Growers' Insights: Hawaii’s "hot" chocolate is always in season

Island chocolate growers enjoy a continual harvest in this growing industry.

While the majority of the world’s cacao beans are grown in Africa, Hawaiian production is spiking. “The past few years have seen tremendous growth for high-quality dark chocolate, with a corresponding increase in prices, similar to California wines beginning in the 1980s,” says Tony Lydgate, an owner operator of Steelgrass Farm on the island of Kauai. “Chocolate and cacao are among the state’s fastest growing industries. We are increasing our orchard from 300 to 3,000 trees.”

Francine Frost, owner operator of Hana Gold Cacao Plantation, on Maui, has also seen growth recently. “We’re expanding from 700 trees to a thousand, with plans for more,” she says.

Hawaiian cacao production is growing for several reasons, including being free of child slavery often associated with other chocolate-growing regions. Another reason is that many farmers who have found success growing coffee are now venturing into the cacao business. As with many products, chocolate produced from Hawaiian-grown cacao has a distinct flavor.

“The trend is for using single-origin chocolate, made from a single region or even a single farm (‘single estate’), which creates a bar with a distinct flavor,” says Nat Bletter, Ph.D, ethnobotanist, cacao researcher and chocolate maker at Madre Chocolate, in Kailua, Oahu. “Chocolate has a terrior,” Bletter explains. “Hawaiian chocolate is fruity, whereas Indonesian chocolate suggests hazelnuts, New Guinea is smoky, Venezuelan chocolate can have nutmeg notes, Madagascar is reminiscent of dried fruit and Mexico’s heirloom chocolate is savory.”

Hawaiian cacao growers sell their product mostly to chocolate makers located in Honolulu. They receive about $9 per pound for fermented, dried beans. “In other places, they may get between 50 cents to $3 a pound,” Frost says. “Hawaii is not yet selling cacao beans by the ton; it is a budding industry.”

Artisanal dark chocolate bars cost anywhere from $5 to $20 a bar. “A healthy tree can produce 20 to 30 pods annually,” Lydgate says. “It takes about 10 pods to produce one pound of dried cacao beans. One pound of beans will produce around 10 chocolate bars, depending on bar size and its cacao content. In round figures, one ripe cacao pod equals one chocolate bar.”

One hundred-percent cacao mass would be extremely bitter, like unsweetened baking chocolate, so sugar is added. For example, a bar labeled 70% has 30% sugar added to the cacao mass and cocoa butter.

From the bean to the bar

Chocolate trees need three to five years to mature, Frost says, before they begin producing pods whose seeds become chocolate beans. “Cacao doesn’t have a harvest season per se,” Frost says. “The tree can have flowers, immature pods and fully mature pods all at the same time. We harvest, more or less, every two months.” On Kauai, Lydgate harvests every few weeks.

The Chinese rose beetle can be devastating to cacao seedlings. “But once the tree is larger they’re not such a threat,” Frost says. “We protect the seedlings from beetles and direct sun in ‘cages’ covered with a gray shade cloth. The trees thrive in the rich volcanic soil, the rain and overcast days. I’ve never irrigated, fertilized or used pesticides.”

Fermentation is key to chocolate making. “The pod has a gentle, flowery smell and beautiful, varied colors. The mucilage within the pod that covers the bean tastes like mango or lemon,” Frost says. “Fermenting the beans in wooden boxes takes about seven to eight days. Beans reach a temperature of 115°F, or more, allowing them to acquire a chocolate smell and taste. We sun-dry the beans, rest them for about 30 days and sell them to chocolate makers.”   

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Six Philadelphia hospitals were honored by the city’s department of public health for healthy food initiatives introduced as part of the local Good Food, Healthy Hospitals program, bizjournals.com reports .

The hospitals each debuted healthy measures to their dining services, such as lowering the cost of water bottles and seltzers, and offering dishes that incorporate local produce. One hospital was also honored for operating its own organic farm.

The facilities that were honored were:

Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Eastern...
Sponsored Content
chili flakes and peppers spicy hot

From Catallia.

When planning your menus, take note: college and university students think spicy is hot.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers age 18-34 find spicy flavors, “extremely appealing,” according to Technomic. And almost 50% of college students surveyed said they would like their schools to offer more ethnic foods and beverages, states a recent Technomic College & University Consumer Trend Report. Translation: they like their food kicked up a notch!

More Options than Ever

“Students of today are all about flavor,” says Steve Mangan, director of dining for...

Industry News & Opinion

Sodexo is partnering with celebrity chef Robert Irvine in an attempt to provide military communities with healthier meals.

The 10-year partnership will allow Sodexo to access chef Irvine’s knowledge of nutrition and fitness in its aim to benefit the quality of life for military members, the vendor said in a news release.

Sodexo hopes that Irvine’s popularity as the host of Food Network’s "Restaurant: Impossible" will draw attention to its commitment to nutrition, health and well being. Irvine also has a military history himself—before embarking on his culinary career, he...

Industry News & Opinion

The cafeteria at the Smithsonian's new National Museum for African American History and Culture is intended to be an extension of the museum, showcasing stations that offer cuisines from different geographic locations such as the Creole coast and agricultural South, Time reports .

The eatery, Sweet Home Cafe, was set up to highlight the wide range of African-American cuisine, Executive Chef Jerome Grant told Time. When it officially opens later this month, it will serve dishes such as shrimp and grits, pan-roasted oysters and a fried catfish po’boy.

Celebrity chef Carla...

FSD Resources