WHAT IS IT?
I have decided to start the business of my dreams. While shopping for a supplier of chocolate and preparing my advertising copy, I’ve become increasingly aware of the science and politics of food. “Wait,’ you say, ‘politics of food?” Well, yes. It seems while I was busy living my life, I somehow missed that food, once the ultimate safe topic of picnics, family reunions, and dinner parties, is now a highly charged minefield of political ramifications. I had to do quite a bit of catching up on the research. So here I’ve answered some questions I never imagined would be such a big deal for a small time chocolate seller.
GMO’S: WHAT ARE THEY, AND WILL YOU LABEL YOUR PRODUCT FOR THEM?Genetically Modified Organisms are plants, animals, or even people, who are produced with some modification at the genetic level. As commonly understood when talking about foodstuffs, GMO’s are intentionally modified food plants, or sometimes fungi, which have been altered in a lab using advanced technology, rather than the old fashioned way of using a paintbrush or cotton swab to transfer a bit of pollen from the sex organ of one plant to the sex organ of another, or the even more old fashioned way of simply introducing two plants into close proximity and letting bees and other pollinators do it for you.
- GMO’s, as commonly understood today (leaving aside Q-tips and bees for now), have existed since the 1970’s, have been part of our national food supply since the 1990’s, and have grown in use ever since. We have been eatingGMO sugar beets for about 5 years. About 94% of the soy in the US is derived from genetically modified seed plants according to one source, though the USDA site I found said it was 85%. So somewhere between 85 and 94% of US Soy, is GMO.
- Because there alot of concerns about the safety of GMO crops, USDA, EPA, and FDA have placed strict control on these modified organisms from development, to farm practices, to use in food and cosmetics. Some people would like even more controls. There are some really good discussions on the issue out there, I don’t intend to add to the noise about it.
- Of the ingredients in chocolate, cane sugar, cacao, and fats, none are GMO. GM Cocoa (cacao) is being studied in the lab, but has not moved out of the greenhouse yet. You can’t buy it even if you want to. Beet sugar, the most common kind in the US and Europe, is sometimes made from modified sugar beets. However, it is entirely possible to purchase pure cane sugar. There is no cane sugar currently made via genetic modification. So pure cane sugar can be assumed to be non-GMO. In any case, even the EU’s GMO regulatory body states that there is no difference between genetically modified sugar, and non-GMO sugar. Foodies generally swear that cane sugar tastes better and cooks better, so most real chocolatiers either use cane sugar, or another sweetener all together. Fats can be either cocoa butter (non-GMO) or milk fats. There are no GMO cows giving GMO milk. However, about 17% of cows in America are injected with a synthetic hormone to increase lactation. Although the cow itself isn’t GMO, some people consider the milk to be. Neither the USDA nor the FDA consider milk from such cows to be GMO products and even the EU does not require any sort of labeling or consider the milk of hormone treated animals to be GMO products. So unless you are using an emulsifier, preservative, or coloring, your end product is non-GMO.
- Soooo, will I be selling GMO chocolates? No. At least, not intentionally. I don’t have any fear of GMO’s. I think they are as safe as any other foodstuff on the market today. It’s just that I found probably the best chocolate supplier out there for someone at my level of commerce, and they offer certified non-GMO chocolate. All their chocolate is non-GMO. So yippee! Happy coincidence for you.
- That means it will be labeled non-GMO, right? Wrong, because even though the supplier, a well respected brand with an excellent reputation, certifies their chocolate as non-GMO, I have absolutely no way of determining if that is true. You can’t put a piece of chocolate under the microscope and tell which plant it was derived from. For that matter, cocoa powder from GM cocoa beans looks just like non-GMO cocoa bean powder. I never see the actual cocoa beans, so can’t analyze them. How could I, in good conscience, claim my product is certified GMO free? I can’t. So I shan’t.
GLUTEN, IS IT REALLY BAD FOR YOU? AND WILL YOU BE SELLING GLUTEN FREE PRODUCTS?
- The first question is a qualified yes. If you have celiac disease (.71% or about 7 in 1000 Americans does) then unquestionably, gluten is very bad for you. In extreme cases, it could kill you. If you are not one of those .71% with celiac disease, then the question is a little fuzzier. Probably another .55% of the population in America has some form of food allergy or irritable bowel syndrome which makes the consumption of gluten uncomfortable or who have a physical reaction (like hives or swelling) to gluten, especially in large quantities. So, for about 2% of people, gluten is not recommended. For the rest of us, sticky buns, pizza dough, and bagels wouldn’t be the same without gluten.
- Gluten is the stuff in wheat that makes stuff stick together. Gluten occurs naturally in wheat, and is added to a lot of foodstuffs as part of the processing. It occurs in some things you probably wouldn’t expect. It does not occur in minerals, real whole spices, or whole muscle meats (as opposed to things like bologna or fast food hamburgers, which might have added gluten).
- Again, happily for those who care, the supplier I have found claims zero gluten in their product. That’s good to know because none of the ingredients in chocolate (cocoa, fat, sugar) ought to have any gluten in them. So I’m not sure why anyone is labeling their chocolate candy “gluten free”. There shouldn’t be any gluten in the first place! It’s sort of like declaring your salt is GMO free, or that your pepper is sugar free. Candy bars are different of course, they contain things likenougat or cookies that might be made with gluten.
- Again, will I be labeling my candy “gluten free”? Nope. It should be self evident to anyone that a quality chocolate will not contain gluten. However, contamination with gluten is always possible when candy is batch processed in large facilities. For this reason, I can’t make any such claims, and won’t. If gluten is only a minor problem for you, our chocolate candies should be a guilt free treat. If you suffer with celiac disease, I cannot recommend our candy as we don’t process the cocoa beans ourselves, but buy couture chocolate for final preparation.
WHAT ABOUT LACTOSE? NEED I BE CONCERNED IF I AM LACTOSE INTOLERANT?It depends on your level of lactose intolerance. If you are truly allergic to dairy, don’t risk it. I can’t make any promises. However, I use cocoa butter, not cream, in my candy. So as long as you stick to dark or white chocolate, you should be safe from any discomfort that comes to those of us who are not friendly with milk products.
There are many other food related issues out there. So far, no one has questioned me about them. Nut allergies are a big deal. I don’t use nuts, but can’t promise there will never be any cross contamination. One issue I’ll probably do a whole article on in the future is the commitment to Free Trade Chocolate. I feel pretty strongly this is the right way to go.
The freshest product, the Quotidian Bon-Bon way! Chocolate doesn't keep well on the shelf, unless it has been preserved or tempered. Most chocolate purchased off the shelf contains at least some additives to prevent separation and "bloom". Bloom is actually harmless. It's the granular or spotty appearance that occurs in chocolate that has begun to separate. As the cocoa butter separates from the cocoa, it forms bloom which is sometimes mistaken for mold. However, chocolate rarely actually molds. Bloom can alter the consistency and flavor of chocolate, but it is never toxic. Still, who wants bloom on their chocolate? Chocolate bloom can be partly prevented by tempering. Tempering chocolate is similar to tempering metal.
You make a stronger steel blade by repeatedly heating and cooling it, while hammering it, compressing the atoms and making it denser. The same is true of chocolate. Tempering gives the candy a nice sheen and helps it holds its shape better. Tempering is a far preferable way of preventing bloom, but it takes longer and doesn't extend the shelf life as long as additives. This is why most Advent calendars sold in stores are preserved with additives. Most Advent calendars are manufactured months in advance of the Christmas season. Companies have to produce thousands or millions of pieces, all of which are sold in a very narrow window of time. Because they can't produce that many in so short a time, and because they have dozens, if not hundreds, of employees who must be scheduled and paid in a timely manner, these companies have to produce their product throughout the year and store it for months before they find their way to your store shelves. While this is really harmless, it's an unnecessary compromise for Quotidian Bon-Bon. We make our Q-Bon calendars when the customer wants it and ship within 72 hours. This allows us to produce remarkably pure and fresh chocolate using only natural ingredients.