History of Cacao 11 Where did Cacao make its trip? 1
Hello my fellow chocolate lovers,
I am Takanori Chiwata, the chocolate engineer of COCONAMA CHOCOLATE.
We’ve been talking about how cacao spread throughout the world and how it was savoured from a consumer’s perspective up until now.
Do you have any idea of which country actually cultivates cacao?
Maybe Ghana, Brazil, or Indonesia came to your mind.
Yes, cacao is grown in many countries around Equator.
Well, how did this magical fruit make its trip to these countries?
Cacao is believed to be from the Amazon region in the Northern side of South America, countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela.
It gradually spread, and were popularly grown in Southern Mexico, like Tabasco and Chiapas, during the Mayan and Aztec Era.
Even during the Spanish reign, the cacao production only became greater and greater.
Cacao was still very popular during the Spanish reign, since it was accepted as a form of currency throughout White, Native, and the Inter-Racial society. (FYI:200 cacao beans were equivalent to $1).
At first, it was only the Natives who favoured it as a drink, but it gradually got accepted among the Inter-Racials and Whites and cacao became a greater demand.
Later on in the 17th century, it became such a trend in Europe that other countries started growing cacao.
Up until the 16th century, Soconusco of Chiapas was the main producer of cacao, but it became harder for them to keep up with the demand due to a 90% decrease of Native population caused by epidemic and excess workload.
The amount of cacao from Soconusco dramatically decreased by the 17th century, but cacao was a necessity for the Guatemalans and the Mexicans. On top of that, the demand from Europe was growing as well.
Then comes Ecuador and Venezuela, known as the main producers of cacao even today.
Guayaquil, Ecuador is without a doubt a tropical zone. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, this region is blessed with rain which encourages the growth of plants, including wild cacaos. They just had to get rid of other plants, and there they had a cacao field. The export of cacao to Guatemala and Mexico increased, as Ecuador’s cacao species ,Forastero, is highly resistant to diseases and has high yield.
Between 1748-1822, about 40% of Europe’s cacao imports were from Guayaquil.
Cacao from Guayaquil is resistant to diseases and is rich in yield, but the extreme bitterness was a huge problem. Once in Europe, the bitterness of the cacao was neutralized by sugar, brought over from Spanish colonies.
Venezuela , a good rival of Ecuador, also exported many cacao beans to Mexico and European countries,throughout the 17th and the 18th centuries. Venezuelan cacao was produced in a small flatland located at the shore of the Northern Carribean.
Criollo is a Venezuelan cacao which is called “Caracas” in the exported countries. It was no match with the Soconusco, cacao from southern Mexico, but still loved as a quality cacao. It appears that Criollo was native to Venezuela even before the Spanish Invasion.
Majority of the Venezuelan Natives got wiped out by the Spanish immigrants, who started many large-scale cacao fields dreaming of the success that Meso-American cacao cultivators had.
Well who looked after the cacao without the hands of the Natives?
Now, let me share some dark histories behind cacao.
It was the slaves who took care and was laboured to produce cacao in Venezuela. Paulus III brought many Black people to the Spanish colonies after the ban of Native slavery, so that they can carry out the labour in cacao field instead.
- A ship carrying goods like clothes from some European country would sail to Africa,and trade the goods for slaves
- The ship sailed to the New World to trade the slaves for goods like like cacao,sugar, and tobacco
- This ship carrying the items from the New World sailed back to Europe, and the cycle repeated
I mentioned “Europe”, but wouldn’t you expect all the goods to end up in Spain who ruled South America? During this time, British and Dutch pirates attacked many ships and smuggled many goods. The Dutch pirates occupied Curacao, and contributed to illegal and highly-beneficial trades.
Of course Spanish Empire, known for its monopoly, did not just let this slip. They made a deal with a trade company to keep an eye and to regulate the illegal trades along the coast, and in exchange this company got exclusive rights to this area. Although this was very effective, it was impossible for them to get rid of all the illegal traders.
As the smuggling of goods continued, the spread of cacao to European countries did as well.
Let’s call it a day now.
In our next post, we will be focusing on Brazil and the Carribean to talk about the history of cacao production.
With hopes that you will be able to encounter the perfect chocolate just for you,