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By Jackie Marks

We at DC EcoWomen love all things sustainable. On the heels of DC EcoWomen’s visit to local bean-to-bar chocolatier Harper Macaw, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, what better thing to discuss than sustainable chocolate? Chocolate is a popular treat on Valentine’s Day; in 2015, 58 million pounds of chocolate was purchased for Valentine’s Day alone. Read on for a Q&A with Jackie Marks, DC EcoWomen Executive Board Member and Communications & Marketing Manager at the World Cocoa Foundation, for some sustainable chocolate knowledge that you can share with your sweetheart.

EcoWomen: Chocolate is universally loved and can be found around the world – especially around Valentine’s Day. But few people are aware of where chocolate comes from or how it’s made. Can you tell us a bit about chocolate’s origin?

Jackie: Chocolate has a long, intricate history and has been consumed in various forms since the time of the Mayans in Mesoamerica. The primary ingredient in chocolate is cocoa (or cacao) – the ‘beans’ (which are actually seeds) extracted from the cocoa tree. Cocoa pods which hold these beans are the beautiful fruit of the cocoa tree and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. While cocoa trees rely on tropical environments within 15 – 20 degrees north and south of the equator to thrive, you can visit a beautiful, live cocoa tree right here in Washington, D.C. at the Botanic Garden.

Photo by Jackie Marks. Pods, containing the cocoa ‘beans’, grow on trees in tropical climates.

EcoWomen: Wow, cocoa right in our back yard! As consumers, how can we be sure we’re buying chocolate that is ‘green’? What does it mean for cocoa to be sustainable?

Jackie: Cocoa is sustainable when you put farmers first. Cocoa is primarily grown on small farms by men and women who rely on the sale of cocoa beans for income. Many cocoa and chocolate companies support training and infrastructure in cocoa communities to ensure long-term social, economic and environmental viability for cocoa farms and farmers. As a consumer, you can educate yourself about what your favorite chocolate company is doing to help cocoa farmers around the world.

Photo by Jackie Marks. Pods, containing the cocoa ‘beans’, grow on trees in tropical climates.

EcoWomen: Good idea – knowledge is power. Can you tell us three fun facts about cocoa that we can share with our sweethearts?

Jackie:

  1. Like kombucha or kimchi, most cocoa is fermented! This brings out the true chocolatey flavor in cocoa beans.
  2. Ivory Coast – the french speaking, coastal, West African nation – is the number one producer of cocoa. Ghana is second, and Indonesia is third. Latin America is a big contributor, too.
  3. The latin name for cocoa – Theobroma cacao – literally translates to ‘food of the Gods’. How’s that for a heavenly treat this Valentine’s Day?

 

Photo by Jackie Marks. Cocoa seedlings awaiting planting.

Jackie Marks has spent the last three and a half years working with cocoa and chocolate companies to share sustainable cocoa stories with the world as Communications & Marketing Manager at the World Cocoa Foundation. Her background is in non-profit communications focused on environment, conservation and sustainability issues. Jackie joined the DC EcoWomen Executive Board in 2016 and serves on the Communications Committee. When she’s not writing about cocoa, you can find her tending to her garden, inventing new ice cream flavors, sampling craft beer and planning her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter: @JackieMarks.

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