International Chocolate Day 2016
History of the Celebration
On how many days and in how many ways can we celebrate chocolate?
A quick review of the internet shows something that any of us who get that special craving at around 5 in the afternoon already knew: there is just nothing like chocolate! We enjoy it in so many forms: candies, ice cream, drinks, cakes, cookies…the list is endless. Some people crave Death By Chocolate, while others consider it the elixir of life.
Numerous festivities mark its importance in modern times. According to Wikipedia, the celebration of International Chocolate Day on September 13th each year stems from the US confectionary association’s decision to honour legendary North American chocolatier Milton S. Hershey by setting the holiday on his birthday. Other sources say that the choice of date is designed to coincide with the birthday of another beloved creator of sweets: Roald Dahl, the author of the timeless Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In Europe, on the other hand, the celebration has been set for July 7th, in honour of the day when the prized bean of the Theobroma cacao plant supposedly first reached the Old World’s shores from Mesoamerica.History of Ecuadorian cacao
The cacao bean, used in numerous presentations, has been known since antiquity. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Mesoamerican peoples have used this miraculous substance for over 34 centuries. Ancient cultures considered it to have aphrodisiacal properties and it has been proven to contain a powerful mix of antioxidants that help to improve cardio-vascular health and prevent chronic disease, as well as reducing blood pressure and regulating blood sugar. And few of us can doubt its link to endorphin production, which make us feel good.
What most people don’t know is that in Ecuador, archaeological studies have traced the bean back almost 5000 years! According to the National Association of Cacao Exporters of Ecuador, cacao has its origins in the high Amazonian region and exchanges between people of the Amazon and the Ecuadorian coastal region led to significant plantations of the crop up and down the provinces of Guayas, Los Rios, Manabi, Esmeraldas and El Oro, where it still grows today.
For centuries, the Ecuadorian native cacao variety known as Cacao Arriba (in reference to its being found upriver from Guayaquil along the path of the Guayas River) fuelled a significant trade between the country and Spain. So great was the power of the small bean that entire cities (Guayaquil) and fortunes were built on its trade, and many Ecuadorian plantation owners (“Grandes Cacaos”) had sufficient resources to spend significant parts of the year in Europe, leading to cultural exchange that had a significant effect on coastal architecture in cacao-plantation towns such as Vinces. Some historians even claim that cacao sales funded the country’s entire budget and permitted the formation of its banking system in the 1890s, when Ecuador was the world’s largest exporter of this valuable crop.And then disease struck…
In the 1920s, the Ecuadorian cacao industry faced devastating setbacks, as disease (Monila and Witches’ Broom) ravished the plantations, causing production to fall to just 30% of normal levels, WWI led to difficulty in transportation of the crop, and the 1929 stock crash and resulting depression led to decreased demand. The industry never fully recovered and many growers switched to other more lucrative products such as bananas and coffee, while West African producers took over the leading role as cocoa producers and exporters at a world level with bulk production of “ordinary” beans.
Those Ecuadorian growers who decided to continue with the crop planted new, more disease-resistant varieties, such as Nacional and Trinitarian. Many of these trees have survived until today, but it is the older, traditional Cacao Arriba that is driving today’s resurgence of the country’s cacao and value-added chocolate products industries.New trends
Cacao Arriba, categorized by experts as a “fine” or “flavour” bean, is now considered one of the world’s top cacaos. A BBC article quotes Sarah Jane Evans, a top UK food writer, as saying it has “a floral profile with black currants and spice” which varies subtly depending on the exact place it grows. The microclimates of the equatorial country are perfect for creating an infinite variety of this top crop, which forms part of the exclusive 5% of beans that give rich, complex flavours to gourmet chocolate bars and other premium presentations. Demand for this high quality cacao is on the rise, as is the trend to incorporate local producers into the value-added process so that consumers’ purchases contribute to development amongst individual farmers in the producing communities, a marked change from the concentration of wealth typical of the 1890s cacao boom.
Aspiring entrepreneurs and inventive chefs in Ecuador and around the world are also delving into the joys of developing new flavour sensations and product uses. In Ecuador, where traditionally growers shipped raw beans abroad for their incorporation into European confectionery products, numerous companies have sprung up in the last few years, creating previously unheard of taste combinations in chocolate bars that highlight unusual local ingredients such as Golden gooseberries, passion fruit, yucca (manioc), toasted corn, lemon grass and rock salt. Organic producers use dehydrated sugar cane syrup for natural sweetening of their bonbons. Chocolate beer, liquors, and jams have appeared at artisanal chocolate fairs in the country, as have chocolate-based skin-care products and even a non-toxic children’s modelling clay made from cocoa butter and glucose.
Top chefs around the country have also joined the chocolate craze by creating their own trailblazing new recipes that showcase local delicacies with world-class pastry and confectionery techniques. Metropolitan Touring’s own gastronomic director, Byron Rivera.
Dark Chocolate Truffles with Crunchy Almonds and Smoked Salt
- Melt chocolate in the bowl of a double boiler
- Add the peanut butter. Crush the almonds, reserve half and add half to the bowl of chocolate with peanut butter. Mix.
- Add rum and smoked salt to taste. Stir.
- Form into balls and roll in the remaining almonds.
- Serve and enjoy. Don’t forget to share!
Most of us, in all honesty, don’t need a special day to delve into our favourite taste treat. So when you visit your next local gourmet foods shop, pick up some Ecuadorian single origin chocolate. Or if you are fortunate enough to come visit any of our award-winning properties in Ecuador, don’t forget to include Ecuadorian chocolate – in any form – as part of your delightful gastronomic experience.
* Restrictions apply
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