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Oct 5, 2018

The Mayan Art of Making Chocolate

Situated in San Ignacio Town, Ajaw Chocolate and Crafts attracts thousands of visitors every year, but the family owned and operated company is struggling to get its name out there. As part of this year’s B.T.B. familiarization trip, the media was taken to Ajaw and shown the Mayan art of transforming cacao beans into chocolate by hand. Hipolito Novelo reports.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Chocolate- it’s one of the most delicious foods in the world, enjoyed by millions of people in nearly every shape and form. But do you know how it is made and where it comes from? Did you know that Belize produces chocolate? The Toledo Cacao Growers Associations ships about one hundred tons of chocolate for export every year. Ajaw Chocolate and Crafts contributes to the chocolate exportation. Based in San Ignacio,Ajaw Chocolate partnered with seventy-eight-year-old Marcelo Medina for the use of his twenty-acre farm to plant and grow cacao trees.

 

Marcelo Medina

Marcelo Medina, Farm Owner

“I started this farm in 1970. Figure out from 1970 to 2018, how many years is that?”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“It is decades.”

 

Marcelo Medina

“But the idea is, the fruit trees that you plant, some of them do not bear lot. Some of them are just for ten, fifteen years. Then the idea is to continue having fruits all through the year, you plant when you see the tree is old, you move to another one and in between you plant another one.”

 

Medina’s farm was perfect for Ajaw’s chocolate endeavor. The partnership was officially cemented about seven years ago when the owner of the company, Adrian Choco a Punta Gordanative discovered that Median’s farm possesses the perfect type of soil for the planting and growing of cacao trees.

 

Adrian Choco, Owner, Ajaw Chocolate

“We did about eleven soil testing all across San Ignacio and found out that this property was one of the best areas to actually produce cacao trees.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“How many trees are here?”

 

Adrian Choco

Adrian Choco

“We only have about a hundred and fifty trees but out mission within five years from now is to have about five hundred trees. A tree can produced per year it can give us about five pounds of solid cacao beans and this could be about three to seven percent moisture in each bean. Here in San Ignacio we get about thirty to fifty pounds of cacao beans from this farm but most of ours, we support our own family cacao buying we also support Toledo Cacao Growers Association because these are indigenous people who are thriving to bring back cacao farming or make an income in Belize.”

 

The process of planting cacao seeds, nurturing the tree to a mature stage for harvest can in itself be a lengthy process. Then there comes the actual making of chocolate-transforming the cacao seeds into chocolate goodness.

 

Adrian Choco

“In Belize we look at specific soils, plant the seeds. It takes about five to seven days. It shoots out. Practically in a good soil, five to seven days later it can produce a thousand to two thousand flowers. Out of that eighty to an average of two hundred cacao pods can be from the trunk to all over known as the cauliflower method. Then you harvest from practically November to about June, our off season. Then you broke and go through a method, depending with the chocolatier you are working with, it can happen about seven, nine or fourteen days max for fermentation. Than being then looking at moisture, acidity and flower nod leads you to a better quality of flavor of chocolate. Eventually that goes through the washing method, sun dried beans for three or four days and eventually roasting happens.”

 

Since 2015, Ajawhas produced more than three tons of chocolate annually. It is a small amount compared to other export products, but for Choco, it is worth it.

 

Adrian Choco

“It’s a risk, fifty-fifty, as any potential business. At our end we are proudly promoting Mayan culture.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Do you have any days when you say that you want to quit the chocolate business?”

 

Adrian Choco

“Definitely because we did not master it in high school. It is a lot of work. There are many times your beans can be ruined during fermentation. Probably you can lose the flavor of cacao beans. I think that there a lot of advantages and disadvantages in cacao making and in the chocolate industry on a whole.”

 

The other half of Choco’s business includes the promotion of the Kekchi Maya’s chocolate making art. His wife, Elida, takes care of that part.

 

Elida Choco

Elida Choco, Ajaw Chocolate

“Our aim here is to promote the culture more especially the Ketchi Culture. Our aim here is to promote traditional chocolate making, stone grinding of cacao beans, turned it into a paste and serve it as a beverage. It is actually an art. It is not something that you learn in book. It is something that you learn from your parents, grandparents; they pass it down to you. You start as a kid, crushing the beans on the stone. Eventually you find yourself behind the stone. It becomes part of your chores. The art, you learn it and a lot of practice. The idea is to crush the beans without adding water to it. The bean has a natural cacao butter as you crushing you are creating heat and friction. It releases that natural cacao butter. It turns into a paste and no liquid added to it. At the end you are getting one hundred percent pure cacao or for many people around the world, baking chocolate.”

 

Some six thousand tourists visit Ajaw Chocolate and Crafts every year, but the company is still struggling with wider marketing campaigns.

 

Adrian Choco

“And also one of the things that we do not have and actually, mechanically because we do use machines and some of the machines broke down. We do not have mechanics in Belize. We do not have parts in Belize. It is very difficult to import machines in San Ignacio. You also have to look at the type of foil. There is a specific type of foil and you don’t find that type of foil in Belize. So it is very difficult to bring those products to Belize.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

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