ECUADOR & CHOCOLATE
chocolate is the best
It is impossible to talk about Ecuador, without mentioning its Cacao (the word ‘cacao’ was misspelt as ‘cocoa’ once-upon-a-time, in English). Cacao is synonymous with culture, development, identity and heritage; it is about a historical legacy, as ancient and full of splendor as the rivers, forests and volcanoes that characterize this South American country.
For many years, Ecuador has been recognized as the largest fine or flavored cacao producer in the world. The country produces a special kind of cacao, with floral aroma profiles. When European traders came across it in Gulf of Guayaquil, they asked the merchants where these amazing cacao beans came from. The locals answered “Arriba” – “up-river”, meaning the further up the watersheds of the rivers that reach the gulf. The name stuck, and to this day, this cacao is known in Ecuador as “Cacao Arriba”.
Traditionally, Ecuador has been a major producer of cacao. Today it is internationally recognized to be the supplier country for more than 60% of the world’s “fine flavor” cacao production, the raw material that is both required and coveted in the European and American industries for fine chocolate production.
Cacao contributes more than US$ 700 million to Ecuador´s economy. Over the last years, there has been a move to add value to this Ecuadorian product: several fine chocolate brands have managed to break into the most demanding markets of Europe, America and Asia, thereby providing work and more income for local farmers along the value chain.
UNIQUE FLAVOR AND AROMA
The richness and abundance of the natural resources that characterize Ecuador’s cacao production areas have enabled this product, over several centuries and in the hands of 100,000 smallholding farmers, to develop unique attributes of flavor and aroma. Ecuadorian cacao differs from other varieties in that it has a variety of flavors, highlighting those that evoke prunes, raisins, blueberries, citrus fruit, nuts, candy, honey, malt, sugar, almonds, peanuts, jasmine and even violet flowers.
THE HISTORY OF CACAO IN ECUADOR
Cacao production in America has existed for many centuries, even before the Spaniards’ arrival. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, cacao became a strategic commodity in Ecuadorian life. In 1779, the country went through its first major cacao boom, which carried on until around 1842. Some authors even state that cacao was the economic driver that helped finance two great moments in national history: Independence and the Liberal Revolution.
Until the late nineteenth century, fertile soil conditions and temperatures, as well as the adequate rainfall on the Ecuadorian coast, made for an ideal setting for producing the finest cacao in the world with excellent levels of productivity: this was known as National Cacao.
According to recent scientific studies, the variety of national cacao in Ecuador dates back to ancient times, when it grew wild in the Amazon region. Its intentional cultivation is recorded from the early Colonial period, although evidence from archaeological sites show its use in the pre-Hispanic period, too, 5,000 years ago. Cacao is, by these accounts, an Ecuadorian crop.
The first surge in cacao production came in the mid-eighteenth century and acquired a certain dynamism in exports between 1780 and the 1820s, a period that has been called the first cacao “boom”.
A full century later, in the second half of the nineteenth century and particularly after 1870, there was a second boom in the production of this fruit for international markets. Ten years later, cacao’s rise intensified, climaxing around 1906, and placing Ecuador at Number 1 in worldwide production rankings. During the twenty years between 1895-1913, the country continued to be the leading exporter of cacao, supplying 15-25% of world demand.
CACAO: PART OF ECUADOR´S NATURAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE
Within Ecuador, use and knowledge of the fine cacao aroma can be considered to be part of our intangible heritage. The knowledge and practices associated with its cultivation, consumption, transportation and marketing are part of a dynamic process forged by historical and cultural construction that has been a constant presence over the centuries.
In the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)‘s Rapporteur report from the 2nd meeting of project experts, entitled “The Cacao Route in Latin America and the Caribbean: cultural diversity and endogenous development” (Esmeraldas, 2008), the following points are identified as objectives within the agreements:
- To promote understanding and appreciation of the cultural diversity of communities and their territories which are related to the collection, traditional consumption and production of cacao, as a result of a shared and dynamic historical process.
- To promote interest and solidarity concerning the shared heritage of the different peoples and nations of the American territory.
- To value the importance of cacao and chocolate, its special product, in other areas of popular and academic knowledge: culinary arts, oral tradition, the vernacular, literature, music, visual arts, performing arts and other expressions of national asset (UNESCO, 2008).
Intangible heritage of the contry
From this perspective, it is clear that when we talk about the cultivation of cacao cultivation, not just in Ecuador but also in an American context, we come face-to-face with a practice that has a clear connotation of heritage that seeks to be valued.
Due to its medicinal properties, cacao can be used as an anti-inflammatory, and it is also used to treat tumors and swellings of the skin; for this effect, the pod is grated or scored when the cacao fruit is still tender and this is placed directly on the affected area.
According to some people’s testimonies, cacao pulp also has properties allowing it to absorb tumors. For machete cuts or wounds, this pulp is placed directly on the affected area, stopping bleeding and, after a few days, healing the wound.
Many people boil cacao leaves to bathe women who have given birth, because of its warm and replenishing properties.
Cacao can also be used to cure arthritis: the seed is roasted and ground, and then water is added. From this mix, a creme known as cacao butter is produced, which is rubbed into the areas where the pain is most intense.
Improves blood vessel health
Improves blood circulation.
Contains theobromine, which stimulates the generation of endorphins – the hormones of euphoria and joy
Contains serotonin for better brain function
Reduces depression and lifts the mood of those who consume it.
Contains positive body fat
It is preferable to combine cacao with the smallest possible quantity of carbohydrates and sugars.
Diabetics cannot consume sugar combinations.
People with weight control issues should consume in moderation.
If excessive consumption becomes an addiction,, it can cause obesity.
The fine aroma cacao bean has distinctive characteristics in aroma and flavor, which are prized by chocolate manufacturers. This represents only 5% of the world’s cacao production. Thanks to its geographical conditions and biological resources, Ecuador is the quintessential producer of fine aromatic Arriba Cacao (63% of the world’s production) which comes from the national variety whose taste has been well-known for centuries on the international market. This type of bean is used in all refined chocolates. However, many people do not realize that fine chocolate is distinguished by its purity, and more specifically by the flavor and fragrance of the cacao used.
Of Ecuador’s total cacao export, it is estimated that 80% constitutes fine aroma cacao, while the remaining 20% is composed of other varieties such as CCN51. Ecuador ranks as the most highly competitive Latin American country in this field, followed remotely by Venezuela, Panama and Mexico, three countries which have slowly increased their share in the international fine cacao bean market.
A sweet taste is still preferred in Ecuador
The annual per capita consumption of chocolate in Ecuador ranges between 300 and 800 grams per person per year, while in Germany the average is 9 kilos. This figure reveals that the promotion of local consumption is urgently needed in Ecuador, according to the analysts and producers surveyed.
Fernanda Crespo allots nearly USD 15 per month to fine chocolate aroma for sampling along with red wine. The practice of acquiring fine black chocolate is still nascent in the country, because most prefer milk chocolate.
Robert Brauer, of the chocolate brand Caoni, points out that dark or pure chocolate is consumed by people of 20 years and older. On the other hand, chocolate blended with milk is in demand especially by children and teens. An awakening towards dark chocolate has been noted, though: “Gradually more people are exploring the pure flavors”.
Some of the different types are as follows:
- Fine flavored “Arriba” cacao, also known as Creole or National, whose characteristic color is yellow. It has a unique aroma and flavor, which is central to the production of the exquisite gourmet chocolate so coveted worldwide.
- CCN-51 cacao, also known as Castro Naranjal Collection, whose distinctive color is red, and is renowned for its high performance features when extracting semi essential ingredients for the mass production of chocolate.