JAMAICAN COCOA (CACAO)
Like splendid wines and olive oils, fine chocolates all carry a signature flavor.
Their distinctive tastes start with the original ingredient: the cacao bean. Wine grapes vary by varietal, region of origin, harvesting methods and weather. So, too, do cacao beans.
Jamaica is one of a very small number of countries in the Western Hemisphere that produce and export what the ICCO (International Cocoa Organization) calls “fine and flavor” cocoa - the basis for almost all high-end chocolate sold in the world. It represents a tiny but growing segment of the world market because luxury chocolates have become quite popular.
The world chocolate market today is worth more than $75 billion annually!
The Trinitario and Criollo cocoa trees are known to be the finest and they are grown primarily in Jamaica, Ecuador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, but these “fine and flavor” crops represent only 7% of the world’s cocoa crops. The cocoa tree yields approximately 20-30 pods per year. Each of the pods only contains 30-40 beans. It takes 400 beans to make one pound of chocolate.
I guess this explains why the finest chocolate commands the highest prices!
The Jamaica cocoa farms are very important in the agriculture industry, because of the success on the world market.
The cocoa is a plant that you will find on the farms in Jamaica is originally from South America. When it is in the wild phase the tree will grow beneath the shadow of the taller trees. You will find that the height of the cocoa tree is roughly three to ten meters and will start to blossom when it reaches around 4 years old.
Just five per cent of these blossoms generally bear fruit, plus the pods can take close to 5 months to reach maturity. All the pods consist of 20 to 45 beans or seeds.
The types primarily harvested in Jamaica tend to be the Criollo and Forastero. The tree can grow in a wide range of soils, provided that they will be well-drained and deep, plus the temperate must be around 26C. Besides the soils and climate, the shade is actually the most essential necessity for cocoa.
On the island of Jamaica the cocoa with no shade will be afflicted from tieback brought on because of the direct sun rays and also by thrips, which is an insect that is attracted to the cocoa without shade. Some of the trees used to provide cover for this plant include the St. Vincent plum, locust, cocoa oak, immortelle or guango.
Some people use the plants like banana, castor bean and pigeon peas to provide temporary shade.
Another important factor to be aware of concerning the cocoa trees is that they will experience the drying out effect if the ongoing winds damage the little, tender blossoms and dry out the younger pods. Throughout the Northern section of Jamaica is the areas affected mostly by the Northeast Trade Winds, so the crops in this area have to be shielded by the artificial windbreaks or the hills.
St Catherine is the most important parish in Jamaica for the cultivation of cocoa because the mountain range will protect them from the winds. The main cocoa crop takes place between the month of September and November, but you will find few crops from February to April. The pods must be meticulously cut in order to avoid damaging the tree and after this the beans will be refined extensively and then finally utilized to make chocolate or cocoa.
Presently, you will find four factories in Jamaica where the cocoa is processed. These are located in Richmond, St. Mary, Haughton Court, Hanover, Morgan's Valley, Clarendon and also the Industrial Estate in Kingston, which is the headquarters for the cocoa Board. Undoubtedly, the Jamaica coffee and cocoa farms is important both for the local and international market. In fact, practically all the homes on the island will have a cup of coffee or cocoa to offer with the breakfast meal.
Did you know that chocolate, which comes from the Theobroma cacao tree, dates back about 4,000 years? Theobroma means “food of the gods” and the Aztecs believed it was of divine origin. They even used the cacao beans as currency. The Maya created the process to make what we know today as chocolate by fermenting, drying and roasting the beans, and then grinding it to make a chocolate liquor.
Although Christopher Columbus carried beans back to Europe in the early 16th century, no one was very interested. Then, in 1544, Dominican Friars took some Maya to Spain and brought along chocolate as gifts. The Spanish developed chocolate drinks seasoned with pepper, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon. Sometimes they mixed it with beer or wine. These drinks became a hit with the rich and decadent society people.
Of course, the French then discovered chocolate, thought it was an aphrodisiac, and made it even more popular!
When the British captured Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, they found flourishing “cacao walks”. Jamaica became the main supplier of cacao to England until a crop disease in 1670 wiped out much of the crop. But in the 1680s, Sir Hans Sloane reportedly was served a cocoa drink in Jamaica and mixed it with milk to make it more appetizing. He enjoyed it so much that he returned to England with his recipe and began to manufacture it and sell it as a medicine.
Much later, Cadbury’s used his recipe to manufacture their chocolate. Chocolate drinks became the rage; chocolate houses became like Starbucks!
The cacao tree is usually cultivated under the shade of other trees, such as the banana, and develops pods continuously. When ripe they are cut open and the beans are allowed to ferment so that they can be more easily separated from the shell.
The beans are then dried in the sun or in a steam-drying shed. Cocoa is prepared by grinding the beans into a paste between hot rollers and mixing it with sugar and starch, part of the fat being removed. Chocolate is prepared in much the same way, but the fat is retained.
Cacao is beneficial because it protects soil erosion, grows well on steep slopes, prevents weeds from growing under coconut trees, its husks are good animal feed, and it is easier to reap and sell than many other crops.
It’s also a reasonably sturdy tree and is able to weather strong hurricanes fairly well. And Jamaica has established and well-located fermentaries for processing.
With a renewed focus on increasing it’s consistent, high-quality cocoa cultivation, Jamaica could reap the benefits of high prices in the world’s cocoa markets!
The relative poverty of many cocoa farmers means that environmental consequences such as deforestation are given little significance.
For decades, cocoa farmers have encroached on virgin forest, mostly after the felling of trees by logging companies.
This trend has decreased as many governments and communities are beginning to protect their remaining forested zones
In general, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides by cocoa farmers is limited. When cocoa bean prices are high,
farmers may invest in their crops, leading to higher yields which, in turn tends to result in lower market prices and a renewed period of lower investment