Nearly 500 years after the legend of El Dorado lured Spanish conquistadors to the South American rainforest, the Amazon treasure hunt lives on. But today’s adventurers aren’t looking for ancient cities or golden empires. The treasure they are after has been confirmed to be genuine and can be purchased at the bar.
The quest for endangered wild cocoa in the Amazon rainforest is the subject of a new podcast from Kaleidoscope, a company co-founded by Mental Floss co-founder Mangesh Hatikdur.of Favorite: Wild chocolatehost Rowan Jacobson follows an intrepid bean hunter through some of the most dangerous places on earth in search of ultra-rare ingredients. Avoid traders, flash floods and giant anacondas.
“You can make a living if all goes well, but you’re taking tremendous risks to do so,” Jacobson tells Mental Floss. “Millions of things can go wrong.” There is and always will be.”
For many who have tasted chocolate made from wild-caught cocoa, the reward is worth the risk. The crop is native to South America, but two-thirds of the cocoa produced today is grown in West Africa. Commercial strains have been bred to maximize yield, but subtle flavor nuances have been lost over the centuries. Amazon chocolate is more than a fancier version of what you’re used to, it’s meant to be something completely new.
“It has these flavors that you don’t find in regular chocolate,” says Jacobson. “It tastes like dried fruit and fresh fruit and flowers. Some of them are really floral. It’s like pipe smoke. Really interesting flavors.”
Chocolate lovers pay for more than complexity when purchasing a $55 Wild Chocolate bar. Considering the rarity of cocoa beans and the cost of harvesting them, this price is a bargain.
As the craft chocolate world went mainstream and more consumers paid $5 or more for candy bars, turning ingredients into salable products became feasible decades ago. At that point, many thought wild chocolate was extinct. Its existence was known only to a handful of scientists and to those who lived in the rainforests where it grew. .
German cocoa hunter Volker Lehmann was one of the first to provide a global platform for these obscure plants. After learning that locals have been harvesting and processing wild cocoa in remote areas of Bolivia for hundreds of years, he took it out of the jungle and processed it using Swiss techniques. The result is an artisanal chocolate bar that set the culinary world on fire.
Now more and more people are competing to collect the Amazon’s bountiful flora and turn it into something delicious. One of them is Luisa Abram, a Brazilian chocolatier who was spotlighted on Jacobson’s podcast. Abram, who played both Willy She Wonka and Indy Her Jones, first set out on a trek into the rainforest in 2014 to hunt down wild chocolate. where she gets 12 feet of rain per year). After months of experimentation, she developed a chocolate formula that she is proud to share with the world. Currently, her company, Luisa Her Abram Her Chocolates, exports from Brazil to her seven countries.
One of the challenges of business is turning ingredients that most people have never tasted into products. These wild cacao varieties cannot be farmed, so those who handle them must be mindful of sustainability. I’m here. Local families who help harvest the cocoa receive a share of the profits, giving them an incentive to protect the forests where the cocoa grows.
The agricultural industry is one of the greatest threats facing rainforests. About 80% of the deforested land in the Amazon basin is currently used for livestock farming. But as Abram’s work shows, locals don’t necessarily have to choose between rainforest protection and welfare.
“We’ve actually found this to be a very good way to prevent deforestation,” says Jacobson. “Growing throughout the jungle, this cocoa is completely wild, giving people a way to make a living from living forests rather than logging it for ranching.”
There are many good reasons to keep rainforests alive. Exotic chocolate preservation is a delicious perk.
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