Did you know that all chocolate originates from this region? The Mayans were the first to discover the benefits of the cacao tree. Christopher Columbus brought back this wonderful treat after visiting Central America – and eventually cacao trees were exported to other places.
Today we learned their ancient secrets and even made our own candy bar!
We first visited a cacao farm. This is a small-batch organic farm that produces about 5,000 pounds of cacao beans a year. They pride themselves on doing everything by hand – the original way – with no outside influences or pesticides. The farmer says his dog is his best tool – chasing the squirrels and woodpeckers that feast on the cacao fruit.
Above is what the cacao fruit looks like to start.
The farmer then opened the fruit and showed us the beans inside – they are surrounded by a pulp that tastes like citrus. We each pulled one out and sucked on it to find out.
We next moved to the “factory” – really a family’s compound, where the leader of the chocolate-making uses the same techniques his mother taught him when he was 13 years old.
First, they harvest these pulp-covered beans and let them ferment (the pulp helps with that). Then they roast them over a fire pit.
Then, they break them open and separate the shells from the “nibs” inside. He saves the shells to make tea.
The nibs are essentially chocolate. Under the Mayan technique, they grind the nibs to create a liquid. Our teacher still uses the same lava stone that was passed down from his mother.
We each took our turn at grinding.
When ground, the nibs release cacao oil, which is what creates the liquid form. This cacao oil also is saved to make “white” chocolate – which is just cacao oil and sugar.
Next, as a group – we decided what percentage of dark chocolate we wanted. We decided 80% – so he added about 2 tablespoons of cane sugar, and we ground some more.
Then he poured the liquid chocolate into molds and put them in the freezer for 10 minutes.
And the best part – we got to taste the result of all that grinding! It was amazing.
Most commercial chocolate also includes some type of paraffin so it doesn’t melt and has a longer shelf life, but you can’t beat this rich Mayan chocolate made by hand with organic cacao beans. Yum!