For the Love of Organic Dark Chocolate

Organic dark chocolate – sweet but not too sweet and almost lustful in its intensity.  There’s no treat that quite fulfills the essence of Valentine’s Day like a good, organic dark chocolate.  Serve it as it suits: in a mousse, in hot chocolate or in a beautiful bar of chocolate.  Organic dark chocolate is a special treat – especially when shared with your loved one on Valentine’s Day.

Why Choose Organic Dark Chocolate

Chocolate is a potent source of antioxidants – and some research indicates that chocolate benefits the circulatory system and may offer anti-carcinogenic effects.    These effects are made more potent the higher the cocoa content is; that is, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. Chocolate is also a rich source of minerals including magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper and iron. Milk chocolate should be avoided, if possible, as it contains powdered milk which rife with oxidized cholesterol.

Organic Dark Chocolate: A Brand-by-brand Analysis

The quality of ingredients and the integrity of manufacturers can vary from brand-to-brand.  From types of sugar and whether or not a company uses soy-based emulsifiers, we examine the details of six organic dark chocolate brands, their ingredients, parent companies and their ethics surrounding social and global responsibility.

Askinosie*

Sugar: Certified Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar
Organic: Uses Certified Organic Sugar. Cocoa beans are not certified Organic, but are “unofficially Organic” and grown without chemicals or pesticides, and with great honesty and connection to the farms.  Consider it “beyond Organic.”
Stance on GMOs: All ingredients are non-GMO
Social Responsibility: Unsurpassed. Sources directly from farmers the founder has met in person, paying Fair Trade market price.  Operates a profit sharing program for farms.
Emulsifiers: None
Unique Factor: Hand-blended, artisan-style chocolate served with unparalleled integrity from source to manufacture.
Parent Company: Askinosie chocolate is founded and owned by Shawn Askinosie.
Price: $7.50 – $10.50
Availability: Limited.  But you may purchase Askinosie chocolate online.

Rapunzel

Sugar: Certified Organic Whole, Unrefined Evaporated Cane Juice (Rapadura)
Organic: Certified Organic Sugar, Cocoa Beans, Vanilla, Cocoa Butter
Stance on GMOs: All ingredients are non-GMO
Social Responsibility: Fair Trade with a commitment to sustainable and organic farming and global responsibility.
Emulsifiers: None
Unique Factor: Classic high quality European-style chocolate at a reasonable price.
Parent Company: Rapunzel is family-owned.
Price: $3.59
Availability: Carried in most health food stores.

Alter-eco

Sugar: Certified Organic Unrefined Cane Sugar
Organic: Certified Organic Sugar, Cocoa, Cocoa Butter, Nuts
Stance on GMOs: All ingredients are non-GMO
Social Responsibility: One of the strongest Fair Trade brands on the market.  Certified Fair Trade.
Emulsifiers: None
Unique Factor: Fair trade, organic chocolate with wide availability.
Price: $4.39
Availability: Carried in most health food stores. You may also purchase Alter-eco chocolate online.

Chocolove

Sugar: Beet Sugar (non-GMO)
Organic: 2 Varieties of Organic Dark Chocolate, other varieties may not be organic
Stance on GMOs: All ingredients are non-GMO
Social Responsibility: Supports World Cocoa Federation with policy not to purchase from firms that support or reinforce exploitative labor or child labor practices.
Emulsifiers: Organic Chocolate line is free from emulsifiers, other varieties contain soy lecithin (non-GMO)
Unique Factor: Charming, affordable chocolates from a Colorado company many unusual combinations of flavors.
Parent Company: Chocolove.
Price: $3.99
Availability: Widely available in most health food stores and even in stores like Target. You may also purchase Chocolove products online.

Dagoba

Sugar: Organic Evaporated Cane Juice
Organic: Organic Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Cacao Beans, Organic Fruit and Nuts
Stance on GMOs: All ingredients are non-GMO (Its parent company does not share this stance.)
Social Responsibility: Carries Fair Trade designation on many products, but not all.  (Its parent company does not share this stance.)
Emulsifiers: Soy Lecithin (non-GMO)
Unique Factor: Delicately flavored chocolates and unusual flavor combinations.
Parent Company: Hersheys.
Price: $3.45
Availability: Widely available in most health food stores. You may also purchase Dagoba chocolates online.

Green & Blacks**

Sugar: Raw Cane Sugar
Organic: Organic Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Cacao Beans, Organic Fruit and Nuts
Stance on GMOs: All ingredients are non-GMO.  Its parent company does not share that stance, but does offer organic alternatives that do not contain GMOs.
Social Responsibility: 100% Fair Trade Certified.
Emulsifiers: Soy Lecithin (non-GMO) used in most varieties, but they are working on a few lecithin-free chocolates that maintain the unique intensity of flavor Green & Blacks is known for.
Unique Factor: Widely available chocolate with aspirations to become the leader in Fair Trade chocolate.
Parent Company: Cadbury which is owned by Kraft.
Price: $3.29
Availability: Widely available in most health food stores and even Target. Find a store near you.

How I Choose My Organic Dark Chocolate

I am a chocolate lover.  Organic chocolate and long hot baths are among my two biggest vices – and when I choose a dark chocolate, I rely on a few factors: the ingredients, whether an emulsifying agent such as soy lecithin is used as well as the ethics and social responsibility of the manufacturer.

Sugar: In my kitchen, I avoid refined sweeteners and so if I’m going to enjoy a good organic dark chocolate, I want it to count; that is, I prefer a chocolate made with whole, unrefined cane sugar which retains its mineral content.  That said, any sugar is still a sugar – minerals intact or not.

Emulsifiers: I try my best to avoid chocolates with soy-based emulsifiers, preferring, instead, to enjoy a chocolate with a higher cocoa butter content as cocoa butter is rich in stearic acid – a wholesome, nourishing fat.  This is my personal preference, but note that the inclusion of a higher content of cocoa butter (as opposed to an emulsifier like lecithin) results in a more dilute flavor which is why some manufacturers, such as Green & Blacks choose to use an emulsifier: it’s about flavor.  My personal preference, however, ranks fat content above intensity of flavor.  Note that when an emulsifying agent is used, it is quite dilute and used in very little quantity.

Social & Environmental Sustainability: And, without a doubt, I choose a good dark chocolate from a company who sources organic ingredients and from farmers that are treated equitably, paid fairly and who practice sustainable techniques – that does not mean I only look for the Fair Trade label which is an expensive designation.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

*Pictured
**Please note that Green & Blacks was generous enough to send me a few sample bars for this post; alas, my coworkers enjoyed the milk chocolate bars while I brought home a Mayan Gold dark chocolate bar to my family.

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What people are saying

  1. Farmerswife says

    It’s always nice to be reminded dark chocolate is/can be healthy. every girls dream, hehe. Thanks for the breakdown on the brands.

  2. says

    Lovely post thanks,
    of course we have different brands of chocolate over here in France, they are really hot on 85% cocoa!! THE BEST. Being just an hour away from Switzerland we have the pick of more of the best too – and only the best will do. I love to go to my favourite chocolaterie and choose the darkest morsels of nectar to savor every so often, and now I have a very good excuse – 14th Feb!!!!

    I was wondering if any of the brands you list do 85% or higher? I know that Greens and Blacks do.

    Lou x

  3. Augie says

    When it comes to chocolate, I will get Lindts or other good imported brand when they are 3 big bars for $5– but $5 for a 3 oz bar?– no way. Plus I read an article that cited a study showing various processing methods of chocolate did not hurt the nutrional value that much. This means to me that Hershey’s cocoa in the can is fine too (unless somebody can show me otherwise). Today, I am hoping to get down to an old-fashioned candy store where they have the best dark chocolate almond bark I have ever had for just $8 a pound– and you cannot beat the flavor anywhere.

  4. says

    Yup, I second Endangered Species. I got to tour their factory a couple of years ago, and it was impressive. They naturally ferment the beans and use a European conching process. As well as being all-organic, Fair Trade, no GMOs…everything I’ve tasted from there is fabulous!

  5. Jenny says

    Augie -

    I think we face a real challenge when it comes to chocolate and to other imported foods.  And while Lindt is afforable, we must also consider the full ramifications of purchasing from them.  Lindt sources their chocolate primarily from West Africa, not from equitable fair trade sources in which farmers are paid fairly for their work.  West African chocolate comes with a host of issues: namely, child labor. (Read more here: http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0717/p04s01-woaf.html, http://money.cnn.com/2008/01/24/news/international/chocolate_bittersweet.fortune/, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=12754).  Hershey’s also sources primarily from West Africa which is why their chocolate is so very cheap.

    Perhaps it goes back to our frugal, pioneering roots, but in America we tend to assume that more for less must be better, and it’s time we rethink that model.  There’s more to our food choices than nutrition and cost; rather, we must eat ethically.  In my opinion it is much better to learn to do with less and purchase from ethical sources than to get that bang for the buck.  The answer, then, is to save chocolate for a treat: if you’ve $5 to spend on chocolate, it’s better to spend that $5 on one 3-oz bar of organic, dark chocolate that comes from a company with strong ethics and learn to live with less than to spend that $5 on a 5-oz bar borne on the back child slavery.

    Someone ends up paying the price for cheap food, and, in the case of chocolate, the price of cheap food comes from the hands of West African children.

    For me the bottom line is learning to live with less, but purchasing ethically.  I know you share those same values.

    - Jenny

  6. Cynthia says

    I thought Rapunzel was bought by a mega corp like Hershey or some such behemoth. I am so happy to see it is still a family business.

  7. Jenny says

    Tracey & Jennifer -

    I’d originally intended to include Endangered Species since their chocolate is so widely available; however, they never responded to my inquiries so I omitted them from this list.

    I’d like to say that the folks at Askinosie, Chocolove, Green & Blacks and even Alter-eco were extremely helpful, courteous, knowledgeable, thorough and quite enlightening in their responses to my inquiries. These are, in my opinion, very good companies.

    - Jenny

  8. Alicia De la Roca says

    I find that Equal Exchange is another good brand. Very fairly traded and no emulsifiers. And they make a lovely 71% cocoa bar.

  9. Patricia says

    My favorite is Vintage Plantations, meets all criteria but is expensive, about 7.50 per 3.5 oz bar. Their organic cocoa is the
    best I have tasted. I sprinkle a little on top of my coffee
    grounds before I brew coffee. I buy it online.

  10. Anna says

    I recognize the photo as Askinosie chocolate. I LOVE Askinosie chocolate! I’m fortunate to live in the town where it is made, so it’s easy for me to buy it. They are a great company and Shawn is a great guy. I like to keep a secret stash of Askinosie chocolate at my house. 77 or 70% are both my favorites (and my kids don’t like the 70 or 77 which means more for me).

  11. Kika says

    I can buy Endangered Species chocolate bars CHEAPER than non-organic/fair-trade versions from the grocery store. I usually buy a case at a time from an organic coop and the cheapest I’ve bought them this way is just under $3 CAD/bar. But sometimes I’ve found them on sale at “Planet Organic” in the nearest city on sale for as little as $2.47 CAD/bar. Can you believe it? It makes me so happy to enjoy a treat of healthy and fair-trade dark chocolate and know that I got it at a wonderful price.

  12. Katie says

    I like 100% Dagoba chocolate wrapped in a Medjool date. It’s really good! I’m getting so that I like it very bitter, with just a touch of sweet.
    I wish the original Dagoba hadn’t sold out to– ack, whatever company they sold out to — but I’m glad that they stick to the principles they started out with.

  13. Jenny says

    Katie-

    That sounds simply amazing.  I am *SO* going to try your chocolate and date recipe as soon as I can get my hands on some dates.

    - Jenny

  14. Roy Firus says

    -Vintage Plantations is NOT certified as organic by any agency and has NO specifac pesticide laws.
    It is ” certified ” by Rain Forest which is slightly better than useless and has NO pesticide laws!!!
    Chiquita bananas here in Europe are Rainforest certified!

    The term ” unofficial ” certified organic is both useless and dangerous.
    Certification by an established agency-USDA-ECOCERT -AB-Bio- BioSwiss-Soil Association-etc. is the ONLY trust that the consumer has!
    The companies that do not do certify claim it is too expensive,yet they sell their bars for a very similar price as the bars that are certified!
    Support and buy chocolate that is certified organic otherwise you have no idea what you are eating.

  15. Katie says

    I’m not a huge fan of dark chocolate (plus, I’m pretty caffeine-sensitive and it can give me a headache) but I really like the Askinosie 55% Malted Moo Moo bar, the 62% Dark Milk with Sea Salt, and the 70% Cortes Honduras. The new Tanzania bar (which takes Askinosie’s already exemplary social responsibility up a notch – http://www.chocolateuniversity.org) is ok too, but only in the tiny Itty Bar sizes. If you’re a milk chocolate lover looking to make the switch to something darker and more ethical, I recommend all of those.

    I also like to make Nib Brittle with cane syrup and the pure, antioxidizing nibs. It’s definitely a sweet treat, but so good. My favorite, hands down, chocolate bar ever, is the Askinosie White Chocolate Nibble bar, which has the amazing Askinosie white chocolate (which is completely unlike the sickly sweet white chocolate you get elsewhere) with their nibs mixed in. There’s a reason that bar is internationally acclaimed.

  16. Jana says

    I tried some organic cacao paste from this website:

    http://nutsonline.com/

    It has no additives– just cacao. I melted it and added my own butter, unrefined sweetener, cream and vanilla and it was pretty good. Wondering if anybody knows of a product like this (a baking chocolate) that is fair trade?

  17. says

    I second Alter Eco! OMG their 85% is pure heaven! I also really like Theo brand’s chocolate bars. They’ve got some really odd flavor combos, but some are really good. The cherry almond is particularly good. :-)

  18. Allen in AK says

    I can’t get past the bitter taste of dark chocolate and have simply resigned myself to accept the unhealthy aspects of milk chocolate. I must say though that you have completely ruined Green and Blacks for me. Was not aware taht they were owned by a corporate overlord. Sigh. It seems that the purveyors of toxins are going to win, If people quit buying their junk, then buy out who they do buy. Kraft is a subsidiary of Phillip Morris of Big Tobacco fame.

    • Katie says

      Try one of the lighter Askinosies (55% or 62%). I don’t like the bitterness either, but those are pretty good. Or try their white chocolate – amazing.

  19. says

    Hi Jenny,
    Just made a Pineapple Upside down cake using your coconut cake recipe, and can I just say? Yummmmmmmm… Some may not like it because of the comparison of “regular” upside down pineapple cake… but, oh.my.goodness!!!
    I LOVED it.
    I enjoyed this post on chocolate… I thought I was doing good with “the dark chocolate lovers chocolate bar” from trader joes… after this informative post, I read the back of the box (while indulging in my coconut pineapple upside down cake ;)
    I guess I need to make adjustments to my dark chocolate indulgence. While it IS 85% cacao, it has sugar and soy lecithin. The biggest disappointment for me though is the first ingredient is “cocoa mass” and the vanilla is not even real. I’m bummed, it’s soooo delisch. :(

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