Lost in Belize VI: Following the Chocolate Trail

Adventure Travel, Belize, Budget Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Food & Wine, Tours & Attractions — By on March 16, 2010 at 6:00 am

By Holly C. Corbett
LG Executive Editor

*****

The district of Toledo, cradled between the Mayan Mountains and the Caribbean Ocean, is a 50-minute flight from Belize City and has been called the birthplace of chocolate. Ancient Mayans once used the cacao bean as a currency, and even wore it as jewelry. Today cacao farmers are feeding into the world’s chocolate frenzy by helping to manufacture the treat from bean to bar. The best part? Many of the leading companies, such as Goss Chocolate, are all organic and fair trade, using locally-grown beans. And though such a dessert isn’t exactly a health food, studies show that dark chocolate (in moderation!) can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

When my German guide Bruno-who runs Sun Creek Lodge and his own tour company along with his Belizean wife-heard how much I love chocolate, he offered to show us how the sweet stuff is made. He was full of interesting facts, and walked us through the entire process, from visiting a farm to stopping by the Toledo Cacao Growers Association that represents more than 1,100 farmers, to seeing how it’s packaged. We sort of did the trail backwards and stopped first at Cotton Tree Lodge, whose sign reads, “The Chocolate Center of the Universe.”

I learned that chocolate actually comes from the seed of a fruit grown inside a pod and surrounded by tart pulp. The cacao seeds are dried, roasted, shelled, grinded into a paste, fermented, usually mixed with all-spice or sugar or milk depending on the type, poured into a mold, cut after its dried, and packaged for sale. The bean itself actually tastes bitter, like coffee, before it’s grinded and roasted and sweetened with sugar or milk. Check out this video of how they do it at Cotton Tree Lodge with a hand drill and blow dryer. If you need extra motivation to visit, the annual cacao festival happens in May. It’s definitely worth the trip to taste chocolate that’s so pure, creamy, and fresh.

Photo and video credit: Mike Bristol

Tags: , , , , , ,