Monday, 28 November 2016

Palm Oil...Bad AF!

Palm Oil…Bad AF!

Palm oil - you may or may not have heard of it, but it is definitely something everyone should be aware of. Recently we watched the new Leonardo Di Caprio documentary, Before The Flood, and while we were aware of the damaging environmental impacts of palm oil production before, this documentary really hit home and made us want to reach out and write about what is becoming a real concern for all of us. We are only just scratching the surface of a very complex problem in this post, we could bang on about this all day but instead if you would like to know more we would urge you to click any of the links at the bottom of the page and read more on this subject.

Ok, Palm Oil…What Is It?

66 million tonnes of it are produced annually, accounting for 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. It is the second most commonly traded vegetable oil in the world after soy, but what actually is it? Palm oil is an edible, high saturated fat vegetable oil derived from the pulp of the African, American and Maripa oil palms and is grown exclusively in the tropics. Archaeological evidence shows humans have been using it for over 5000 years and it is still a common cooking ingredient across Africa, Southeast Asia and Brazil. It has seen a huge surge in usage recently, imports into the US have skyrocketed 485% in the last 10 years, on account of it offering a far greater yield at a lower cost of production than any other vegetable oil. Because of this growth, vast areas of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America are being cleared for its production, and it’s in this rapid deforestation where the problems lie.

What Is It Used For?

Palm oil has a number of uses most commonly as an ingredient in foods, cosmetics, soaps and detergents. A staggering 50% of the products sold in supermarkets today contain palm oil, everything form ice cream to frozen pizzas to toothpaste, body creams and candles. It is also now seeing increased usage as an ingredient in bio-diesel and as a fuel to be burned in power stations, in fact, almost half of the palm oil imported into Europe is used as a biofuel. 

Why Is This Bad?

Ok, before we get into this, we don’t want this to be just another depressing humans-are-awful-and-there-is-no-hope-for-us type of post. There is plenty that we can do collectively to turn this problem around (see “What Can We Do?” below for some examples) but first we have to address the problems. 
  • Ecosystem Destruction - Around 90% of the World’s oil palm trees are grown on only a few islands in Malaysia and Indonesia, this has led to large scale deforestation and the clearing of carbon-rich peatlands to make way for these industrial plantations. Demand is now so high that despite 10 million hectares of Indonesia’s 22.5 million hectares of rainforest having been converted to palm oil production, a further 1 million hectares per year are still being cleared. This is not an issue solely affecting Southeast Asia - areas in Africa and Latin America are also now being cleared to make way for new oil palm plantations. With demand expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050 this is an enormous problem.
  • Loss Of Biodiversity - These areas of rainforest, once rich in biodiversity, are decimated and replaced with monocrop oil palm plantations, creating areas referred to as green deserts. These green deserts now cover 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface, an area equivalent to the land mass of New Zealand. Endangered species such as Sumatran elephants, tigers, rhinos and orangutans which rely on these rainforests for their survival are being pushed ever closer to extinction as the demand for palm oil destroys more and more of their natural habitat. Over 90% of the orangutan’s natural habitat has already been destroyed in the last 20 years alone. If the current rate of habitat loss continues unabated we could see the extinction of the orangutan in 5-10 years, Sumatran tigers could be extinct in 3 years. 
  • Loss Of Livelihood - 100 million people in Indonesia rely on the rainforests and peatlands for their livelihood and survival. The clearing of these ares by the palm oil industry strips them of the natural resources - food, shelter and water - they need for survival. 
  • Environmental Impact - Rainforests and peatlands act as carbon sinks, capturing carbon form the atmosphere and storing it away. To clear the rainforests, growers will often set them alight, a process known as slash and burn. As they burn they release huge stores of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So much burning takes place that estimates for Indonesia put the figures for the carbon release from deforestation at 80% of the country's total carbon output, placing it 3rd in the table of the World’s largest carbon polluters. The smoke from these fires also has huge health consequences for the people of Southeast Asia as well as affecting the growth of the oil palms and other crops. The use of palm oil as a bio fuel is also of great environmental concern, with higher CO2 and methane emissions, it has three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.
  • Forced Labour And Land Conflict - The palm oil industry is ranked in the top 4 worst industries for forced and child labour by the U.S Department of Labour. Indigenous people who have inhabited the forests for generations are often brutally forced from their land. Currently in Indonesia alone there are over 700 land conflicts related to the palm oil industry.

What Can We do?

The sheer number of palm oil containing products that we in the West use on a daily basis makes avoiding it very tricky however simply reducing the amount we buy will make a huge difference. With that in mind here are a few things we can all do to help:
  • Read the label - EU regulations require all food to be clearly labelled with all ingredients listed. Cosmetic products sometimes disguise palm oil with other names such as palmate, palmitic acid, palm stearine etc.. If in doubt you can check the manufacturer’s website or better yet, look for an alternative product. 
  • Cook Meals From Scratch - We know it isn’t always easy to find the time but this is a definitive way to ensure that palm oil isn’t present in your food.
  • Speak Up - Don’t be afraid to talk about it with people, sign petitions, write to companies asking them where their palm oil is sourced from. The more we do, the better the chance we have of creating a shift in the right direction. 
  • Vote With Your Wallet - Big businesses put profit first, so there is no louder message to send to a manufacturer that you question their use of palm oil than when you reduce the amount of their products you purchase. We will be the first to admit that we have found it tricky to navigate our way round the supermarket avoiding palm oil containing products but the fact there are literally tens of thousands of products out there now has meant there is usually a palm oil free alternative. Where there isn’t an alternative we choose not to buy anything, this of course means that some of our favourite products have had to go by the wayside but looking at the bigger picture this has proven a small inconvenience. 
  • Sustainable Palm Oil - This is where things get more contentious. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a multi-stakeholder, non-profit group founded in 2004 with the objective of "promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders". Sounds great, however, claims that the RSPO are slow to react or take no action at all when companies breach the guidelines do nothing to inspire confidence in an industry already carrying such a large environmental burden. There's no denying that there are options available for sustainability. Using land that has previously been degraded as opposed to clearing any more rainforest is a step in the right direction. Companies, such as Ikea, are already making pledges to only source their palm oil from such plantations, however, only time will tell if they practise what they preach and whether other companies agree to follow suit. Until then we have to come to the same conclusions as many - while buying products that state that any palm oil used in their production is from sustainable sources may be a good option, cutting down our consumption dramatically is the best course of action right now. We all have to start taking ourselves to task over this, this is not somebody else's problem, it's all of our problem and only we can fix it. And we can fix it.

So Do You Guys Use Palm Oil In Ailey Mae Products?

Nope, never have and never will. 


Images from wikipedia

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

What is raw chocolate?

This is a question we get asked quite a lot and as there is some debate about what actually constitutes "raw chocolate" it is one that is surprisingly difficult to give a definitive answer to. So here we will just give you our take on it. To us, raw chocolate is chocolate that is made using raw, unroasted cacao and that is produced below 44°C. 

Oh ok, so erm...what is cacao?
Cacao is the name given to any product (butter, nibs, and powder) derived from cacao beans – the seeds or nuts of the Theobroma cacao tree, a small evergreen native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America. These beans are minimally processed into:
  • Cacao butter - The buttery outer lining of the inside of a cacao bean which is removed prior to processing.
  • Cacao powder - Made from the cold pressed unroasted cacao beans. 
  • Cacao nibs - These are cacao beans that have been chopped into little chips. They contain all of the fat, fibre and nutrients of the bean.

    l to r - cacao butter, cacao powder & cacao nibs

So is there a difference between cacao and cocoa powder then?
Yep. Cacao powder is made from cold-pressed unroasted cacao beans. Cocoa powder is made from cacao beans that have been roasted at high temperature. This roasting process, whilst creating great flavour, may have the disadvantage of reducing the enzyme content and overall nutritional value of the cacao. Cacao also has a high antioxidant level and it is suggested that the roasting process can destroy these antioxidant properties though, it must be added, that there has been no conclusive research done on this as yet. Really, as raw chocolate producers, we just follow the rule that it is better to do as much to preserve all of the beneficial properties of the cacao as you can and therefore starting with a raw material which has seen as little processing as possible should yield a more nutritionally dense product.

Ok, so it's chocolate that's made from unroasted beans and produced below 44°C but I'm still not sure why it's called raw?
Most of the regular chocolate you buy, aside form being made from roasted beans, has also gone through a process known as tempering. The actual details of tempering are quite long winded so, in a nutshell, tempering is the process of raising and then lowering the chocolate's temperature to produce the correct crystals to create temperature stable chocolate with the classic snap we are used to. This process typically involves heating the chocolate up to a maximum of 55°C to produce the right crystals. As it is believed that at temperatures above 44°C most of the nutritional, enzymatic and antioxidant properties of the chocolate will be lost, “raw” chocolate is produced below 44°C to preserve as much of these properties as possible. This does mean, however, when producing raw chocolate you will never hit the upper temperature and that is why you will find a lot of the raw chocolate on the market, ours included, has a softer texture than regular chocolate. 

    Our plain Peruvian bar showing texture

So is raw chocolate better for me than regular chocolate?
Really this one is such a minefield that we have avoided making any direct claims to our chocolate being better for you than any other chocolate. While there is no conclusive proof as yet that roasting the beans or heating the chocolate above 44°C will remove the nutritional benefits of the cacao it has been strongly argued by many that this is the case. We do know that heating up food stuffs above certain temperatures will remove nutrients and minerals, this is the basis of the whole raw food movement, it should therefore figure that cacao wouldn't be any different. Another factor to be taken into account is the other ingredients used in the making of the chocolate. For example a raw chocolate filled with artificial flavours, colours, preservatives and sweeteners would be worse for you than a regular chocolate bar made with organic cocoa, natural flavours, sugars and containing no artificial nasties. Typically raw chocolates will be made without any preservatives or dairy and with no artificial or heavily processed sugars but it must be said, there are so many amazing artisan producers on both sides of the raw, non-raw divide nowadays, that we are spoilt for choice whatever we choose. What really matters is the quality of the raw materials, are they organic, ethically produced and is the final product as pure as possible and most importantly of does it make you feel?

So what's the deal you guys and your chocolate?
Our philosophy is simple. We only use organic, ethically produced cacao from one reputable supplier who has a direct relationship with the growers. We produce all of our chocolate in micro batches below 44°C. We sweeten with agave and flavour with pure essential oils, organic nuts, berries and spices. We do all this because we believe it makes the best chocolate that has the best chance of being good for you...and us, because we eat lots of it too!

Shop our full range HERE

Nutritious Lolly Blog Post

Our lovely friend and nutritionist, Nutritious Lolly blogs about our ingredients. Lorraine's fabulous blog can be found at the link below, we highly recommend checking it out.

Coconut Butter 

For those of you who have not done so yet, go and buy a pack of Ailey Mae’s chocolate.

There’s a host of flavours to chose from …and you can buy them in many East Lothian shops or online here.

Now, in the privacy of your own home, peel off the paper and gently stroke the naked smooth brown bar. 

Pop a piece in your mouth and unleash the heady flavours. Tantalise your taste buds with the textures and let the raw chocolate chunks run wild. Then do again and again and again. 

Good wasn’t it? In fact, better than good. I bet it was bloody delicious.

Now you may ask what a nutritionist is doing going around encouraging folk to gorge on chocolate.

Well the good news is – I haven’t completely lost my marbles. You see this stuff is actually REALLY GOOD FOR YOU.

Seriously, the ingredients that Ailey Mae uses in her Raw Chocolate are an absolute must in your diet.

So I thought this week, to give you the ultimate feel good factor, I would explore why we need to eat raw chocolate.

Okay let’s start with the basics.

She uses Coconut Butter. So what’s so good about that?

Well, it’s just the revolution of the century for starters.

It’s made from the meat of the Coconut and is rich in something called Lauric Acid.

This little beauty boosts your immune system and destroys harmful bacteria, viruses and funguses.

It actually boosts your metabolism which helps weight loss and increases your energy levels.

And if that is not enough, Coconut Butter is also packed with Essential Fats helping you to stay fuller for longer.

Coconut Butter is also full of essential amino acids so vital if you are vegetarian and also contains calcium and magnesium.  

Now the good news is that it’s available at East Lothian’s Walled Garden, or online. 

For a more mainstream way to enjoy the benefits of Coconuts go for the oil, available in many high street supermarkets, and you can use it in your everyday cooking) 

Right next awesome ingredient:

Raw Cacao Butter

This is a pure cold pressed oil from Cacao bean and critical to chocolate recipes.  

The Cacao butter is made by pressing ground milled cacao nibs to make a paste and no chemicals or solvents are ever used in the process.

It’s an excellent source of omega 6 and 9 (your Essential Fats), and contains natural antioxidants as well as being mood and immune system boosting.  

Raw Cacao Powder 

This is rich in antioxidants which lower free radicals that can damage your body.

It’s also a source of iron, calcium and particularly rich in magnesium.

At the same time, it stimulates the release of endorphins so may well have an anti-depressant effect. (We sort of knew that chocolate makes you feel good anway!)

Interestingly, a study in the 2012 issue of the 'International Journal of Hypertension' reports that the antioxidants in dark chocolate help to reduce high blood pressure too.

Agave Nectar

This is a healthy substitute for sweetening foods. It won't spike blood sugar levels and actually has nutritional value unlike regular white sugar. 

Agave provides small amounts of potassium and sodium needed to keep your heart beating.

It also contains selenium, an antioxidant that helps fight damaging free radicals and small amounts of Vitamin C,E,A and K.  

So basically it’s a huge thumbs UP for Raw Chocolate.

What I’m saying is: Ailey Mae all the way!