Are you one of those people who can’t resist a sneaky bit of chocolate everyday? Especially with the choice of flavours and types it comes in, from milk, to dark and white chocolate? What about combining it with some nuts or fruit? How about ginger or marshmallows? Heck it even comes with chilli in some places! Have we got you salivating yet? Prepare yourself.
When we were visiting the stunning Semuc Champey series of pools in Guatemala, we were lucky enough to stay in a place called Utopia, which had its own supply of cacao beans growing in the fields surrounding it. If you had time, you could use it to make your very own chocolate! Not one to turn down the chance to learn something (and eat some chocolate!), we signed up to make our very own delicious treats from scratch.
Obviously chocolate is big business these days, but as it is with many things that are commoditised, the original reasons for eating it have been toned down and dulled to obliteration. Chocolate you see, is bad for you. But what about dark chocolate? Isn’t that less bad for you? And what about high percentage cacao chocolate, isn’t that supposed to be good for you, especially if you use it as a cooking ingredient? It’s all a bit confusing isn’t it?
As we wandered around the chocolate pods that house the cacao beans hanging from the trees, we were struck as to how big and heavy they are. After picking our pod to work with, we went inside to learn more. John and his mother were incredibly enlightening on the process of making chocolate, and indeed all the benefits. The first job was to roast the beans, to make the removal of the husk easier.
Following this it was time for the painstaking task of peeling each individual bean to get at the goodness inside. As a side note, the husks that are discarded are actually very good for making tea, something we tried and agreed as a delicious little bonus.
Once dehusked, it was time for the blending of the beans. This is where things got really interesting. In the end we blended the beans six times, following a process of blending, heating, blending, heating etc until the consistency was just right. The first time the beans were blended, they simply looked like they had been finely chopped. After heating though and returning them to the blender, the natural oils started to release, and ever so slightly bring the mixture together. A little sugar was added at this point, and the mixture returned to the heat before being blended again.
We had no idea how much of the natural oils were housed in the cacao pods, and indeed how much of this natural, good for you stuff is removed when creating mainstream chocolate. You see, the natural oils which make chocolate good for you, are stripped out as they do not help when it comes to transporting chocolate. If the natural oils were kept in, the chocolate would have to be stored, transported and displayed in much cooler temperatures, making the costs exorbitant and unrealistic. So you take the only good part of chocolate away, and replace it with more sugar! Genius, no wonder people are confused.
After this process of blending and heating, all of the natural oils had been released, and were gelled together with the rest of the mixture. It was time to create our mini chocolate treats. In front of us lay our chocolate, and everything from nuts, to coconut, chilli, ginger, marshmallows and mint.
With our work for the day done, our chocolates went into the fridge and we went tubing down the river for a few hours. When we returned they were ready, and boy were we excited!
At this point you’re probably expecting a photo of the final outcome. Well, there isn’t one. In our haste to taste, we neglected to take a photo of our final masterpieces! The best we can do is this!
The chocolates were delicious, unlike anything we had tasted before. They had the sweetness of milk chocolate, but with a hint of the bitterness of dark chocolate. We devoured them in a few minutes, sharing them with our fellow travellers on the balcony in Utopia. The next day we would make the long journey north, where we would visit the famous Tikal National Park. But for now we would spend one last evening in Utopia, sheltering from a fierce tropical thunderstorm that crashed down around us. It was the perfect ending to our time in the Guatemalan countryside.