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Origins: Cocoa’s coming home

Nicaragua: A future fine flavor cocoa origin, but work needed

By Oliver Nieburg+

29-Sep-2014
Last updated on 29-Sep-2014 at 12:09 GMT2014-09-29T12:09:56Z

Nicaragua could grow into a fine flavor cocoa hub, but farmers need to understand the benefits of fermentation, says Atlanta Chocolate founder
Nicaragua could grow into a fine flavor cocoa hub, but farmers need to understand the benefits of fermentation, says Atlanta Chocolate founder

Nicaragua holds potential as a future fine flavor cocoa origin as farmers shift from coffee to cocoa, but much work is needed to improve fermentation practices, according to Atlanta Chocolate’s founder.

Kristen Hard, founder of the Atlanta Chocolate Company, was in Nicaragua judging cocoa samples from local producers for an opportunity to participate in the 2015 International Cocoa Awards (ICA) run by Cocoa of Excellence.

Speaking to ConfectioneryNews, she said: “Coffee is predominant, but with climate change it is moving up to the mountains. As that happens, farmers have an opportunity to grow cocoa.”

“Right now Nicaragua has not been on the map for chocolate manufacturers. They have potential, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There needs to be a paradigm shift.”

“You’re not getting a quality cocoa. They need to understand fermentation better.”

According to Hard, half of the beans in Nicaragua are unfermented. She said that chocolate manufacturers needed to work closely with organizations such as Lutheran World Relief to ensure beans were fermented and cooperatives were strong to improve post-harvest practices.

Unused acreage

Nicaragua is one of the ancestral homes of cocoa. The World Bank says that it could have been the country where Christopher Columbus first tasted cocoa – although other sources say he robbed the cargo of a native Mayan trader near modern Honduras to get his first try.

The Eye Falls

 “They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.”

Christopher Columbus describes how indigenous people in Central America regarded the ‘almond-like’ cocoa beans. He allegedly brought the beans back to Europe for the first time after his fourth New World visit between 1502 and 1504. 

Today, Nicaragua produces around 4,000 MT per year, representing under 0.3% of a global supply that is heavily concentrated in West Africa. Nicaragua was embroiled in conflict between 1960 and 1990 and was also devastated by an earthquake in 1992 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

The country has 1.9m hectares of land suitable for cocoa production, but only 11,000 hectares are currently used, according to the 4th National Agricultural Census.

Hard said that plantings and infrastructure were largely already in place. “It involves a strategy of what is already existing – some trees need to be rejuvenated with grafting.”

Improving quality

She said it was important that Nicaragua developed as a fine flavor origin to command a higher price for cocoa. “Right now commodity prices for cocoa are not sufficient,” she said. “For me it’s all about quality and it’s very difficult to find.”

Factfile: Nicaraguan Cocoa
  • 4,000 MT (2012/13)
  • 10,500 cocoa farmers
  • 60% exported
  • 62% of exports go to Central American countries
  • 37% of exports go to Europe.
    Sources: ICCO and World Bank

The Atlanta Chocolate chief said that there were numerous tree varieties in Nicaragua, but Trinitario was the most common. She said that Nicaraguan cocoa had a high fruit flavor with nutty notes.

Atlanta Chocolate does not currently source form Nicaragua, but Hard said that her company would introduce a Nicaraguan origin chocolate within a year.

Hard said she would work with Lutheran World Relief in Nicaragua to help train farmers on post-harvest practices to ensure the quality was right.

Ritter and other initiatives

Ritter Sport is also aiming to improve the domestic cocoa market. It currently sources a small percentage of its cocoa from smallholder farmers in Nicaragua but recently announced that it would eventually source 30% of its supply from the country after buying 2,500 hectares of land for its own Nicaraguan cocoa plantation.

Earlier this year Switzerland launched a $12m five-year project to boost cocoa production in Nicaragua and Honduras. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will also fund a $12m project in Nicaragua to support 3,350 cocoa farmers on the eastern side of the country between 2014 and 2019.

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