Chili, hazelnut or rum – what’s your chocolate of choice? The world’s passion for the addictive brown stuff shows no signs of diminishing. In fact over 3 million tonnes of cocoa is produced every year, which is an increase of 132% in the last 30 years. And for the chocoholics amongst us, these are some of most important destinations, chocolate-wise at least, to check out;
1. London, UK - The city of London is attracting foodie tourists looking for culinary delights and gourmet chocolate is a big draw, with visitors making a beeline for the Chocolate Society. There are fantastic chocolatiers in London producing handmade delicacies.
2. Cologne, Germany – The city has Cologne has a long association with chocolate; over 3,000 years of history to be precise. And travelers today can marvel at the world record beating 3 meter high fountain which spews chocolate!
3. Costa Rica – Chocolate tourism is thriving in Costa Rica where you can volunteer in a chocolate community and immerse yourself in the whole chocolate making process. There is also a chocolate nature tour, farm stay and museum.
4. Brussels, Belgium - Belgian chocolate is famous the world over and Belgians are said to consume some 16kg per person each year! The chocolatiers of Brussels introduced groundbreaking chocolate making techniques in the 1800s and there are masses of quaint family-run chocolate shops throughout Belgium.
5. Mexico – The birthplace of cacao, Mexico attracts sweet-toothed tourists looking for the more unusual vacations; tours of chocolate factories, houses, markets and organic cacao plantations.
6. Zurich, Switzerland - Swiss chocolate is synonymous with quality and Switzerland actually earns more per capita from chocolate than anywhere else on earth! The Lindt factory at Kilchberg draws plenty of visitors every year, as do the high quality chocolate shops dotted about the country.
The main variety of cacao, that chocolate is eventually made from is called Forastero and accounts for 95% of the world cacao production. The Netherlands actually processes the most cocoa followed by the USA. Cocoa is a seed, from the cacao tree, that is dried and fully fermented and is used to then make chocolate and also cocoa powder, or hot chocolate. The cacao pods are about 3cm thick with tough little skins and are filled with pulp containing further seeds, or beans.
So how did it all begin? Well, the cacao tree is native to the Americas and could have come from the Andes’ foothills in the Amazon and Orinoco basins in South America. It actually still grows wild here (get me on a flight). It could have been introduced into Central America by the Mayas, grown in Mexico by the Olmecs and then by the Toltecs and maybe later yet by the Aztecs. And cocoa was commonly used as currency across Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, prior to the Spanish conquest.
One guy you’ve got to admire was the original chocolate connoisseur, Montezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs. When this guy dined he drank nothing else other than chocolate! He also added vanilla and spices and whipped it up into a huge froth. Stories abound that Montezuma II could have had around 50 portions every day, which is surely great news, and a brilliant excuse, for chocoholics?