Whether at work, at home or at parties, chances are that in the next two weeks you will be inundated with chocolate, candies, cakes, cookies, breads and any other goodie imaginable. This is not a post about how to abstain from all those glorious treats or how to lose weight after the holiday season. I need to address a much more serious issue
I was alarmed recently when I read a headline stating that we are running out of chocolate. According to a November 15, 2014 article in The Washington Post, we have been experiencing a chocolate deficit, which appears to be getting worse. We are consuming more chocolate than we are producing.
The increased consumption part is easy to understand. I mean, it’s chocolate. However, there are several reasons why production is not increasing or even maintaining. Cacao plants are finicky about temperature and rainfall and won’t grow just anywhere. Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, and a warming climate has made it harder to grow there. Frosty pod, a plant disease, has wiped out 40-50% of global production, and that combined with the unpredictability of cacao prices is causing farmers to switch to more dependable crops. A cacao tree also takes five to eight years to reach maturity, so we can’t just plant more today and have instant yield.
Cacao trees have been cultivated in Mexico and Central America for at least three millennia. There is evidence of bitter chocolate beverages from 1900 BCE and for most of its history, chocolate has been something to drink, with spices and chilies, rather than eat. When the Spanish arrived, they didn’t like the bitter drink, but changed their attitudes once they added honey or sugar.
So they took it back to Spain, where it became popular and fashionable with the nobility and the extremely wealthy throughout Europe. The process from bean to finished product is very slow and labor intensive, making it very expensive. That remained the case until the late 18th century when the steam engine made processing the bean easier. Then in the 19th century the chemists got involved and found a way to make chocolate a solid.
So now we have a world with lots of varieties of types of chocolate and ways to eat and drink it. It’s inexpensive enough that most people can afford to overindulge. And now we’re told we may run out?
It didn’t take much research to discover that, bottom line, we probably won’t run out of chocolate. Since this is a supply and demand situation, prices will undoubtedly go up if the chocolate deficit continues. I hate to be a cynic, but this warning comes from a couple of chocolate companies. Are they setting the stage for higher prices? I would really hate to end up with the inequality that existed in the 16th century when only the nobility and the incredibly wealthy could access and afford chocolate.
Stay tuned and don’t panic. I’m sure there’s a chocoholic scientist somewhere working on this problem.