If We Could Only Grow Cacao

Besides the deliciously fresh, organically grown veggies we grow at the farm, one of my other favorite things is chocolate.  Chocolate always brings a smile to my face!  When I was younger, I never really thought about chocolate as a food. And I never knew that it came from the plant.  Along with many Americans, I believed that chocolate came from Hershey, Pennyslvania!

Chocolate comes from a tree?

Several years ago, I decided to learn more about making chocolate. I purchased a book that talked about the history of chocolate and chocolate making.  And that is when I first learned about the cacao plant.  I was intrigued. Chocolate actually came from a plant!

The agriculture behind chocolate

Over 8 years ago, when I first started volunteering at Hobbs Farm, I became very interested in understanding more about where all of our food comes from and how it is actually grown. My interest in local agriculture and curiosity to learn more about the origins of chocolate took me to the jungles of Central America in Belize.  A Dandelion Chocolate trip to Punta Gorda, Belize, delivered an inspiring hands on experience and education. I learned all about real chocolate, the cacao plant, the chocolate industry, how chocolate is made, and Belizean agriculture. After this amazing trip to Belize, I had a whole new appreciation for ‘real’ chocolate. While in Belize, I also witnessed a young American woman who was leading the efforts to alter the entire cacao industry in Belize.  (you can read more about that here)

I knew that my agricultural chocolate experience in Belize was not my last chocolate adventure. A year later,  I found myself visiting a friend’s 100+ year old organic cacao farm in the Dominican Republic.  We also visited various bean to bar factories to learn more about the chocolate-making process and also came across a women-led cacao company breaking boundaries in the Dominican Republic.   When you have the opportunity to experience where your favorite food comes from, it creates a whole new level of appreciation.

What is Bean to Bar Chocolate?

Inside of Cacao Pod at the Cacao FarmCacao trees can grow approximately 10-15 degrees north and south of the equator around the entire globe.  Cacao is predominant in Central America, South America, Carribean, Indonesia, Africa and more.  Bean to bar chocolate is when chocolate makers actually source the cacao beans from the farm or cooperative. They know exactly where their main ingredient is coming from and how it is being grown. They take those beans and go through a process to make chocolate. (click here to read more about that process) Traditionally, a chocolatier will source already prepared chocolate that they then melt down and create into confections. In most cases, the chocolatier is not directly connected to the source of their cacao and is unfamiliar with both the physical and economical farming conditions from where their cacao came from.

A bean to bar chocolate maker will control how much cacao is in their chocolate bar.  Bean to bar chocolate normally will have a cacao percentage on the package which indicates the amount of pure cacao that is in the chocolate bar. Many bars are in the 65% and higher range.  Being in full control of the creation of their chocolate, these chocolate makers normally use very few ingredients and also directly source all of their ingredients from farms.  To give you perspective on the differences in quality, a typical Hershey Bar contains 11% cacao and many added fillers.  Next time you are in the grocery store, take a peak at a Hershey ingredient label and compare it to any bean to bar chocolate label. The 2 ingredients in the Cacao Prieto bar shown in the image are: Organic single origin Dominican Criollo Cacao & Organic raw cane sugar.

Connect to real chocolate

People always catch me reading labels in the chocolate aisle at Whole Foods Market.  I love to taste new bean to bar chocolate bars from different cacao origins.  I enjoy reading the inspiring stories about the cacao farmers and chocolate makers.  Bean to bar chocolate is not readily available in traditional stores and supermarkets – even the Whole Foods Market chocolate section is fairly limited compared to the diversity of bean to bar makers that now exist in the United States and throughout the world.  It is definitely a movement – and this movement is helping cacao farmers throughout the world create a more sustainable income as well as allowing us to savor real, healthy chocolate.

Off to Crayfish Bay Organic Cacao Farm in Grenada

My next chocolate agriculture adventure starts tomorrow – we are staying at Crayfish Bay Cocoa Plantation in Grenada – a 200-year old, 15 acre organic cacao farm…more to come from Grenada!