Quito, November 20 (Andes). - One of seven chocolate bars that the influential American critic and talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, is “crazy about” is Ecuadorian. It’s also organic, bittersweet, dark chocolate and flavored with an Andean herb known in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as hierba luisa, as limonaria in Colombia and as yerbalimón, in Panama.
Pacari’s Lemongrass Chocolate is one of the varieties that the chocolate company produces in its Quito factory. Their products are made from fine aroma cacao from Ecuador and Piura in Peru and they are selling a million bars a year.
In fact, at the same time that the famous opinion leader, named by Life magazine as the most influential woman of her generation, was writing about the chocolate bar on her blog, a jury, in London, was awarding it the gold at the International Chocolate Awards.
The other gold-winning Ecuadorian chocolate at the event was [Picari’s] Raw; the brand’s ambassador, businessman Santiago Peralta, boasts a palate trained to assess chocolate and at a Raw product tasting, pure chocolate with 70% cocoa, he detected hints of strawberries, red berries, wood, freshly cut grass and an after taste of malt, curry and cardamom.
He works with fine aroma cocoa and capitalizes on the diversity of product found in Ecuador--the country accounts for 60% of chocolate genetics in the world.
The challenge is to find products from various sources to maintain their independence from monocultures. He explains that the taste of the product can vary because cocoa may come from Esmeraldas, a province on the north coast, that is very moist and whose crops receive indirect light, or it may come from Manabí, a dry, very bright province, whose soil is rich with Andean volcanic ash, scattered there by the wind.
Pure chocolate made with Esmeraldas cocoa has walnut tones, its texture is creamy, while the Manabí cacao is known for its ominant jasmine tone. Peralta, who has been making these chocolates since 2007, has found that the solution is having about 3,000 farming families from different regions of the country. They support this project which is based on the idea of social responsibility. There are drying facilities in the production areas and they are offered training on issues like fermentation. These are key projects to move forward a country that has been the leading exporter of fine aroma cacao in the world, but that is only beginning its chocolate adventure.
Between January and September of this year, Ecuador has exported $330 million in cocoa beans, according to the Central Bank of Ecuador, in 131,000 metric tons of international consignments. Cocoa is the country’s sixth non-oil export product, accounting for 4.2% of the country's exports.
Interestingly, this country was a leader in cocoa production in 1900 and has exported cocoa for 250 years, but nobody had any idea on how to make chocolate, Peralta said in a special report by the BBC. Is Ecuador the home of the best chocolate in the world? was the report’s suggestive title. The article highlighted the fact that many cocoa farmers have not even had the chance to try one of the European chocolates made with the fruit they dedicate their lives to; a reality that is now changing. Fine chocolates is now being made in Ecuador, something that is a source of pride for the farmers, says Peralta.
In Ecuador chocolatiers from Tungurahua province, particularly from the city of Ambato, make a slab of bitter chocolate that they then use to make hot chocolate.
Chocolate in Ecuador has a history in the day to day life of the country’s cities, and that strongly supports a theory that challenges the notion that the Mayans and Aztecs were its original cultivators. This is especially true given the finding of microscopic remnants of cocoa in a ceramic container over 3,300 years old, by archaeologist Francisco Valdez in the Ecuadorian Amazon.