Issues with the Mainstream Cacao Industry

Ever wonder how Hershey’s Kisses, M&M’s, or Snickers bars are made? How about that high class Belgian Chocolate? Well, it’s starts on a production oriented farm… and in many of those instances, it’s not a pretty picture.

Well, it turns out 70% of the global cacao market comes from cacao farms in West Africa [1] and most chocolate producers, particularly those from the top 10 producers like Mars, Mondelez, and Nestlé, are not concerned with ensuring the people growing the chocolate are getting a fair deal. Most cacao farmers, especially in Africa, live below the poverty line and earn less than $2 a day [2]. In some instances conditions amount to slavery and child labor.

The implications of the global cacao industry are, in fact, multifaceted, and in the same way consumer choices reach back into the lives of cacao farmers, the cultivation practices directly impact consumers.

But not all cacao is grown in the same way. Mandala Naturals is one of a growing group of ethically sourced chocolate makers, and we’ll talk about how it’s different as well.

History of Cacao through Modern Child and Slave Labor and Un-Fair Trade

The history of the modern global cacao industry starts late compared to this history of cacao, which has been used since at least 2000 B.C. societies in the Americas.

However, the modern cacao industry was started by Europeans. Cacao was brought to Africa from the Americas for the first time in the 1800’s after a Dutch inventor create the cacao press making it possible to mix cacao with liquids. The first chocolate bars were produced in 1840. Indeed, as early as the late 1800’s governments like the Belgian government took a keen interest in supporting a lucrative cacao trade by regulating cacao products for purity. [3]

Although cacao made it’s way to Africa around the end of legal global slave trades in the earlier part of the 1800’s [4], that does not mean that slavery was not part and parcel. Furthermore, despite the transition from large corporate owned plantations to small farmer owned operations, the legacy of the European slave trade’s impact on Africa continues to this day.

The documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate by Miki Mistrati explores the world of mainstream chocolate and it’s social impacts including how slave trade and child labor are still serious concerns.

Non-Native Growing Environments

That cacao is not native to Africa has a significant impact on its growth. African cacao struggles with a host of fungi, viruses and insects that cacao trees did not evolve alongside including Black Pod Rot, Capsid type insects, Stem boring insects, Swollen Shoot Virus, root diseases, Water Pod Rot and other cacao pod diseases [5].

Although it’s possible to grow cacao sustainably in some non-native environments, the additional non-native stressors challenge the process, which is only exacerbated by monocrop growing strategies. Often, especially in the money oriented global cacao trade driven by top chocolate candy producers, the solution to these challenges is chemical pesticides and fertilizers [6], which are even more necessary in the monocrop plantation model imported by European chocolate producers.

Ecosystem Destruction

Deforestation of native forests has been an impact of cacao in Africa for centuries, and continues.

There are many factors to why forests may be clear-cut for cacao farming, from mono-crop plantation formats, to increasing yield.

Deforestation isn’t just bad for the ecosystem and globe in general, due to factors cacao trees life-cycle, and the impacts of overall forest health, micro-climate change, soil quality and overall farm economics and farmer livelihood, maintaining a more diverse forest ecosystem that mirrors cacao’s native environment is important. [7]

Still, the long term perspective and information needed to fully understand the benefits and methodologies of bio-diverse cacao agro-forestry systems are not prevalent in most global cacao production at this time. Ultimately more programs like Öko-Caribe in South America are needed to be spread. Research and education is even more important in Africa where cacao is actually a non-native plant, and cacao growing traditions are younger and more difficult [7].

Unhealthy Cacao, Unhealthy Chocolate

Bad farming practices and non-native pest issues result in unhealthy cacao plants.



Unhealthy Plants

Cacao has been recognized as a powerful superfood for centuries, but with modern science we can really see how it shines.

However, a plant can only work with what it has. Without rich nutrients in the soil, a plant cannot grow nutrient rich foods! Nutrients come from a diverse and thriving ecosystem, not from chemical fertilizers.

Cacao from mono-crop cacao plantations that lack biodiverse agroforestry practices and employ heavy pesticide and fertilizer won’t have the same nutritive qualities [8,9,10]. But it’s not just for personal health, unhealthy plants are a reflection of an imbalanced ecosystem, environmentally and socially.


Cacao is a powerful bio-accumulator. If grown in locations that have heavy metals or other unhealthy chemical, cacao does an excellent job of absorbing them. [11]

Luckily for the land, when the cacao is then shipped away, so are the toxins. However, if the cacao is then made into chocolate, then the end consumer – you! – will absorb those unhealthy heavy metals into your body!

This isn’t just a possibility, it’s an actual concern! [12]

This is another reason, of many, that well sourced cacao is so important.

Chemical Contamination

Using pesticides on cacao doesn’t just impact the environment, it can also contaminate the cacao.

Cacao is rich in fat (cacao butter), which absorbs the active ingredients in insecticides. Contamination of cacao by insecticides is a real issue that can effect both taste and health [13].

By removing insecticides and other chemicals from the farming and processing environment, it not only supports the general ecosystem but the healthiness of the end product: amazing chocolate.

The Product of Unhealthy Plants in an Unhealthy Environment and a Financial Imperative

Conventional (non-organic, mono-crop) cacao production is a present day extension of European imperialist practices that still maintains the vestiges of slavery and other serious human right violations.

The economics of the top 10 chocolate producers, which are responsible for almost all of the chocolate market are not engaging in fair or responsible cacao trade and exacerbate all of the issues mentioned above.

These challenges are significant, and while you may not consider yourself directly involved in the cacao trade, if you eat chocolate, then in fact, you are!

Your choices matter! Choose ethical – delicious and healthy! – chocolate!

What Makes Mandala Naturals Different?

And there are choices. Mandala Naturals makes not only the most healthy chocolate on earth, we also take great care in sourcing our organic, farmer first chocolate that supports the greater environment.

Organic, Sustainably Grown, Socially Responsible Chocolate

We source our Chocolate from South America, currently from Ecuador in the highlands west of Quito. Our cacao beans currently come from certified organic family farms working with programs like Öko-Caribe , a collaboration with funding from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock for the “High Quality Aromatic Cacao Reactivation Program, and NGO programs like the Conservación & Desarrallo (Conservation & Development, C&D) and Maquita Comercio Justo (MCJ) which focus on (C&D) sustainable development and rational use of natural resources through education and awareness, and  (MCJ) supporting low-income families, communities and organizations in Ecuador, Domincan Republic and beyond via Social and Solidarity Economics.

You can see farmers from the coops producing cacao speaking (in Spanish) about the positive impacts of the program in this video from Minga del Cacao. The closed captioning with auto-translation might provide an idea of what they are speaking (with many errors) if you do not speak Spanish.

Nurturing the environment where cacao is produced, and leveraging healthy native ecosystems to do so, helps produce not only a rich, healthy living environmental ecosystem, but productive farms with happier, healthier people. Mandala Naturals is proud to be able to support these socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable family farms.

Healthy Ecosystems = Nutritious Cacao

Moreover, the healthier cacao plants, create better tasting and more healthy cacao and thus chocolate, hearkening back to cacao’s “food of the gods” reputation that came from the Maya people.

Made with Care

It’s not just the sourcing of the cacao though – Mandala Chocolates are made with care.

From the carefully created recipes developed over years of research and careful chocolate making, to the long-stone grind that ensure the wonderful nutrients and compounds are as bio-available as possible, and more…. The nuanced process of working with the cacao crystallization process to give excellent tempering, is an art and meditation. We infuse our chocolate with a prayer and intention during this step of the process.

“Alchemy” is an ancient term historically associated with a range of different practices and traditions that spanned not just space and time – across centuries and continents – but also cultures.

When we use the term “Alchemy” at Mandala Chocolate, we are talking about the balancing of unique and special elements that come together the create something greater than the sum of their parts.

This is not just exemplified in our powerful raw superfood chocolate recipes, but in the broader work of Mandala Naturals as a whole – the deep work that we are doing to re-write both narratives and practices of fundamental cultural elements of modern society, like food and agriculture, economy, and belief systems about what kind of world we can live in!

Herbal Alchemy & Mandala Superfood Chocolate

Mandala Chocolate superfood bars are not just our favorite superfoods mixed in with cacao and popped into a package. On the contrary, years of research on and experimentation with the plants and foods used, the flavors and textures produced, and the production process itself has yielded a finely tuned superfood chocolate bar that is more than the sum of it’s parts.

Nutritional Alchemy

Mandala’s herbal cacao bars leverage the multiple interrelated effects of herbs, cacao and other ingredients on the systems of the body to make the most nutritious chocolate in the world.

Nutrient Delivery

Withing the production process. the alchemy begins with the slow stone grinding of ingredients. This slow grind and the careful tempering of chocolate makes the fine particles in the chocolate more bioavailable and easily digested, or even absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth!

Both the careful tempering of the chocolate, which locks the ingredients into a tight crystalline structure, and the powerful antioxidants in cacao and other superfoods like ginger, tulsi, and cinnamon help ensure that the vitamins and other nutrients are well preserved and therefore ready to be absorbed and used by the body.

Cacao‘s theobromine and cinnamon (in the superfood chocolate bars)  increases blood-flow, improving circulation and the distribution of nutrients through the body.

The interactions of these herbs are one part of the alchemy of Mandala’s superfood chocolate bars.

Healthy Energy & Balancing Blood Sugar

The keto superfood chocolate bars Cacao Alchemy and Wild Appalachia Chai have an extremely low glycemic index due to their carefully chosen sweet flavors and complex carbohydrates.

Licorice is not only an ancient medicinal herb, but an effective no-carb sweetener used in both keto chocolate bars.

Lucuma, yacon and mesquite are both uniquely flavored low glycemic index, complex-carbohydrate sweeteners that contribute to the synergy of keto superfood chocolate bar flavor.

However, it doesn’t stop there, inulin in ingredients like yacon have been shown to help maintain and improve blood sugar regulation [1].

Inulin isn’t the only blood sugar support. Reshi, a mushroom that is in all of the superfood bars and Ashwagandha in Cacao Alchemy both have been shown to support healthy blood sugar regulation [2,3 ]. The tulsi in both keto chocolate bars supports liver health, which

In the CBD Alchemy CBD chocolate bar and Cloud Forest chocolate bar, coconut palm sugar, a relatively (compared to cane sugar) low glycemic index sugar is used to sweeten. This makes for a superfood chocolate bar with a familiar level of sweetness, but with much more going on behind the scenes than you average sugar+chocolate “candy” bar.

The careful choice of sweeteners and blood-sugar supporting herbs contributes to the nutritional alchemy, as well as the nuance and subtle flavors of Mandala Natural’s wonderful sweetened and ketogenic superfood chocolate bars.


Flavor Alchemy

The Best Ingredients

While traditional alchemy is all about turning lead into gold, it’s not really that simple. Mandala’s Alchemy is about the synergy of elements creating something more… but ultimately the quality of the ingredients used is a hugely important factor!

While all of Mandala’s ingredients are the best out there, there are a few that are really worth highlighting!

Raw Tahitian Vanilla Beans

We source the best vanilla possible, and it’s a part of the foundation of the more conventional chocolate flavors like part of what makes classic flavors like Vanilla Orchid and Lavender Citrus, as well as the rich flavor of the CBD Alchemy bar.

Celtic Sea Salt

Not all salts are created equal. The flavor profile of natural Celtic Sea Salt is an important part of Mandala’s flavor alchemy!

Coconut Palm Sugar

Not only does coconut palm sugar have a lower glycemic index than cane sugar, it also afford a different flavor. Mandala’s bars feature a complex and mature dark chocolate flavor that’s different than the average chocolate ‘candy bar’, and the choice of coconut palm sugar, among other things, contributes to that in both the superfood Cloud Forest and CBD Alchemy bars, as well as the more familiar Lavendar Citrus and Vanilla Orchid.

Try a variety pack!

Low Carb Superfood and Herbal Sweeteners

If you’ve ever eaten roasted cacao beans straight, you know they’ve got a bitter taste. You may even love munching on cacao nibs… but still, Mandala’s low carb keto superfood bars are the peak of mandala’s flavor alchemy.

A delicately balanced array of complex carbohydrate based and even protein rich superfoods (yacon, lucuma, maca, sprouted brown rice (powder), mesquite for example) and no-sugar herbal sweeteners (licorice, fennel, and cinnamon in particular) are used in both Cacao Alchemy and Appalachian Wild Chai to make them not only taste rich and smooth, but also make sure they pack the energy needed to keep you going!

Subtle Balance of Flavors

But ultimately, it’s not just choice and quality ingredients that make for Alchemy; it’s the balance!

Rob Lenfestey spent years developing and tweaking the recipes that make these bars, for both flavor and health.

It comes out in nuances choices like the specific choice in the variety of cinnamon to the balance and integration of select superfoods like baobab in Cloud Forest or the complex spice interactions that contribute to the special flare of the Appalachian Wild Chai flavor, which is indeed based on Chai spices – but when’s the last time you had – an amazing tasting! – chocolate chai dish? Almost assuredly never, but here it is, and it’s a wonder on many levels!


Socio-Environmental Alchemy

The vision of Mandala Chocolate isn’t just about the sacred superfood cacao, in fact, the human enjoyment of cacao is being leveraged to a greater goal: to change how society relates to food, our environment and even business!

Mandala Natural’s Triple Bottom Line and B Corporation Certification

Mandala Naturals is a certified B Corporation and received a Best for Community Honoree recognition in 2019. You can read about Mandala Natural’s impact scores on the B Corporation website. But, what does this mean?

Triple Bottom Line

Most companies prioritize their financial bottom line alone and above all else, aiming not just to ensure it’s in the black, but that it’s a large as possible. Mandala Naturals, and a growing sector of triple bottom line companies, is different: we balance our financial bottom line with environmental and social bottom lines as well.

That means we seek to ensure that our environmental and social impact are not in the red – that we are giving back and building the environment and society through our work.

Investing in the Environment

Ways Mandala Naturals works to ensure we’re investing the environment, rather than destroying it includes using plastic free packaging, well sourced organic ingredients, sustainably wildcrafted organic ingredients, and donating 10% of proceeds back to the planet through environmental projects. We constantly strive to improve our support of the environment by tending to and evaluating our ingredient sourcing and production processes.

Investing in Communities

The mainstream Cacao industry is well known for its terrible impact on communities and the environment, especially where cacao has been grown beyond it’s natural habitat. Mandala Naturals not only works with works with small scale farmer owned and operated cacao farms, but those which are using environmentally sustainable organic methods that support a rich, sustainable ecosystem on the farm.

We take care when sourcing our Cacao. The Minga del Cacao project is one example of the kind of projects we work with and farmers we support.

But it doesn’t just express in through ingredients, but also through our local workers. Mandala isn’t a profit engine, but an engine for change in the lives of those supporting it and in the world. We support the personal  growth and support our amazing team of chocolates! From mindful chocolate production to a supportive and meaningful livelihood!

Are you interested in working with Mandala Naturals?

Get in touch!

Food as Medicine

The social element of the triple bottom line doesn’t stop with production, it’s built into our chocolate! Mandala looks to change the way people view not just chocolate, but all food!

Mandala Natural’s superfoods are newfangled creations, in fact these foods have been used in traditional medicine the world over for centuries – from Ayurveda and Chinese traditions to indigenous herbal traditions the world over. We’re re-contextualizing both modern chocolate – which in many stores across the U.S. appear in the “candy” section – as well as re-contextualizing and educating about these healthful foods!

We envision a world where people choose their food with care and understand its value and impact.

Never Compromise

You see it on our packaging, and we mean it.

We are committed to following through on this vision all the way down into the details.

This is the alchemy of Mandala Naturals.

From Bean to Bliss

From Our Heart to Yours.