Money May Not Grow on Trees, but Chocolate Does!
Inside a cacao farm…
Chocolate. It’s delicious. We all love it, but few of us know where chocolate actually comes from.
It’s NOT Belgium, Switzerland or France. Cacao trees can’t grow there! Cacao comes from countries with tropical climates like Mexico, Brazil and Africa’s Ivory Coast.
I recently traveled to Belize, where Mayan farmers are still harvesting cacao much as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The ancient Maya ground cacao into a warm, thick chocolate drink. Today the local farmers sell their cacao beans through a cooperative to companies like Green & Blacks to make organic, Fair Trade chocolates.
I joined a tour through Cotton Tree Lodge to visit a cacao farm. Our guide, farmer Juan Cho, showed us through groves of cacao trees – all organically grown and tended lovingly by several generations of his family.
Cacao is a fruit with enough strains and special breeds to keep any foodie happy. The ‘pods’ come in shades of red, green, orange and brown and grow along the trunks and branches of the cacao trees.
Each pod holds about 40 cacao beans surrounded by a tangy, white slimy pulp. Local kids love eating the pulp, so Juan cracked open a pod with his machete to let us have a taste too. Delicious!
After the cacao pods have been harvested and opened, the slimy seeds must be loosened from the stem, wrapped in banana leaves and allowed to ferment for several days. From there they are thoroughly dried in the sun and shipped off to chocolate factories in the United States and Europe.
Juan’s mother, Cyrila Cho, produces her own brand of hand-made chocolate and showed us how she roasts and peels the cocoa beans to get down to the essential bits, called nibs. She then grinds the nibs with local cane sugar, allspice, nutmeg and vanilla to produce a truly unique, aromatic, chocolate paste, which she molds into bars. Cyrila let us each take a turn on her 300-year-old volcanic grinding stone, which her family brought from Guatemala-definitely hard work!
More about chocolate:
If you are interested in making your own chocolate, check out chocolatealchemy.com to purchase mechanized equipment for home chocolate makers.