The Bitter Tale of Chocolate.

Let your next  bar of chocolate take you on a world tour.  For thousands of years chocolate was enjoyed by the ancient  Aztecs and Maya civilisations of South America. It was first brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 1500s.   Naturally a bitter taste,  once sweetened with sugar and commonly mixed with milk, it has become globally popular.

Watch for bars of  chocolate using beans from specific countries. You’ll even find them in supermarkets.


Amazonas and Ecuador (Arriba) at Lidls.




Chocolate at a great Venezuelan Craft Shop in South Ealing.                             MIV = Made In Venezuela.

Almost 4 million tonnes (huge !) of cocoa  are  grown around the world each year. From its origins in South America  it is now  grown mainly (70%) in Africa, in particular Cote D’Ivoire and neighbouring Ghana, whose economies depend on it.  Production these days  is increasing in Asia, mainly Indonesia.  Ecuador and Venezuela,  once leading growers,  now grow relatively  little, though often of high quality.   The world’s top 10 producer countries  are listed here.  Cocoa  is mainly grown by smallholder farmers planting 1-3 hectares. Politics and labour relations can make it difficult to earn a living.

Map key:  Green = native.     Brown = introduced.     [ I think the map should show Indonesia, not China ]


The three major types of cocao tree are FORESTERO (about 90% of world production) CRIOLLO (now minimal commercial production but said to produce  the tastiest beans), and TRINITARIO, a hybrid of the other two. Well explained here.  

The cocoa trail in London takes you to Kew Gardens, where botanists are successfully growing cocoa trees in the Palm House and in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.  The Kew Gardens website  explains everything very well.


Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew Gardens, August 2017.     In a plantation the bush-like tree is  kept to say 15 feet tall for ease of management. It naturally grows in the shady undergrowth of tropical forests.


At Kew Gardens, August 2017



cocoa plant 001

The pods grow on the trunk – unusual.   As per  this excellent site. 


teeth cocao 001

The beans are surrounded by a white pulp. The pulp is tasty but the beans are bitter. See site here

After picking, there remains much to do – fermentation, drying, roasting, winnowing,  grinding, sweetening, blending…….

Major world manufacturers are Nestle (Swiss) , Mars (USA),     Hershey (USA).  Cadbury (now part of Kraft Inc (USA).  No grower is a manufacturer, no manufacturer is a grower.

Like Kew Gardens, London’s  Chelsea Physic Garden also has  a long connection with chocolate. On entering the Garden, you see a statue  of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)   He was a businessman, physician and philanthropist.   Sloane chanced upon cocoa whilst in Jamaica (Britain had taken over  control of Jamaica from the Spanish).  The locals drank it mixed with water. But Sloane found cocoa nauseating, so he had the idea of mixing it with milk to make it more appetising. When he returned to Chelsea, his recipe was first manufactured and sold by apothecaries as a medicine for children. The garden still houses this original recipe. In  the 19th century, the Quaker Cadbury brothers bought the recipe, seeing it as an admirable alternative to alcohol.  Other notable Quaker ‘chocolate’  families were the Frys,  Rowntrees and Terrys.

And from time to time, Chelsea Physic Garden runs ”Chocolate Tuesday”   Join in the fun. 






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1 Response to The Bitter Tale of Chocolate.

  1. Pingback: Africa on the Square | John's World View

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