When is natural, natural? #1
So, how can I be sure that a product labeled ‘natural’ actually is natural? And I mean truly natural, not just carrying an uncountable numbers of certifications, or somehow labeled with eye-catching, colorful (or opposite "raw") packaging to underline how natural it is supposed to be. I merely want to be sure about - and able to sense its natural origin, so to speak. The "natural" question has been kept coming back to me the recent years. As a dedicated consumer of organic and natural products, especially when it comes to food and beverages, I have made the effort to hunt down products and its natural habitat, whenever I have had the possibility during visits to the USA, Europe or South America where I now live. I have found it especially interesting to stay alert during these times where the natural concept is flourishing as part of a wave and a trend that is here to stay. Therefore, I have volunteered to take on a mission to pursue an honest and sincere definition of what could best be described as the naturalness or genuineness of natural products, starting with a brief presentation of my experience with wine and chocolate/cacao products.
Some 10 years ago, the wine world opened its doors to a new kind of biodynamic production wave. The biodynamic wine history goes further back, but 10 years ago it slowly was "granted access" to the more prominent circles in the wine world. The main difference in biodynamic wine is, besides a lot of natural efforts and holistic ideas I won't talk about here, a limited usage of sulphur which normally helps the wine stay "fresh" for longer. However, without adding the Sulphur, the wine comes out in a more real and objective way, closer to the original and natural core dna of the grapes and the soil which made it into wine. At its best, the wine is purer and cleaner than traditionally produced wines, including good organic wines. At worst, it turns oxidated and sour - which is what normally happens to wine after being left for some days open in an open bottle. My own personal eye-opening revelation came through the lightly oxygenated and Sulphur free wines of a French winery called Domaine Gramenon, Laurentides from Cotes de Rhone. It was truly a revelation - never before, and I had at this point of time done my share of studying wine and its added values, but never had I experienced such a light, pure and easy drinkable wine. So, was it the best wine I had ever tasted? No, probably not. And this is partly due to the fact that, technically, the best wines worldwide come from areas and chateaux where centuries of dedicated work and commitment to design and create wine becomes what is best described as art. But there is no doubt that if I had to describe my cleanest and most natural wine experience, including a serious satisfying feeling and sensation of a core wine encounter, it was by swallowing the Rhone wine from Gramenon.
The last couple of years, I have been consulting a chocolate company in Bolivia, where I currently live with my family, with ideas considering sales and marketing. It has given me an opportunity to learn a lot about the actual production of the cocoa pod which is later made into chocolate. Chocolate in the shape of a bar often comes in thousands of different variations. But to find a pure chocolate bar consisting of only cacao, sugar and cocoa butter is not as easy as it sounds. A majority of the chocolate bars I have tried from the shelves of Whole Foods and Westerley markets in the USA to small English and Danish producers have a tendency to be dominated by a heavy amount of cacao powder, making the overall impression of something a bit sticky and somehow unnatural. Others add vanilla powder and still many bars contain leichichin or soy. I have consulted the production unit within the Bolivian company and found out there is no real advantage according in terms of taste when it comes to adding these ingredients. It’s simply a matter of saving costs. One of the "tricks" used by many producers is to use cacao powder, but not necessarily mention it as cacao powder due to it still is some kind of cacao. As a result, it is often not mentioned in the labeling. But there is a difference when it comes to taste – and often a very clear one, unfortunately. It seems that the producers somehow have convinced us consumers that this is the way real chocolate tastes. My point is that niche production, or organic-minded chocolate companies, could do a lot of people a favor by letting us have the real thing. We deserve it!
I am not totally ignorant to the fact that some technical, trending tools, might help or benefit the idea of the food or beverage it is used for. But it is a bit of a paradox in times where organic and natural production is on the upbeat that you need to struggle so much to get the pure, clean and natural uncontaminated article from Mother Nature. Especially seen in the light of the huge control standards applying to organic or sustainable products and the immense interest for healthy food it seems a bit akward. It makes me wonder if the consumer, if really given the option, would choose a cleaner, purer outcome than the majority of products offered? I think so.
I haven’t counted the occasions on which I have easily spent 6-8 dollars on 70 g chocolate bars with all the right natural product universe certifications and buzzwords attached, but only to feel let down. The same experience with 13-18 dollar coffee bags with too much fruitiness than a genuine coffee. I don’t mind paying extra for a real honest and clean cut coffee or cacao or a weird wild wine, but I think there has become too much noise and overdubbs in the raw and organic rehearsal room.
Let's confront the producers and have a good dialogue over what is a real, natural product and how you can improve the information standards on the labeling.
I did not feel the purity of chocolate, despite the title and 80% of cocoa with this one.