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Putting Their Senses to the Test: Costa Rican Group Tastes the Cacao from the Ecuadorian Amazon

Andreas Cordero*

By Inter-American Foundation on Comment

Pedro Vera’s farm in Playas de Cuje, Ecuador was the perfect natural setting to get to know the smells and tastes of cacao from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Five visitors from Costa Rica participating in a knowledge-sharing mission supported by the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) and the Talamanca-Caribbean Biological Corridor Association put their senses to the test to distinguish the floral, fruity, and exotic aromas and tastes.

“Our experience has shown us that good chocolate is made starting from the moment of choosing the fruit. If we learn to distinguish the characteristics and flavors that we have in the fresh pods, we are guaranteeing a delicious final product,” explained Carlos Bermeo of Ecuador’s Association of Production of Cacao and Derived Aromas of the South (ASOPROMAS), who served as the guide for the group.

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Carlos Bermeo from Asopromas (first at right) demonstrates how to identify and select diverse varieties of cacao.

The visitors to Ecuador were representatives from Costa Rica’s Cooperative of Producers of Cacao and Multiple Services of the Southern Caribbean (Cooperativa de Productores de Cacao y Servicios Múltiples del Caribe Sur R.L. - Coopecacao Afro). For Mara McDougal, a Costa Rican farmer participating in the exchange, the experience was immediately enriching.  “Trying the fruit in the field was the introduction to a complex and delicious world,” she said “If we want to be expert chocolate makers, we have to pay attention to details, and that is what we are learning with this experience.”

After leaving the farm, the next learning challenge for the group involved observing the process of drying the cacao seeds. Seeds in different states of fermentation, defective seeds, and perfect seeds were used as didactic examples to demonstrate which tastes are marketable and pleasing to the palate.

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Participants will toast these dry cacao beans to continue the process toward making chocolate.   

“Producers should know this procedure in order to value the importance of cacao quality and in that way position themselves successfully in the gourmet market,” explained another visitor, Juan Carlos Barrantes, Executive Director of Talamanca-Caribbean Biological Corridor.

Having a clear profile of the tastes, smells, and characteristics of cacao guarantees a delicious chocolate. ASOPROMAS is a successful example of production of a high-quality artisanal product that requires many steps along the way – including a sharp sense of smell and good taste buds!

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Angel Eduardo Lituma, from ASOPROMAS checks the peeled cacao beans.

GodsFoodFor two weeks, we are publishing a series of articles about cacao entitled “Food of the Gods” about how the IAF’s community partners are adopting organic production, learning to commercialize their cacao products, improving their livelihoods, and sharing their knowledge. The series title draws from the Latin term for cacao, Theobroma, which means "food of the gods" and speaks to how cacao’s legendary derivative – chocolate – is beloved across the globe.

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* Andreas Cordero, Journalist and Photographer member of Cooperativa de Productores de Cacao y Servicios Múltiples del Caribe Sur R.L. - Coopecacao Afro.

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