Who knew there could be good chocolate Hanukkah gelt? I figured it had to be waxy and tasteless, left in its foil to decorate a festive table rather than my mouth. A lovely audience in New Jersey shared their favorite Jewish chocolate experiences with me recently and mentioned, among other things, chocolate covered matzah and chocolate macaroons. They did not mention gelt. When I noted that omission, one woman sharply retorted, “Chocolate gelt is sucky.”
And so it often is. Or has been.
Several companies sell gelt. My quality test sampled some, not all. My criteria for gelt goodness includes whether the product is fair trade, kosher, and/or organic. I also care about appearance and taste and quality.
I like the Divine dark coins which are not Hanukkah specific in decoration. They are tasty enough, certified Fair Trade and Kosher Triangle K. They come in dark or milk chocolate. Divine rates points in the quality test for offering milk and dark options, for being fair trade and kosher certified and for its tastiness.
Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates silver-tinned foil coin sports an indistinguishable image, seemingly not Hanukkah related, with a very homemade feel. The company claims a lofty philosophy of “Do no harm to the earth or the farmers who supply our cocoa” and produces chocolates that are 100% organic and fair trade though not kosher. Points given for organic, fair trade and creativity.
Heather Johnston at Veruca Chocolates (after the spoiled Veruca Salt character in Willy Wonka) of Chicago ranked favored status in my testing. She uses “E. Guittard and Callebaut, both for their flavors and their commitment to fair trade practices.” Her festive, gold dusted dark or milk chocolate replicates an ancient Maccabean coin embossed with the menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem. We savored the dark chocolate embedded with cocoa nibs; her other artisanal option mixes in sea salt. Points awarded for chocolate options, look, taste and fair trade.
If you want more control over the quality issues, you may wish to DIY your gelt. Take a look at these sites for instructions from the Cooking Channel and from Leah Koenig. And, when you lay in the chocolate gelt supplies, consider your chocolate purchase carefully.
After the tasting I reflected on my criteria on the sucky to good gelt spectrum. Should one aspect of the chocolate trump the others? Should I be privileging fair trade? Hanukkah’s message about freedom and liberation compels me to think about worker justice. Hanukkah’s family gatherings and child-focused events prompts mindfulness about child labor and slavery in chocolate growing. Too often money and profit tempt cocoa farmers into the child labor and child slavery market. Growers in places such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana claim that the low prices of cacao require labor of their own or enslaved children. The Ivory Coast law that workers must be at least eighteen is rarely enforced. Thousands of children from Mali have been kidnapped from their families or sometimes sold by family members to work in the Ivory Coast or Ghana. Not paid for dangerous work with machetes, not allowed any personal possessions. Those victims are often imprisoned at night, denied schooling, forced to work long hours, and left with untreated wounds after beatings. Leaders of a Mali human rights association estimate that child slaves are found on at least 90 percent of the Ivory Coast cocoa plantations. Over half of the world’s chocolate and some of our Hanukkah gelt may be defiled by the cruel treatment of children. Fair trade certification for our gelt encourages adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Another way to eliminate abuse and exploitation of children, avoiding chocolate from Ivory Coast and Ghana may circumvent that problem. Finally, some companies–such as Askinosie, Equal Exchange, Taza–value direct contact with though do not yet make gelt. To learn about child friendly gelt, see Spinning the Dreidel for Chocolate Gelt to further the Fair Trade Chocolate Gelt campaign and access resources and texts. This year suck on good chocolate Chanukah gelt.
Deborah R. Prinz’s book, On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao was recently published by Jewish Lights. Used in adult study, school settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings, it also contains delicious recipes. Further learnings about Jewish values in chocolate as well as historical context for gelt may be found in On the Chocolate Trail. Rabbi Prinz speaks around the world about chocolate and religion. She blogs at The Huffington Post, The Jew and the Carrot, The Jewish Journal and at Jews-OnTheChocolateTrail.org. Lesson plans for teaching about Chanukah and chocolate may be found at her blog.