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The History of Chocolate: The Wonder Years

Cacao is regaining recognition and becoming the hero ingredient of chocolate once again. So how did all this come about?

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In our last blog ‘The History of Chocolate: The Later Years’ we explored how chocolate changed from being a healthy, nourishing drink to a sweet confection in the early 1900s.

Daniel Peter's Milk Chocolate

With Daniel Peter’s innovative addition of milk to the mix, chocolate became more sweet and creamy. It also brought the cost of chocolate down, helping it to become a mass market product rather than an expensive treat.

While sales of milk chocolate boomed around the world, perhaps no-one noticed that the once-prized central ingredient of all chocolate, cacao, had taken a back-seat in favour of chocolate recipes consisting mainly of milk and sugar.

If we think back to the famous milk chocolate brands we grew up with, did we ever wonder what that chocolate was made of and where it came from?

But this has all changed in recent years; pictures of cacao pods, farmers and their beans now feature everywhere in the chocolate world. Cacao is regaining recognition and becoming the hero ingredient of chocolate once again.

So how did all this come about?


Today people are becoming a lot more interested in what’s in their food and where it’s come from, and brands are responding by being more transparent about their supply chains and how their products are made. Which is great news!


With new discoveries about the health benefits in cacao, dark chocolate is receiving a healthy image and consequently sales of dark chocolate have soared, growing a whopping 96% in the UK between 2006 and 20081! All these new discoveries champion the cacao part of chocolate rather than milk and sugar.


Whether you agree or not with how Fair Trade works, the certification has done loads to raise awareness of where cacao originates and who’s growing it. Fair Trade brands frequently feature pictures of farmers and cacao in their marketing. And revelations about child slavery in West African cacao plantations have led to mainstream global brands signing up to the programme, bringing even greater awareness to the origins of chocolate’s primary ingredient.

Farmer's Hands Holding Cacao


Back in the early 2000’s the raw food movement (where you eat only raw food; i.e. nothing cooked) was gaining steam. Superfoods, juices and cleanses were all the rage but there was something vital missing – chocolate! As human beings cannot survive for very long without chocolate, the raw foodists swiftly set about making their own creations using raw (unroasted) cacao.

Although all health food shops now sell cacao nibs, it was a revelation at the time that the raw materials that all chocolate was made from could be obtained and new, healthier chocolate creations made.

By the way, that’s exactly what we did when starting Ombar, along with a number of other start-ups across the land. And of course, from the beginning, cacao was and is the hero ingredient.

Artisan Chocolate Makers


As well as budding raw food chocolatiers, many small, artisanal chocolate companies have emerged over the last 10 years. Often bean-to-bar (which means processing right from the cacao bean stage through to the finished chocolate bar), the cacao beans are front and centre of what they do. These brands will also prize the origin and flavour notes of the cacao they’re sourcing.

Did you know Ombar is a nib-to-bar chocolate? Which is almost the same as bean-to-bar, except that we get our friends in Ecuador to break the cacao beans into pieces (nibs) and remove their husks. They’re much better at doing that than we are.

Recognising cacao in chocolate is a wonderful development bringing us closer to this amazing food and where it came from. It’s not quite the sacred reverence the ancient civilisations had for cacao (see our earlier blog), but this newfound respect not only improves the lives of people in the growing countries, it leads to better chocolate!


We want Ombar to be the best chocolate in the world and that means on every level – from ethical sourcing through to outrageously good flavour. All our cacao is organic and purchased directly from co-operatives in Ecuador.

We form long-term partnerships with co-operatives and have traceability right back to the family farms where the cacao trees grow. The prices we pay are always considerably higher than market rates and every co-operative we work with has signed up to fair trade programs.

Cacao farming families in Ecuador

But we want to take it further. So that’s why we’re working toward Fair For Life accreditation – a program that delves much deeper into the supply chain than most fair trade programs and one we think will provide the most benefit to our partners in Ecuador. We’re aiming to achieve Fair For Life accreditation before Summer 2018.