CAPSULE REPORT: “Best Tasting Organic Chocolate,” claims Terra Nostra on its label. Them’s fightin’ words, in a category that includes the luxurious Theo Chocolate, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week, and perennial crowd favorite and organic chocolate flavor king, Dagoba Chocolate. But at these prices, in a category where much of the chocolate is far from luminous, our chocolate specialist, Peter Rot, concurs: This chocolate is awfully good. It’s also Fair Trade Certified and certified kosher, with a vegan line made with ricemilk.
This year marks Terra Nostra’s tenth anniversary, and the company is unique as a manufacturer of high-quality organic, Fair-Trade chocolate bars that are also kosher-certified. The company focuses primarily on textures and flavors in formats not readily found in most organic chocolate companies, such as chocolate truffle centers and a line made with rice milk, which is suitable for vegans who cannot otherwise have milk chocolate.
Since Terra Nostra is one of the few Fair Trade Certified lines of chocolate, let’s take look behind the scenes in the cacao industry (or cocoa industry, as it is frequently called). Behind such charming products is an often charmless world.
According to the World Cocoa Foundation, approximately 70% of the world’s cacao production comes from Africa, with the Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon as the largest producers, respectively. (These countries can be seen at the bottom of the map, along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea: Côte d’Ivoire (orange), Ghana (rose), Togo (pink), Benin (blue), Nigeria (green) and Cameroon (orange). Most, if not all, of this cacao is of the Forastero variety and goes into the production of low-quality candy bars and everyday cosmetics.*
*Most of the cocoa butter, which is separated from the cocoa particles in a giant press, is used for topical and cosmetic purposes, while the remaining defatted cocoa solids—or cocoa powder—is packaged for cooking and baking.
At face value, these statistics may seem innocent and positive. But once you delve into the practices surrounding cacao production, you’ll quickly realize that there’s much more behind the numbers. Children wielding machetes, workers so poor they can’t support their families and people brought forcibly from other countries to work on plantations are only a fraction of what goes into countless chocolate bars and cosmetic products sold worldwide.
In 2000, for example, both Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire “employed” 15,000 children on approximately 1.5 million cacao farms, that produced more than half the world’s cacao. No doubt, many of us have bought candy, cookies and cosmetics that contained ingredients grown on these farms. Horrific reports show that these children—many from Mali, Burkina Faso (the olive-colored country between Mali and Ghana) and other countries burdened with extreme poverty—are worked between 12 and 14 unpaid hours a day on very little sleep and food, and frequently beaten. The word enslavement is accurate.
Exploitation in the cocoa industry—one of the word’s major commodities—is perpetuated by illiteracy, poverty, lack of economic alternatives, civil war in the Côte d’Ivoire and the cosmetic industries refusing to outlaw imports from countries employing forced labor. With so many variables at work and an inertia geared towards further decline, any push in the right direction may seem hopeless.
Cacao pods are cut down from the trees by machetes. Photo courtesy of Amano Chocolate.
However, figures such as those cited have been the impetus for several initiatives that aim to put an end to these miserable conditions and promote the welfare of cacao farmers. Terra Nostra is one such initiative.
Terra Nostra & Equitable Trade
Terra Nostra was started by Karlo Flores in 1998 in Vancouver. Armed with the experience of five generations of chocolatiers yet rooted in altruism, Karlo started the chocolate business and also co-founded Equi-Trade (now called Equitable Trade), a social-giving initiative that helps cacao growers in countries where equality is not a priority.
Equitable Trade (E.T.)† is a fair trade-type organization not related to TransFair USA, the licensee of the Fair Trade Certified™ brand. But it is an association that strives to “Go Beyond Fair Trade,” which refers to a specific organization, by practicing a more comprehensive and transparent set of social, environmental, ethical and business principles. Under Equitable Trade standards, workers receive more than just living wages compatible with their communities, but an additional, supplementary allowance. This is a better deal than the more familiar Fair Trade Certified.
†To be registered as Fair Trade, products must meet specific environmental, labor, and developmental standards laid out and overseen by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), which has member/certifiers in 20 nations, and FLO-CERT. TransFair USA is the third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S.
While Fair Trade is the much better-known brand, here are the benefits of Equitable Trade:
For a company to become certified under a trade association and thus carry the logo on its products, it must pay a membership, or trademark, fee. Unlike Fair Trade, where membership fees are kept exclusively by the association, Equitable Trade keeps only 20% of its membership fees and reinvests the remaining 80% into a community investment fund. This money is then put towards various development projects that improve the community and ecosystem.
In an effort to eliminate child labor, audits and checks at the plantation level are conducted to ensure that all workers are of appropriate age, and that no one is coerced into labor.
Literacy programs, food for children and education curricula are also part of the Equitable Trade plan to improve the lives of people who work for companies operating under Equitable Trade standards.
In these regards, Equitable Trade is an approach that ensures that all cacao bought by Terra Nostra has been grown under socially-responsible conditions. One of the main objectives is complete transparency at every level, starting with how the cacao is grown and ending with how all participants are paid. Equitable Trade believes that in order to maintain the economic and ecological viability of an environment and its people, it’s crucial to understand the underlying processes (i.e. biological cycles, the natural habitat, etc.) and to recognize and adapt operating practices according to cultural, historical, and ecological circumstances.
There is a unity in this approach, one that sways with the ebbs and flows of the biological and cultural cycles that cacao farming relies upon. Without it, all of cacao farming worldwide would essentially be what many commercialized operations are today: artificial environments that perpetuate unfair labor conditions.
The first thing you may notice about Terra Nostra is the high level of quality. Purchasing organic chocolate in the past was generally risky business, due to a shared trait of grainy textures and burnt, over-roasted flavors that spoke more of grassroots appeal than quality and good taste. A newer approach to organic chocolate has been the mainstay for several years now, one that emphasizes smooth textures, complex flavors, and overall sophistication that rivals all non-organic chocolate. Terra Nostra is one such company, especially because they understand that if farmers are to earn fair wages that good chocolate must be produced from their beans. This sensible interpretation of quality, we suspect, must be why Terra Nostra is America’s biggest-selling brand of organic chocolate!
Terra Nostra sources their cacao from various countries, such as Ecuador, Ghana, Trinidad, and Peru, and has it processed and manufactured into chocolate in Belgium, Canada, and the United States. Terra Nostra’s roasting style is somewhat hard to decipher since by contrast they offer so many flavored bars than unflavored dark bars. Nonetheless, from what we can tell, it seems they have a good balance between all flavor components. Probably a medium-ground approach is what they prefer and not the ashy, over-roasted flavors so common in the Organic Stone Age.
Chocolate Bar Varieties
There are 3.5-ounce bars: more than one should eat in a day, but hard to resist.
Intense Dark 73%
A blend of cacaos from Ecuador, Peru and Trinidad, the chocolate is not as intense as you might expect. It’s rather soft and very chocolaty, with characteristic blackberry notes of Ecuadorian cacao. Peaches and other pastel shades run rampant here as well, to complete a very accessible and sophisticated bar that contrasts starkly to what most people have come to expect from the word “organic.”
Double Dark Truffle 60%
At 60% cacao, we were pretty surprised at how strong this bar was, especially with the truffle filling, which has a tendency to dilute the intensity. Don’t expect a soft truffle filling; it’s hard and the overall experience is more akin to a solid bar of chocolate with a wonderfully smooth texture. The chocolate yields subtle cherry flavor, but for the most part, this bar is straightforward and very bold.
Robust Dark 60% Roasted Almonds
Made of the same 60% cacao as the Double Dark Truffle bar, you’ll be surprised at just how strong the base chocolate is. The profusion of roasted almonds add burst upon burst of nutty flavor. Fruity yet nutty, smooth and crunchy, the bar is assertive and explosive, and arguably one of the most addictive nut-infused bars we’ve tried.
Robust Dark 60% Raisins & Pecans
Using the same wonderful 60% blend (we’re still waiting for a plain 60% bar!), Terra Nostra creates a subtler-flavored bar in which the chocolate plays the prominent role. The raisins and pecans are mild on their own, but provide just enough impact to make the bar interesting.
Creamy Milk 39% Raisins & Pecans
With a milk chocolate base, the raisins and pecans stick out in style, while the milk chocolate itself is not cloyingly sweet and actually rather nutty in flavor, thus complementing the pecans. Overall, the bar went fast with us, so be sure to stock up on a couple.
Satin Milk Truffle Center
Don’t let the name of this bar fool you: the truffle center is actually composed of 64% dark chocolate while the exterior is a 41% milk chocolate. The flavor marries a fruity and intense interior with a slightly milky and barely sweet chocolatiness for a great flavor combination more akin to a plain dark chocolate bar.
To help with portion control, the company has introduced 1.5-ounce “pocket” chocolate bars for snacking. They feature elegant fillings: Intense Dark (73%) with Goji Berries and Pink Himalayan Mineral Salt, Robust Dark (60%) Pomegranate Truffle and Robust Dark (60%) Creamy Caramel. Each is more seductive than the next. There’s also a Satin Milk (39%) with Creamy Caramel bar, whose acquaintance we have not yet made. But if it reads the script, it’s well worth the time of milk chocolate lovers.
“How many times has a replacement product tasted as good as the original?” is the question Terra Nostra posits on the back wrapper of these bars. We can honestly claim that they are indeed as good as the original chocolate bars, and in some ways more interesting due to the nature of the product. These bars are made with rice milk and contain absolutely no dairy products, which means they’re suitable for vegans and the lactose intolerant. Whether you’re a vegan or not, though, once you try them you might buy these instead of the “regular” bars.
Astute chocolate buyers will question why 57% cacao bars need to be vegan and made with ricemilk. Once a bar has more than 50% cacao content, isn’t it just semisweet chocolate, requiring no milk? Good question! What Terra Nostra has gone for here is a “dark milk chocolate” style, using ricemilk instead of cow’s milk. Vegans seeking dark chocolate can enjoy the 60% cacao bars discussed above since, correctly, there is no milk in traditional semisweet or bittersweet chocolate.
Ricemilk Choco 57%
The most amazing thing about this bar is its lack of sweetness. It’s more like a high-percentage milk chocolate bar (without the milk, of course), with a subtle nutty tone that definitely cuts back on the sugar. It’s strong, nutty, chocolaty, and all around the most interesting and nuanced bar of the range.
Ricemilk Choco With Almonds 57%
If you can imagine the previous bar but studded with lots of tiny almond pieces, then you’ll visualize an even stronger chocolate, resonating with nutty blasts of flavor and crunch.
Ricemilk Choco Dark Truffle
This percentage has rarely tasted this dark and complex. At 56%, the chocolate delivers plenty of fruity and floral flavors and a wonderful intensity level as well. The truffle center, though, is not soft or even fudgy as one might expect but more like a regular bar of dark chocolate with a creamy and unctuous texture.
If all of this seems like too much decision-making, Terra Nostra makes it easy for you with the Complete Organic Chocolate Bar Collection Gift Box, one of each large bar. You’ll have to get those delectable pocket bars “à la carte.”
Terra NOstra chocoLAte
Organic & Fair Trade Chocolate
Certified USDA Organic
Equitable Trade Certified
kosher (dairy) by Orthodox Union
Complete Organic Collection
Gift Box, All 9 Bars
3.5 Ounces Each
Dark Chocolate Gift Box
4 Bars, 3.5 Ounces Each
Pocket Chocolate Bars
1.5 Ounces Each
The products are also sold at retailers nationwide.
*Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. Shipping is additional. These items are offered by a third party and THE NIBBLE has no relationship with them. This link to purchase is provided as a reader convenience.
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