As a rich chocolate aroma filled every corner of the Learning Zone in WWF’s Living Planet Centre, myself and the education team were busy running our Tropical Chocolate Workshop. The International School of London visited and the Learning Zone was buzzing with excited pupils keen to learn more about the products of the rainforest and in particular – chocolate!
Most of us think about chocolate at this time of year as Easter eggs fill the shelves, so it’s more significant than ever to learn and appreciate the origin of chocolate. It’s fascinating to remind ourselves and children of the process of chocolate making, from its harvest in tropical rainforests to its production and transformation into the delicious chocolate bar that we all love.
Chocolate production certainly raises lots of environmental issues such as ‘What’s behind the Fairtrade label?’ ‘Why is the rainforest important?’ and ‘Why do we need to protect it?’
The beans grow in the rainforests of South and Central America and were hugely valued by the Mayan Indians, Incas and Aztecs who mixed spices such as chilli with roasted ground beans to produce a drink called ‘xocoatl’.
In the 1660’s, when chocolate houses sprung up in the major cities of Europe, chocolate was considered medicinal. It was in 1847 when J.S. Fry combined cocoa powder, sugar and cocoa butter to produce the first chocolate bar – and we haven’t looked back!
The good news is chocolate can be good for us – the darker the better! Research suggests dark chocolate might help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and provides a source of antioxidants as well as minerals, including iron and magnesium. So enjoy!
Our Tropical Chocolate Workshops have been a huge success, and pupils have enjoyed discovering the story of chocolate from bean to bar (picking, fermenting, drying, shipping, chocolate factory, shop and consumer) and then making delicious chocolate truffles of their own.
They do some chocolate tasting too! Activities also include designing and making their own environmentally friendly packaging and learning about Fairtrade products ensuring local farmers’ and workers can earn a living wage.
We ran the very first tropical chocolate workshop in February 2014 which was attended by year six pupils from Halstead Preparatory school; activities included ‘Guess the spice’ sniff boxes stuffed with rainforest products such as vanilla, chilli and cardamom.
They started their visit by taking part in a fact finding treasure hunt around the Living Planet Centre’s (LPC) WWF Experience – four interactive zones where pupils can find out more about wildlife, forests, oceans and rivers – before heading to the Learning Zone for their chocolaty experience.
Halstead Preparatory Head Teacher Penny Austin said; “Animals are a great way into environmental topics and they loved looking round the different zones in the WWF Experience.”
Year 6 Halstead pupil Lucy Speed commented; “ I just did making chocolate and I love cooking and making things. I learnt today it takes 600 cocoa beans to make 5 bars of chocolate which isn’t great as it would take thousands of beans to fill a whole shop with chocolate!.”
We’ve certainly had some great feedback. St Mary’s Primary School in Godalming wrote fantastic letters following their trip to the LPC. A few of my favourite comments:
“At the WWF centre I really enjoyed making the chocolate truffles and going in the zones. The one thing I will remember was the moving pandas outside the toilets! It was really fun” Bea.
“This trip must have been the best day-trip ever. I most enjoyed the quiz because I got a chance to discover more animals which I may have never heard of. I also enjoyed making the packaging for our truffles” Kanisha.
“All in all I loved this school trip and would rate it ten stars” Eve.
In my role as Schools and Youth Visits Manager it’s been fantastic working with a variety of local schools and sharing our programme of school visits.
Enjoy your chocolate this Easter – the darker the better – and do your bit to affect how it is grown and harvested by buying Fairtrade. Look out for Fairtrade labelling on packaging.
What are you doing this Easter? Leave us a comment.