Ummmmmmmm. Yuuuuuummy, yummy chocolate! Recently I’ve been thinking about chocolate a lot especially with Easter around the corner.

Did you know that chocolate has mystical powers? Eating chocolate increases the levels of endorphins released into the brain. Endorphins are hormones that the body uses to lessen pain and decrease stress. Another common neurotransmitter affected by chocolate is serotonin. Serotonin is known as an anti-depressant and guess what my friends? Yep, you guessed it: chocolate helps us release serotonin because it contains tryptophan.

But enough of these 12 syllable words. Did you know that chocolate comes from the cacao tree? The bean used to make chocolate is called the cocoa bean (red bean in picture).
Chocolate  also has a cool history. It is believed to have been introduced into Central America by the ancient Mayas, and cultivated in Mexico by the Olmecs, then by the Toltecs and later by the Aztecs. Montezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, dined on no other beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet and eaten with a golden spoon. It is reported that Montezuma II may have consumed no fewer than 50 portions each day, and 200 more by the nobles of his court. At some point in history before the Spanish Conquest, it was used as a currency throughout Mesoamerica and the Caribbean.

Now the not so cool history of chocolate

Where does cocoa come from? Well, the main cocoa exporting countries include: Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Malaysia. A UNICEF study reports that 200,000 children are trafficked yearly in West and Central Africa for the cocoa trade. These children are used as plantation labor.  The trafficking occurs across many countries including Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana. Some countries are mere transit points, while others are either the suppliers or receivers of the children. The 2005 International Labor Organization report estimated that up to 6% of the 200,000 children involved in cocoa production could be the victims of human trafficking or slavery.

The good news is that people like you and me: consumers, can and are making a difference. For example, Cadbury Dairy Milk – the leading chocolate bar in the UK – has announced plans to begin using Fair Trade cocoa this summer!!!  This is great news! Cadbury’s switch to fair trade cocoa  will boost Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate up to a full 15 percent of the chocolate market in England.

Ok, now that we know almost everything we can digest about chocolate, I would like to leave you with one last thought.  In 2006 US chocolate sales estimated at close to $16 billion through all channels and is forecasted to grow to $18 billion by 2011, according to the U.S. Market for Chocolate. The UK has taken the lead on demanding fair trade chocolate, now, it’s our turn.

So, before you go buy your holiday chocolate, check out this report called the Chocolate Scorecard to see what companies you would like your hard earned dollars to support. The chocolate trade can be ugly but it can also be empowering and Fair Trade chocolate companies like Divine Chocolate (makers of the Fair Trade Chocolae Easter Eggs to the right) and Equal Exchange are really proving this to be the case. There are some great companies out there to get Fair Trade chocolate from.   Check out some of the other companies that make eating chocolate, 100% heavenly!