FCIA Fine Chocolate Glossary

As You Wish: A Collection of Glossary Thoughts Inspired by The Princess Bride

“As you wish was all he ever said,”

Grandpa’s reading of Westley’s response to Buttercup’s requests

The Princess Bride

Fine Chocolate Glossary Launched by FCIA in Feb. 2023

Before I launch into this blog post as the new Chairperson of the Fine Chocolate Glossary Committee, I implore you to watch The Princess Bride (1987) if you have not already. Without such cultural capital (best book adaptation ever), I cannot be held responsible if you feel the need to “skip to the end” of this post.

Haha. Those that have watched the film will get it; and for those that have not, well seriously, go watch it. 

Believe it or not (I struggle with this), but it’s been 36 years since this movie and it still persists in many of our memories and has made it mark. I wonder where the Glossary will be in 2059 – 36 years from now. Launched by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, the Glossary seeks to creatively, collaboratively & conscientiously explain fine chocolate terminology. Perhaps by that time, we will have reached an educational goal where we no longer find the need for a glossary and we understand the distinctive uses of changing and emerging vocabulary. However, I expect that its need will be timeless as education should be lifelong.

My best ideas apparently occur in the shower

Thinking about the future provides for some curious speculation, but, in the meantime, as I finally sit down to gather my thoughts (I’m an academic and it’s been a LONG semester), I find myself marveling at my life. I’m lucky that I’ve developed my career to include at least a part-time job of thinking about the nuances of chocolate. The other part-time academic thinking includes genetics and snails, but I promise they all connect somehow. More than even tasting chocolate, I love hearing where peoples’ chocolate journeys began. Truthfully, mine started in a rather atypical location – my shower. In the spring of 2004 and relatively new to my job as a biology faculty at a small liberal arts college, I found my students failing to grasp the concept of phylogenetic trees.

A phylogenetic tree illustrates a logical and mathematically-derived representation of common ancestry between species based upon the best evidence-based hypothesis. Simply put, envision a tree with branches and imagine that those branches serve as connections between the evolutionary history of the living leaves at the end of the branches’ tips. Or, simply consider the example that birds might be considered the last of the dinosaurs as they share a common ancestor.  Educational detour,.. apologies, back to chocolate.

Teaching parallel thinking with chocolate

Long story a bit shorter, I got this idea in the shower to create an activity where students dissected chocolate bars to determine what makes them unique and to compare and contrast them with other similar “species.” From this, they could create their own trees. However, one must examine the “inner workings” of the chocolate bar (i.e., “the genes) instead of the outside because of plasticity, both literally with the changing plastic wrapper and figuratively as a metaphor for an outward appearance subject to change (known as a phenotype). The candy bar exercise worked very well. However, my real exposure to chocolate came while working in Belgium and getting a bit of friendly chastisement by colleagues for not including Belgian chocolate in my teaching exercise.

Later published in the American Biology Teacher in 2007,, Evolution of a Chocolate Bar” walks students through how to choose good simple presence/absence traits for classifying organisms, i.e. represented metaphorically by a single candy bar. The article concludes with a challenge exercise of speculating how students’ perception of US chocolate changes with the introduction of much “older” European brands. Although not without its flaws, this piece jump started my passion for teaching anything with chocolate.

Looking back now, I would certainly rename my paper to “Evolution of a Candy Bar.” I used all our American industrial mass market favorites to demonstrate the idea of parallel and convergent evolution. For example, students recognized the independent emergence of peanuts in several different “lines” (think brands) of candy bars. They also learned that candy favorite M & M’s had to derive from a chocolate bar concept based on the historical record (M & M’s launched in 1941 whereas Hershey’s milk chocolate bar debuted in 1900).

Inconceivable – I’m really a chocolate educator

Yet, especially now as I word play on the “dark side of chocolate,” I find irony in my early encouragement of students to incorporate the historical legacy of European chocolate into an “American” chocolate context when all cultivation of real chocolate started in “The Americas” in the first place. But, in 2004, I did not know what chocolate meant, that chocolate did not grow in Belgium, and much less about exactly from whence and where chocolate took to bar form. Furthermore, I had no idea just how many lives in the world chocolate touches. After about 20 years of reading, thinking and conversing, I have a much better understanding now, but I still find myself drawn back to the words of Inigo Mantoya in The Princess Bride.

“Inconceivable [substitute chocolate] – you keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

Across the world and even within small communities, chocolate means different things to different people. I appropriated this saying about inconceivable as a title for our first Lunch and Learn about The Fine Chocolate Glossary coming up at the annual meeting of The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (thanks Cathy Ford for the meme!). My undergraduate years as a double major in English taught me the hierarchical relationship between a glossary and a dictionary. A glossary houses words associated with a specific topic while a dictionary contains an array of definitions. Now, I might argue semantically a bit further that a glossary (at least ours) contains “entries” versus “definitions” as some terms relay different information depending on historical or cultural context.

Chocolate – I do not think it means what you think it means

As a biologist, I tend to revert to botanical origins and consider “chocolate” as a product made from the beans (really seeds – but that’s another post) of Theobroma cacao. Yet, as I’ve taught about chocolate for the last 15+ years, I know too well that my simplified definition falls short for some, seems overly inclusive to others, ignores the subtleties of variation, and fails to navigate the complexity associated with food standards across the globe.

On the first day of my chocolate classes, I asked students to define chocolate. Similar to asking whether someone has six fingers on their right hand, it can be awkward. You might ask why “do you always begin conversations this way?” Yes, I do…but not because I’m looking for one person with the solitary answer; but because I want the awkward dramatic pause. I ask upfront for a definition to demonstrate that even something perceived as simple as defining chocolate comes packed with a suitcase of nuance. Thus, with my educational philosophy of teaching with chocolate, I feel honored and reasonably prepared to take the reins from renowned Glossary Architect and “Doc of Choc” Dr. Kristy Leissle and start to scale the problem of contextualizing terms associated with chocolate, particularly of the fine variety (and yes, exploring what’s fine by everyone warrants another blog post, or perhaps even a book – stay tuned).

Not as easy as it looks

In taking on this leadership responsibility, I hope to not fall off the Cliffs of Insanity(!). Instead I seek to increase accessibility so everyone may reach a pinnacle where they can marvel at the world of fine chocolate similarly to when I stood in awe of the view from the top of the cliffs of Moher. Last summer before my semester stint of living and teaching in London, I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the real-life inspiration for the Cliffs of Insanity in western Ireland and appreciate their nickname. As I think about the parallels now, I cannot help but replay the words in my head and again apply the wisdom of The Princess Bride

As the Man in Black scales the cliffs in pursuit of the Princess Buttercup (spoiler alert: it’s Westley), he replies to the impatient (and waiting to kill him) Inigo, “Look, I do not mean to be rude, but this is not as easy as it looks so I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t distract me.”  I feel a little this way about the Glossary. With the pushes and pulls of life that everyone experiences, it will take a miracle for it to get completed – if there is such a thing. I do believe in miracles. Still, I advise we heed the words of Miracle Max – “If you rush a miracle man, you get lousy miracles” and also think of Westley scaling the cliffs. We need to take time to consider where we place our next hand or foot to advance to our goal. Distractions lurk everywhere and we must focus on the task at hand. 

Still eager to catch up to his crew, Inigo goads the Man in Black a little more by saying “I do not suppose you could speed things up” to which the Man in Black shoots back “if you are in such a hurry, you could lower a rope or a tree branch or find something useful to do.”  Although being informed that his assassin awaits him, Westley/the Man in Black later accepts the offer of the rope upon trusting the words he hears Inigo utter about swearing his safety on the soul of Inigo’s father. Words themselves hold power, but good intention powers the words forward towards progress. Trust is crucial. Fortunately, as I embark on this metaphorical journey, I do not climb alone, instead accompanied by a skilled Glossary Manager (Tara Durieux), a trusted and dedicated committee, and the support of The Fine Chocolate Industry Association and their partnerships with TSIRO and MOCCA.

Few more nods to The Princess Bride

I cannot in good conscience end this blog plot on chocolate and connections with The Princess Bride without the acknowledgement of three more short quotes. First, in one of the more famous lines, Westley informs Buttercup that “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Truth. With the Glossary project, we must acknowledge the dark side of chocolate [primarily industrial – but still relevant to the world of fine chocolate], in terms of its colonialist legacy, its abuses of human rights, and its socioeconomic prowess that continues to support unjust power structures.

The Glossary currently contains seven categories. Five of these tackle important and challenging themes from (1) the use of cocoa in a cultural and social context compared to (2) an economic or political situation in addition to relationships with (3) social and (4) environmental justice as well as (5) traceability, transparency and value within supply chains. The formation of the Glossary project actually rose out of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association Value Chain Committee with the leadership of Kate Cavellin of Cacao Latitudes. I look forward to recruiting authors that have the experience and fortitude to take on these BIG and multifaceted words.

Chocolate coating

As we try to explain fine chocolate to the rest of the world, we coat our descriptions with certain words to make them more palatable to our commercial appetite. This returns my thoughts to the hilarious Miracle Max (played by Billy Crystal) and his wife Valerie (actor Carol Kane) in The Princess Bride. As she assists Max in preparing the miracle cure/pill that could return Westley from a state of “mostly dead” to fully alive (spoiler – it works!), Valerie remarks to Inigo and Fezzig that the “chocolate coating makes it go down easier.” Revisiting and laughing again at the film clips of this scene, I now find myself wondering:

What kind of chocolate did they use? (it “looks” dark)

Where did they get the beans?

How did they get such a nice temper?

For the Glossary, I do not want us to either chocolate-coat or sugarcoat terms to serve only one stakeholder. Instead, we aim to write in a professional manner that both stands and weathers the test of time.  As we communicate more, our knowledge about the applications of these terms will inevitably increase and thus our understanding will change. We need a platform that allows for this flexibility and the “Review and Comment” function within the Glossary framework addresses this need.

As you wish

In this excessively long post, I’ve hopefully introduced you to my educational philosophy and offered some of my wishes for the Glossary – to be accessible, trustworthy, flexible and timeless. However, it’s not “my” Glossary but “yours/ours.” Westley always only replied “as you wish” to Buttercup’s requests. She later realizes that “as you wish” stood as his surrogate for “I love you.” I do “love” many actual chocolates…but I love the inspiration and education that chocolate offers me so much more and I look forward to working within the community to promote the Glossary. 

So, I offer the Glossary my commitment of “as you wish” in honor of The Princess Bride. Let’s break each other’s fall down the hillside and proceed safely into the Fire Swamp where the “trees are quite nice.”  

[If you did skip to the end, you really must watch the movie. Even if you saw it before, watch it again and enjoy the never previously imagined parallels with the Glossary Project].

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *