It will come as no surprise to chocolate aficionados that there’s an entire day dedicated to the sometimes-sweet-sometimes-bitter “food of the gods“. World Chocolate Day is on June 7th, and what better place to celebrate than in the world’s chocolate kingdom itself? Mesoamerica, made up of the Central American countries and parts of southern Mexico is home to the Maya, one of the earliest users and cultivators of the ever-revered Theobroma cacao. In southern Belize, the love for chocolate persists, with farmers and chocolate-makers excelling in the art of going from tree to bean to bar.
Learn the Craft of Making Chocolate in Belize
Do you know how chocolate is made? There’s quite a bit of effort that goes into turning the sweet and sticky fruit of a cacao pod into the sweet treat that we know and love. Intrepid travelers visiting Belize can get a first-hand look at the process with an immersive chocolate tour. San Ignacio Town, the Toledo District, and even the island of Ambergris Caye all boast a handful of artisan chocolate makers and sellers that offer an inside look at the bean-to-bar process.
For the full farm-to-bar process, head to the chocolate central of Belize. The Toledo district boasts authentic and intriguing experiences that are far off the beaten path, including when it comes to chocolate. At Copal Tree Lodge, insightful agrotourism experiences include a bean-to-bar lesson and a chocolatier class.
In case you were wondering: No, chocolate isn’t a fruit. But it does come from a fruit. The fruit of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) are large pods, inside of which you can find a sticky white pulp that’s just as delicious to eat.
The Tree-to-Bar Process
It all begins with a bean. Cacao pods are harvested year-round from farms. They’re chopped open and the white pulp from within is removed and left to ferment for 48 hours.
After that, they are dried and roasted, and then winnowed. Winnowing cracks the thin shell found around the beans, separating it from the nibs. The cacao nibs are then finely ground down into a chocolate paste. During this process, sugar can be added.
Next comes conching. The chocolate is churned at around 60° C (140° F) and any milk or flavorings are added. After that, the chocolate is tempered and finally poured into moulds.
For the Love of Cacao
The Mayas, Aztecs, Olmecs, and Mayo-Chinchipe people all had good reason to revere what has been dubbed “the food of the gods.” Chocolate is quite deserving of an entire day in its honor. Cacao is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. – a “superfood”, in fact. Packed with nutrients and antioxidants, the health benefits of consuming cacao include boosting mood, supporting gut health, and even supporting the immune system.
More than that though, many believe that chocolate – when farmed sustainably – could be the key to saving the rainforest. Cacao trees grow can in the shade. That means that they require little to no clearing of land for their cultivation. Shade-grown cacao, in fact, is one of the most sustainable forms of agriculture.
How will you be celebrating World Chocolate Day?