After working for more than two and a half years with an Apex-Brasil Project for supporting Brazilian Sweets and Snacks sales internationally I had the opportunity to discover a different story about chocolate. Just like any ordinary Brazilian I had been used to that snowy mountain image linked to chocolate. Surprisingly I had never stopped to think about the intimate relation between chocolate, Brazilian biodiversity, its culture and history. And that’s just what I’ve found out in my current position.
When we think about this delicious brown sweet our imagination often drifts to snowy mountain sights, while those who are more acquainted with chocolate’s history may associate it rather with Central America where it was first produced as a drink from cacao beans. By recalling its history a bit more we will see the Amazon as birth place of what is scientifically called Theobroma Cacao, meaning “Cacao – the food of the gods”.
It is well known that the Amazon represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests, having the greatest biodiversity of tropical rainforests in the world. There, one can also find cupuaçu, a cousin of cacao now used to produce a sweet similar to chocolate in Brazil.
But not only the Brazilian Amazon is related to chocolate. An important part of Brazilian cacao culture and heritage is found in the midst of the Atlantic Forest. The forest itself is present along almost all of Brazil’s coastline. Yet cocoa and chocolate are more prominent in some of its regions especially in Southern Bahia, a place I’ve been visiting many times to learn more about the “food of the gods”.
Bahia is the fifth largest of the 26 Brazilian states and is famous for being one of the most important cultural hubs in the country. Samba and capoeira were born there and it is also the native land of the best known Brazilian writer – Jorge Amado. In one of his books - Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon – Amado mentions a record large cacao crop in the region of Ilhéus which placed Brazil among the largest cocoa suppliers in the world by 1920. The entire novel happens in the cocoa context.
Due to the witch’s broom plague that devastated the region by the end of the nineteen eighties, Brazil is no longer a major cacao producer. Even so, I can still feel the scent of chocolate in the air of Ilhéus. There are about 20 companies and most of them are developing special cacao and chocolate production. This is where I’ve learned terms like “bean to bar”, “tree to bar”, “chocolate flavor by crop” and others.
Farmers and producers in the North and South of Brazil showed me very different and diverse ways of working in this industry. Different varieties of cacao may result in distinct fruit notes like banana, melon and passion fruit. Research is helping to improve production of more resistant and high quality beans through Cabruca system. This preserves the native flora and fauna being key for a sustainable production process.
I was able to notice that just like wine, chocolate can retain the crop’s features and products may have different flavors depending on the season or the content of cacao in the bar – with no additional ingredients. For instance, chocolate may taste like cheese, dried banana, dried grape and sugar cane without any of these ingredients used in the industry. I could say I had never tasted anything like that before.
After 7 trips to those chocolate producing sights I confess that my perception about this sweet is no longer the same. In my mind, the traditional snowy mountain image is now more linked to milk, whereas Brazilian forests are definitely the place where we can find the food of the gods.
According to Euromonitor, Brazil is the 6th largest chocolate market having dozens of large companies producing with state-of-the-art technology. However just a small portion of Brazil´s current production represents special and unique products. No doubt the potential is great and both market and media are already noticing it!
I finish this post with some links of Candy Industry Magazine’s articles about sweets, snacks and chocolate by Bernard Pacyniak – Chief Editor:
Some of the Organizations Supporting Brazilian Chocolate Exports:
*Special Thanks to Yasmin Atun who coordinates Sweet Brasil’s Trade Promotion activities!