Chocolate’s Future Is Ours To Write, Within Limits

 

Slowmelt

sethi_breadwinechocolate_3dWe are among those hoping that the future of chocolate is tastier, but we thankfully missed the mistaken headlines highlighted in this story below (thanks to the salt at National Public Radio, USA). So no false hopes dashed, but we pass this along in the interest of science. And to highlight an author who has recently come to our attention. A couple of us who contribute here have a copy of Simran Sethi’s book Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love (click to the right to go to there) on our nightstand currently; she also podcasts on the topic of chocolate over at The Slow Melt (click above to go there).

Sorry Folks, Climate Change Won’t Make Chocolate Taste Better

gettyimages-626378342_wide-4e7d50db9ab7b5dcd9578cdca115148a070224e7-s1300-c85

A cocoa farmer opens cacao pods with a stick to collect cocoa beans at his farm in Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Two years ago, news headlines blared, “Cheese really is crack,” citing research that was widely misinterpreted as asserting cheese was addictive. Now, it’s chocolate’s turn.

Last week, several publications celebrated a new study that highlights the impacts of climate change on cocoa, stating global warming might make chocolate taste better. “Good news, chocolate-lovers,” wrote one outlet, “climate change may have a silver lining.”

Sadly, it’s not true. Continue reading

Creative Solutions to Save a Universal Favorite

At the International Cacao Collection in Turrialba, Costa Rica, José Antonio Alfaro examined pods — which hold the seeds that make chocolate — treated to resist a devastating fungus. Only a few cacao varieties are widely cultivated, making them susceptible to outbreaks. Credit Mónica Quesada Cordero for The New York Times

As we transitioned from life in India back home to Central America this year, patrimonial foods, and the ecological considerations of food sourcing has been a primary interest. Our pages have featured stories about monoculture agriculture endangering a well loved crop: bananas and coffee have cycled through similar situations. Below is an example of experiments with hybridization probably saving a species.

A Battle to Save the World’s Favorite Treat: Chocolate

TURRIALBA, Costa Rica — The trees of the International Cacao Collection grow here in an astonishing diversity of forms, bearing skinny cacao pods with scorpion-stinger protrusions, spherical green pods that could be mistaken for tomatillos, oblong pods with bumpy skin resembling that of the horned lizard — all in colors ranging from deep purple to bright yellow.

Within each of these pods are seeds that yield something beloved by billions: chocolate.

But despite this diversity, few cacao varieties are widely cultivated, and that’s a problem: Like many other crops, cacao is under constant threat from diseases and environmental challenges exacerbated by our tendency to grow only a few varieties with similar or identical genetic traits and defects.

“Most varieties produced worldwide belong to a narrow set of clones selected in the forties,” said Wilbert Phillips-Mora, who oversees this collection of 1,235 types of cacao trees and heads the Cacao Genetic Improvement Program at C.A.T.I.E. (an acronym in Spanish for the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center).

A narrow gene pool means that most commonly cultivated varieties of cacao are susceptible to the same diseases, and these blights can spread quickly.

Cacao production brought relative prosperity to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica until the late 1970s, when farmers began to notice that pods on their trees were developing a fuzzy white fungal coating and eventually mummifying.

The fungus — Moniliophthora roreri, also called monilia or frosty pod rot — soon spread around the country, and by 1983 Costa Rican exports of dry cacao beans had declined by 96 percent. The industry here has never recovered.

Continue reading

Cacao’s Curious Clues

4TB-amazon1-superJumbo.jpg

A view from the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory in São Sebastião do Uatumã, Brazil. A new study examines correlations between plant species in the forest today and archaeological finds. Credit Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Different day, different location, and our interest in cacao is  piqued again:

How the Amazon’s Cashews and Cacao Point to Cultivation by the Ancients

By

Scientists studying the Amazon rain forest are tangled in a debate of nature versus nurture.

Many ecologists tend to think that before Europeans arrived in the Americas, the vast wilderness was pristine and untouched by humans. But several archaeologists argue that ancient civilizations once thrived in its thickets and played a role in its development. Continue reading

Liquid Renaissance

28tmag-cocktails-slide-3bo4-master768

Sullivan Doh, owner-mixologist at Le Syndicat in Paris.Credit Charissa Fay

We are pleased to read of Mr. Field, in some ways doing in Paris what we have just noted happening with cacao in the Caribbean–a kind of renaissance of beverages that is also on our agenda in Belize:

The Slow Rise of Craft Cocktails in Paris

By

28tmag-cocktails-slide-Q0D3-master180.jpgIn her new book, “The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement” ($30, amazon.com), the writer (and T contributor) Lindsey Tramuta documents the creative and cultural shift she has witnessed in the city in recent years. Below is a passage on the rise of craft cocktails there.

To say that cocktails are a new phenomenon in Paris is to overlook a culture of distilling liquors dating back to the 1800s, one that gained greater traction more than one hundred years later during American prohibition, when newly unemployed bartenders came to Europe in droves and landed in some of the continent’s best hotel bars. Continue reading

Reviving Cacao

59417_orig_custom-915406cf70e2af518f4441fd5d23a7fd2512008d-s1400-c85-1

Cacao pods ready for harvest at the Loiza Dark Chocolate farm. Courtesy of Loiza Dark Chocolate

Thanks to Dan Charles and his colleagues at the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA) for telling us about that something speaking to Mr. Vizcarrondo; we, working in Belize, working on farm revival among other things, also hear that something and we are inspired to hear of others who hear it too:

The dream of reviving Puerto Rico’s chocolate tradition took root in Juan Carlos Vizcarrondo’s mind years ago.

He’s always been obsessed with flowers and trees. As a boy, he planted so much greenery in his mother’s backyard, there was hardly room to walk.

But in his thirties, he started planting cocoa trees, with their colorful pods full of magical seeds. “Something told me, just keep planting, because nobody has it! It’s so strange, nobody has it!,” he recalls. Continue reading