Ecuador: Land of Chocolate

It was a long drive out of the Quilotoa Loop. Our original plan was to stop by a chocolate tour, since Ecuador’s chocolate is some of the best in the world, then stop for the night somewhere near the border going to Peru. However, it was almost impossible to find a chocolate tour even though we were in the cacao tree region. I found one online but the address wasn’t correct and ended up taking us way more to the west and way more off course than we expected, hours away in fact. Not only that but it took us two hours to get there. Thankfully we did not kill each other and finally sat down for the first part of the Hacienda El Castillo cacao tour: the cacao juice. It is very sweet, almost too sweet.

A little parenthesis for a little chocolate lesson:

Back in the day Ecuador used to be filled with cacao farms that sold chocolate called Nacional. At some point a fungus called the Witch’s Brew started spreading and killing the cacao business. A “chocolate engineer” from Naranjal called Omero Castro aka Don Omero  stopped by a family-owned farm one day and declared that he wanted to create a hybrid of a tree and a nacional tree to save the chocolate business. He traveled the world to try out different seeds and it took him 12 years to finally find the perfect hybrid. Excited, he showed the family what he had created, a tree that was smaller than usual: the CCN51. CC for Coleccion Castro, Naranjal for where he was from, and 51 for the number of times it took him to finally get the right hybrid. Unfortunately there was one problem, the chocolate tasted like dirt. At first companies refused to buy it and sadly Castro died thinking his life’s work had failed. Eventually, companies such as Nestle and Mars decided that they would be fine with a mix of Nacional and CCN51 because no one would really taste the difference with all the other stuff they would put in their chocolate.
So now, in cacao farms in Ecuador, you will find the Nacional trees that produce yellow cacao beans and the CCN51 trees that produce red cacao trees. You can also find these red CCN51 cacao beans around the world.

During our cacao tour, we saw both trees and tasted the inside of both beans. The CCN51 was extremely sweet and the Nacional was almost lychee-like. We saw the machinery that turned the bean to the bar. Since we had been very surprised that they had juiced the cacao, we kept two beans to make a new version of a juice we usually make. But when I tried juicing it not a single drop came out of the juicer. I opened the top of the juicer and found that the bean had turned the juicier basket into a bright pink. It looked like a flamingo had exploded. Not wanting to deal with it just yet, I decided to wait until we got to a place with a sink to wash it and by the time we got there, the pink had turned to a chocolate brown and tasted slightly chocolaty! Needless to say they must have had a special separator in their kitchen to have managed to get the white juice away from the cacao beans.

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