The cultivation of cacao in Mexico has a rich and colorful history that dates back nearly 4,000 years. While the birthplace of cacao lies on the other side of the equator, in the upper Amazon Basin of South America, the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica transported cacao up north throughout Central and North America. The ancient Mokoya civilization were the first recorded people to process cacao in Mexico. The Mokoyas later gave rise to the Olmecs, which would eventually develop into the Mayan Civilization. The Mokoyas were an early sedentary people who are credited with coining the word “kakawa”, which later translated to “cacao”- the term we still use to this day!
The tradition of cacao farming remained a crucial part of early American culture through the rise and fall of several major civilizations. In its most primitive context, cacao was a form of currency where the cocoa beans were used as a means of trade. It then developed into a drink for royalty, taken in liquid form as a hot beverage. Cacao eventually landed in the hands of the first colonists, when the Spaniards arrived in the New World, and brought it back to Europe. This new import from the Americas would eventually be mixed with sugar, refined, and made into the world’s first “chocolate”. Without this crucial link to the historical legends, stories, and traditional uses of cacao in ancient indigenous cultures, we may not have chocolate as we know it today.
With such a long and established tradition of growing cacao in Mexico, we would expect to see a plethora of Mexican origin chocolate bars on the market. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The annual production of cacao in Mexico is estimated to be around 27,000 tonnes, which is nearly 3 times the total amount grown in Central American countries. Even though this seems like a significant amount of cacao, Mexico is still not producing enough to meet their domestic needs for chocolate production, and are left to import cacao from other regions. The way the beans have traditionally been harvested and fermented, leaves much to be desired as far as specialty or fine grade cacao. Countrywide, the cacao is typically not fermented, but is either washed right after breaking open the pods, or allowed to ferment for 2-3 days, and then the remaining pulp is washed off. A longer fermentation period is one of the key factors contributing to the complex and developed flavors we find in cacao. Without the opportunity to ferment properly, the “cacao lavado” (“washed cacao”) lacks the depth and flavor qualities associated with fine grade cacao.
Even though Mexico has never been a significant source for specialty cocoa, one thing it has always had going for it are its genetics. Much of the cacao grown in and around the state of Chiapas, has a very long genetic history. Many of the old trees around that area bear the mark of the original Criollo genetics, cultivated thousands of years ago. In 2016, a farmer co-op was established called Organización de Productores de Cacao Sostenible Rayen, with the goal of reviving the cacao legacy left behind by the earliest civilization of Mesoamerica. By propagating the oldest trees on the farms, and then fully fermenting the cacao, they have been able to unlock the amazing flavor potential of these unique trees. We are once again able to experience the elegance and quality of exceptional Mexican cacao!
We at Dick Taylor Chocolate are honored to be working with such a unique cacao origin, building on the foundation laid by centuries of growth and cultivation. The terroir of where this chocolate is grown shines brightly in this bar, drawing attention to its complex flavors. The cacao itself displays flavor notes of persimmon, fudge, prunes, and molasses. Adding only a touch of organic cane sugar to the cacao, we allow the nuances of these flavors to shine through without distracting with any other ingredients. We hope this bar connects you to the history and appreciation of some of the oldest cacao on the continent.