Tag Archives: cocoa

Cocoa flavanols boost cognitive abilities by increasing oxygen in the brain

Credit: Pixabay.

Studies support the role of cocoa flavanols — substances found in chocolate, as well as fruits and vegetables — in boosting memory and cognition. In new research published today in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists have found that flavanols can triple the maximal oxygenation of the brain. The authors also performed their own cognitive tests, confirming previous findings that flavanols improve cognitive performance even in healthy adults.

Chocolate: not only tasty, but also smart

In a 2017 meta-analysis (a study of studies) of the scientific literature on flavanols and their effects on the brain published until that date, researchers from the University of L’Aquila and the University of Rome found that flavanols had good neuroprotective properties, meaning they help maintain neuron health and function.

Participants in randomized controlled trials analyzed by the researchers from Italy showed greater performance in working memory, an improved ability to process visual information, and other similar ‘upgrades’ in cognitive abilities after consuming cocoa flavanols in the form of chocolate. The most benefits were seen in women, those who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, and the elderly.

But how exactly does cocoa boost brainpower? Researchers aren’t completely sure, but cocoa flavanols seem to have important benefits for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume. In a new study, researchers led by Catarina Rendeiro, a researcher and lecturer in nutritional sciences at the University of Birmingham, employed functional near-infrared spectroscopy — a state of the art optical brain imaging technique that involves placing multiple light sources and detectors close to the brain during measurements — in order to investigate the effects of flavanols in unprecedented detail.

“I have been for the last 10- 12 years interested in the health benefits of plant-derived flavonoids, particularly their effects on brain and cognitive function. We have known for many years that flavanols from cocoa (in particular) can improve vascular function in humans by improving vessel/arterial function. These benefits are apparent even after one single dose. However, the extent to which some of these benefits could translate into the brain vasculature was less clear,” Rendeiro told ZME Science.

For their study, the researchers tested 18 healthy participants before intake of cocoa flavanols and in two separate trials, one in which they received flavanol-rich cocoa and another during which they received processed cocoa with very low levels of flavanols. This was a double-blind study, meaning neither the participants nor researchers knew which type of cocoa was consumed in each of the trials.

Two hours after they consumed foods containing varying amounts of the antioxidant found in cocoa, the participants had to breathe air with 5% CO2 — which is about 100 times the normal concentration in the air — in order to increase blood flow to the brain. In response to the excess CO2, the brain naturally brings in more oxygen, which the researchers measured using custom-made helmets.

“The helmets themselves are quite interesting looking so I think the volunteers enjoyed having their pictures taken wearing them,” said Rendeiro, who also found taking a selfie with the futuristic-looking helmet irresistible.

Catarina Rendeiro wearing one of the custom-built helmets used to measure brain oxygenation. Credit: Catarina Rendeiro.

The researchers found that cocoa flavanols improved the levels of blood oxygenation in the frontal cortex, a brain region that plays a key role in planning, regulating behavior, and decision-making. Oxygenated hemoglobin rose approximately three times higher for participants who consumed high-flavanol cocoa compared to those who ingested low-flavanol cocoa. What’s more, in the flavanol-rich group the oxygenation response was about one minute faster.

Participants also experienced improvements in cognitive performance in tasks that measure executive function (higher-level cognitive skills you use to control and coordinate your other cognitive abilities and behaviors), solving problems 11% faster than they did at baseline or when they consumed cocoa with reduced flavanols. However, these cognitive improvements surfaced only when the cognitive challenge was high.

“Improvements in Oxygenation levels during CO2 challenge might be linked to cognitive performance outcomes. We further observed that there were a few volunteers that actually did not benefit from flavanol intake both in terms of cerebral oxygenation and cognitive performance. These individuals also happened to have the highest / healthiest blood oxygenation responses, so it seems that these individuals won’t benefit further from the intake of flavanols because they are performing already at their maximum. It is currently unclear why these subjects had higher responses but it might be related to higher levels of fitness, but we did not measure this in the study,” Rendeiro said.

“I would just add that one exciting moment for us scientists when running a double-blind study like this (i.e., a study in which neither participants nor experimenters know the conditions while running the study for optimal control) is when the analysis is finished and the codes are open, and we finally know that the study has worked perfectly,” Prof. Monica Fabiani of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-author of the new study.

If these findings trigger an urge to stock up on chocolate, it should be pointed out that, while there are no side effects to flavanols, eating too much chocolate can be detrimental due to the intake of added sugar and fats. However, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of flavanols.

“Consuming foods rich in flavanols, such as grapes, green tea, apples, berries can provide levels of flavanols that are beneficial for brain function. The fact that we can see benefits even in a perfectly healthy brain it is good news for all of us. There shouldn’t be any downsides from consuming flavanols from fresh fruits and vegetables,” Rendeiro said in an email.

Looking into the future, the researchers plan on using the same techniques to measure brain oxygenation in the elderly and those at risk of cardiovascular disease to test whether the benefits of flavanols extend to populations that are likely to benefit the most from them.

“I think the fact that flavanols can be effective at improving cerebral oxygenation and cognitive function even in a healthy brain is a remarkable finding and it means that we can potentially all benefit from diets rich in flavanols,” Rendeiro added.

No, chocolate isn’t going extinct in 40 years — but we are set for a crisis

In recent days, a horrifying title roamed media outlets around the world: Chocolate is on track to go extinct in 40 yearsBusiness Insider reads. Similar ideas were echoed in Forbes, The Independent, and MSN, among others. Well, no need to bury your chest of chocolate just yet. While cocoa plants are indeed in dire straits and we are set for a chocolate crisis in the future, this is yet another case of blowing things way out of proportions.

Image credits: Thavlosk / Wikipedia.

The science

The main story was based on a joint effort by UC Berkeley Scientists and the Mars chocolate company to produce new GMO cocoa plants. The end goal was to make the plants more resistant in the face of climate change and fungal diseases, which are currently threatening most existing crops.

They are using a technique called CRISPR, which can make tiny DNA changes; these tweaks are expected to make the plants more resilient in a world that’s less and less able to provide the necessary conditions for the plants to thrive.

Basically, cocoa plants can only grow in very niched conditions, 15 degrees north and south of the equator, where temperature, humidity, and soil conditions are just right. As temperatures start to rise, the only possibility is to move cocoa plantations to higher and higher altitudes, but that triggers a domino effect where all the surrounding conditions need to be adapted. Simply put, that’s not very sustainable, and will make cocoa plants (and hence, chocolate) much more expensive — quite possibly, prohibitively expensive. Add the new fungal diseases running rampant across plantations and you quickly end up with a recipe for disaster.

Image credits: Innovative Genomics Institute / University of California at Berkeley.

However, moving from that scenario to saying that “chocolate will go extinct” is quite a big leap — and it’s one that’s not really based on reality.

The Clickbait

Everyone loves chocolate, that’s for sure. Writing a panicky, attention-grabbing headline like Chocolate is going extinct! is sure to draw people’s attention, but it’s simply clickbait. Even if we move past the technical definition of extinction, which is that there needs to be a complete absence of sightings for a minimum of 50 years, we’re still not set for extinction. For instance, the Business Insider article seems to contradict itself:

“Over half of the world’s chocolate now comes from just two countries in West Africa — Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

But those areas won’t be suitable for chocolate in the next few decades. By 2050, rising temperatures will push today’s chocolate-growing regions more than 1,000 feet uphill into mountainous terrain — much of which is currently preserved for wildlife, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

In essence, that’s true. NOAA warns that 89.5% of land currently used to cultivate cacao will no longer be suitable by 2050, which is largely compatible with the timeframe they are discussing. But even so, that leaves a fraction of usable lands, and while much of the future’s chocolate lands are protected areas, some new, higher-altitude areas are still available.

So it’s not really a problem of whether chocolate will go extinct — it won’t. But it will be cornered and struggling.

The problem

Unfortunately, saying that cocoa plants are greatly threatened by climate change isn’t as eye-catchy as saying that chocolate will go extinct. Future generations will still have access to the deliciously dark treat, the only question is: will they be able to afford it?

Most specialists believe that the answer is no.

In 2010, John Mason of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council predicted that “in 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar”. He said:

“It will become so rare and expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it.”

The crisis he predicted will take place even sooner, but again, there’s no talk of extinction.

Overconsumption is also an issue. We’re already eating more chocolate than we can sustainably produce. Long-term studies have already shown that cocoa plantations are having a negative environmental impact and in some places, they’re destroying ecosystems. Furthermore, while cocoa can improve the livelihoods of local populations, it often doesn’t. To add even more pressure to this already unstable system, people in developing economies like India and China are improving their living standards, and as a result, are demanding more and more chocolate. Whether we like it or not, the demand for chocolate is growing, while supply seems doomed to fall.

What we can do

If we want to protect cocoa plantations, the root of the problem is tackling climate change. That’s the main cause of the problem. But we can also take more direct action.

As consumers, we should always look for the chocolate with the shortest supply chain possible. By cutting out the middlemen, you’re removing room for potentially shady practices. Look for “direct trade” labels and for bars with single origins. Also, look for ethical certification labels — especially FairTrade. However, note that small companies might sometimes not afford such certifications even though they do have ethical practices. No certification is perfect.

Lastly, stay informed. It’s easy to not give a damn about it, and just eat your heart out. But as consumers, we also have a responsibility, and chocolate should be consumed responsibly. It’s also easy to fall into the other extreme, and think that there’s nothing we can do and chocolate is simply doomed. If anything, projects like the Berkley and Mars one show us that researchers are actively working and looking for solutions.

Chocolate seems to have a bitter future but at least for now, it does have a future.

Chocolate files: from the early days to today’s dark pleasure

Chocolate is… who am I kidding — we all know what chocolate is. It’s sweet, delicious pleasure. But chocolate, this seemingly simple product has a rich and complex history which stems for almost 4,000 years. Before it took the beloved form we know today, chocolate had medicinal and ritualistic uses.

Image via Wikipedia.

The Early Mesoamerican days

The Aztecs and the Maya believed that chocolate was discovered by the gods in the mountains and given to the people — and many people would agree with its divine nature. The Aztecs prized seeds so much they could be used as currency, while the Maya had a cacao god called Ek Chuaj. But the first mentions of chocolate go way back, much more than the Aztecs and the Maya.

This Maya representation of the two gods Chac and IxChel exchanging Cacao provides evidence for the mesoamerican idea of divinity in Chocolate. Image via Oregon State University.

The first ground beans of the Theobroma cacao (cacao tree), can be traced to the Mokaya and other pre-Olmec people, with evidence of chocolate beverages dating back to 1900 BC, almost 4 millennia ago. However, the warm, liquid form of chocolate they enjoyed back then is very different to what we’re familiar with. Back then, the drink wasn’t sweet and was laden with chili powder and other strong spices; yes, the drink — chocolate was prepared as a drink for most of its history.

The Mayan glyph for cacao.

The Mayan glyph for cacao.

There are indications that from the very beginning, chocolate was regarded as curative and played an important cultural role. While researchers don’t agree which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree, it seems safe to say that people have been doing this since at least 1900 BC.

In November 2008, anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania announced the discovery of cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back as far as 1400 B.C.E. But what’s even more spectacular about their discovery is that the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit, which surrounds the beans, was fermented into an alcoholic drink – that’s right, people got drunk on chocolate over 3,000 years ago!

“Who would have thought, looking at this, that you can eat it?” said Richard Hetzler, executive chef of the café at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, as he displayed a fresh cacao pod during a recent chocolate-making demonstration. “You would have to be pretty hungry, and pretty creative!”

We don’t have much information about what happened to chocolate after that, until the Aztecs and the Maya. We know that people enjoyed it, because archaeologists have found chocolate residue on numerous pots and vases, but little evidence remains as to how the beverage was prepared. The Olmecs used it for religious rituals or as a medicinal drink, with no recipes for personal use. But they, like the Aztecs, left almost no little written evidence behind. So almost everything we know about it, we had to infer from indirect evidence. The Aztecs actually couldn’t grow cacao themselves, so they had to import

The Aztecs actually couldn’t grow cacao themselves, so they had to import it or ask for it as tribute from the people they conquered. It seems that they drank their chocolate cold, using as an aphrodisiac or as a treat for men after banquets. It was also included in the soldiers’ rations.

Chocolate was consumed by most Mesoamerican civilizations. Notable are the Pueblo people, who unlike the others, considered chocolate a common drink and enjoyed it often, without any deeper purpose.

Ritualistic and medicinal use

Rio Azul Chocolate Pot (glyph for cacáo at left on vessel lid; color courtesy of Denver Museum of Natural History; B&W, George Stuart)

But with the Maya, there’s a different story — the Mayans actually do leave some surviving writings about cacao which confirm the identification of the drink with the gods. They also explain how they prepare it: seasoned with chile peppers and cornmeal, transferring the mixture repeatedly between pots until the top was covered with a thick foam. We know this from glyphic writing found in burial grounds. The Maya prepared bowls of chocolate to be enjoyed in the afterlife. In fact, priests would often prepare chocolate for ritualistic purposes — chocolate and blood were among the most common offerings for the gods. In some festivals, priests would cut their ear lobes and kings would cut their penises with obsidian blades; the blood would drip, covering the chocolate and honoring the gods (Rissolo per. comm. 2005). Baptisms of newborn babies also often included a chocolate ritual, and for different events, there was a different cocoa recipe.

But it wasn’t just for rituals – chocolate was given medicinal credit as well. Both the Mesoamericans and the Europeans who then adopted and changed chocolate believed in its curative properties – everything from reducing fever to helping clean the teeth was attributed to the cacao wonder.

The Florentine Codex (1590 AD) is one of the richest resources on chocolate history. The ethnographic research project was created by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, who lived and worked in the ‘New Spain’ for 60 years, collecting valuable recipes and documenting chocolate’s properties. Here’s a translated excerpt:

“[Green cacao] makes one drunk, takes effect on one, makes one dizzy, confuses one, makes one sick, deranges one. When an ordinary amount is drunk, it gladdens one, refreshes one, consoles one, invigorates one. Thus it is said: ‘I take cacao. I wet my lips. I refresh myself’ (Sahagun 1590, 119-120)”.

But the Europeans had a different take on chocolate, and Sahagún’s motivation was to convert locals to Christianity. Sahagún conducted research for several decades, edited and revised it over several decades, created several versions of a 2,400-page manuscript, and addressed a cluster of religious, cultural and nature themes. Ironically, the document didn’t play much of a role in the evangelization of the Mesoamericans, but it is a valuable source of chocolate recipes. The book was forgotten for some 200 years before it was rediscovered by Italian scholars.

But the Europeans found little pleasure in the original chocolate — they couldn’t even chug it down; they hated it. It wasn’t until they took it back to the continent and sweetened it that they started to see its appeal.

European Chocolate

We’re getting there. Image via The Dish.

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first European to encounter chocolate when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in 1519. He didn’t like it. Neither did Columbus, when he encountered it on his fourth expedition to the Americas. So they changed it.

Some would argue that the Europeans actually ruin chocolate, and we may never know if that’s true or not. Upon their return to Spain, they also brought home some chocolate. Respiced with honey and cane sugar, it became a different drink — one that the Europeans loved. But not all of them did.

Typical 17th-century scene showing the preparation of chocolate. Image via Wikipedia.

In his History of the New World (1575), Girolamo Benzoni ingloriously states:

“It seemed more like a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity………But then, as there was a shortage of wine, so as not to be always drinking water, I did like the others. The taste is somewhat bitter, it satisfies and refreshes the body, but does not inebriate, and it is the best and most expensive merchandise, according to the Indians of that country (Benzoni 1575)”

Chocolatière_style_empire

“Pocillo» chocolate with its “grinder” (a wooden stick). A common way to make chocolate in Spain during the eighteenth century. Image via Wiki Commons.

Again, chocolate became a drink for the upper classes. The Spanish and Portuguese explorers kept it well hidden from the rest of the world, praising its medicinal capabilities. While the Aztecs and the Maya were in full decline, conquered by European explorers, chocolate was living a different kind of glory.

Fast forward one century and chocolate is now enjoyed by many Europeans. A newly found craze for chocolate brought it (still as a drink) to the Netherlands, England and France. But there was a dark side to this development — the lucrative industry of chocolate brought with it a lucrative industry of slavery, the remnants of which can still be seen today. With the depletion of Mesoamerican workers, largely to disease, cacao production was handled mostly by African slaves. Wind-powered and horse-drawn mills were utilized to speed production, but there was only so much that could be done. The world had discovered chocolate, and it wanted more.

Innovating chocolate

It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that chocolate could be produced at acceptable speeds, thanks to the steam engine. The first steam-driven chocolate mill was created by a man named Debuisson in the early 18th century. But the real chocolate innovation came in 1815, when Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, significantly reducing its bitterness. A few years later, he created a press that removed half of the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate, which made it easier and cheaper to produce, while making it easier to obtain a consistent quality. You could even call Van Houten the father of modern chocolate.

Chocolate melanger mixing raw ingredients. Image via Wikipedia.

After that, the innovations kept pouring. Most notably, in 1875 Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate. He used a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé, and this very invention ultimately led to Nestlé being the biggest food company in the world today. But Nestlé isn’t the only man who’s early experimenting with chocolate left behind huge companies. In 1893, Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment, and a man named Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868. Even today, they are some of the biggest chocolate companies in the world – their legacy is extremely strong to this day.

Chocolate and modern slavery

Not much has changed in the past decades when it comes to chocolate. We mass produce it now, so the entire process has become much more efficient – and cheaper. There are more varieties, plenty of non-chocolate chocolates, but the basic product has remained the same. However, as much as we like chocolate, we should open our eyes and see the truth behind the product.

Yes, your chocolate likely comes from here. Image via Confectionery News.

Some 70% of global chocolate production comes from West Africa, which hosts some of the poorest and underdeveloped areas in the world; half of that comes from Côte d’Ivoire, a country with a saddening history of child exploitation and modern slavery. Kids work on cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire; about 200,000 of them do. Thirty percent of children under age 15 in sub-Saharan Africa are child laborers and more than 1.8 million children in West Africa are involved in growing cocoa. Major chocolate producers, such as Nestle, buy cocoa at commodities exchanges where Ivorian cocoa is mixed with other cocoa. Generally speaking, they have little interest in maintaining a fair trade and eliminating child labor and exploitation – after all, that’s what keeps the prices down.

A 2006 investigation revealed startling figures: 90% of cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire use some form of slave labor. When cocoa prices drop, farmers can’t afford to pay workers, so they just buy them; and cocoa prices can vary dramatically, from £500 ($945) to £3,000 ($5,672) per ton in just a couple of years.

All these factors, a poor area where people are desperate to work, high market volatility and a lack of ethics from big producers, have created a new, modern type of slavery. We, the end consumers, are as much to blame for this as anyone.

The future: a chocolate crisis?!

Take a good look at it - it may become a rare sight. Image via Pixabay.

Take a good look at it – it may become a rare sight. Image via Pixabay.

Yes, the world is running out of chocolate, and fast. We may be experiencing a major chocolate shortage in less than a decade. As we wrote in a previous article, the Swiss Barry Callebaut Group, the world’s largest chocolate producer, has joined a host of industry experts in expressing concerns about “a potential cocoa shortage by 2020”. We are already seeing the effects, as chocolate prices have gone up by more than 25% in the past couple of years alone. The Barry Callebaut Group sold more than 1.7 million tonnes of chocolate in 2013/14, an increase of over 11% from the past year; they also announced that they expect to continue this growth, but that the cocoa shortage is becoming more and more imminent.

For the first time in human history, chocolate is no longer a luxury, an expensive product that only some people can afford. Today, most of the planet’s population – pretty much everyone except for the very poorest – can afford it, and that’s quite a problem. We’re simply eating more chocolate than is sustainable. In South America, the market for chocolate expanded by a massive 7 per cent just in 2013! Brazil went from being one of the world’s leading exporters to consuming more than it produces. There is also the political turmoil in West Africa where the cocoa is grown, the recent Ebola outbreak, El Nino predictions and also financial speculation.

The demand is growing more and more. Couple that with the factors above and you get a pretty dire picture. In Europe, the price of cocoa butter is up 70 percent from the beginning of 2014. The same thing is happening in the Americas, and in Asia. In Asia, chocolate prices are up 30 to 40 percent this year. Just as we got used to it, chocolate may become rare and expensive once more.

Chocolate used to be a special, expensive treat, with no sugar and chili powder. Soon, it might become like that again, except with sugar and no chili.

If you want to encourage the sustainable production of chocolate, pay attention where you buy it from. Don’t support child labor and exploitation. Try to buy fair trade products, from workers that have been properly paid. I know it costs a bit more, but you’ll help develop a better for people working in the chocolate industry – and for chocolate itself. For all its past, it definitely deserves a rich future!

We knew it! Coffee and cocoa cocktail boosts your attention and mood

OIt always seemed like a match made in heaven, but now we have the science to back it up: a mixture of brewed coffee and chocolate’s main ingredient, cocoa, can boost both your productivity and your mood.

Together, hot chocolate and coffee make you feel better and perform better. Image via Wiki Commons

Clarkson University researcher Ali Boolani recently completed a year-long study in which he analyzed the effects of two of the world’s favorite delights. He devised a double-blind study in which some participants got brewed cocoa, others got cocoa with caffeine, caffeine without cocoa, or a placebo with neither caffeine nor cocoa (double blind means neither the subjects nor the researchers knew what they got until after the experiment was over). Before the drinks, they were asked to complete some simple tasks such as watching groups of letters float on a screen and noting when an “X” appeared after an “A.” They also did some pretty simple math. After the drink, they were asked to complete tests to evaluate their cognitive skills and mood.

Perhaps surprisingly, the best results came from the participants who drank the coffee mixture. It’s not clear why, though Boolani has an idea.

“It was a really fun study,” Boolani says. “Cocoa increases cerebral blood flow, which increases cognition and attention. Caffeine alone can increase anxiety. This particular project found that cocoa lessens caffeine’s anxiety-producing effects — a good reason to drink mocha lattes!”

Of course, this was just an observational study, with no mechanism formally proposed. But for coffee and hot chocolate fans everywhere, this is good news.

“The results of the tests are definitely promising and show that cocoa and caffeine are good choices for students and anyone else who needs to improve sustained attention,” says Boolani.

However, even though this study was published in a serious journal and peer-reviewed, it has to be said there is a shadow of a doubt floating above it — as it was funded by the Hershey Company, one of the largest chocolate producers in North America. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the study is biased or that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’d generally look at this type of study with a bit more skepticism than usual. When a study funded by a chocolate company finds that chocolate’s main ingredient is good for you, it’s always a bit questionable. It’s also very hard to quantify the effect that this has on people and there’s also not a clear cocoa/coffee ratio that yields optimal results. Still, Boolani says he’s planning further research on this matter:

“I’ll be doing some related and follow-up studies at Clarkson to look at differences in natural vs. synthetic caffeine, and other cocoa studies” Boolani adds. “I’m excited about them.”

Journal Reference: Ali Boolani, Jacob B. Lindheimer, Bryan D. Loy, Stephen Crozier, Patrick J. O’Connor. Acute effects of brewed cocoa consumption on attention, motivation to perform cognitive work and feelings of anxiety, energy and fatigue: a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover experiment. BMC Nutrition, 2017; 3 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s40795-016-0117-z

Nestle’s cocoa linked to child slavery

The world’s largest food and water producer will be sued for allegations that it used child slaves to harvest cocoa beads in the Ivory Coast in Africa.

Image via Wikipedia.

Nestle continues to show us again and again why they are one of the most hated companies in the world – after taking money from a drought-suffering California, Nestle will likely be held accountable for using child laborers for its chocolate products. The US Supreme Court has rejected the appeal from Nestle to dismiss the lawsuit.

Abby McGill, campaign director from the International Labour Rights Forum, which filed the initial lawsuit declared:

“We have fought for a long time to bring accountability to supply chains and to bring redress for the victims.”

According to data from McGill, the average cocoa farmer has six children and survives on a real income of 40 cents  per day – way below the global poverty line. It’s not the first time the Swiss company has been linked with this type of abuse. The 2010 documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate brought attention to purchases of cocoa beans from Ivorian plantations that use child slave labor. All in all, it’s estimated that 1.8 million children in West Africa are involved in growing cocoa. Patti Rundall, policy director at campaign group at International Baby Food Action Network, has challenged Nestle’s practices for over 30 years:

“Every time you eat their chocolate you are benefitting from child slavery,” she said. “There is very little cocoa production that isn’t sourced in a bad way and it will take a long time to change that due to the nature of large corporations.“

This is a good reminder that we can all play our part. The Harkin–Engel Protocol, an international agreement aimed at ending the worst forms of child labor and forced labor is constantly being breached so we should pay attention where we buy our chocolate from.

 

Native Americans were the first to make caffeinated drinks

Few plants have such a special place in western culture as coffee. The humble bean is the first thing some of us reach for in the mornings, it’s our companion during breaks and comes to warm us up on cold winter days. We’ve come to rely on coffee, due to the caffeine it contains, to wake us up when the night is short and full of terrors, and keep us going when the going gets rough.

But even though we consume huge amounts of coffee and caffeine today, we know dreadfully little about it. It’s widely believed today that coffee was first eaten in Ethiopia, where the arabica coffee plant is native. From there, it spread to the Arabian peninsula, to Yemen, where it was first recorded and consumed in the 15th century.

A new study from the University of New Mexico‘s researchers however shows how the people of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico were drinking caffeinated beverages as early as 750 AD, over 1,200 years ago.

But it was not made from this.
Image via bodybuilding

“I think the primary significance is that it shows that there was movement of two plants that have caffeine in North America — that they were either exchanged or acquired and consumed widely in the Southwest,” said lead author Patricia Crown, University of New Mexico Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, on the study’s findings.

 

The team studied organic residue from 177 shards of cups, bowls, jars and pitchers, found at archaeological sites throughout the Southwest of North America. They were carefully selected from different time periods to find out how consistent the use of caffeine was. Out of the sample, 40 tested positive for caffeine.

The results revealed that two different types of caffeinated drinks were consumed, from two different types of plant, neither of which would be recognised as coffee. One was made from cacao, the basis for chocolate, while other was made from the leaves and twigs of yaupon holly.

That left only one problem: neither of these plants are native to North America’s Southwest. The researchers believe that Native Americans traded with their southern neighbors from Mesoamerica for cocoa, and traveled to the Southeastern United States for yaupon holly — used to brew the very metal-sounding “black drink.”

Crown and her team also hypothesise that the drinks weren’t an everyday occurrence, unlike how we drink coffee today. Instead, they would have been drunk on special occasions, such as during rituals, or important meetings and for medicinal purpose.

This would be consistent with importation patterns from Mesoamerica, where imported items such as living scarlet macaws, pyrite mirrors and copper bells were ritually significant, and were found at several sites that also had clay vessels with caffeine residue.

Yaupon holly is not necessarily made into a drink for the purposes of caffeination, either: historic documents and later research papers from the US Southeast describe men drinking large amounts of black drink, then throwing it all up in a sort of ritual cleansing.