An expert’s guide to Guatemalan chocolate
Our country, Guatemala, has given at least two great gifts to the world. You can read more about one of them – coffee – in another post, here. It arrived relatively recently in Guatemala: but the other, chocolate, has far more ancient roots. It is a fundamental part of Guatemala’s culture.
This wonderful discovery was considered by the ancient Mayans to the ‘food of the gods’. And today, chocolate is still one of our country’s most famous exports. But if you’re wondering where it comes from, and what makes Guatemalan chocolate special, then this is the post for you.
Here is our expert’s guide to Guatemalan chocolate.
Where does Guatemalan chocolate come from?
There is evidence that the Mayans were enjoying chocolate from at least 450BC. They revered the cacao bean and often even used it as a currency!
They enjoyed their chocolate ground together with cornmeal and chilli as a healthy drink. Chocolate spread to the rest of the world via the Spanish, but suffered under competition from Venezuelan producers.
Today, the chocolate industry in our country is booming once again. Cacao beans are grown in plantations in areas such as Alta Verapaz in the north and along our Pacific coast.
The warm, wet environment of these sub-tropical regions is perfect for cacao growing. The beans are often fermented after they’re picked, especially when they’re destined for eating, rather than drinking chocolate.
What happens next?
Our country produces thousands of tons of cacao beans annually, and the vast majority of these are used to make cocoa for drinking chocolate. (We love our drinking chocolate here!).
The rest – around 20 per cent of the beans – is mostly exported. It’s generally sold to multinational chocolate companies who then process the beans and sell it on the international markets.
Of course, there is also a small percentage that is sold directly to artisan chocolate makers right here in Guatemala, such as Danta Chocolate. Other great Guatemalan artisan chocolate makers to try include Chocolá, based in Alta Verapaz, and also Ixacacao. (Incidentally, Ixacacao was also the ancient Mayan goddess of chocolate, fertility and abundance. So we’re sure that brand has her seal of approval).
What should we look out for?
Most chocolate tastes good – but connoisseurs will tell you there is a vast difference between your average bar and the very best. So what should you look out for when it comes to Guatemalan chocolate?
Well, first of all our advice is to ask about the provenance of the piece of chocolate you’re about to try. Again, most of the chocolate you will have eaten outside of Guatemala is made from exported cacao that is processed abroad.
Our advice is to seek out chocolate in Guatemala that has been bought directly from nearby cacao farmers, and made locally. It’s fairer to the farmers (who don’t lose profits to intermediaries), and it just tastes better too.
When it comes to the tasting itself, here’s how to do it like a professional. Break the bar first – it should make a smart cracking noise. Then smell it – it should smell richly of chocolate, rather than sweet and fatty.
Finally, place it on your tongue and let it melt, slowly savouring the complex flavours as it does. Flavours can range from fruity to floral, earthy to spicy. Remember you might not taste any of them if you just chomp it!
One last tip: look out for chocolate made from criollo cacao beans. These beans are said to have descended from the Mayan’s original trees first planted 3,000 years ago. Chocolate made from these is of the highest quality, and deliciously sweet.