The Ultimate Chocolate Glossary: F


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The idea behind Fair Trade certification is that farmers will be paid a fair market price for their harvest. Fair Trade is a trademarked term, belonging to Fair Trade USA, the leading third-party certifier in the US. According to their website, Fair Trade certification “uses a market based approach” that also emphasizes the creation of safe working and living conditions, guaranteed access to health care, and the right to organize. Among Fair Trade’s other goals are long-term sustainable agricultural and farm management practices, including a restricted use of “the most toxic” agrochemicals; GMO’s (genetically-modified organisms) are not permitted on Fair Trade certified farms. Fair Trade USA was once a member of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), but resigned from that body in 2011.

Not everyone is convinced that Fair Trade certification is an optimal system. To begin with, Fair Trade only certifies cooperatives or collectives, not individual farmers. Since not everyone within a collective will care equally about the products they grow, this system acts as an unintentional penalty for independent individual farmers who are devoted to growing the best quality cacao beans possible and following practices that benefit the environment. Some people believe that the Fair Trade requirements provide no incentive for cacao farmers to grow good-quality beans. Fair Trade prices are paid for all beans, they argue, and that means that there’s no reason for farmers to seek to improve the quality of the beans they grow. In addition, if you sell cacao beans in more than one country with a Fair Trade program, you must pay to become a Fair Trade licensee in each country in which you wish to sell, despite the fact that that requirements are identical in all countries with this program.

There are entire countries in which there is no “Fair Trade” program because the various Fair Trade organizations have no infrastructure or refuse to do business there. This means that the farmers there are simply out of luck with regard to developed-world consumers who buy Fair Trade products. Additionally, Fair Trade organizations charge the farms and/or co-ops for certification. Typically, this fee runs from $2,500 to $10,000 per year, plus the fees charged by the certifier (usually, $750 per day plus travel expenses). This is money the farmer could otherwise keep, or, if the fees are paid by a third party, money that could go to the farmer in the form of higher prices.

Some chocolate manufacturers have started similar programs of their own, often called direct trade. These chocolate-makers form direct relationships with farmers (often with individual farmers) and typically pay higher prices than Fair Trade. Those who engage in direct trade believe that the system benefits everyone. Farmers receive decent prices for their crops, without having to belong to a cooperative or undergo the expense or hassle of annual certification.  Better-quality cacao beans are rewarded under a direct-trade system, so there’s incentive for the farmer to care about the crop, as well as agricultural and farm practices. No one system is ideal for this complex issue, but both Fair Trade and direct trade have a place.

Please note: We have attempted to make this entry as accurate as possible. In order to do so, we reached out to the FairTrade organization to verify the facts presented here. They did not respond to our numerous attempted to reach them both by phone and e-mail. Please recognize that this entry is accurate to the best of our knowledge but there may be inaccuracies. Perhaps some day, the FairTrade organization will get back to us.



See Bloom.



A crucial step along the road from bean to bar. Depending on the region, fermentation takes place in baskets, wooden boxes, or cylinders. The sticky fruit pulp that surrounds the beans in the cacao pod has any foreign objects or pieces of rind removed, then it is placed, along with the beans, in the containers of choice. These are covered with large leaves (often plantain leaves) and kept away from light.


The sugar-rich pulp begins fermenting almost immediately. The sugars are eventually converted into acetic acid. During fermentation, pH goes down (a sign of increased acidity) while temperature increases. The shells of the cacao beans soften in the increased temperature and the acetic acid penetrates the beans, killing the embryo within. The composition of the beans modifies significantly; some of the astringent and bitter compounds within the beans break down, resulting in a more mellow flavor. The beans must be turned periodically to ensure even fermentation, and they’re moved from one container to another for proper aeration. The length of time required for fermentation depends upon the variety of cacao bean but usually ranges from three to six days. Fermentation is an art, so properly fermented cocoa will be more expensive. Large chocolate companies often work with unfermented cocoa and rely on excessive roasting to break down the astringent, bitter compounds in the cocoa that would be banished naturally through proper fermentation.



Pronounced Foy-yeh-TAY, this French term denotes alternating layers of cooked sugar and praline.


Foy-yeh-TEEN. A bonbon that includes crisp layers of very thin pastry.



The French word for cacao bean.

This glossary would not have been possible without the kind assistance of my good friend Karen Hochman who runs the website: The Nibble. Karen gave us permission to base our chocolate glossary on hers. TheNibble is one of the Internet’s greatest resources for food articles, reviews, history, and just about anything when it comes to quality food. Please, if you have a few moments, visit my friend Karen’s website and you’ll be amazed at what a valuable resource it is. Thanks for all your help Karen!

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