Belize (Sweet) Finale
To bring this month-long Belize series to a close, there is clearly one element that was missing. I talked about the extreme sports and the local cuisine, I shared recipes to introduce you to Belizean cooking and show you how the locals satisfy their sweet tooth too. Hopefully you have gotten a good taste of what a trip there would be like, and you may even have added Belize to those forever growing travel wish lists that we all have.
When I travel, there is always one thing I come back with. It may even take up a largely disproportionate amount of space in my luggage. It always does when I come back from Paris and Lyon, and simply from neighboring cities in Switzerland. Even when in Croatia, I was on the hunt for it, and succeeded. There is a particular drawer in my kitchen devoted to this one item, and it has packaging from Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Italy… and now Belize too. Yes indeed, you guessed it,… I’m talking about chocolate.
It all started when we were on Hummingbird Highway, heading from Placencia to the Cayo district, passing tall banana trees, colorful school buses and children scurrying about in their uniforms. I admired grapefruit trees galore, became puzzled by the rain that came and left in a matter of minutes, and learned all about why Fyfe bananas are not exported to the US (the top 3 banana companies control the market – Delmonte, Chiquita and Dole). I admired brightly colored houses in shades of green, pink and blue, and got a hunger passing tortilla factories and stands selling tamales, tacos and garnaches, fried corn tortillas topped with salsa, cheese and beans. Best of all, I saw ladies and their children sitting beneath umbrellas, with a few products laid out on the ground besides them for sale…including cacao pods!
If you have never seen the inside of a cacao pod, well, it does in fact resemble something that might be on the set of a science fiction movie. Pods are oblong and quite hard, and can range in color from yellow and green with tones of red and purple even. A good whack on the ground will split the pod open, revealing a bright white gelatinous interior. Rows of white seeds attached to an inner core actually reminded me of fruit I discovered in Bali, like the inside of a mangosteen or srikaya (sugar-apple). I was told that adults buy these cacao pods for children (1 BZD each) to suck on the white, gooey, sweet-tart pulp and spit out the seeds. You don’t want to bite into them though, it would be awfully bitter and astringent. Women also make a paste from the cacao beans and use it in drinks like Ovaltine or in porridge.
But most of all, the beans inside become chocolate! One brand you may already be familiar with is Green & Black’s. Did you know their cocoa comes from Belize? They have been using organic beans from Belize since 1994, supporting the farmers there and the Toledo Cocoa Grower’s Association. Goss Chocolate is another brand well known in Belize, recognizable for its simple yet shiny gold packaging. It caught my eye at the Belize City airport, where I grabbed it just before heading back to Switzerland. Goss, a small family owned chocolate company on the Placencia Peninsula, also uses local organically grown cacao beans and cane sugar. A small sprinkle of fleur de sel once home enhanced this bar for sure. Another bar I grabbed at a little grocery shop in San Pedro was Kakaw, small (and overpriced) 1.4 oz bars that came in assorted flavors like chili and orange.
Cotton Tree Chocolate is perhaps the best known of the bunch outside of Belize. They use cacao beans grown in Mayan villages near Cotton Tree Lodge in southern Punta Gorda. There is a small piece of paper in the wrapper that tells you who worked on your bar. It told me that Pablo Chun grew the cacao in San Jose Village in the Toledo district near their factory, and within one month of harvesting, the cacao became my bar (that cost me 16.50 BZD mind you!) thanks to Vilma Veliz, Juli Puryear and Onika Harry. Thanks team! Cotton Tree Lodge runs chocolate tours, so you can actually see the whole process up close. I would have loved to take part, but our Belize itinerary took us north instead. They have two big events coming up in fact – Chocolate Week in March and another in May hosted by Taza Chocolate of Somerville, MA.
I can’t say I was wowed by the quality of any of the above chocolate unfortunately. But as usual, I still got a thrill from discovering new brands, tasting new bars and from adding a few Belizean wrappers to my collection!
Have you ever had chocolate from Belize? Let us know if so!