Ah, Chocolate – the mere sound of it simply brings about sensuality and delight. A thousand and one stories have been told about this so-called food of the gods. To me, chocolate is the perfect food. As a child, it was my favorite treat and I would be filled with anticipation of having chocolate. It is known as tsokolate, in my native language Tagalog – and is first and foremost a fruit. (Theobroma cacao).
I’ve been lucky to have grown in a tropical country that has the perfect climate for cacao trees (Theobroma cacao). The Philippine Islands being near the equator can grow a variety of cacao whether Criollo, Trinitario, Forastero or Calabacillo. On a visit to small cacao plantation in Cavite in Luzon, I saw how cacao trees were living harmoniously side by side with other agricultural crops like coffee, banana trees and coconut.
Cacao made its way to the Philippines (being a Spanish colony) starting from the 16th century. The Manila-Acapulco galleon trade route is primarily responsible for strengthening cacao’s presence in the islands. As William Lyon writes in his essay dated 1902 “…much of the cacao grown here is of such excellent quality as to induce keen rivalry among buyers to procure it at an advance of quite 50 per cent over the common export grades of the Java bean…”
Once cacao pods mature (becoming red or yellow in skin color), they are harvested, fermented, dried, roasted and farmers take it to the market to sell or have it ground to make their homemade tableya (chocolate discs) for use in sweet and savory cooking. As Fedor Jagor et al observes: “The pulp of the fruit is white, tender, and of an agreeable acid taste, and contains from eighteen to twenty-four kernels, arranged in five rows. These kernels are as large as almonds, and, like them, consist of a couple of husks and a small core. This is the cacao bean; which, roasted and finely ground, produces cacao, and with the addition of sugar, and generally of spice, makes chocolate. Till the last few years, every household in the Philippines made its own chocolate, of nothing but cacao and sugar.” Already, chocolate’s roots are very artisanal, and may very well be suitably called the “food of the masses” (Presilla).
Gourmet chocolate, distinguished from "normal" chocolate, has a higher cocoa content and is made from premium cocoa beans. It is often made in small batches without preservatives or artificial flavors. Gourmet, or "fine," chocolate should have up to five ingredients only - cocoa solids, pure cane sugar, natural vanilla, pure cocoa butter and in some cases soy lecithin. It contains no preservatives, but rather relies upon the natural resistance of well-made chocolate to contaminants that can maintain freshness for up to six weeks. Most mass-produced chocolate brands contain fillers, preservatives and synthetic flavors. Growing up with the real thing, usually just harvested a few weeks before, I was spoiled on fine chocolate early.
Once you’ve tasted fine chocolates – there’s no looking back.
Sources: Lyon, William S. (Scrugham) (2011-03-24). Cacao Culture in the Philippines (Kindle Locations 21-22). Kindle Edition.
Jagor et al, Fedor. “The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes”
Presilla, Maricel E. “The New Taste of Chocolate” (Revised)
Troy & Grace Lapsys, Chocolatiers in Albuquerque, NM. We strive to bring a combination of French Chocolate traditions and New Mexico flavors together at our shop in Albuquerque, NM. Chile, lavender, pecans - all local ingredients we merge with the finest chocolate from around the world.