When you think of Peru, Machu Picchu, ancient Inca roads, deep rainforests and ceviche all spring to mind, However Peru can boast another incredibly fascinating and delicious wonder…..CHOCOLATE. The cacao bean thrives in Latin America, and has done so since ancient times, dating back 3,000 years or more. The local people of Peru have enjoyed hot chocolate long before it hit the chic cafés of the western world. In reality, the origins of chocolate can be traced back to the Amazon basin of Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
Chocolate, cocoa butter, and cocoa all come from cacao, which grows as seed pods on tropical evergreen cacao trees. In fact, chocolate has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years by indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest. In Peru, it was the Incas and their predecessors who grew cacao. The Incas transformed Peruvian chocolate into an infusion considered medicinal and ritualistic.
Cacao trees are relatively environmentally friendly to grow, as they are shade crops which help to protect the vital top soils of The Amazon, vital habitat to many smaller tree varieties and animal species. Cacao trees first originated in the Amazon basin and chocolate became an important part of cultures like the Aztec and the Maya. The Spanish brought chocolate to Europe from South America and added in sugar to the mix for a sweeter taste.
In the case of Peruvian Chocolate, there is the main harvest and a mid-season harvest. In Peru, the main season for growing and harvesting occurs between April and August. Bear in mind that most Cacao grows during this main season. The mid-growing season in Peru occurs between October and November. Despite the fact that the growing and harvesting season is limited to certain parts of the year, Cacao production is a year-round operation. Both producers and local workers tend the trees, harvest the cacao by hand, and process the Peruvian cacao beans into that delicious substance we know as chocolate. All this effort is finalized in the packaging and sale of the product. It is estimated that approximately 50,000 Peruvians work in the Cacao industry.
Chocolate in its raw form where these health benefits are most apparent. This wonderful delight is packed with proteins and fibres that aid digestion and muscle development. It is packed with trace elements like Potassium and Magnesium which help neurological and metabolic function. However, possibly the most notable benefit is its mood-enhancing properties. Thanks to its high content of theobromine and phenylethylamine, the consumption of Peruvian Chocolate improves mood and increases energy levels. Of course, there has to be a down side which is that the benefits of Cacao decrease notably with its processing. When additives like sugar and milk are added, cocoa can be more of a sweet than a superfood. However, a delicious dark chocolate bar can provide a wealth of antioxidants, minerals, and other bioactive compounds, so not all is lost!
In this informative and hands-on workshop, you will learn about the different growing regions of Peruvian cacao. Then you will make your own chocolate starting from roasting the beans all the way to pouring the melted chocolate into their moulds. Experiences available at the ChocoMuseo in Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Lima.
Select lodges in the Amazon rainforest have cacao plantation tours included in your stay, or at an additional cost. During the tour you’ll be able to go directly where Peruvian cacao is grown, meet the farmers and even taste some fresh cacao beans right from the pod. Tours to local, family-owned plantations just outside of Cusco, specifically Valle de la Convención, are also available through ChocoMuseo.
At ChocoMuseo, you can sample a variety of house brand products, ranging from liqueurs, marmalades, nut butters, and their white, dark and milk chocolate bars. To try a range of different brands and products, explore the entire spectrum of Peruvian cacao without leaving the museum, with expert local insight about this delicious and nutritious superfood.
Learn all about a local crafts, in a traditional community in The Sacred Valley. This incredible ceramics, chicha de jora and chocolate workshop will help you learn the process of making your own ceramic pot, how to prepare Inca beer and finally, how to prepare chocolate using traditional Chichubamba methods from this Sacred Valley community.
More of a truffle person? You can make those, too! ChocoMuseo also has an amazing truffle-making workshop, where you’ll learn to make ganache and bonbons. Of course, you’ll learn a lot about Peruvian cacao during the class and have numerous samples to try throughout the class.
ChocoMuseo also offers a Chocolate and Pisco tour, which is an excellent experience for anyone wanting to try local cacao and the national drink of Peru all in one day. Pisco is a grape-based brandy from the wine valleys of Peru and locals as well as visitors enjoy the popular drinks Pisco Sour and Chilcano.
1. Chocolate was once money that literally grew on trees
In Mayan times, cacao beans were used as currency and considered to be worth more than gold dust.
2. Chocolate wasn’t always solid, or sweet
Until 1847, chocolate was a delicacy enjoyed in bitter liquid form. The British chocolate company Fry and Sons introduced the concept of “eating chocolate” after combining cocoa butter, sugar, and chocolate liquor.
3. It took eight years to develop the recipe for milk chocolate
Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolatier and businessman spent eight years trying to figure out a recipe for milk chocolate that would work. It wasn’t until 1875 that he realized that condensed milk was the answer and makes Swiss chocolate what it is today!
4. When it comes to cacao beans, a little does not go a long way
It takes 400 cacao beans to make 1/2 kg of chocolate. Each cacao tree produces around 30 to 60 pods per year and each pod contains around 40 beans. So, each tree produces 1-2 kg of chocolate per year. Add to this, the fact that cacao pods are harvested by hand, so you can now understand why good chocolate is so expensive.
5. White chocolate isn’t really chocolate
White chocolate isn’t considered to be chocolate because it doesn’t contain any cacao! This sweet treat is made from a blend of cocoa butter, vanilla, and sugar. Still yummy, however!
6. Chocolate does funny things to our brain
Just a whiff of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which trigger relaxation. A study conducted at Hasselt University in Belgium showed that when the scent of chocolate was diffused in bookstores, sales of books increased, especially those of romance novels!
8. Chocolate is good for your teeth
Chocolate has an antibacterial effect on the mouth, as eating pure cocoa has been shown to prevent tooth decay. Chocolate-flavoured toothpaste, anyone?
If you are a chocolate addict, Peru could possibly be the best destination for you to visit to fill up on your favourite delicacy and learn all about his incredible, healthy and delectable plant.