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The charms of chocolate

HK EDITION | Updated: 2020-03-30 10:34
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What are the historic origins of cacao consumption?

Mesoamerican civilisations report such consumption, but in a totally different form from ours. Cacao appears there as a generator of force or power, as humoral medicine did in other civilisations. The cacao tree is a tropical plant living in shade in the wetlands of the Orinoco. Monkeys, who eat the sweet pulp of the fruit, are credited with the transit to the wetlands of Central America. The actual plant cultivation dates back to the conquest of New Spain by Cortés, in what is today Venezuela. The Portuguese cultivated cacao in Brazil and transplanted it to their African colonies – from São Tomé to Príncipe, to Bioko and to the Gulf. From there, the French took over its cultivation in the Ivory Coast via Ghana. It could then be found in Madagascar, Ceylon, Indonesia, Vietnam, Samoa and beyond.

Tell us about the main varieties…

For a long time, the vocabulary of Venezuelan farmers was used. In Spanish, they distinguished between local (criollo), foreign (forastero) and hybrid Trinidadian (Trinitario) cacao. This semantics can be picked up by any Spanish-speaking and cacao-producing country. Researchers today distinguish more than 25 hybridisations, often from research centres in each producer country. The cacao tree is as unfaithful as the tomato. The laws of the market distinguish "fine" cacao from "merchant" cacao, with price differences from one to five. It is possible to improve the yield and resistance to diseases – such as Ecuador's CCN-51 – of the wonderfully aromatic Nacional Arriba, down to the low-yield, even if it's from the same country. Involuntary crossbreeding will be inevitable in the near future.

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