Did you know that some of the best chocolate in the world originates in Belize? The ancient Maya invented chocolate. The raw chocolate bean is called cacao. And we grow it right here. Mainly in the south. It is not really a bean at all but the seed of a tree that is also call a cacao tree. It grows in a pod, which is a fruit with the seeds inside. Belize has a long history of cacao production.
Some experts say Belize is the “Cradle of Chocolate”, meaning it was first used here. Maya kings consumed large amounts of chocolate as did the average Maya citizen thousands of years ago. The first tax on chocolate was probably here in Belize before Christ was born.
A Maya chocolate pot has been found that is over 2600 years old. A chocolate pot is a ceramic teapot that was used to make a chocolate drink. Fourteen of these pots were found in Belize in 1981. Some of them still had traces of chocolate.
Evidence suggests that the Mayan had chocolate at every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mixed with ground corn, honey, and hot chili this drink was poured from a standing position into a vessel on the ground. The long pour created a foam head that was prized as the best part of the drink. Regular chocolate drinking is very healthful habit, much better for you than tea or coffee.
Many Maya farm families still use the chocolate drink as a normal part of their diet. Probably farmers were growing and using cacao in this area even before the Maya empire began.
Cacao Cultivation In Belize
Hershey, the largest chocolate producer in the world, had their main cacao farm here. It was located along the Hummingbird Highway south of the City Of Belmopan. They produced cocoa and did some of the processing here. They also bought from local growers and guaranteed a good price so many local farmers invested in cacao trees and sold to them.
From 1984 until 1987 Hershey’s cooperated with the Ministry or Agriculture in a program called Belize Accelerated Cacao Production Project. The idea was to teach the local farmers the latest methods and to introduce the most productive varieties of cacao. The United States Aid to International Development and the Pan American Development Foundation were also part of this effort, which is still considered a model for international development.
Unfortunately, the world price for cacao dropped from about $1.00 U.S. per pound to less than 30 cents. It became cheaper for Hershey’s to buy on the world market so the entire Belize project was dropped. Many farmers who had invested in cacao trees suffered financial losses. Most of the cocoa plantations were cut down to plant oranges. As a chocolate maker this is a great tragedy to me. While many farmers continued to use cacao beverage as part of their diet there was no export and no actual chocolate production from Belizean cacao until the 1990s.
Green and Blacks, an organic chocolate maker now owned by Cadbury’s teamed up with the Toledo Cacao Growers Association to produce organic cacao for the European market.
The TCGA is now the main buyer of local cocoa and they have an extensive program to teach organic production. They also work with the international certification agencies to insure the adherence to the organic techniques.
In recent years TCGA has encouraged farmers to grow more organic trees and assists farmers with loans and technical advise. This assistance has caused the quality of Belizean cacao to reach a very high standard. The species of chocolate grown here are considered to be flavor beans. Flavor beans, as opposed to regular cacao is prized by chocolate makers. Worldwide less than five percent of the cacao produced is flavor beans. TCGA also guarantees the price and provides a place for local farmers to sell their product. Production amounts in Belize are still very small by world standards but the product is organic as well as superior quality. Recent planting could increase Belize’s cacao production fivefold in the next few years.
Local Chocolate Producers
Local chocolate production, actual bars of what we call chocolate, first occurred in the late 1990s. A company in the City Of Belmopan began producing a rough but delicious chocolate bar under the name Food of the Gods. This first Belizean chocolate company was owned by Belizean Richard Burns and his wife. Richard was an entrepreneur and former manager at Hummingbird Hershey. The company had a great name as the Latin for cacao is Theobroma, which means food of the gods. The company was short lived and no chocolate was made again here until 2007 when Goss Chocolate made their first bars.
Goss Chocolate was started by Kerry Goss and his wife Linn , on the Placencia Peninsula in the southern part of the country. Finding a high quality bean available here, they incorporated old style European techniques to produce a world class chocolate.
They now produce organic Dark chocolate, Milk chocolate, White chocolate and a Special Dark chocolate as well as producing cocoa powder for home use and for dairy production of chocolate milk and ice cream.
The company also makes Truffles for holidays and special orders. Palm Hill Dairy the second largest dairy company in the country, exclusively uses Belizean grown organic cocoa in it’s products. Goss Chocolate is available in most parts of our country. Three more Belizean chocolate makers have joined in since then.
Cirila is a Maya woman who, with her family, makes a traditional, tasty chocolate by hand grinding with stone. She is the only chocolate maker here who also grows most of her own cacao. Cirila’s chocolate is packaged and made in the south and is available mostly in that area.
Cotton Tree chocolate is made in Punta Gorda by the owner of the Cotton Tree Lodge, Jeff Pzena and his chef Julie. This s is a modern smooth chocolate that comes in two types of milk and one type of dark. It is available in many parts of of the country.
Kakaw chocolate is handmade in San Pedro by Jo and Chris Beaumont. Dark and Milk chocolate plus a variety of flavored chocolate bars and cocoa powder are produced there. It is available primarily on the island but is good quality and no doubt will eventually have wider availability.
Recent research has shown many health benefits from chocolate, mainly dark chocolate. It fights depression, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, high blood sugar, possibly Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.
Chocolate is not bad for the skin as was thought many years ago. On the contrary it contains B vitamins which are good for the skin. Chocolate contains minerals magnesium and iron that are essential to life and particularly needed by women.
Chocolate also contains protein, and other vitamins. Compared to most snacks chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is quite healthy.
Article By Kerry Goss. Text and Images – All rights reserved by Belize.com Ltd. & K Goss.
Kerry can be contacted at Goss Chocolate