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Welcome to the 21st century where chocolate is illegal

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Stephanie Seege, Founder of Nordchocolate-owned brand kAAKAO talks about her work to push for a change in the EU legislation so that she can call her date-sweetened cocoa bars 'chocolate'.

As an entrepreneurial chocolatier, little did I know that the delicious chocolate I created would be deemed illegal. Let me explain: I created a product that would not be allowed to be called chocolate, even if it looks and tastes just like it – and really is chocolate.

Had I known what and who we were up against, I may never have started down this chocolate making path by creating kAAKAO. For the last five years, I have focused on creating indulgent goods that taste and do good, regardless of strict diets and food restrictions. My mission is simple: figure out how to create better food products using ingredients in a way that has not been done before. In fact, I believe it is our responsibility to challenge food industry norms by showing that there is room and reason for innovation.

The need for new laws

The current EU laws for cocoa and chocolate were enacted on June 23, 2000. Back then, nut mylk, gluten-free pizza dough and vegan desserts were unfamiliar to the mainstream consumer. The market was saturated with traditional products made of equally traditional ingredients, many of which were high in sugar and filled with preservatives.

Today, the food movement has affected impressive change. Innovative entrepreneurs, large food companies, self-taught cooks and experienced food scientists have all done their part in paving the way for alternatives in most food and drink categories. It is all very exciting, and sometimes a little crazy to see what’s being pushed out on the market. In the not-so-distant future, we most likely won’t think twice about cricket granola in our cupboards. This is why the laws governing the description of chocolate seem particularly archaic and are in dire need of revision.

All sugars are not made equal

In April of 2018 we launched kAAKAO, a bar of ‘not-chocolate’ made with four ingredients: cocoa, cocoa butter, dates and coconut milk. Our products are 100% organic, plant-based and fit the free-from category (dairy-free, gluten-free, additive-free etc.). We believe kAAKAO to be the first company that produces a full range of chocolate sweetened only with dates.

This may not sound particularly revolutionary, but in fact, marks an important moment in the evolution of food products.

Sweet treats at the supermarket are mostly sweetened with refined white sugar, cane sugar, coconut sugar, stevia, xylitol and other artificial sweeteners. These ingredients contain various amounts of nutrients and calories, and some spike blood sugar levels more than others.

When compared to traditional sugars, dates also contain a form of sugar (a combination of fructose and glucose) with a very sweet and rich taste. Dates, however, have a low glycemic index, which mean that in theory, diabetics could enjoy kAAKAO bars in moderation – a claim we cannot legally make on any packaging for clear safety reasons. A staggering 7.5 percent of the global population suffers from diabetes, and the number in UK alone grows by 700 new diabetes cases every single day. At kAAKAO, we want to do our part in providing healthier, naturally sweetened foods to those looking to replace artificial sugar products. 

‘Mission Impossible?’

When we started testing alternative and natural sweeteners like fruit and berries, we were told it was impossible to use them in chocolate. Factory owners and specialists scoffed and ridiculed our mission, saying that we could never produce the right texture without traditional sugar. Dates would ‘certainly not work

And yet, we proved them wrong. Late last year, having tried many other options that didn’t produce the result and taste we wanted, we finally cracked the code using dates. The combination of dates and coconut milk is delicious: the innovative combination produces a creamy and smooth texture that could pass for sweet dairy chocolate any day, despite the omission of traditional ingredients usually found in chocolate products.

What the chocolate law actually says

According to EU law, chocolate “designates the product obtained from cocoa products and sugars”. In addition, the law stipulates that chocolate needs to contain “not less than 35% total dry cocoa solids, including not less than 18% cocoa butter and not less than 14% of dry non-fat cocoa solids.” This means that a chocolate bar that contains 99 percent cocoa and once percent sugar is called chocolate, while a bar containing only cocoa is labelled a ‘cacao product’.  

Our products match the EU chocolate category criteria, but because dates are not considered an added sugar, kAAKAO has been classified as a ‘cacao product’ instead of chocolate. Consumers deserve to be better educated when it comes to sweets and added sugar. This is why the laws needs to change. After all, dates are still sugar – whether the EU acknowledges it or not.

Pushing for sweet change

How do we inform and create awareness of healthier, natural food choices when laws prohibit us to accurately describe what we are making and selling? While I’m glad that the ‘not-chocolate’ issue has gained quite a lot of media attention, it also draws attention away from the actual mission of the products we want to launch. We want to improve access to sweet treats and snacks by creating new production methods, using better ingredients, leveraging unusual distribution channels, and implementing daring marketing campaigns.

I urge EU lawmakers to revise the archaic chocolate laws that most likely stem from early 1900s legislation. Let’s create new laws to match the innovation that is transforming a popular food category and provides people with food allergies, health issues, religious, and personal preferences with excellent alternatives.

Fact of the matter is: laws are put in place to make things right. We’re simply asking for the right to call our chocolate ‘chocolate’, so that we can continue making the world a sweeter, yet healthier place.


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