Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Hot Cocoa Belt Around the World -- Part II

Ivory Coast and other West African countries, while perhaps the more prolific countries of the Cocoa trade, they are not alone.  Ghana and Nigeria, are also key players in Africa. Elsewhere, other cocoa bean producing countries that make up the world's "cacao belt" include Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, the Caribbean islands, Jamaica, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

Throughout the 'Cocoa belt" there are three main families of cacao trees, respectively. From Africa, the Forastero type of bean, which accounts for 85% of the world's supply, originates from the Upper Amazon. This type of bean has a robust, full-bodied and pronounced flavor.


In Mexico and South America, the Criollo bean is most prominent, known for its exceptional quality, aroma, and flavor. This bean unlike other types of cocoa is, according to internet sources, nearly without bitterness, a quality that makes it a favorite among luxury chocolate makers. It is a bean that is considered rare, and therefore commands premium pricing. It is the type of bean used almost exclusively for the production of Grand Cru chocolates, those carrying the designation which signifies that the beans in a bar all come from a certain plantation in a particular country or region. Since the introduction in the 1980's of Grand Cru as a marketing moniker, the term Premier Cru also has been added to denote an even higher level of quality.

Combining the characteristic robustness of the Forestero and delicate flavor of the criollo types of beans, the Trinitario cocoa bean is a hybrid named for the island of Trinidad. All three types of bean come from cocoa trees, bringing truth to the notion that chocolate grows on trees. But the path from cocoa bean to chocolate bar is a long and labor intensive journey from the tree which typically grows in humid, tropical regions, between 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south of the equator.

The cocoa tree, also called the cacao palm and the chocolate tree, is dependent on ambient heat and humidity. Very fragile, the tree often grows in the shade. Cocoa tree fruit, which are called and resemble pods, presents a rather startling appearance, as it grows right on the tree trunk. A pod weighs between 7 to 27 ounces, and takes 5 to 6 months to reach maturity.

More to come...

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

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