19 October, 2009

the trouble with truffles

Locally available corporate supermarkets Whole Foods and Earth Fare have stacks and stacks of "organic truffles" for sale. Let's check out the two brands' ingredients:

Whole Foods: Organic Cocoa Mass, Organic Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Cocoa Powder, Soy Lecithin.

Earth Fare: Organic Cocoa Mass, Organic Vegetable Oil (Copra), Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Cocoa Powder, Emulsifier: Soy Lecithin.

Déjà vu all over again. Almost.

What is Copra, from which the EF truffles source their Organic Vegetable Oil?

Here is what one website has to say:

Conventional coconut oil comes from dried coconut flesh, called copra. Copra is dried in a wood-fuelled kiln, or in the sun, over a period of a few days. It is time-consuming, dirty, lonely, arduous, fuel-intensive and low-paying work. Many farmers consider it a form of slavery.

Copra is bulked up at an export port and shipped to a large industrial oil mill — often in Europe or Asia. Unhygienic drying, humid tropical conditions, bulk shipping and long distances, result in lengthy delays and the growth of moulds on the copra. Sometimes this leads to aflatoxin contamination.

Copra oil extraction requires large-scale, high-pressure, expensive, energy-intensive equipment. Unhygienic copra means that the resultant oil is normally of low quality with a Free Fatty Acid (FFA) level of 3% or more. (FFA is one measure of rancidity of oil).

Thus copra oil requires refining, bleaching and deodorising (RBD) to create a commercially acceptable product. The refining process uses hydrochloric acid, solvents and steam to strip out the contamination. Some residual solvents remain in the oil. The process also removes the natural volatiles and anti-oxidants that give pure coconut oil its unique flavour and aroma. The total process from farm to refined oil can take many months. The residual copra-meal is only suitable as animal feed but, even here, care is required because it can be contaminated with carcinogenic aflatoxin.

The tropical world has over one billion coconut palms, producing over 50 billion coconuts each year. And yet, because of the low income earned on the world market from coconut products, many coconut groves are run down, with nuts and old trees lying where they fall, encouraging plant disease and insect pests.

With fluctuating copra prices, farmers only harvest their nuts when prices are high or when they are in desperate need of cash. For many remote islands with plenty of coconuts, copra is still a risky venture because of the infrequency of shipping services.

So you think you're buying something healthy. Hey, the label says it's organic. Maybe the antioxidant content of the chocolate will offset the damage wrought by the rancid copra fats.

Might I also point out that both brands use non-organic soy lecithin. Soy, the cheap. Soy, the ubiquitous. Soy, the genetically modified. At least they could choose organic soy, right?