Stephen Jardine: Less is more when it comes to chocolate

Falling cocoa production will deal chocoholics a terrible blow. Picture: PA

Falling cocoa production will deal chocoholics a terrible blow. Picture: PA

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With Lent upon us, it’s a good time to be writing this column.

After reading this, the traditional period of religious observance could be a good trial run for what could be a much longer-term abstinence of a favourite indulgence.

Now prepare yourself because your life might not be the same after reading the next sentence. A new report has predicted a worldwide shortage of chocolate.

That’s right, the global production level of chocolate is slowing and demand is rapidly outstripping supply. The report, pretty ominously called Destruction by Chocolate, has highlighted the faltering production levels of cocoa and its possible impacts on consumption.

Britain’s addiction to chocolate, accounting for a third of Europe’s consumption, obscures the hardship endured to produce the shiny bar of goodness so many of us love. West Africa has been at the centre of world cocoa production for more than half a century but illegal farming, forest destruction and outdated farming methods are slowing the supply chain.

Attention is focusing on Latin America where cocoa cultivation is being redesigned to try and meet any shortfall. But how long will this take?

You simply can’t underestimate the place chocolate has in our lives. From cocoa-coated cereals at the start of the day to a box of chocs in front of the TV at the end of a long day, we just can’t get enough.

Britain has the seventh highest consumption rate of chocolate in the world, eating an estimated 660,900 tonnes each year.

The French and Germans consume less and Spain eats seven times less than we do. Unsurprisingly it’s not Belgium which takes the top spot, but Switzerland.

So should we be flocking to the shops to stock up ahead of a worldwide shortage? Well, there is another way to think about this. In this column we often touch on Scotland’s chronic obesity problem and too much chocolate consumption has a part to play in that.

Recent reports and events which I’ve mentioned in previous columns have raised the startling levels of obesity in Scotland which continue to grow. Over 30 per cent of children are obese.

Two out of three people in Scotland are overweight or obese. Although not the root cause, our fondness for chocolate certainly isn’t helping.

What we are likely to see is a rise in price. That is likely to be bad news for the bargain basement end of the market but good news for Scotland’s artisan chocolate makers who have already developed a strong market for good cocoa rich products at a premium price.

The big problem is our over-consumption of poor chocolate. We eat too many chocolate bars that barely deserve the name. In contrast, a little good quality chocolate has been scientifically proven to help reduce cholesterol. And of course, it tastes delicious.

So in the face of a potential world shortage, the message is clear. We need to steer clear of the rubbish and instead eat good quality chocolate but much less of it. That will be good for the nation’s health but will also avoid the risk of supplies running short. No-one wants a-choc-alypse now.

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