Fake Chocolate

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell's most famous work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, uses themes from life in the Soviet Union and wartime life in Great Britain.  The main character, Winston Smith, describes his daily life in the fictitious continent of Oceania, under the control of Big Brother. One of the government ministries who rule everyday life in the story is the Ministry of Plenty, who are in control of Oceania's planned economy. It oversees public access to food, supplies and ultimately rationing.  Such are the meagre rations that Smith is forced to buy and consume synthetic products such as fake chocolate.

Orwell's work, whilst written as fiction is based in part on fact.  Post-war Europe was a tough place, with rationing in place and many towns and cities struggling to return to a life more ordinary.  Rationing was still in force and it was due to the high price of chocolate that one of the most famous products in the world was created when an Italian pastry maker named Pietro Ferrero used hazelnuts to bulk up his chocolate spread and created Pasta Gianduja, today called Nutella.

Whilst rationing has become a thing of our Grandparents stories of their childhood, fake chocolate is still around today and with Easter fast approaching consumers should be on their guard that they are buying, and more importantly consuming the real deal. Ironically, Orwell's book opens with Winston Smith contemplating buying fake goods on the 4th April, which ironically is the day Good Friday falls on this year.

There are some people who will consider chocolate fake if it's not made with the most important component, cocoa butter. In fact the US Food and Drug Administration states that any product that doesn't use cocoa butter cannot call itself chocolate, thus giving rise to the term "candy". Whilst it may be down to the rising costs of obtaining the real raw material that producers use cheaper substitutes there is enough of a problem to genuine chocolatiers to worry about the damage to their brands through counterfeit products.

In the last few years UK Trading Standards have seized batches of famous-branded fake chocolate bars from stores up and down the country.   Whilst in many cases the packaging looks realistic - in fact in many instances it is genuine - the product itself is substandard.  At best it may be a cheap bar of chocolate with an expensive brand's wrapping, at worst an imitation product completely.  Any food product where you cannot trace back the manufacturing process possess a potential consumer health risk.

Some countries take this very seriously indeed.  Chocolate is big business in Switzerland for instance where Chocosuisse, the umbrella organization of the Swiss chocolate industry, is quick to prevent non-Swiss manufacturers from implying a link with Switzerland, and thus the quality of the product within.

In February 2014, Europol and Interpol reported they had seized over 80,000 counterfeit biscuit and chocolate bars in a series of raids proving that the problem is still as big as ever. Whilst the authorities work tirelessly to detect illegal products like chocolate, the amount they actually find and seize is just the tip of a big iceberg and not a deterrent at all for the criminals.

A search on one of the world's most popular online marketplaces using the term “fake chocolate” revealed over 600 results including one seller who was offering a minimum order of 500 cartons of “egg-shaped chocolate” whilst another could supply up to 3,000 tons per year, delivered in twenty-foot long containers of “customisable branded chocolate”.

So how do we know we are buying the real deal this Easter? You can be pretty sure the major supermarket chains will have bought their stock direct from the manufacturer.  Whilst the inevitable price war on Easter Eggs will send us all chocolate-crazy, it will also harm the counterfeiters.  Why would someone risk being a fake Easter egg when they know they can buy the real thing for just a couple of pounds? If in doubt then all food products have to carry a customer care number in the back, so give them a call and they should be able to trace the products route to market.

The final words on counterfeit belong to Orwell.  Reaching into his childhood memory he tries to describe the feelings that his hero of Nineteen-Eighty-Four has when he finally tastes real chocolate again:

“She broke the chocolate in half and gave one of the pieces to Winston. Even before he had taken it he knew by the smell that it was very unusual. Chocolate normally was dull-brown crumbly stuff that tasted, as nearly as one could describe it, like the smoke of a rubbish fire, but at some time or another he had tasted chocolate like the piece she had given him. The first whiff of its scent had stirred up some memory which he could not pin down, but which was powerful and troubling.”