Cacao, the beans from which chocolate is made, will be a new emphasis of Peru. In the prgram of “Buscando el cacao de oro del Peru” (Searching for the Golden Cacao of Peru) the President of the national council of ministers, César Villanueva pronounced cacao a “new kind of gold”. He said this at a time when a surge in gold mining has been announced which will contribute to a stupendous economic growth rate for the country.
Minister Villanueva and others feel that cacao can also make an enormous contribution to the national economy. The minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Milton von Hesse announced that Peru is the second largest producer of fine cacao in the world. He expects that this year exports will reach US $150 million.
The Cacao de Oro forum is a competition among the cacao producers of Peru, organized and sponsored by the mInistry of Agriculture, to identify the best cacaos of the country. For the purposes of this contest cacao is classified into three types, Amazon or Forastero of the upper Amazon, the common or traditional cacao (criollo), and native cacao.
Because of problems in cacao production in Africa, where you find the largest growers of cacao, Minister Villanueva said the future of Peruvian cacao is extremely bright.
Peruvian officials are not the only ones excited about the future of Peruvian cacao. Anthony Bourdain found himself enchanted with the flavor and possibility of the rare cacaos of Peru. They have a delicacy and mildness unusual in the world of chocolate.
The New York Times also trumpeted the value of rare Peruvian cacaos. It spoke of a wild variety with white beans. This promises, according to this major newspaper, to be important as new producers come on line.
Four main varieties of cacao are cultivated in the world: criollo, nacional, trinitario, and forastero. Of these, the least flavorful, the forastero whose Spanish name means stranger, comprises some 90% of global cacao production, mostly in West Africa. This is because it is hardy and was resistant to disease.
Nevertheless, cacao in Africa faces severe challenges, not just from disease but from severe inequality and forced child labor in the cacao plantations. As a result, chocolatiers have sought new sources of the bean called ”the food of the gods” for their chocolate. In addition, a growing market has developed for fine chocolate which recognizes the value of terroir, that is land and varieties for their distinctive flavor profiles.
Though cacao originated in the Americas, probably in the Amazon, its center of production shifted to Africa because of economies of scale and the lack of diseases in Africa which afflicted the forastero variety. That advantage is declining with increasing prices for cacao and the challenges faced today in Africa.
In Peru, most cacao producers are small holders, meaning they are family farms. In addition, Peru has a range of varieties and a range of ecological conditions giving it an unusual profile of flavors for its chocolate.
In Cuzco, producers cultivate the unusual and valued chuncho variety of cacao known for its floral qualities and fragrance. As the small holders receive more technical information and assistance, quality is improved and the market for fine cacao grows.
Besides export, is urging a development of the market for chocolate in Peru to recognize and value the national varieties and their qualities.