Alternate reality

Ok, here’s one for you sci-fi buffs out there. I want you to imagine a parallel chocolate universe … (Sounds like a dodgy episode of ‘Sliders’ involving Scharffen Berger and Ghirardelli battling it out for cyber supremacy!)

Let’s indulge ourselves and visualize an alternate universe where the Spanish never found the alien ‘forestero’ cocoa plant in the Lower Amazon in the early 1600s. A universe where we all grew up knowing and loving the special, magical, yet everyday chocolate made from the cocoa beans of the Aztec and Maya – pure Criollo. In short, a world where the inferior sub-species Forestero didn’t make up 90% or so of the world’s cacao production.

Now imagine – say in the 1980s – that someone had the crazy idea to take this recently recognised ‘forestero’ sub-species (related to our beloved cocoa tree, but previously only ever eaten as a fruit), and try to make something like chocolate with it. What would be the reaction? Would it be about as popular as those mud like carob bars enjoyed only by crazed sandal-wearing health freaks? Would politicians stand in the streets defending our ‘traditional’ chocolate from adulteration? (Like they defended the UK’s low cocoa content, vegetable fat laden news-agent bars from ‘eurocrats’ – in the 1980s?)

Well, maybe. We’d certainly find the distinctive milk-coffee-candy notes of ‘foresterolate’ rough and un-cultured compared to the cream-cherry-fruit of the pure criollo ‘real’ chocolate we were used to. We might well be tempted to seek out these new controversial, artisanal bars out of curiosity. And perhaps also industrial chocolate makers would already be sneaking the new chocolate alternative into their recipes behind our backs?

So you might be wondering what exactly brought on this attack of the Captain Kirks? Well, we just recently received some samples of Plantations Arriba Chocolate bars from the US. Arriba is widely recognised as a superior Forestero variety, and the beans are considered to be of the ‘flavour’ rather than the ‘bulk’ type. The bars have been created with the help of echocolates.com as part of the Rain Forest Alliance project. They’ve been made in a rather rustic style, with a very dry, sweet taste, and quite, quite different from the refined style of chocolate we’re used to. (More like traditional Central American rough ground drinking chocolate cakes.) These are a good, if rough, example of how a well treated forestero can taste. They also highlight the substantial difference between the two sub-species.

So, zapping back to our own dimension, what are things like on this side of the space-tracks? I first floated the idea of this ‘alternate’ chocolate world in a chat with one of our forum members (hi Monte), who suggested that us fine chocolate lovers do, in fact, live in this criollo only, forestero free world. Well (as usual!) I have to disagree. I think we blew it people. We live in a world where the Spanish did find forestero – and plant it round the world in the first of many waves that ‘dumbed down’ cocoa around the world. And we now know there’s no pure Aztec/Maya Criollo cocoa plants left, they’ve all been hybridised in a genetic tangle that may never be unwound (though it’s fun trying!) Still, we can wonder what it might be like in that other reality …

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