Saturday, January 7, 2017

Where is all the chocolate and cacao in Cuba?

I arrived back just yesterday from a week-long trip to Cuba. And if you know anything about me, or this blog, I usually travel for chocolate. But this was a family trip, so I went with the group on our tour destinations in Cuba. In fact, when booking the trip, Sunwing Vacations gave us a list of the tours we could take, and none of them included a trip to a cacao plantation (our resort was about 300 km away from the nearest one, so that was understandable). So we booked a 'Taste of Cuba' day trip, and I simply hoped that cacao would be a part of the foods that we explored.

When we arrived at the resort, I learned there was, in fact, an overnight trip to Baracoa, the region where cacao grows. But by then we had our plans made and I didn't want to make changes. I figured, surely if cacao grows in Cuba, there will be some chocolate or cocoa beans available at the tourist shops, especially since Holguin was close to Baracoa (comparative to the other destinations most people visit in Cuba). But I was very, very wrong.

The "Taste of Cuba" day trip had less to do with food than I thought. There was a moment, on a Cuban farm where I thought I saw some cacao cut open on a table with other regional foods. But as I got closer, I quickly realized it was another fruit that looked similar to cacao when cut open, called Guanàbana. Although I was disappointed it wasn`t cacao, I learned about a new fruit, and discovered how delicious Guanàbana is. The fruit flavour is so potent, it reminded me of the strength of flavor in Guava juice, but brighter and almost bolder, which was unexpected from a fruit so white in colour (I`ve tasted the white pulp from cacao and it was very mild in comparison to Guanàbana). The seeds were also black and only slightly smaller than cocoa beans, but apparently nothing is made from Guanàbana seeds (that I`ve learned anyway).

So back to Cuban cacao.... According to cubanagriculture.org, cacao entered Cuba in 1540, but didn't boom until the late 1770's. And by then, it had become the main drink for breakfast and other occasions. Cuban cacao production went up and down over the centuries and years since, but after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, cacao was included with new plants of development to improve the country`s agriculture. The best conditions for growing cacao are in the eastern provinces of Cuba, with Guantanamo and Baracoa bearing the best fruit. There is also a factory that makes chocolate in the same region.

Apparently there was Cuban cocoa liquor (solid, unsweetened chocolate) in the airport Duty Free store after check-in.  Unfortunately for me, I was stuck in a line-up for three hours to simply check-in, then immediately had to board the plane and had no time to visit the store.  Boy was I disappointed when I learned from the woman sitting near me that she had found some there. I almost offered her $100 Canadian for it, but thought the better of it. I'd best spend that money on Chocolat Chapon's, Willie's, or Pralus's Cuban-origin chocolate bars.

So based on my mistakes on seeking out Cuban cacao during my vacation, I can give you a little advice if you are also heading to Cuba, and on the path to find Cuban cacao or chocolate in Cuba.

Number One: Plan to visit Baracoa (and ask your travel agent directly, even if they send you a list of excursions off your resort that has no cacao included).

Number Two: Visit your Duty Free store after check in at the airport. There was some at the Holguin airport, and likely at other airports in Cuba as well, so just be sure to give yourself time to check.

Number Three: Get to the airport early. Like 6 hours early. Don`t take the Sunwing Vacation bus, or you may not arrive on time for your Sunwing flight. Seriously.

Number Four: Watch out for Scorpions. This has nothing to do with chocolate, but there was one in my bed. If you want to live to eat another chocolate bar, I highly recommend shaking out the sheets before going to sleep. The photo on the right is the dead-by-squishing scorpion that we found in the bed, after it bit my husband twice in the middle of the night. Sleep did not happen much after that. And thankfully my husband had no complications from the incident. The hotel staff said it doesn't happen often, but the surrounding woods makes it not uncommon to find scorpions on resort property. Don't let that deter you from visiting, but just be aware of such deadly little creatures while traveling to warm, tropical destinations.

If you have been to Cuba and explored Cuban cacao and chocolate, please share your experiences in the Comments section below. I'd love to learn more about other vacationers' experiences with finding chocolate and cacao in Cuba.

If you are traveling to Cuba some time soon, for cacao or just some fun in the sun, enjoy your trip!

1 comment:

  1. A short article on Baracoa in the National Post explains why it is hard to find chocolate bars locally in Cuba, even in Baraco: http://news.nationalpost.com/life/travel/che-and-the-chocolate-factory-cubas-most-remote-city-is-also-its-tastiest

    ReplyDelete