The origin of cacao
The food of the Gods, the brown gold, there are many names for cacao, but one thing's for sure: it has played a role in the Peruvian history and marks as one most promising growing export product today.
One of the origin theories of cacao is that it comes from the tropical Andes hills, between the watersheds of the Amazon and the Orinoco river. Afterwards, it was made famous and domestic by the Mayas in Mexico and Central America who started using it in their rituals.
The Process of cacao
The cacao is a fruit that, when opened, contains many nibs packed in a soft white coat. These white coats are nice and sweet and a popular sweet for the local kids. The nibs are taken out and are left to ferment for about 5 to 7 days. Through this fermentation process, the typical flavor is developed that will come out once roasted. After the fermentation, the beans are dried out and thus continue to develop their aromas and flavors. It is very typical to see many cacao bits drying on asphalt roads or roofs in the Amazon or jungle areas. After the bits have completely dried, they are cleaned and roasted. During the roasting, the beans are crushed to be able to separate them from the shell. When the nibs are dried, separated and roasted, they will be grinded. This is where the secret lies, for as the grinding makes for the cocoa butter. The butter will be left to rest for yet another month and when this time is over, it will be mixed with sugar, turned into a completely smooth mass, and often natural aromas such as vanilla bean are added. The final step is the conching stage, where the chocolate becomes its typical flavor: the acidity that the nibs have to it are evened out and here each chocolatier can put its signature style on it.
Peru is the 13th largest exporter of Cacao in the world, though its share in the world market is growing drastically. More and more emphasis is put on fair prices for its farmers and a sustainable way of growing the plants. Cacao is not only used for chocolate, but also for example to make cacao liquor, cacao butter for cosmetics and its ashes and husks are used as fertilizers. In Peru, you can find different cacao varieties, such as the Trinitary, Amazon foreign and Creole bean. The Creole variety has a very good quality and is getting growingly popular as an export product.
Especially the Peruvian grown white cacao is becoming very appreciated by famous chocolatiers. These white beans grow typically in the north of Peru, near Piura. With a mostly dry climate, but large amounts of rain in the first three months of the year, this makes up for a tropical-arid climate, which is perfect for these cacao beans to grow. Funny is that in the past, these special white beans where seen as ´wrong´ cacao beans, with defects, and were sold very cheaply on the national market to make cacao powder. Nowadays, they are amongst the most expensive beans and are called the Nectar of the Gods. These white mutations only happen when trees are left without human activity for hundreds of years and therefore typical of this remote area in the north of Peru.
Chocolate workshops in Cusco or Lima
Would you like to learn more about cacao and make your own chocolate? In Lima and Cuzco there are Chocolate Museums where you can follow a chocolate making workshop, learn all about the process of going from cacao bean to chocolate, and of course you get to try the different chocolates.If you would like to try recipes with the white cacao bean, in Lima there are restaurants and some shops specialized in chocolate, such as Central Restaurante and Xocolatl where you can try. You can find many combinations in the chocolate, mixed with local fruits, and also typical Peruvian salt from Mares as well as with chilie peppers or other ingredients. Give it a try, and understand why the Peruvian chocolate is getting an international fame.