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  • Asian Cocoa


Updated: May 3, 2023

Brief notes about cocoa in Taiwan

The first known cocoa plantations in Taiwan date back from the Japanese colonisation, in the early 20th century.

During WWII, some local beans were sent to Indonesia, which was also occupied by the Japanese, where chocolate was produced. It was send back to Japan for the kamikaze (see Antariksa's research about this topic)

From there, we lost traces of local cocoa production. Other crops replaced cocoa, which were more productive (betel nuts, bananas, sugar cane, coconut...)

Recently, Warren Hsu, the founder of Fu Wan Chocolate, tried to find back these earliest trees without any success.

In Pingtung and in the southern part of Taiwan, there are now many cocoa plantations. The trees come from Malaysia, Indonesia but also from Brazil. They gave rise to very original hybrid species of cocoa trees.

Among Taiwan’s objectives of promoting regional revitalization and rural development, and achieving its sustainable development goals, on can find this example:

“Promoting sustainable cacao farming in Pingtung County: Instead of growing betel nuts, which is unfriendly to the environment, the government has encouraged farmers to grow cacao. Standardized practices have been established, and the entire cacao fruit is utilized to the fullest, which is consistent with the concept of a circular economy. Pingtung cacao has won gold medals at international chocolate awards, and its products are exported worldwide.”

(Taiwan’s Voluntary National Review, 2022; 28)

Farmers have kept the palm trees, which are giving beneficial shadow to the small and fragile cocoa trees. More importantly, they create a favourable environment for its growth and for the pollination of the cocoa flower: only midges pollinate these five-petaled flowers, and they like a rich tropical environment including leaf trash, dead animals and rotten cacao pods. This is why some plantations may look messy, but this is much better than clean environments.

In Taiwan, there are two types of cocoa beans: the "yellow" and the "red".

According to a group of experts, the final taste of chocolate is very different between these two categories. Besides, they show how fermentation, drying and roasting deeply impact the texture, flavors and composition of the chocolate.

(see Volatile Variation of Theobroma cacao Malvaceae L. Beans Cultivated in Taiwan Affected by Processing via Fermentation and Roasting, Lin, Chen & al, Molecules 2022.)

At Fu Wan Chocolate, the beans are collected fresh from different local farmers. The fermentation process takes place in very small batches in order to gain flexibility: it is still complicated to forecast the quantity of beans that will be collected. There, the beans are first left in an anaerobic space for two days before being stored for a few days in these large wooden buckets (see image).

In contrast, Hsiao-Yung Chung, the founder of Cocoa Yummy, manages his own plantation, which is also eco-friendly. He struggles with squirrels but these small animals contribute as well to the fertilisation of the soil and the dispersion of the seeds. In fact, before the human cultivation of cacao, monkeys, squirrels and rats were the ones who were responsible for such a dispersion that allowed new trees to grow.

Water is a more acute issue with the recent drought that affects the trees. We can see the impact of the lack of water by looking at the leaves, which are becoming yellow and brown instead of remaining green.

At his local farm, in Pingtung, the fermentation process takes place in large buckets covered with banana leaves. This process is fundamental for developing the future chocolate flavours, and farmers are especially attentive to the whole and complex processes that happen during these 5-6 days. The beans are then spread on large grid and let to dry under natural sun (see image).

Both Mr Chung and Mr. Hsu wish to develop local flavours and are inspired by the plants that grow nearby, using for instance Taiwanese red tea, local pepper or flowers.

There is no known local chocolate divinity, yet farmers have decided to create one in order to be able to thank someone for the good yield.

We can thus find some altars such as the one pictured, with offerings and incense.

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