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Where does chocolate come from?

Sadly, we cannot grow cacao trees in the Adirondacks. Or New York State. Not even Florida can grow this delightful crop.

In fact, cacao trees are not grown any where in the contiguous United States. This is a serious bummer. Hawaii is the only US state that can handle cacao farming, but considering its size, the amount of cacao grown might be considered in the 1% “other” in terms of regions where cacao can thrive.

So where can we import this wonderful fruit? Going back just two decades, almost all of the world’s cacao came from West African countries. Today, other countries and regions have gotten into the cacao growing game, but Africa still dominates. 70% of the world’s cacao harvest hails from African countries such as Côte d’Ivoire , Nigeria and Camaroon. The other 30% can be credited to many South American countries including Brazil & Peru, Central American countries such as Haiti and Dominican Republic, Indonesia in Asia and a handful of other regions.

Why? Heat and rainfall. Cacao can grow only 20 degrees of the Equator in any direction…and that’s pushing it. Hawaii is considered the farthest point north of the Equator where cacao can grow, and even there it’s a challenge due to the “cool” nights. Cacao trees thrive within 10 degrees of the Equator.

With all that cacao farming, there must be hundreds of chocolate makers, if not thousands, in West Africa and other countries where cacao farming flourishes, right? Wrong. Almost all of the cacao beans grown in the world make their way to the United States and Western European countries for manufacturing. 

And once the beans make the journey, the amount of actual chocolate manufacturers in the US can be counted in terms of dozens…not hundreds or thousands. The reason being is that chocolate production is a long process with many moving parts. It can take 2-4 days to create a “bean to bar” chocolate product where production begins with the bean and ends with the final chocolate bar that we as consumers will purchase at the store. There are under 20 large producers of “couverture,” or chocolate blocks/wafers made and sold wholesale to chocolatiers. The remaining manufacturers are small producers that sell their own final products to consumers or other stores for resale.

Once the couverture is in the hands of chocolatiers, it is then transformed into all the wonderful delicacies such as truffles, chocolate bars, bark and pastries that make our lives worth living.

Here’s another fun fact for you, cacao farmers are usually family owned and operated, not large corporations. If there is a bad crop (and there’s usually a bad crop somewhere) due to weather or disease, family downsizing or any number of issues that may “crop” up…cacao production suffers and prices soar.

If you’ve heard the doomsday predictions, you’ve already begun stockpiling your beloved chocolate in a bomb shelter underneath your house because by 2050 chocolate will be extinct. Rest assured, that is not at all accurate.

But putting some chocolate away for a rainy day is always a good idea. 🙂