​The Origins of Chocolate

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Cacao is one of Costa Rica’s oldest and most cherished cultivated plants. Around the world, the cacao plant can be found in tropical destinations generally around the equator, where the weather is temperate all year round. Cacao, unlike coffee which flourishes at higher altitudes, does very well in the warm, humid lowlands of Costa Rica. If you come for a visit, notice the differences between the Costa Rican ecosystems – the cloud forests and coffee farms are at higher altitudes, and the rain forests and cacao farms tend to be at lower elevation.

Cacao plants feature multiple hard pods that look like small footballs, and which can be cracked open by hand. Inside the cacao pod are white pulp-covered seeds. The seed pulp tastes a bit like a very sweet lemon and is incredibly refreshing on a hot tropical day. For chocolate production, however, the pulp is left in place for the fermentation process. Batches of cacao seeds with their white pulp are left in wooden box containers where naturally occurring yeasts feed on the sugar in the pulp. The fermentation impacts the final flavor of the chocolate and is a critical stage of chocolate-making. After about 5 days or more of fermenting, the cacao seeds are ready for drying. Like coffee, the seeds are traditionally laid out on large beds to dry, before they are ready for grinding.

It’s easy to understand why chocolate was highly prized for both the Central Americans and then the Europeans who began consuming importing chocolate in the Middle Ages. The handmade process of preparation was extensive.

We love taking guests to learn about the history of this highly valued and delicious culinary treat. The Origins of Chocolate tour at a local outdoor learning and exhibit center in neighboring Alajuela Province is a great hands-on experience for adults and kids alike and involves an opportunity to make your own bon-bons from ground cocoa nibs. After witnessing the complex farming, fermenting and grinding involved, you may come to a new appreciation of your favorite dessert snack.

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