‘Only the rich and aristocratic would allow themselves to consume chocolate,’ wrote the Spanish historian Oviedo y Valdés in the 16th century. ‘Because they were literally drinking their money away. Many nations used cocoa beans as currency. And for 100 beans you could easily buy a good slave…’’ 

Chocolate was for a very long time considered a luxury for the wealthy. But now it’s a mass-market product that’s relatively cheap. What changed?

Ideally, dark chocolate is produced from ground cocoa and cane sugar. In reality, chocolate products often contain unhealthy additives. Fats are often added to keep the cost down. For example, hydrogenated palm or coconut oil.

The best way to check the quality of chocolate – and whether it contains additives  – is to observe the temperature at which it melts. Just hold it in your hand: it shouldn’t start to melt immediately, but only after about 20 seconds. Quality chocolate, made with natural cocoa, melts at just over 30 degrees Celsius.

Obviously, additives affect the taste of chocolate. A product that includes trans-fats and sweeteners cannot be true chocolate in any sense of the word.

Of course, some manufacturers of cheap ‘chocolate’ admit on the wrapper that their product is made from palm oil, for example. So it’s worth checking the written ingredients. Deceitful manufacturers are less honest about the true contents of what you’re buying, so the best rule of thumb is that if it’s surprisingly cheap, the likelihood is that you’re buying ersatz chocolate. You also come across ‘chocolate-style’ cooking bars: they’re just coloured fat, cost next to nothing, and are a real health risk.

Another reason why proper chocolate is so expensive is simple supply and demand. For several years now, world demand for cocoa beans has exceeded supply substantially. Experts estimate that in the past five or six years, the shortfall was around 22,000 tonnes, but has now risen towards 70,000. It’s likely to increase further.

The reasons for the imbalance between supply and demand include aging cocoa plantations; diseased plants; political instability; and of course, the pandemic.

So it’s not cheap, but it is pretty simple to identify top-notch chocolate from the masses of imitations out there on the market. Choose a trusted brand.

‘You are what you eat’, said the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. ‘Der Mensch ist, was er isst.’ The great thinker had in mind that our diet influences our mood and even character, and that quality foods are beneficial for our bodies and for life in general. Good quality chocolate can play it’s part in such a diet. No doubt, Feuerbach knew that, too.