It is impossible to talk about Ecuador, without mentioning its Cocoa. Cocoa 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 cocoa producer in the world, which for more than 500 years has provided a special kind of cocoa with floral aroma profiles that historians called ”Arriba” which means ”up-river”.
Traditionally, Ecuador has been a major producer of cocoa and today it is internationally recognized to be the supplier country for more than 60% of the world’s ”fine flavor” cocoa production, the raw material that is both required and coveted in the European and American industries for fine chocolate production.
Cocoa contributes more than USD 700 million to Ecuador´s economy and continues to uphold its prestige through added value: there are therefore several fine chocolate brands that are already being exported, and which easily break into the most demanding markets in Europe and Asia, revaluing the work of farmers who then achieve a more sustainable financial situation.
A bit of history
Cocoa production in America has existed for many centuries, even before the Spaniards’ arrival. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, cocoa became a strategic commodity in Ecuadorian life. In 1779, we witnessed the first major cocoa boom, which went right through until 1842. Some authors even state that cocoa was the economic driver that helped to finance two great moments in national history: Independence and the Liberal Revolution.
I 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, cocoa’s rise intensified, climaxing around 1906, and placing Ecuador at Number 1 in worldwide production rankings. During the twenty years between 1895 and 1913, the country continued to be the leading exporter of cocoa by providing for 15-25% of international demand.
Medical knowledge about cocoa
Due to its medicinal properties, cocoa:
- 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
- Helps concentration.
The fine aroma cocoa bean has distinctive characteristics in aroma and flavor, which are prized by chocolate manufacturers. This represents only 5% of the world’s cocoa production. Thanks to its geographical conditions and biological resources, Ecuador is the quintessential producer of fine aromatic Arriba Cocoa (63% of the world’s production) which comes from the national variety whose taste has been well-known for centuries on the international market.
Of Ecuador’s total cocoa export, it is estimated that 80% constitutes fine aroma cocoa, 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 cocoa bean market.
Types of Cocoa
Fine flavored ”Arriba” cocoa, 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 cocoa, 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.
The finest Ecuadorian chocolate bars
Tasting it is an experience for all the senses. Its dark and shiny color, and dry and strong breaking sound, proves its purity; its enfolding aroma and smooth taste, like the best-aged wine, stays on the palate asking for more.
The Ecuadorian chocolate industry is comprised of more than 25 brands, which are exported to around 30 countries. Among its greatest strengths, the handmade production techniques and its functional characteristics are most noteworthy. Among the main Ecuadorian chocolate bars, Pacari, Kallari, Caoni, República del Cacao, Hoja Verde, Pepa de Oro, Valdivian, Mashpi, Chchukululu, Cacaoyere among others are definitely worth to mention.
As in any tasting process, first sight matters initially, where a glow over the chocolate showing its quality can be seen. In addition to the dark tone, the coverage of chocolate should be smooth, indicating that sugars have been well compacted. Then comes the aroma, which can be perceived only by approaching the bar. On breaking the bar, the sound should be clear, precise and strong. A ’crack’ lets you know that chocolate was produced correctly.
Meals and menus
The most prestigious national brands’ recipes have mostly been developed through studies and international experiences, with innovation also playing its part. Thus, new combinations, flavors and aromas have emerged, which give the product a nice presentation and differentiated value to the consumer. Many of these products are combined with other types of exotic fruit such as pepper, uvilla, bilberries, banana, coffee, guava, ginger powder or ishpingo, offering extraordinary taste experiences. In this way, the humble grain of fine aroma cocoa turns into a unique creation when combined with these other ingredients.
Currently, chocolate has come into its own within Ecuadorian gastronomy, which uses this product to enrich delicious recipes and provide unmatched flavor to those who dare to try them.
Ecuador offers the world a Tourist Cocoa Route, where visitors can witness the manual tasks that are performed to achieve the best quality in a product whose value is intrinsic to their genes, but which would be impossible to achieve without the hand of the farmers, whose faces are kissed by the sun and their passion for their land.
If you want to learn about the cocoa production process, from planting to becoming an exquisite chocolate, you cannot miss the opportunity to visit the country’s various cocoa farms, especially those in the coastal region and the Amazon, where there are plenty of options to live and breathe the entertaining experience of this ancient fruit harvest, transforming it into chocolate and finally taste it.
Venture along trails through the vast plantations of cocoa; learn about the fruits of the ”gold nugget” which, once it has been cultivated, dried and ground, will be transformed into a delicious world renowned dessert: chocolate.
Going on these tours is, therefore, paramount to exploring the history, traditions, natural beauty, culture and flavors, not only of the finest chocolate in the world, but also of a unique region.