Ah sweet chocolate sin that’s always there, like that incessant craving that whirls and spins in our head…. But it’s not supposed to be good… everything in excess is bad… better to see it as a reward than as food…
Well, not necessarily… We are going to tell you a couple of secrets of the world of Cocoa and Chocolate from the experts. It turns out that from the Chocolate you know in the shops to the real Chocolate and Cocoa there is a world of distance, there is a lot to tell, a lot to learn. So pour yourself a cup of hot chocolate and get ready to realise that what you knew as Chocolate and what is Chocolate are very different things.
First of all, where does cocoa come from?
The question is very important, chocolate is the favourite food of millions of people around the world. Many of those millions consume it every day, yet they do not know the origin of this divine food.
When we designed the tour of La Casa del Cacao in San José we usually started by asking this question and the most common answers in order of frequency were.
- a) Africa
- b) Asia
- c) America.
We would now like you to answer this question yourself and compare your answer with reality, as we explore the reason for this answer.
The most common answer is also the most wrong answer. Cocoa did not originate in Africa, yet today the African continent is the largest producer of cocoa in the world. In particular the countries of Ghana and Ivory Coast where some farms extend for thousands of kilometres in a monoculture of this plant.
Cocoa moved to Africa because the countries with the longest tradition of chocolate production, namely France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Holland and the United Kingdom, had important colonies in these countries during the first half of the 20th century. Here they found very cheap and often slave labour and large tracts of African land were deforested without any thought for the interests of the European crowns.
b) Asia (Vietnam, Camboya, Laos, Singapur etc.)
Because of their tropical climate, these Asia-Pacific countries have turned to cocoa cultivation as an economic alternative to the exclusive chocolate tastes of neighbouring industrial giants such as China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
However, cocoa is not native to these Asian lands either. In fact, it is a relatively new crop that has found fertile soil and a climate similar to that of its ancestral home in these latitudes.
Finally we have come to the right answer! Cocoa is American, its genetic origins are found in the jungles of the Amazon. And it is perhaps one of the most important crops in the pre-Columbian history of the Americas along with Corn, Chili and Beans.
For some mysterious reason America was often the last choice on the minds of our respondents during the Cacao tours, which shows how the planet’s favourite food, indispensable in the diet of millions of people, is shrouded in a cloud of secrecy. Perhaps conveniently placed by contemporisations in a quest to conceal qualities, qualities and exploitative trade and labour practices.
Did you know that?
Many people believe that coffee originated in America when in fact it originated in Ethiopia in Africa. Costa Rica has one of the best coffees in the world (an African crop) and today Africa is one of the largest producers of Cocoa in the world (an American crop).
Mesoamerican, the gods and their gifts.
Several of the crops that today form part of our daily diet no matter where we are in the world originate from the New World, especially from the Mesoamerican, Intermediate and Andean zones of influence. Among these crops we find: chilli, avocado, guavas, corn, beans, tomatoes, cassava, vanilla and potatoes, among many other products.
When the Spaniards arrived the new world saturated their senses with endless lush green jungles, civilisations whose cities rivalled European capitals and a succession of overwhelming tastes, aromas and flavours that only the climate of tropical America can provide.
The Spanish also noted that the indigenous people seemed to direct an important part of their culture, social stratification and religion around the stories and properties of foods. Although different tribes and ethnicities often told particular stories of their creation, several products seemed to recur in importance and divine origin.
One of the most important of these is Cacao, a word that is the Hispanisation of the Nahual word Cacaoatl, which literally means The Food of the Gods.
This interesting fruit, which to Columbus looked like a gigantic almond, was quickly identified by the Spanish as a marker of social caste and wealth among the Aztec culture especially (this was due to Hernan Cortes’ interaction with Montezuma).
Used for celebrations and rituals by the priestly class, as an indicator of wealth by the ruling class and as currency by the middle class. The bitter taste of roasted cocoa and the air of solemnity with which the natives revered the fruit inevitably captured the attention and curiosity of the Spaniards.
The bitter taste and the energising effect of the drink amazed the Spaniards who soon exported it to the European courts as a drink of the kings of America for the kings of Spain. On the old continent the drink caused a furore. Chocolatadas were parties where the public gathered for the sole purpose of sharing and drinking chocolate.
Good bitter and good sweet.
When Cacao was Xocolatl, a Nahual word meaning “bitter water”, it was hispanised into the word Chocolate. The product was appreciated for its bitter characteristics. This bitter taste was given after fermenting, roasting and grinding the Cacao nibs with hot water. And adding foam by vigorous mixing.
The secret of Cocoa lies in Theobromine, the active compound in Cocoa. Similar to Theine and Caffeine, Theobromine is a long-acting stimulant alkaloid with medicinal implications used in concentrates and when consuming chocolate for the reduction of migraines, stress, fatigue and sleep.
Join us in our next entry when we tell you how to