Eating chocolate can help save the rain forest - and it's good for you, too

Photo: istockphoto.com/Viorika Prikhodko
How sweet it is! By Natalie Cajic Grabbing a chocolate bar to get rid of an afternoon energy slump could also help conserve the tropical rain forests. Cocoa, chocolate's main ingredient, comes from the fruit of the cacao tree, a plant that thrives under the shaded canopy of species-rich rain forests. But over the years, there has been widespread clearing of rain forests - the world's lungs - to enable chemical-intensive, bulk cocoa production of full-sun hybrids. More cocoa to satisfy the world's sweet tooth; less rain forest to keep the world alive and breathing. That reality can leave a bitter aftertaste for even the most ardent chocoholic. However, there is an answer: chocolate made from sustainable, organic sources of cocoa beans. "Buying organic is not only healthy for us but, more importantly, it's healthy for the people who grow it," says Daniel Terry of Denman Island Chocolate, Canada's first organic chocolate-producer. Establishing small, economically sustainable cocoa farms means putting money back into rural communities. In turn, that offsets the financial lure of clearing forest land. "Growing crops under fair-trade conditions is far more than the charity image it often conveys in people's minds," says Green & Black's Chris Samuel, vice-president of marketing for North America. "Fair trade helps preserve traditional skills that may otherwise be lost - farmers and growers need to know, for example, how much light is optimum for growing cocoa pods, how much shade, how much moisture and so on. This complex knowledge leads to maximum quality crops, year on year, and are time-tested methods that help to preserve the bio-diversity and canopy of rain forests." Being able to savour gourmet chocolate at the same time makes it all the sweeter. And as recent research has shown, eating dark chocolate (in moderation, of course) helps lower high blood pressure. So it's a win-win-win situation! Here's a sampling of chocolate made from sustainable cocoa that you can find in specialty or health-food stores. Cocoa Camino From the La Siembra Co-operative, a full line-up of certified organic cocoa products: dark and milk chocolate bars, hot-chocolate mixes, cocoa powder and organic crystallized cane sugar. Co-operative farmers in the Dominican Republic grow the cocoa. The cocoa is all shade-grown and also certified fair trade. Denman Island Chocolate B.C.'s Denman Island Chocolate produces organically certified bars made from bittersweet Belgian chocolate, providing a rich, intense taste. Eight flavours include Cocoa Loco at 70 percent cocoa mass. Green & Black's Green & Black's Maya Gold set the wheels in motion when it was the first cocoa product awarded the Fairtrade mark in 1994. This U.K. company uses organic cocoa grown by Mayan Indian farmers in southern Belize. Cadbury Schweppes, one of the world's leading confectionery companies, recently gobbled up the company. Plantations Last year, Plantations Arriba Chocolate was the first-ever cocoa product to be Rainforest Alliance Certified. Containing anywhere from 65 percent to 100 percent Arriba cocoa, this special bean, found only in Ecuador, has a slightly perfumed, floral scent with a dominant jasmine note and nutty aftertones. Rapunzel Rapunzel's Swiss chocolate is made with certified organic cocoa from farmer co-operatives in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. Sweetened with Rapadura, organic, fair-trade unrefined sugar cane, gives the chocolate a unique caramel flavour. Tropical Source The first organic chocolate made in the U.S., Tropical Source is manufactured without dairy products and is free of refined sugars. Roasted soy flour keeps the creamy chocolate texture while unrefined cane juice sweetens. Flavours include Green Tea Crisp, Hazelnut Crunch and Java Roast.