Did you know that one of the most praised fruits on earth, naturally grows in Ecuador’s rich flora and fauna, producing some of the finest quality crops in flavor and aroma? In Ecuador, Cacao has not only been considered a raw material but also a means of currency, a sacred food, a catalyst of several fortunes, and among other things, produces several health benefits. A wide variety of the best organic and raw cacao products, made by excellent chocolatiers, makes Ecuador the perfect place for cacao lovers.
Chocolate means many things to different people: it can be a special treat, a guilty pleasure, or a delicacy to be mulled over and evaluated much like wine. But for many people around the globe, it’s also serious industry. As of 2016, the global chocolate market was worth nearly $98 billion.
Cacao has been growing in the Ecuadorian jungle region as far back as 21000 years ago, before the last glacier era. It was used by the natives in the Ecuadorian amazon where it was transported to areas in Mexico more than 3000 years ago as a means of currency and incense. Cacao was also used as a special drink in ceremonies and offered to the gods by the natives as a sacred food. In Latin, cacao’s scientific name is Theobroma cacao which means “food of the gods”. When Europeans arrived to America and brought this fine product back with them, Cacao and its products, specifically chocolate, conquered the world.
Ecuador built a global reputation for growing their own special variety of Cacao, called “Nacional” which is categorized as “Cacao Fino y de Aroma”(Fine Flavoured Cocoa). The Cacao bean became so important in Ecuador’s economy, that it became one of the main economy drivers. To this day Ecuadorian cacao gets traded in the New York and London market where it fetches a premium over other cacao species and origins.
Ecuadorian cacao was so famous in Europe that there is a city in the Los Rios province where all the European traders (especially from Paris) would come to look for cacao beans. The city Vinces got the nick name of “Paris Chiquito” thanks to it’s European influence.
Ecuador’s Cacao also has an additional classification among the finest cacao producers from the Guayas and Los Rios provinces known as “Cacao de arriba”. When brokers would travel to Guayaquil’s port , “La Capital del Cacao” to trade the fruit, the finest varieties came from the northern provinces. They were referred to as “de arriba”. This saying became a trend that has lasted until present day and is used by several fine chocolate brands such as the chocolates from the Maison Du Chocolat in Paris. The logo “Lingot Arriba” refers to this high quality Ecuadorian cacao, where a 105g chocolate bar can cost up to €26.50
At present day, from 100% of the cacao traded in the world, only 5% is known as cacao “fino de aroma.” From that 5%, 65% comes from Ecuador. Thus, Ecuadorian cacao is still one of the best and most sought after in the world.
All cacao varieties in Ecuador can be fine and special if they are properly fermented. No one could imagine what our country could be if the agriculture sector could do a good fermenting process. We have a diamond in the raw and we have to know how to sharpen it.
-Eduardo Marquez de la Plata, pioneer of the first fine chocolatier in Ecuador.
Ecuador’s production of cocoa cannot match the global cocoa superpowers in West Africa in terms of gross output, but many chocolate connoisseurs feel Ecuador is tops in terms of quality. While many multinational companies turn to Africa for the base of their processed chocolate treats, smaller artisan chocolatiers look to Ecuadorian cocoa to provide the complex tastes they crave.
Presently, there has been a trend by several chocolatiers in Ecuador, to produce delicious, dark, organic, raw and “fino de aroma cacao” products for the local and international market with the concept of “More Cocoa, Less Sugar”. Among these products we can find, chocolate bars, cocoa powder, cacao nibs, chocolate cream , chocolate syrup, chocolate soaps, chocolate covered fruits, cocoa butter, etc.
Besides its flavor, aroma and historical importance, raw organic cacao is considered a super-food because of the presence of Antioxidants, Calcium and Iron. Cacao can help with heart health, increasing good cholesterol in the blood. It is also a high source of iron and calcium. Cacao can also improve skin and hair care and it is, as we all know, a great mood enhancer thanks in part to a compound called phenylethylamine (PEA). The benefits of PEA are thought to include elevated mood and increased energy. The plant also offers mood-boosting serotonin, dopamine and anandamide.
Luckily for those of you living in Ecuador, some of the finest Cacao products are right at your fingertips. Stop into any artisan shop and you find some of Ecuador’s best offerings. If you are in the Cuenca area stop by Ambrosia, Mercado de productos de la region and choose from a wide variety of Cacao products and find the perfect chocolate for you.