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  • Gabrielle

Vegan Chocolate Cake and what it's all about

This is something that has been on my mind for a while. I'm not a big fan of chocolate - it always seems to stick everywhere, and the crumbs of the cake seem to be a constant, unwanted companion. However, since chocolate cake is an essential part of a good repertoire, I rely on a single recipe ever since I started living vegan. The cake is fluffy, moist, can be thinly sliced, not too sweet. For different nuances, I uses to work with two different organic cocoa varieties. One is the typical low-fat cocoa widely used in Germany, which is alkalized cocoa. In this process, the cocoa mass is freed from its inherent acid (and cocoa butter) through natural alkali salts, making the powder darker, smoother, and milder. The other type is untreated cocoa, which still tastes bitter and intense. This is the one that originally gave Red Velvet Cake its name. When baked, the raw cocoa has a reddish color, and if you use a lot of it in the batter, the cake becomes velvety soft. Because that's what makes a good chocolate cake - the acidity of the cocoa makes the cake airy with fine pores, without having to throw in a ton of baking powder. That's why a chocolate cake needs a lot of cocoa! But I always felt something was missing, and I didn't want to waste vanilla paste, which is often required in recipes, on a chocolate cake, because it simply isn't noticed. Subsequent research and tests have shown that it's very simple. Strong fresh espresso. It greatly enhances the flavor of the cocoa.

The coffee for this comes from a Hamburg collective with direct sourcing. The producers are paid well above average. For cocoa and chocolate, as a small business owner, it's unfortunately more difficult for me to find sustainable suppliers. Due to Brexit, sourcing from England is no longer feasible, which hurts, as there is a vegan company there that has been trading fairly for a long time. I once asked why they no longer carry the "fairtrade" label. The answer was that it no longer meets their requirements. I've been aware for a while that the products under the label of the international Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (FLO) aren't necessarily as idealistic as I am. That's why I prefer to turn to GEPA or similar suppliers when possible. However, for my ingredients, I want to save on packaging and ideally money through larger purchase quantities, which is why it should be at least kilogram packs. The 25 kilos, which I would prefer to buy directly from the dealer, cannot currently be processed quickly enough by Mansfield Park and are difficult to store. So my search for fairly traded cocoa and chocolate drove me through the depths of the internet. I have read a lot about the standards of FLO and UTZ, i.e., those labels that one most frequently encounters regarding cocoa (products). When farmers produce under these standards, they commit to sustainably managing their land and paying their workers a certain wage. It's important to know that cocoa originally comes from South America, but most of it is now grown on small farms in Africa. Harvesting cocoa is time-intensive, as the tree bears fruit all year round, so the fruits must be constantly monitored before being harvested by hand. The fruits are then separated from the flesh, fermented, and dried. To produce one kilo of cocoa, the annual harvest of an entire tree is needed. According to Rittersport, a whole cocoa fruit is in a bar of milk chocolate, accordingly more if it's at least dark chocolate. The small-scale farmers, who do most of the cultivation, usually operate in associations, as, for example, the "fairtrade" label is expensive and distribution outside of a kind of collective is difficult. Here, producers come together who have different standards, cocoa varieties, and quantities. This has led to the concept of mixed products and volume compensations at FLO. There, "fair" produced raw materials are mixed with conventional ones. This is then declared in a way that is little recognizable to the end consumer. For example, a company in Franconia produces the same vegan white chocolate for Penny and for Edeka, the former is "fairtrade", the latter is not, although it is the same product. I can overlook that, but not the fact that the associations sell the packaged cocoa beans to intermediaries of large companies that take large quantities. This drives down the price, and I don't find that fair. Because the "fair" cocoa beans are sold at a minimum price that is 13.4% higher than the world market price, but not high enough to cover the living expenses of a farmer's family, which in turn leads to child labor - because they are cheap labor. So buying chocolate produced without any moral and ecological standards is not an option. Nobody in the western world, where 70% of the world's chocolate is consumed, should do that. But the prices of FLO do not react to possible crop failures or inflation, which simply exist, but the companies behind "fairtrade" have been paying the price dictated from above for years. That's why direct sourcing is actually the only option for cocoa and chocolate. Here, neither wholesalers nor importers get a piece of the cake. Everything goes to those who do the work. This guarantees that the producers can live from the proceeds. And it cannot be any other way.

Good cocoa products cannot and must not be cheap. If 1 kg of organic cocoa powder, declared as fair, costs €12.99, it is hard to imagine what lies behind the price of €6.99 for the same amount of cocoa without any standards. So my boundless idealism continues to drive me through the internet, where I have already spent many hours researching cocoa that is not bought cheaply as whole cocoa beans from farmers but is then processed and packed more expensively in Europe. Again, others make the money, keep the know-how in the developed countries, but sell their product as fair. According to Cacaomama, farmers ultimately receive only 3% of the profit from sold chocolate. In contrast, 20% goes to the processors. All the companies that distribute organic cocoa powder in Europe and that I have come across so far ship the cocoa beans and process them, for example, in the Netherlands. However, I am looking for a manufacturer who ideally does everything from "bean to bar" and the equivalent for cocoa. This is really not easy. For chocolate, I have now found the company Zotter, which has been producing according to high standards next door in Austria for a long time. But I am particularly pleased about my discovery of Pacari, who produce exceptionally tasty chocolate from fine cocoa in Ecuador. They go a step further than Zotter and process there where the cocoa is also grown. The prices are thus independent of the world cocoa price, which is incidentally determined by the specifications of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. There, things are not fair, as in these two countries, which are the world's largest producers of cocoa, the two million cocoa farmers earn on average less than one US dollar a day, which is well below the absolute poverty line of 1.90 US dollars. So I buy the kilo of vegan couverture for about 17.00€. It is then shipped to me in large containers to Germany, which will hopefully also be available for purchase soon in a separate online shop for baking ingredients. Then at least the container is worth it for everyone. The search for cocoa powder is still ongoing. On the way, I stumbled upon Uncommon Cacao, who are trying to restructure the chocolate world and make it more transparent. So far, most of it is just bluster from European companies that pretend to act sustainably but don't really want to give information or make concessions where I don't want to. Cocoa powder should not be tampered with in Europe with maximum profit optimization for large companies that are "price sensitive". Of course, they are price-sensitive - they want to make as much money as possible at the expense of others. So I try to support alone those who have the actual work. Let's see how it goes.


On the conditions of cocoa farmers:

A study on the actual costs of chocolate, commissioned by Tony's:


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