Terroir: How soil quality impacts our food, nutrition, health & longevity

image sourced from https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel/2019/09/how-ecuador-falling-back-love-chocolate

Terroir is a French word used most commonly in the wine industry by vintners and sommeliers to describe the environmental impact of the soil, climate, topography and more upon grapes, and how these influences create the subtle yet marvelous varieties of wine created from these grapes. Though relegated most generally to the wine industry to elaborate the importance of soil and climate as a delicate balance contributing magnanimous influence upon each type of grape, I believe this depth of mindfulness should be applied to all agriculture. I propose we bestow this heightened caliber of discernment upon all industries linked to food and beverage.

Terroir is defined as:

“… the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat. Collectively, these contextual characteristics are said to have a character; terroir also refers to this character.”(Wikipedia)

Being French myself, terroir is a passionate code of ethics which emanates from my coeur. It is the grassroots of my business as a chocolatier with a conscious corporate model. For my company Integrity Cacao, terroir is a mantra for mindfulness which defines food quality by nutritional density/bioavailability, meshing it with sustainable business ethics to regard the planet’s health and finally whisked with the final result of unparalleled product delivery; a superb palate experience for my customers.

Since cacao is the number one food source of magnesium (a crucial mineral for optimum health of literally of every cell in your body, magnesium is critical for 600 cellular processes in your body, including brain health, a calm/present state of mind, relaxed muscles, sleep, strong bones, teeth and nails, balanced blood pressure, and heart health,) the ultimate goal for my formulas is to preserve the magnesium content for my customers to receive the health benefits in each piece of chocolate. The first step to achieving this defining feature of my cacao formulas is the sourcing of all raw materials; the soil content is the single most important aspect of having quality produce of any kind. The second is our signature manufacturing practices, which you can read about in my blog detailing conscious manufacturing here

The superfood species I chose for my cacao formulas is Arriba Nacional because it is a nutrient dense, fine flavor bean and not a gmo species. The labor to harvest this vital ingredient is fair trade and sustainable. We source this cacao from Ecuador in mountainous regions that are high elevation. The jungle here is removed from industrial pollution or radioactive influence and thus the soil is rich and pristine. Ecuador produces less than 10% of the world’s cacao and the country produces more than 70% of the world’s highest quality cacao. Pacari is one of our sources for cacao. They are the most renowned chocolate company from Ecuador and specifically work with farmers that only grow Nacional beans, even going so far as to pay higher wages for these cacao beans. Growing Nacional beans requires more time and attention to ferment and process, and these beans are themselves Ecuador’s famous fine flavor cacao. This cacao is highly sought after in foreign markets.

The special properties of this cacao bean would be irrelevant without the dynamic chemistry provided by the synergy of right climate and soil. The quality of the soil immediately impacts the quality of the cacao. Too acidic, too alkaline, or mineral deficient doesn’t cut it for our standards, which is why we rely on nature’s perfect chemistry balance in Ecuador, with its rich jungle soil and volcanic mountain soil for ideal soil health. The cacao we use is jungle-harvested and biodynamic, so the soil on these estates is mineral rich with humus. Humus is the most integral aspect of quality soil. In soil science, humus denominates the fraction of soil organic matter that is amorphous and without the “cellular cake structure characteristic of plants, micro-organisms or animals.” Humus significantly affects the bulk density of soil and contributes to its retention of moisture and nutrients (Wikipedia.)

Today we are having to supplement our diet with ionic minerals and metals to account for a lack of nutrients in our produce due to agricultural industries taking aesthetics of produce (ie using those punnet squares to breed prettier and sell better) as a high priority over nutrient density. Most conventional industries are not practicing crop rotation to replenish soil health. This is ironic in its shortsightedness, as eventually the long term lack of quality produce will catch up with these low integrity industries, and conscious consumers will choose sustainable agriculture producers instead, forcing these old school industries to adapt or become null and void. Maybe compromising health for fast cash is not going to work out…

From Scientific American 2011:

“…it is true that fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.

A landmark study on the topic by Donald Davis and his team of researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. They studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century. Davis and his colleagues chalk up this declining nutritional content to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition.

Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly,” reported Davis, “but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.” There have likely been declines in other nutrients, too, he said, such as magnesium, zinc and vitamins B-6 and E, but they were not studied in 1950 and more research is needed to find out how much less we are getting of these key vitamins and minerals.” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/)

As a conscious corporation, Integrity Cacao is all about the integrity of the entire process involved in being a product business, from the sourcing and labor to the formulating and manufacturing. As a conscious consumer and a mother, I founded my company on the principles of integrity and sustainability that I sought from producers. I feel terroir is an important concept for the quality of all food. It is time we take the notion of terroir beyond the romantic sensuality of the wine world and into the entire fabric of industrial agriculture. We can truly taste and feel the difference between fruit and vegetables that are nutrient dense and those that are not. As consumers, each dollar spent is a vote. Our health is our wealth, and we can opt to purchase products from conscious businesses which practice mindful sourcing and sustainable agriculture. This investment ensures not only our health, but that of the planet and future generations.

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