Sunday, January 25, 2015

Chocolate Tour

"I just can't believe chocolate grows on trees!" my friend Alana said as I told her about visiting a chocolate plantation in the pacific rainforest.  Learning how chocolate was made (and sampling it along the way) was a real treat!

The cacao tree has lots of little flowers, like these, which are fertilized either by insects (typically producing 20 fruits per year per tree) or by human beings (up to 100 fruits per tree per year).



These flowers grow into fruits like this:




Which you can then break

To access their slimy white seeds.

If you suck on these seeds, the outer white slime tastes sweet like lychee fruit, but the seeds themselves are very bitter.  Somehow, native americans figured out that if they ferment the seeds for 7 days


and then let them dry in the sun


you then have a bitter little chocolate bean, which you can use as money  (100 chocolate beans could buy a slave in the Native American economy). Only the very rich people roasted and then ground up the seeds


to make a foamy drink

Later, Europeans experimented with adding milk and sugar.  In our demonstration tour, we were encouraged to add a variety of different flavors

from vanilla (which comes from an orchid), to black pepper, to red-chili peppers, to corn starch, to cinnamon, to nutmeg (which comes from a tropical rainforest tree, which we saw growing as we walked to the plantation).  When I asked if they use the nutmeg from the tree we passed, they said they didn't because it produces hallucinations, and they didn't want us having any visions while we were there.  The nutmeg tree has enormous buttress roots.


We learned about all the additional processing that goes into making a chocolate bar, learned that white chocolate contains only the cacao butter portion of the bean mixed with with milk and sugar, and learned that chocolate can only grow in the tropics because the trees require high humidity and very stable temperature.

Currently, Africa is the prime producer of the cacao beans (which they they sell to people in other countries for processing) because the cacao trees in the Western Hemisphere have been infected with a fungus that kills the fruit.  So far, the fungus has not spread to Africa, and I hope humanity will be able to contain it, since the extinction of chocolate would be a true tragedy!

2 comments:

Jodi Orgill Brown said...

Wow, never seen a cacao tree! You are having some incredible experiences! Thanks for sharing!

Paige said...

Best reading of the whole week. Thanks for doing the step-by-step process. I wouldn't have cared very much without seeing you in the photos. I'm glad you aren't shy about putting yourself into the post. What an awesome hands-on experience.