July 2018

What is wrong with Bolivian chocolate?

By: Yasmin Winther Simonsen
Projects Abroad Volunteer

Chocolate is one of the most complex foods we know. It contains more than 600 flavor combinations. It can be sweet, bitter, nutty, fruity, and savory all at once. Currently, Bolivia is recognized as the world's largest producer of organic cocoa, but when you ask people about Bolivian chocolate, most people won't give it the time of day.

The story of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica-ca. Drinks made from chocolate date back to 350 B.C. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of money. After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it, and it became popular throughout society.

Every year from late December to February, people from the Amazon in Bolivia head deep into the jungle in the search of wild cocoa. Bolivia is the world's largest producer of organic cocoa, but even though the country has countless opportunities for growing cocoa beans and making great chocolate, they just can't seem to get it right. The flavor is not as enjoyable as other places in the world, and the texture is wrong. Most likely, it will taste like wax.

At least that is what the tourist thinks.

"Cocoa is grown throughout South America, so you would think they would have some excellent fresh chocolate. You would be very wrong. Finding a non-chalky piece of chocolate has proven to be a true achievement," says Tom Shannon from Canada, who has been traveling throughout South America.

However, Tom also says, "Bolivia is the exception. It was extremely difficult to find really good chocolate that did not taste waxy in any Latin American country other than Bolivia, especially in Sucre."

Tom further explains, "Many times countries that have no cocoa plants make the best chocolate. France, Belgium, and Switzerland have excellent chocolatiers. It seems like much of the expertise of making chocolate was taken out of the countries that actually grow it."

So maybe this is an explanation to why so many tourists do not think of Bolivian chocolate as anything special?

When asked about Bolivian chocolate, Kithi Ratnam from India is not impressed. "Bolivian chocolate does not taste like authentic chocolate to me, but it is not bad. It is definitely better than Indian chocolate."

She then explains how it makes sense that tourists do not like Bolivian chocolate. "They are used to a better quality of chocolate. Bolivia cannot compete with other countries. The chocolate here is like a sugar overload, and I can guarantee you people from Europe would think the same thing."

But what do the locals think? For Damaris Divibay there is no doubt. "I like Bolivian chocolate. My favorite is El Ceibo. It tastes good and it is safe for you and your health." However, she admits that other countries make better chocolate. "Switzerland makes the best chocolate. Danish chocolate is good, too, and Brazil makes nice chocolate. The flavor is better, softer, and not too sweet; yet the other countries also have a better industry than Bolivia. The manufacturing is better." She also says that many people prefer chocolate that is shipped from other countries because it is cheaper and more common in Bolivian small towns.

To sum up: Bolivian chocolate is not the best chocolate mankind ever tasted; however, it beats chocolate from other Latin American countries.

The chocolate box:

Para Ti chocolates: Para Ti chocolates started selling their products in 1990. The company began production with only seven people and three machines. Now it is the largest chocolate factory in Sucre and one of the largest in Bolivia with a staff of 190 people. Para Ti chocolates use all nationally produced raw materials, among these wild cacao.

Oialla Chocolate – By Bojesen: Oialla chocolate is an organic chocolate made of beans from El Beni, which you can only find in the Bolivian rainforest. The owner, Rasmus Bo Bojesen, is Danish. The Oialla chocolate started in 2010 and in 2011 it won the "Chocolate Silver Award 2011" at the Academy of Chocolate award in the United Kingdom. Many Michelin restaurants in Copenhagen currently use Oialla Chocolate in their kitchen.

Breick: Breick chocolate started in 1978 as a cocoa exporting company. After a few years Breick became the largest chocolate industry in Bolivia, expanding to gummies, and cookies.

El Ceibo: El Ceibo is the only brand of chocolate in the world that is 100% produced by cocoa producers themselves. The brand is a cooperative entirely owned by its 1,200 family members. The chocolate is made from organic cocoa beans, and is intense and fruity. El Ceibo is deeply committed to protecting the native Andean rainforest and became the first organic cocoa cooperative in the world in 1988.

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