a London-based company that sources its beans from Ghana.

Equal Exchange was founded in 1986 by Jonathan Rosenthal, Michael Rozyne and Rink Dickinson, all former managers of food co-ops (like MOON) in New England. Beans are sourced from growers’ co-ops in South America.

Two of the three finishing at the bottom are distinctive because they contain salt. Last year’s judges preferred the salty chocolate, but this year’s judges downgraded the salt.

Kaoka, founded in France by Andre Deberdt, sources its beans from growers’ co-ops in West Africa and Latin America. Salazon Chocolate Co., founded by Pete Truby, is actually named for a Spanish word for “salting.” The founder Pete Truby, an avid hiker, wanted to create a nutritious product that was both sweet and salty.

The least-favorite unsalted bar was Dagoba Organic Chocolate. One judge said it tasted like Hershey (not a compliment). He didn’t know it, but in fact Dagoba is owned by Hershey.

Several brands of organic Fair Trade chocolate are available at MOON Co-op, Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. www.mooncoop.coop.

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