...over the weekend I heard something utterly outrageous. Apparently the "U.S. Chocolate Industry", via the Chocolate Manufacturer's Association, has proposed a change to the formula by which chocolate is made. The Chocolate Manufacturer's Association is made up of companies like Hershey, Mars, Nestle and World's Finest Chocolate (who puts together all those fundraiser boxes every year with the chocolate bars wrapped in white paper).
Well, this proposal has to make it past the Food and Drug Administration which is in charge of regulating the formulas by which chocolate can be called chocolate. I think they need to create a new formulation if they roll these changes in and call it "faux chocolate".
The changes? Well, instead of using cocoa butter it will change to vegetable fat. And instead of milk, milk substitutes will be used. That's right - it will be like having Crisco and powdered non-dairy creamer in your chocolate. Add that to all the wax that folks like Hershey put into the chocolate and it sounds truly appetizing doesn't it?
The most important part of the change that worries me is the vegetable fat substitution. Having played with chocolate in several forms over the years, I know that a critical component is cocoa butter. It's significant that we focus on it - it allows chocolate to have the melting properties that it does. Now, I understand the desire to have chocolate that is more stable and long lasting on grocery shelves. Vegetable fat would add that sort of stabilization, but it would also ruin the ability for people at home to work with chocolate for cookies, candies, and bark. These changes would significantly alter the cost, taste and texture of chocolate as well as it's shelf life.
I suspect that's the problem that the chocolate manufacturer's are facing - the boutique chocolate makers might rise up and eat market share. I don't think that they really have anything to worry about. I doubt that my Oreo cookie bark at Christmas that folks rave over is really going to take a bite into Hershey's market share, especially since I'm not equipped to compete with them even if I wanted to. I'd have to make bark all year long to even have a shot at doing that, and there's a point where the smell of sugar in my house will repulse even me. And I'll still buy M&M's for my office jar, so they're not going to lose my business in the first place.
I think that's true of a lot of home chocolate makers, most of whom get busy around Christmas. Guittard, who makes chocolate for use in home baking, is also a member but they seem to have a website up to allow consumers to learn about the changes and speak out about it. (Don't Mess With Our Chocolate - there are links there to complain to the FDA, but consumers like you and I only have until Wednesday to do so.)
As a consumer of chocolate (I buy it *and* I eat it), I'm outraged. There's already enough wrong with mass produced chocolate - all the emulsifiers and wax that some companies put into it are enough to stabilize the chocolate for a good long time on the shelves *and* to make a mold of your mouth should you need one. Chocolate doesn't need to last forever - it just needs to last long enough. And if they make these changes, there's going to be chocolate sitting for even longer on the shelves because folks like me won't buy their chocolate.
Oh yes, I'll find ways to import chocolate from Europe and the U.S. chocolate market won't get my money any longer. Yes, that even means Godiva wouldn't get my money unless they prove that they use cocoa butter and milk in the production of their chocolate that's sold on U.S. soil.
What really gets me is the nutritional aspect of this all. Chocolate isn't good for you. Yes, small amounts have been shown to help lower blood pressure, or raise your chemical happiness levels, but it's not good for you with all the sugar and fat. That said, if you change the formula to include vegetable fat and milk substitutes, the nutritional quality of chocolate will fall into the toilet and the profit margin on mass produced chocolate will rise significantly.
So, express your outrage on the proposed changes in chocolate by complaining to the FDA. Talk this up with fellow chocolate lovers. Blog about it. I've done all three this morning, and I'll sit quietly now and watch what happens to my beloved chocolate...
...and I'll be damned before I deign to eat faux chocolate.