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Deliciously Organic: How a Vegan Chocolate Is Empowering Local Women in Tamil Nadu!

Deliciously Organic: How a Vegan Chocolate Is Empowering Local Women in Tamil Nadu!

Made without preservatives or emulsifiers, this chocolate uses organically-grown cocoa beans directly sourced from Indian farmers.

Mahalaxmi sits with three other women sorting though the cocoa beans spread before them. Their brows are furrowed in concentration. A bean is chucked into the bin; too small. The other meets the same fate; too flat, a few others—broken. All these imperfect beans are eliminated from the small heap till the women are left with the richest sample at hand.

This sample of 300-odd cocoa beans will determine whether the gunny bags they fill adhere to the quality standards set by Mason & Co—a vegan, organic chocolate company in Tamil Nadu.

Started in 2014, Mason & Co is a tad different from most chocolatiers in India. Apart from the guarantee of their product being organic and vegan, the company sources all the raw materials from local farmers and empowers local women through employment.

For the love of chocolate:

Photo credits: Natasha Mulhall/ Mason & Co.

Fabien Bontems came to India from France about 22 years ago with his mother. Though Fabien’s mother was on a quest for spiritual well-being, he found a home in the State of Tamil Nadu. Here, he trained to become a sound engineer, but five years ago, his career took a new turn when Jane Mason visited India.

Jane Mason is a lawyer and raw food chef from Australia who passionately practices Yoga. This love for yoga decided her visit to India—Auroville, specifically, to pursue her passion further. Of the many cultural differences that she acquainted herself with here, she realised that she had to give up on her love for chocolate. Jane is a vegan and most chocolate products in India had dairy.

“I also found that the preservatives used marred the original taste of the chocolate; and if you’re used to good artisanal chocolate, you can’t eat anything else,” she told The Hindu.

You can buy chocolate products by Mason & Co at The Better India Shop, here.

Being a raw food chef, she started experimenting with cacao and made her own chocolate. When her friends tasted her fine home-made chocolate, they encouraged her to go commercial. That’s when Jane partnered with Fabien and started working around with the available raw materials, and flavours to finally establish their unique brand, Mason & Co.

“It took us about two years with the experimentation. We had to be very careful with the flavours and the texture. Jane and I met in India itself and knew each other before we started the company. Her knowledge of the culinary arts and my technical knowledge came together in this enterprise,” Fabien tells The Better India.

One thing was clear for the duo. The enterprise had to be directed at empowering the locals and ensure that everything—from the raw materials to the end product—benefitted Indians.

Local strength whipped into decadent chocolate:

Photo credits: Natasha Mulhall/ Mason & Co.

One of the very first aims of Mason & Co was to tie up with farmers who would guarantee organic cocoa beans to chocolate connoisseurs. “They’re used to cultivating for the mass production market, where it’s quantity over quality. A lot of farmers refused to work with us as they felt it was too much work to grow the beans organically with the focus being on the quality of each bean. Currently, we work with farmers; visiting their farms often and teaching them methods, telling them what we didn’t like about the taste of a certain batch and what they could do to fix it,” Jane tells The Hindu.

TBI also got in touch with Mansi Reddy who handles the marketing and partnerships of the company. Mansi told us that currently, they work with five farmers in the States of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, who grow organic, chemical-free cocoa beans on a commercial level.

“We source our beans directly from farmers, removing the need for a middle man. We consult with them in their harvest, processing, and fermentation to create better quality beans. We have no exclusivity with our farmers and they are free to sell their beans to anyone at a fair price,” she tells TBI.

A fair price is fixed between the farmers and the company with one vital clause—no compromise on the quality or authenticity of the produce. Only then will the yield be considered as sold. Each of the farmers that they have partnered with has an Organic-produce Certificate guaranteeing that what you get in your packet is 100 per cent chemical-free.

Bean to bar:

Photo credits: Natasha Mulhall/ Mason & Co.

“One feature about Mason & Co that I find remarkable is that we employ only local women in the organisation on every level; from segregation of the sample beans to making the end product. We do not rely entirely on machinery and many of our processes are done by hand. We have 14 women in the organisation and although we don’t like to bank on it, the entire company is women-run except for Fabien!” Mansi says.

Every part of the chocolate-making process is overseen on a very personal level to ensure the customer gets exactly what they are paying for. All processes like the carefully-selected farmers as honest and reliable sources of organic cocoa beans, the work of the local women who make the chocolate bars, drinking chocolate and cacao nibs, are monitored carefully.

You can buy chocolate products by Mason & Co at The Better India Shop, here.

“You will also notice that we don’t use any preservatives, which is basically the ideology of Mason & Co. In fact, we use minimal ingredients. Organic cacao and organic sugar are the only primary ingredients and of course, the flavours of the specific product. The organic, vegan principles have limited our flavour variety but it is worth it,” Mansi says.

“Another interesting aspect of Mason & Co is their ‘single origin’ method. This means that every cacao bean in a bar of chocolate comes from the same region and even the same farm, which is called ‘Single Estate.’ Cacao beans grown in one region or farm will have ‘terroir’ which means that they will develop flavours specific to the climate, farming, and processing. By using single origin beans we ensure purity in flavour dedicated to a specific region,” says their website.

A unique initiative that fills the niche for vegan, purely organic chocolate products in India, ‘Mason & Co has already found a market in over 100 stores in India. But you need not search for them elsewhere. You can purchase their products at The Better India Shop. Follow the link here.

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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