General News

How The Heirloom Cocoa Preservation Fund Is Making Chocolate as Good as It Tastes

Guest Blog Feature by: The Chocolate Professor and writer, Kathleen Willcox

The power and privilege that comes with knowledge is often a double-edged sword. Take chocolate. A seemingly innocent pleasure, a flavorful experience that can transport you, deliver joy, with just a bite. Until you realize that a lot of chocolate is created by people destroying the environment and using slave labor, and then that innocent pleasure becomes anything but.

Deforestation is endemic in regions that cultivate cocoa trees; forests are razed to plant cocoa farms. And production continues to grow—between 2000 and 2014, global production increased 32%, but the land-use footprint increased 37%; about 1% of forest loss between 1988 and 2008 has been attributed to cocoa production.  In 2017, 24 leading chocolate producers pledged to commit to stop deforestation, but only a few companies—including Hershey’s—have taken steps to do so. Callebaut claims it will be deforestation-free in 2025.

Two decades ago, major chocolate manufacturers promised to eradicate immoral labor practices. But according to a recent report from the U.S. Labor Department, more than 1.56 million children are engaged in hazardous work on cocoa farms in the Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana alone, countries that produce 60% of the world’s cocoa supply annually. And despite their statements, Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé have publicly admitted that they simply could not guarantee that their chocolate chain was free from environmental abuse or child labor. (Each company could trace less than half of their cocoa; the vast majority was virtually untraceable).

While larger cocoa companies seem unable—or a cynic might say, unwilling—to document their chain of production, the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP) has made it its mission to do just that. The HCP is focused on protecting communities in which cocoa is grown, and the children and adults who live there from abusive labor practices. How? By systematically tracing chocolate through its genetic code.


We sat down with Anne Zaczek, executive director at the HCP, to learn more about the challenges facing the industry, and chocolate lovers who want to support ethically sourced chocolate. Read on for a deep dive into the building of the HCP, its evolution, progress, and future.

Harvesting Heirloom Cacao photo courtesy of HCP

The HCP was launched in 2012 in partnership with the USDA and the Fine Chocolate Industry Association. What inspired its launch, and where does the funding come from?

The idea came from a conversation that Dan Pearson, HCP Founding Member and Pam Williams, HCP Past-President and Founding Member had with Lyndel Meinhardt, USDA-ARS in the middle of an FCIA meeting in 2010. Lyndel mentioned that the USDA-ARS had the ability to determine the DNA of any cacao tree and was using that for breeding program purposes focused on pod yield and disease resistance. Those programs, however, had never really considered the DNA of cacao, as it relates to the bean’s flavor. The idea of matching DNA to flavor was believed to have many positive implications for fine flavor cacao farmers in differentiating and preserving the biodiversity of their beans.  The concept from there grew into what is the HCP today. 

Initial funding for the HCP came from our Founding Circle members, a list can be found on the Donate page of our website. We are a registered 501c3 non-profit organization and are funded mainly by donations and a few grant programs that support our research and preservation efforts.

How has it evolved in a decade?

2022 is our 10-year anniversary of the HCP.  It has evolved from a mere concept to a registered organization with a board made up of leading fine chocolate industry members from across all sectors of the industry.

We started with identifying Heirloom designees, first named in 2014.  Today we have identified 16 designees located around the world.  In 2017 we started our first nursery programs to support our designees with their preservation efforts.  In 2020 the HCP board voted to add “discover” to our mission, to not only identify and preserve heirloom cacao varieties, but actively engage in the locating and cataloging of unique, vital, unrecognized fine flavor cacao varieties that are under the threat of extinction.

Looking ahead, in 2022 we will be releasing a Review of Cacao Explorations and Germplasm Movements, which is a report the first of its kind. It is a comprehensive report that compiles all previous literature of historical and contemporary movements, and expeditions of cacao research to identify gaps in previous discovery efforts. Based on this report, we will conduct expeditions to locations where cacao is believed to have originated to discover rare cacao genetic clusters, and flavor profiles that have not been recorded and are under threat of vanishing forever. 


How does the sourcing via genetic code work exactly?

In the early years of HCP, the genetics had to be retrieved from the leaf of the plant.  In recent years, USDA-ARS has access to technology where the genetics can be sourced directly from the shell of the beans submitted during the HCP submission process. When beans are submitted to the HCP for organoleptic analysis by our internationally acclaimed tasting panel, beans are also sent to USDA-ARS to conduct the genetic analysis. 


What is the USDA’s role? 

The idea for the HCP emerged in 2010 when Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) representatives met with the USDA-ARS, which thought its lab could help the FCIA identify fine flavor cacao using the samples in the existing worldwide database. There was a shared concern that cacao preservation programs were focused on yield and disease resistance, not taking the importance of flavor into account. This led to instant action: in December 2011, the FCIA established a specific cooperative agreement with the USDA-ARS. Today, the USDA-ARS plays a key role in profiling the genetic flavor components of the bean samples we receive.


Has the problem of cacao sustainability gotten slightly better or worse in recent years? 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people turned to chocolate as a means to cope, and have something comforting in troubling times. This resulted in a surge in consumerism, and not necessarily by informed consumers. The other side of this, is that some consumers did have more time to pay more attention to what exactly they are consuming. They had time to answer questions like, “What does FairTrade actually mean,” and “What is a true bean to bar?”

The sustainability of cacao is always in question, and thus the efforts to adhere to the mission of the HCP are ever important.


What are your biggest concerns and why in terms of creating this source line?

A big contributing factor to growth in sustainability aside from consumer education is consumer action. One of our biggest concerns is climate change. As temperatures rise in sub-tropical climates, the cacao no longer has a natural habitat where it can grow, thus leaving farmers who live by what we refer to as sustainability without crops. The livelihood of our farmers and their communities is a critical part of what we seek to protect. Being that cacao is amongst the top ten commodities in the world, we must ensure a secure environment for those who grow it.

How many farmers do you partner with, where are they located — and how many acres / trees are there? Any plans to onboard other farmers?

All of our Heirloom Farmers (i.e. Heirloom designees) have gone through our Submission process in order to become designated.  We currently have 16 Heirloom Designees from around the world.  Any interested cacao farmer from around the world can submit an application and bean sample to the HCP.   It is a rolling submission, and there is no cost to submission. 

The samples are received by the HCP lab at Guittard where we anonymously and uniformly process the samples into chocolate and liquor and send these samples out to a tasting panel for analysis. 

Our tasting panel is a 9-member internationally acclaimed tasting panel, they conduct their analysis and determine if the submission is deemed Heirloom or not.  Our submission process is based solely on the flavor analysis, however, before the designation is awarded a genetic analysis and site visit must be completed to confirm the designation.

 More and more consumers of everything want to know where their chicken, kale, clothes come from. For one ingredient wonders, it’s easier. But for items like chocolate, it’s quite difficult. What are, simply put, the challenges of truly understanding where a bar of chocolate comes from?

There is a lot of greenwashing out there.  It is important for the consumer to weed through it and do some of their own research, pay attention to where the beans are being sourced from, again, does the packaging list the specific farm the beans are coming from? 

On each of the Heirloom Designees profiles on our website, we have listed the chocolatiers, makers and retailers that sell chocolate made from their Heirloom designated beans.  For example: the farmers of Chuno variety in San Jose de Bocay, Nicaragua are the HCPs 12th designation (HCP #12) – On our website, you can find a list of the farmers of those beans, and a list of retailers that sell bars made from their heirloom designated cacao.


From what you can see, how much of the chocolate market is currently traceable or being traced?

This data will vary by companies. If there is direct trade, it’s noted that up to 95% of the cacao is traceable. The sale and traceability of cacao is also broken down into tiers. A lower tier buyer or cacao farm could have as little as 24% traceability.


What should consumers know? What labels should they look for to know a chocolate is safe? 

With chocolate, (much like wine) flavor not only comes from the beans and genetics themselves, but from the terroir, fermentation and roasting practices.  All regions have exquisite unique flavors ready to be discovered and enjoyed, it is important to pay attention to the origin noted on the packaging (does it state the farm the beans were sourced from?) And, it is important to look at the ingredients.  We have set up a page on our site Buy Heirloom Chocolate where we have listed and mapped all chocolatiers, chocolate makers and retailers that sell chocolate made from Heirloom designated beans.


The HCP works with a network of farmers, so we reached out for testimonials on the partnership and progress. Here’s what they said about the HCP Nursery Projects:

“It is evident that this project will create an opportunity for smallholder farmers to increase farm plots by using the seedlings from the HCP and establish the longevity, effectiveness and sustainability of this imitative.” – Maya Mountain Cacao, HCP #7

“The young trees and the data we collect in the years to come will be important in terms of propagating valuable cacao. But, there is an intangible benefit to our association with the HCP – the network of relationships that have been developed.” – Secret, Finca Terciapelo, HCP #6

“Working with HCP has meant a contribution to the preservation and recognition of fine flavor Nacional cacao. We are learning about the genetics of our cacao and generating a technical selection process with HCP, which will protect our special trees for future generations. It is in the interest of the Asociación Nueva Esperanza to continue working with HCP to protect our cocoa and improve its productivity in an ecologically healthy environment, for the benefit of our families and focus on the production of high-quality raw materials or chocolates.”

Yamile Roldán, ASOANE President and Francisco Monserrate, ASOANE Vice President – HCP #6

The HCP “Establishes credibility for farms that grow heirloom cacao, and also generates publicity and awareness for heirloom cacao in general.” Jerry , To’ak Chocolate, HCP #9


Chocolate can be produced ethically. There are chocolates whose ethics match the vertiginous high of the flavor-packed experience it delivers, made from chocolate sourced from the cocoa farmers in the HCP network. To find them, head to the HCP site to find US retailers and international retailers, then you’ll need to find the specific chocolate made with HCP chocolate on their site.

Another way to indulge in ethical chocolate and support HCP? Adopt a cacao tree and receive information about the farm and chocolate bars too.

Akesson’s Single Plantation Chocolate: Smooth, earthy, with notes of red and blue berries, tobacco and light baking spices.

 Boho’s Milk Chocolate and Potato Chips

A richly aromatic milk chocolate, with notes of vanilla, cream, caramel, complimenting the salty, savory crunch of the chips.

 Cultura Craft Chocolate’s Chocolate Bar Belize: There’s a lot going on in this pure dark (75%) chocolate bar: plums, black cherries, tobacco, vanilla.

General News

East Meets West

By: Ren Min Koh

Would you be surprised if I told you that in many Asian countries, it’s common for the woman to give gifts to someone she loves on Valentine’s Day (February 14th) and one month later, the man is supposed to return a gift to her on White Valentine’s Day (March 14th)? This phenomenon  originated in Japan, and has since spread to many other Asian countries such as South Korea and Taiwan. There are specific chocolates for men to purchase,  which will convey the nature of the giver-recipient relationship. 

Giri chocolates, also known as Obligatory chocolates, are typically presented in a square box and are given as a courtesy gift to acquaintances, friends, and colleagues. While Honmei chocolate, known as true love chocolate, comes in heart-shaped boxes, and is only given to romantic interests.

AndSons Chocolatiers, Colorful Love Box

Let’s spread love in the month of Love. This colorful love box by And Sons Chocolatiers is the perfect gift to acquaintances, friends, and colleagues. These bonbons look so delicious I wouldn’t mind receiving them as a return gift.

Chocolate Enthusiast: Beauty Bar Chocolate

What is Valentine’s Day without roses? This Beauty Bar Chocolate by The Chocolate Enthusiast is a great gift to show the receiver that you care for her as the ingredients used in this bar are carefully chosen to support heart health and emotional well-being.

So, which chocolates are you going to get?

If you would like to learn more about chocolate, its origins and a group of amazing chocolatiers, be sure to check out our website here at Also, learn more at  

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) is the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. We promote the artistry and craftsmanship of the chocolate professional, focused on producing superior products made from premium chocolate and natural ingredients. We believe in using best practices in cacao processing and chocolate production; as well as transparent labeling and marketing practices.

General News

Top 10 Chocolate Gifts To Wow Your Loved Ones For Valentine’s Day

February has arrived and with it, the biggest day for fine chocolate makers and retailers is fast approaching. Valentine’s Day is celebrated by many, from couples to children, romance to celebrating the love we share. This special day has become synonymous with chocolate of all kinds. We, at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, would like to honor our namesake with a unique list of ideas surrounding this holiday. Let’s celebrate our love of fine chocolate by reviewing our Top 10 Chocolate Gifts for Valentine’s Day. They are sure to impress!

Fruition Chocolate Gift Box

This year, we are thinking outside of the proverbial chocolate box. Our members at the FCIA have extraordinary offerings. In no particular order, here are ten ideas. Let’s get started. 

1. CocoTerra Tabletop Chocolate-making Machine for the home chocolate maker

2. For the cocktail enthusiast, Indi Chocolate has a Cacao Infusion Kit. Add your spirit of choice and let it infuse for three days or more. (Drink. Repeat.)

Cacao Infusion Kit from Indi Chocolate

3. From Fruition Chocolate, a Subscription Membership to receive chocolates delivered to your door every two months. Available to pay monthly or annually as a gift! 

4. Virtual Chocolate & Cheese Pairing Class from Caputo’s Market. Their most popular tasting class gets a new pairing treatment…cheese! Find out how to identify flavors, get familiarized with great chocolate makers, and learn other priceless bits of chocolate know-how, along with what makes certain chocolate “fine” and others “standard.”

5. For the more savvy (or advanced) fine chocolate-lover, we found the perfect gift: a chocolate master class by Ecole Chocolat. Their Mastering Chocolate Flavor Program will give participants the opportunity to focus on the intricacies of chocolate flavor, while helping use chocolate more effectively. Understanding chocolate flavor will help create better and more interesting chocolate recipes.

6. Chakra Truffles from Maya Moon Collective to activate your energy centers. Each gift box comes with a link to guided meditations for each flavor to elevate your embodied eating experience and align your energy.

Maya Moon’s Chakra Chocolate Truffles Gift Box

7. Plant based chocolate bars from TCHO Chocolate. They have a variety to select from and even offer a gift box.

8. Drinking chocolate from Mission Chocolate. Bringing you the flavors of traditional drinking chocolate from Mexico with these chocolate disks, flavored with cinnamon: just add water or milk. 

9. Book a unique Kahkow Experience, such as a Virtual Farm Tour, a Virtual Factory Tour, or Live Demonstration. 

10. Chocolate Bars of The World Gift Box from Bar & Cocoa. This special box brings together 7 or 10 curated chocolate bars for an amazing chocolate adventure.

We do hope you’ll explore these different gift ideas for Valentine’s Day, and also take this opportunity to learn more about these craft chocolate brands. 

If you would like to learn more about chocolate, its origins and a group of amazing chocolatiers, be sure to check out our website here at Also, learn more at  

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) is the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. We promote the artistry and craftsmanship of the chocolate professional, focused on producing superior products made from premium chocolate and natural ingredients. We believe in using best practices in cacao processing and chocolate production; as well as transparent labeling and marketing practices.

General News

How To Enhance Your Daily Health With Chocolate

The month of January is filled with New Year’s resolutions. Many of those include losing weight, improving our health and generally feeling better. That’s why it is the perfect time to read-up on scientific research that proves chocolate does, in fact, offer many health benefits, especially when it comes to fighting the flu. 

Yes, you read that right. 

Image: CocoaRunners

Winter is the season for hot drinking chocolate. One study in Japan found that drinking a cup of hot chocolate can help prevent the flu (among other illnesses). 

So, how exactly does chocolate fight the flu? Researchers concluded that drinking cocoa works in three different ways:

  1. It inhibits the virus from absorbing into cells and inhibits infection.
  2. Cocoa activates natural immunity. 
  3. Cocoa has an anti-inflammatory effect. 

Chocolate helps boost the immune system, but also offers other pretty impressive health benefits, including relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, increasing heart health, burning belly fat, and lowering diabetes risk. 

Image: Dandelion Chocolate, located in Japan and in the United States in California

Basically, we’re telling you that you should not hesitate when the craving hits for that delicious, hot cup of drinking chocolate. 

You’re welcome.

In another study that was recently published, researchers in Spain and at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston shared that the consumption of chocolate in the morning or evening leads to a number of changes in the body that can impact burning fat and reducing glucose levels. Now, you don’t have to feel guilty about savoring that chocolate bar at least twice per day!

Participants of the study ate chocolate bars one hour after waking, as well as within one hour of going to bed for two weeks. The shocking result is that no one gained weight, and the experiment showed a reduced feeling of hunger. Therefore, their overall calorie consumption was lower for the day. It even promoted healthier sleep patterns. 

These sweet scientific results are just what we needed to kick off a healthier new year. We chocolate-lovers and enthusiasts can always get behind the science of chocolate benefits. However, it’s really nice to have the facts to prove it. 

To learn more about chocolate’s health and wellness benefits from one of our FCIA members, visit Club Chokolate’s Blog. It features many different articles on this topic!

If you would like to learn more about chocolate, its origins and a group of amazing chocolatiers, be sure to check out our website here at Also, learn more on the Fine Chocolate Industry Association website at  

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) is the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. We promote the artistry and craftsmanship of the chocolate professional, focused on producing superior products made from premium chocolate and natural ingredients. We believe in using best practices in cacao processing and chocolate production; as well as transparent labeling and marketing practices.

Scientific research provided by GreenMedInfo; and Drs. Norbert Herzog and David Niesel.  

General News

Cuna de Piedra Chocolate Uses Local Ingredients To Elevate Public Perception of Mexico

Cuna de Piedra, a chocolate maker based in Mexico, is using local ingredients to elevate the public perception of Mexican cuisine. The company was started by two young professionals, Enrique Perez and Vicky Gonzalez, who share a commitment to raising the profile of heirloom ingredients indigenous to Mexico, as well as the role of cacao in the history of their culture.

From Big Dreams to Dream Team

Vicky and Enrique dared to dream big and ask “What if we create a brand with a humane sense that seeks to create a change in society and reposition the perception of Mexico?” They represent the next generation of fine chocolate entrepreneurs forming partnerships to strengthen the value chain and preserving heirloom foods with a modern approach. Fortunately, Enrique had been working with Chocosoulutions founder and master chocolatier Jorge Llanderal who also realized a “chocolate dream” of his own. Together with Executive Chef Mariana Garza, whose resume includes working in the kitchen of celebrity chef Richard Sandoval (commonly referred to as the Father of Modern Mexican Cuisine)  at La Hacienda, they had assembled their dream team.

Preserving Mexico’s Culinary Heritage

Their limited-edition Smoked Heirloom Chili Bar exemplifies a sense of place through its ingredients. According to the description for this bar on Caputo’s website: “The native Mexican chiles, as these are progressively being displaced by other higher-yield and genetically engineered varieties.”

When this happens we limit our options to just a few varieties that can be found anywhere, losing the unique flavors and culinary traditions that define a particular place. During a time of pandemic-led isolation and travel restrictions, the longing to visit different places and experience  unique local flavors is at an all time high. A sense of place  is one of the key trends fine chocolate wholesaler/retailer  Matt Caputo discussed in FCIA webinar on  October 11,  2021 which The Chocolate Professor also wrote about in a recent blog.

In an exclusive video on Instagram, Cuna de Piedra’s Enrique Perez speaks to Gabino Aquino, who farms and harvests the chilis used in the chocolate. He shares the importance of preserving the unique flavors and culture of Mexican gastronomy. Click here to view the video.

Preserving culinary traditions, however, takes work and dedication by small farmers and commitment from culinary professionals and organizations like Slow Food to raise  public awareness of heirloom ingredients.

The next video clip by Lalo Plascencia, Mexican chef and consultant, founder of CIG Mexico actually shows the labor-intesive process of deseeding and smoking the chilis, which Gabino described to Enrique. Click here to watch the video. (NOTE: Video’s music track could be loud, turn the volume down or mute, as needed.)

During the recent FCIA webinar hosted by Dr. Lee Theisen, a.k.a. @chocolate_guru, Cuna de Piedra chef, Mariana Garza explained adjustments to recipes are required working with ingredients such as this smoked heirloom chili.

Ironically, the chocolate most Mexicans find in their local markets or malls is not from their own country. It’s imported from the United States or Europe.

So, Cuna de Piedra needs to educate and expose the local palates to what authentic Mexican chocolate tastes like through tastings.

The U.S. market however, poses a different challenge for this Mexican craft chocolate company. Like most bean to bar chocolate makers, Cuna de Piedra lists the origin of the beans used in their chocolate bar on the wrapper.  Unfortunately, most Americans are not aware that Tabasco is the place where the beans are harvested.


Click here to learn more about Tabasco from It’s definitely a place you will want to visit!

The mental association Americans have to Tabasco is the hot  sauce and it’s so strong that attendees at the Northwest Chocolate Festival  simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that the chocolate itself was not spicy.

Enjoy Cuna de Piedra & Share Your Thoughts

Are you curious how smoked chili chocolate tastes or would like to try chocolate from Tabasco, Mexico? Order a few bars from Caputo’s and be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comment section here, or on social media. They offer full size and mini bars, which are perfect for someone who can’t decide which ones to try first.

About: The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) is the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. We promote the artistry and craftsmanship of the chocolate professional focused on producing superior products made from premium chocolate and natural ingredients. We believe in using best practices in cacao processing and chocolate production; and transparent labeling and marketing practices.

Our marketplace website,, is your one-stop-shop for fine chocolate, chocolate events and experiences, chocolate making equipment, books, and everything chocolate.

General News

Guittard Chocolate, Bringing Their Best Approach to Fine Chocolate

Since winter is the perfect season for chocolate beverages, we are focusing on two chefs who have a special talent for all things chocolate. Chef Donald Wressel and Chef Josh Johnson of Guittard Chocolate have shared some chocolate beverage recipes that provide a unique spin on something traditional to showcase their expertise. Check out their distinctive takes on hot cocoa on our Instagram feed, @makeminefine

Chef Donald Wressel found passion for cooking at a very young age, and grew his life around it. He began his journey at Washington State in the Chef Culinary Program, and worked in multiple locations on both the east and west coast before settling down with Four Seasons Restaurants for almost twenty years. In 1986, he began working for the Four Seasons in Philadelphia, quickly making his way up to executive pastry chef at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills location. He remembers these times as his noteworthy learning years. 

Chef Wressel’s commitment to excellence led him to participating in worldwide pastry competitions resulting in multiple awards and medals for his talent. Donald joined Guittard Chocolate in 2006 as their corporate pastry chef, and to this day continues to create new and stunning recipes that are incomparable. He continues to master his craft while teaching others as well with his “Guest Chef Series” classes at the Guittard Chocolate Studio in Los Angeles. 

Another chef we’d like to highlight is Chef Josh Johnson. Chef Johnson’s love for chocolate began as a teenager working at his uncle’s pastry shop. He moved on to working at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, where he gained more experience alongside world-renowned pastry chefs. Josh ventured into many different pastry positions before opening Cocoa Bean Fine Desserts, his own shop in Geneva, Illinois. He soon became a teacher as a pastry chef instructor at The French Pastry School of Chicago. He was thrilled to be given the opportunity to teach others his craft, the way he was taught by so many chefs throughout his life as well. He now works as a pastry chef for the Guittard Chocolate Company, where he combines all of his knowledge and skill to bring new ideas and creations to the table.

Guittard Chocolate chef, creating a masterpiece.

We invite you to learn more about chefs and chocolatiers like these on our website,  The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) is the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. We promote the artistry and craftsmanship of the chocolate professional, focused on producing superior products made from premium chocolate and natural ingredients. We believe in using best practices in cacao processing and chocolate production; as well as transparent labeling and marketing practices.