Here is one more reason to love Hawai’i – our Home-Grown Chocolate!
Yes, just when you thought Hawai’i could not get ANY better, we tell you that the best major food group, chocolate, is grown and produced right here on all the major Hawaiian Islands!
So today we are going to talk about Hawai’i and Chocolate. Such a fun topic! It seems incredible that chocolate is growing right now, in orchards on every major island. Not only is chocolate grown in Hawaii’s perfect climate and volcanic soils, but it is also harvested and transformed into a wide variety of gourmet items chocolate lovers everywhere will want to have!
This blog will tell you about cacao, the giant bean that chocolate is made from. These beans grow on trees that can live 100 years and grow to 25 feet if left unmanaged. The locally harvested cacao beans are made into a variety of goodies here in the islands. You can visit the cacao farms we talk about below and try samples from the people that make these divine treats.
First, let’s take a quick peek at how this amazing miracle of Hawaiian chocolate began, starting with where the first cacao trees were planted. It would make Willy Wonka and his Chocolate Factory proud.
The History of Cacao Trees in Hawai’i
Two complementary stories tell us when cacao trees were first grown in Hawai’i.
The first story of cacao’s original planting comes from the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture, which says that cacao trees were introduced to Hawai’i in 1850 by a German physician and botanist. Another story says that King David Kalākaua grew cacao trees in his personal garden in 1830. This same German doctor worked for the monarchy, so it seems possible that both stories have validity and may be interwoven.
After the first planting of cacao trees in the mid-1800s, Hawai’i had to wait for the timing to be right in order to begin commercial farming and making our famous chocolate delicacies. This was because agriculture in the islands was disrupted entirely from the mid-1800s until 1990. These years saw cultural and social growing pains as people leaped at the chance to own their little part of Hawaiian paradise. And, two world wars devastated much of Hawai’i and the world.
Because of all this, it wasn’t until 1996 that the first 20 acres of cacao trees were planted by Dole, the food company. A year later, the first cacao seeds-into-chocolate processing plant opened on the Kona side of the Big Island.
Since cacao trees are native to the Amazon, they thrive in the humid tropical climate and the well-drained, fertile soil of Hawai’i.
In our ideal environment, cacao trees are evergreens and never stop blooming.
This makes them a perfect crop for Hawai’i and a bright star in Hawaii’s agricultural future. This comes at a great time as some former agricultural stars are fading, such as sugarcane and pineapple.
Cacao, and therefore chocolate production, has increased as Hawaii’s former top producers, pineapple and sugarcane, have basically ceased operations on a large scale.
Pineapple was first planted in 1520 and sugarcane in 1825. Only coffee, started in 1820, continues to be a growth market. Therefore, the fact that Hawai’i is the only US state that grows cacao commercially is promising!
So far, cacao is grown and harvested only in small batches, a production style that gives Hawaiian artisanal chocolate manufacturing a high ranking. Which is one reason it is rapidly becoming a highly sought-after and premium-priced commodity.
Cacao trees are grown on all of the four major islands.
Interesting fact: In their unprocessed form, Cacao seeds are believed to contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants and magnesium in nature. A literal superfood!
Fun Fact: The Greek name, theobroma cacao, translates as Food of the Gods and especially Goddesses! But we already knew that, right?
Cacao Farms and Chocolate Factories in Hawai’i
Because there are cacao farms and chocolate factories on all four of the major islands, you can take some time to visit one and see how cacao is grown and processed. AND how it tastes once it becomes Hawaiian Chocolate! You can see the process’s inner workings and, of course, enjoy the delectable Hawaiian chocolate as a bonus.
Chocolate is a $7 Billion market worldwide, and Hawai’i is just getting started.
Let’s go visit some farms and have a taste (or two or three?)!
Where to Go on Maui, for some Home-Grown, ready to eat, chocolate!
Maui Kuʻia Estate Chocolate
Above the town of Lāhaina sits Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate, a cacao farm, and a chocolate factory that is not only rooted in providing the best chocolate but in giving back to Maui.
Maui Kuʻia Estate Chocolate donates 100% of its net profit to charities and nonprofits that support Maui.
“The community, the land, our chocolate, and our passion are all interlocked, supporting each other and driving us into the future.” – Dr. Gunars E. Valkirs, CEO and Food Safety Officer.
Maui Specialty Chocolate
Special is right. Nearly every piece of chocolate is still made by founder/owner/chocolatier Valerie Jones. It is a unique, old-style small shop. It is good to order ahead, so you are not disappointed by sold-out shelves. There is no online shopping for this fantastic little shop. Stop in and meet Valerie and taste test the day’s specials.
Her sought-after daily specialties are peanut butter and milk chocolate mochi and dark chocolate truffle mochi. What is mochi, you ask? Mochi are cute round Japanese buns made of soft and chewy rice and filled with tasty delights. They are a delicacy that has been an island tradition for generations.
Hana Gold Chocolate
Hana Gold Chocolate is Hawaii’s most remote cacao farm. But, of course, it’s in Hana!
After harvesting beans from their 1,000 cacao trees, they take the fermented and dried cacao beans to a commercial kitchen in Kihei. The kitchen is on Maui’s southwest shore, where they make their 70 percent and 51 percent cacao bars. They also make chocolate bars with other Hawaii-grown specialties – ginger, coffee, and macadamia nuts. You can purchase them at their farm shop, online, and in stores on Maui.
If you find yourself on another island and craving chocolate, Hawai’i Island, Kaua’i, and O’ahu all have chocolate farms that make beautiful chocolate products.
These days businesses are ordering local chocolate to make pies and tasty chocolate treats like this delicious chocolate/haupia (coconut) pie.
We know that we have really tantalized your taste buds by telling you about all this incredible, state-of-the-art, artisanal chocolate. It’s just one more thing that may have surprised you about our tropical island paradise.
And now, just in case you need yet another excuse as to why you HAVE TO come to Hawai’i, we hope you can blame your next trip to Hawai’i on your quest for some heavenly Hawaiian chocolate!
Sounds like the perfect complement to your heavenly Hawaiian vacation. In the case of chocolate, most people will understand. Especially goddesses!
And, they’ll want to join you on your quest! Or, they’ll make sure you bring some heavenly chocolate back home for them.
Writing and Graphic Design by Sugandha Ferro Black
Photos courtesy of Wiki Commons and other paid for or free sources unless otherwise noted.
Right side Cacao nuts | © Forest and Kim Starr/flickr, Cacao flowers | © Tatters/flickr, Chocolate factory machine| © Praytino/wiki, Pie | © Rosa Christine Lu/flickr, Choc Macnut bars | © Ryan_kawailani_Ozawa/flickr