Chocolate Anyone?

Gold has always been sought in Ecuador. The Conquistadors scoured Ecuador for these deposits, as they did throughout South America. Their intent was to extract whatever resources they could from the continent, even while attempting to convert the indigenous to Catholicism. One of these resources was liquid chocolate, a commodity that became all the rage in Europe.

At the same time, the Incas used chocolate as currency, as it was valued for its taste and its perceived magical qualities. Francisco Valdez, an archaeologist, dug up some pottery that contained microscopic remnants of cocoa. Is it possible that Ecuador is the original home for the cocoa bean? This discovery in the Amazon indicates that cocoa beans were being harvested and added to the diet of the indigenous more than 5,000 years ago.

Out on a Limb

There was a chocolate boom in the 1800s and Ecuador, as the largest producer of cocoa, saw fortunes made almost over night. This was attributed to the high quality of the cocoa bean found in Ecuador. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, is attributed to making the first chocolate bar in 1847, a treat that soared in popularity throughout the world. The boom lasted until 1916 when the Ecuador crop was hit by a fungus that crushed plantations for many years. Abroad, Fry’s Chocolates survived for several generations, eventually merging with their strongest competitor, Cadbury Brothers. In 2011, the company closed its British operations and move to Poland.

Ecuador’s cocoa beans are known as Nacional or Arriba, the latter indicating the location of this delightful taste. The Arriba beans vary in taste and size relative to the area where they grow. With the advent of the popularity of dark chocolate, Ecuador became the pre-eminent exporter of fine beans until the growers realized that it was to their advantage to retain the beans and develop their own savory bars.

A Handful of Beans

This new focus resulted in smaller-sized family operations, focusing on quality over quantity. These operations also made a shift toward the popular, producing dark chocolate. This has resulted in a market share of about 63% fine Arriba chocolate sold throughout the world. Ecuadorians continue to explore dark chocolate flavors by adding new ingredients such as hot chili, sea salt, and roses. The variety of Ecuadorian chocolate has expanded but one thing remains the same: it is still in high demand.

Fact: “Ecuador’s cacao zone is to chocolate cognoscenti what Bordeaux is to wine-lovers.” (The Economist)
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