THE “GRAN CACAO”
The cocoa tree
The Aztecs received from the Maya the secret of the preparation of chocolate, their divine drink. To prepare it, the cocoa beans were milled until they were reduced to powder and seeds or corn were also added. The resulting powder was mixed with cold water and stirred until a rose foam. Cocoa tree, in the Codex of Tudela.
Museum of America, Madrid. – Oronoz / Album
The first European to discover cocoa was Christopher Columbus, when arriving on the lands of current Nicaragua during his fourth journey.
More than a thousand years before the discovery of America, the Toltec, Mayan and Aztec cultures already cultivated it. They used the cocoa as a currency and to make a delicious drink, the “XOCOLAT”, as Hernan Cortes discovered it when Moctezuma II organized feasts in his honor. However, for its too bitter taste, it took a century to be introduced and used in Europe for the making of beverages.
Controled by Spain, the exchanges of cocoa were profitable by the middle of the XVI century, which maximized its crops on the current Ecuadorian coast.
Snack with chocolate in a French house in the 18th century. Oil by François Boucher.
Louvre Museum, Paris. SCALA, FIRENZE
In 1600, there were already small plantations on the edge of the Guayas River. This cocoa was recognized for its quality and its unique floral aromas coming from the native variety which we call today “Fino de Aroma” or “ Cacao Nacional” or “Sabor Arriba”.
By 1830, in Ecuador many wealthy families dedicated their lands to the culture of cocoa in farms called “Grandes Cacaos”. Located generally in Vinces and in other cantons of Los Rios Province, it was then common to entrust the administration of the farms to a third part in a way that the owners could spend long holidays in Europe. This is the explanation of “Paris Chiquito”, nickname given to the city of Vinces.
The production of cocoa doubled in 1880 (15000 TM), then it tripled (40000 TM). During 1890s, Ecuador is then the first exporter of cacao of the world in terms of export volumes. The first banks of the country were created on the solid basis offered by cocoa, then, the engine of the Ecuadorian economy.
Why Ecuadorian Cacao Is So Unique? Barely 5% of cacao produced in the world is given the prestigious label of Fine Aroma. Ecuador produces nearly 63% of that fine aroma flavored cacao worldwide production. International and knowledgeable chocolatiers look for this particular floral, fruity toasted aroma to distinguish a top dark premium chocolate.
The quality of Ecuador’s chocolate is due to the country’s diversity in terrain and equatorial location. Making fine chocolates is considered an art with a long tradition in countries including Switzerland, France and Belgium and it is no surprise that buyers from these places frequent Ecuador in search of the finest beans.
What is Ecuadorian Arriba Cacao?
In the world of chocolate, the word Arriba is synonymous with high quality and fine aroma cacao. Arriba derives its name from a XIX century legend about a Swiss chocolatier. While venturing down the Guayas River in the Ecuadorian Amazon, our explorer was struck by the a strong aromatic scent, which prompted him to ask some nearby natives, who were in the process of unloading cacao from their canoes, where the aroma was coming from? They responded, “de río arriba” which means “from up the river”. From that day forward this variety of cacao has been christened “Arriba” Chocolate tasters say the aroma of Ecuador’s cacao is more complex because Arriba beans vary hugely in taste and size according to the area in which they are grown.
The Arriba aroma is part of the Forastero species of Amazonian bean, which is considered to be one of the three finest categories of beans in the world, along with the Criollo and Trinitario species. The name Arriba traces back to a Swedish explorer who smelled the chocolaty aroma while boating along the Guayas River. He asked locals where it came from and they said, “de río arriba,” meaning upstream. Hence, Arriba beans.
Arriba refers more to the type of cacao produced, rather than the specific bean. The bean is typically called the Nacional, or Nacional Arriba, bean. These beans are designated to be fine-flavor cacao (FFC). There are three major categories of Nacional beans: Arriba Superior Época (ASE) accounts for about 37% of national production. Arriba Superior Selecto (ASS) accounts for about 20% of national production, and Arriba Superior Summer Selecto (ASSS) makes up about 7% of national exports
Ecuador Cacao – Some of the Best Chocolate in the World, cocoa of this type grows only in Esmeraldas and Manabi, another province south of Esmeraldas, and in parts of Peru.
Cocoa beans are the seeds, contained in a cucumber-like fruit, of the cacao tree, a member of the Sterculiaceae family. The flowers/fruit are borne directly on the trunk (cauliflory) and on thick branches (ramiflory). The yellowish, reddish to brownish fruits (botanically speaking, berries), which are of similar appearance to cucumbers, are divided into five longitudinal compartments, each containing up to 10 seeds (cocoa beans). As the fruits approach ripeness, the partitions break down and the seeds are located around the central funicle in a whitish pulp with a sweet/sour flavor.
The cocoa bean consists of the seed coat which encloses the cocoa kernel and almost solely consists of the two folded cotyledons, and the radicle. The cocoa kernel is the principal component for the production of cocoa products.
Two subtypes are distinguished:
|High-grade, criollo cocoa: the beans are large, roundish and brown in color. They have a delicately bitter, aromatic flavor and are easily processed.|
|Forastero or common grade cocoa: the beans are smaller than criollo cocoa beans, flattened on the side, have a dark reddish-brown to violet color and a sharper flavor. Forastero cocoa beans account for around 90% of the world’s cocoa harvest.|
The main zones of cultivation of the tropical cacao tree fall within a band 10° north and south of the equator. Central Africa produces approx. 75% of the world’s forastero cocoa harvest, while criollo cocoa is primarily shipped from Central America (Venezuela, Ecuador) and from Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Due to its high content of fat (cocoa butter), protein and carbohydrates, cocoa has a high nutritional value. Since cocoa contains only small amounts of substances such as theobromine (1 – 2%) and caffeine (0.2%), consuming it has no harmful side-effects.
In order to moderate the initially bitter flavor of cocoa and to develop the flavor typical of cocoa, the beans must be subjected to a fermentation process during which the highly bitter tannins present in the beans are oxidized, resulting in the formation of aromatic substances and the development of the typical brown to deep red-brown color of cocoa. As a result of the heat associated with fermentation, the cocoa beans lose their ability to germinate.