Did you know that some of the best chocolate in the world is produced in Peru? The International Chocolate Awards in 2019, gave Peruvian chocolate bars a Gold medal in the Plain/origin dark chocolate bars category. Peru received 17 medals in total. At the Chocolate Show in London in 2017, the award for Best Chocolate in the World went to Cacao Shattell from Lima. But what’s so special about chocolate from this part of the world? Does it taste better that regular chocolate bars? or like many other Peruvian foods, have superfood-like health benefits? If you are a chocolate lover, Peru is the perfect place to visit for a dose of sweet, melty goodness.
Theobroma cacao, the small evergreen tree that bears cocoa beans, grows in abundance in Peru. In fact, the very origin of cacao is the Amazon basin and Andean lowlands of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Peruvian chocolate has been enjoyed by local people for centuries, used ceremonially initially and gradually enjoyed as the sweet confection it is today. Let's discover more about the history behind unique Peruvian chocolate.
Peru is the country with the richest history in the natural art of cacao. 60% of the world’s cocoa varieties are indigenous to the Amazon basin area, and Peru is the world’s 13th-largest exporter of cacao and the second-largest organic cacao exporter. The organic market is growing on a worldwide scale and the cacao plant is an environmentally friendly crop, making Peruvian chocolate a not-so-guilty pleasure. In Peru, over one-quarter of cacao production is certified as organic, fair trade, and/or sustainable. The origins of the original cacao bean are debated. The earliest evidence shows the Incas and Mayans first consumed the beans as a drink, but the evidence also shows that cacao beans originated in the Andes. The Spanish conquistadors learned how to consume chocolate as a drink from indigenous tribes. The practice became popular in Spain and then the rest of Europe.
The Olmecs, Aztecs, or Maya may even have enjoyed an alcoholic fermented chocolate drink, similar to chicha in the Andean region. Chicha is usually consumed as corn beer called chicha de jora. One thing is for sure, the original drinking chocolate was bitter, as cacao naturally is. The Spanish on their arrival to the Americas, introduced sugar to counteract this bitter taste.
Most of the cocoa in the world is produced in West Africa. Cameroon, for example, where much of the African production happens, produces what’s called bulk cocoa beans. In essence, it lacks character and probably goes into making the average milk chocolate Hershey bar.
Peru mostly produces what’s called fine or flavor cocoa beans. According to the International Cocoa Organisation, Peru produces 75% fine or flavor beans. For comparison, only 1% of Indonesia’s cocoa is considered “fine”. 60% of the world’s cocoa varieties are indigenous to Peru. Peru produces excellent raw materials for chocolate making because “the cultivated strains of cacao that grow in Peru change dramatically from region to region. In Piura and Cusco, for example, you’ll find the majority being indigenous varieties. Whereas in the Amazon region, you might find the majority of cacao growing to be amongst fine flavor cacao. Peru has around 12 major growing regions for cacao, and it is one of the world’s most biologically diverse countries. We see many different terrains, giving the cacao a unique flavor from region to region, and from plantation to plantation.
Peru is an important country for the advancement of the cocoa industry o a worldwide scale. With some of the highest quality cocoa in the world, thanks to the genetic diversity of plants (60% of the world’s cocoa plants are grown in the country), Peru’s reputation is growing as a producer of chocolate with a fine taste and nutritional value. The health benefits of dark chocolate, which Peruvian producers have mastered the production of, have been widely studied.
Recently, a presumed lost type of ancient cacao tree called Pure Nacional was rediscovered in Marañón Canyon. Declared extinct decades ago, the news that this tree, which produces non-bitter and fruity-flavored beans was found in the Amazon rainforest, has created great excitement in the chocolate-producing community. The Pure Nacional tree produces some of the rarest cacao in the world. And of course, chocolate lovers will be dying to get their hands on a bar of the good stuff. Realizing the potential chocolate gold mine they had discovered, the finders of the tree set about building a chocolate business called Marañón. According to Franz Ziegler, a Marañón partner, and chocolatier, the most important factor in creating a high-quality Peruvian chocolate product is the quality of beans. Genetics, soil, and post-harvest processes like fermenting and drying all contribute to bean quality.
Then it’s up to the chocolate manufacturer to release the flavors hidden in the beans. Classical chocolate manufacturing. All of Marañón’s cocoa beans grow “in the valley”, as they call it. A secret valley with a special microclimate in the north of Peru. Franz calls it the Jurassic Park of cacao, where three types of cacao grow with unique genetic profiles.
The most delicious food and drink arrive on our tables through the process of fermentation. Fermented foods truly are “the good stuff”. Who can deny that Kombucha, Kimchi, Kefir, Sauerkraut, Tempeh, Yoghurt, and apple cider vinegar, are healthy foods? Cocoa, called the food of the gods, also passes through a process of fermentation in order to make chocolate, and fermentation is the most important part of the chocolate production process.
Many of the foods that grow naturally in Peru happen to be classed as superfoods. One of these is the dried, fermented, and roasted dark seed called cacao, or the cacao bean. That’s great, you might say, but what’s a superfood? Well, first of all, the term superfood is a marketing term. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Imagine a type of food that is nutritionally dense and packed with substances that promote well-being. Some foods, like kale, green tea, emoliente herbal teas, and certain nuts and seeds, pack nutrient loads that punch well above their weight. Green Tea, for example, is rich in antioxidants. Raw organic cacao offers neuron protection and enhances cognition and positive mood. It also reduces inflammation. Dark chocolate contains more than 8 times the phenolic antioxidants as red wine, for example.
All visitors to the Choco Museo are offered free samples of chocolate, flavored liquors, homemade marmalades, cacao tea and more. Even if you don’t buy a single thing, stopping into the shop is a serious treat and the friendly staff are more than happy to assist and provide information about Peruvian cacao. It is also an excellent place to grab tasty souvenirs for loved ones back home, sit for a while in the cafe and enjoy one of their many handcrafted offerings, or sign up for a workshop so you can actually learn about and make your own chocolate. Choco Museo offers some of the best chocolate in Peru.
The chocolate-making workshops at Choco Museo are simply too good to resist. You can schedule your workshop ahead of time with your travel advisor, the day before, right in the shop, or whenever you have some free time in your Peru travel itinerary. Learn all about the fascinating journey of how the cacao bean is grown, harvested, and made into chocolate. Roast and grind the cacao beans into a tasty paste, and choose from dark, milk, and white chocolate to create your own chocolate bar and truffles, with exquisite toppings such as coconut, Peruvian pink salt, cookie crumbles, gummy bears, coca powder, Once cooled and set, you take your very own chocolate home as a souvenir to enjoy at a later time or take home as a gift for your friend and family from your vacation in Peru ..if they make it that far!