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Cocoa gets a boost at Green Market
The Aztecs were the first to use chocolate and they considered it a food fit only for the gods.
Chocolate, one of the world’s favourite flavours and possibly the most loved taste across seven continents, has been consumed by humans from as far back as 1900 BC. It was an integral part of the Aztec and Mayan civilisations and culture.
It has also been an integral part of local history, as T&T once had a successful cocoa industry. Faced with numerous challenges however, annual production plummeted from 30,000 tonnes of beans a century ago to just 500 tonnes in recent decades. Statistic from 2017 showed that 81 tons of T&T’s cocoa beans were exported to Japan, down from 156 tonnes in 2011.
However, the industry is being revived, through the passionate efforts of the operators of the Green Market at Santa Cruz.
Last Saturday, the Green Market celebrated International Chocolate Day for the fifth consecutive year. There was a vast array of products on display, including chocolate samosas with coconut sauce, chocolate crepes and liqueurs, as well as soaps, lotions and artisanal crafts.
The event focused, not only on the importance of cocoa and its byproducts, but the need to ensure the continued survival of the local cocoa industry.
“We are really encouraged by the refinement of the chocolatiers and the new entrants but of course we want to emphasise the need for sustainable cacao growing in Trinidad, which is the basis for real industrial diversification,” Vicki Assevero, executive director of the Green Market, explained.
The market has been instrumental in fostering growth of small businesses and cocoa interest has peaked, resulting in new, unique products being introduced every year.
“It’s clear there are many new interests into chocolate-making. Over the past couple of years there have definitely been more vendors coming to produce cocoa items. We had some really wonderful cocoa soaps, face masks and lotions.
“In terms of foods, there was the chocolate samosa which I don’t think people would have had before. And we also had savoury chocolate sauces,” Assevero explained.
On the craft side, there were displays of jewelry inspired by cocoa, including earrings.
“The festival tries to highlight this crop which is produced locally and what can be done with it. From all of that inspiration there was cocoa pod fabrics also,”she added.
Noting the lack of statistics on actual cocoa production in T&T, Assevero said: “I don’t know how many people are actually getting into growing the cocoa. What I would like to have stressed is producing the raw material that helps all the entrepreneurs along the chain to survive but if you don’t have the basic raw material then it’s hard for people to make cocoa products.
“That’s the point we like to stress at the Green Market so that people can have an idea of the variety of things, not just food that can come from some of the crops that we produce.
International Chocolate Day is one of the Green Market’s most popular events, attracting large numbers of visitors. One of this year’s highlights was an educational segment by Christopher Paul, president of the Montserrat Cocoa Farmers Co-operative.
Echoing some of Assevero’s views on the potential of cocoa, Paul said T&T and some other Caribbean islands produce mainly fine-flavoured cocoa which has floral, fruity and woody notes.
“Fine flavour is in high demand as it’s used for blending the bulk cocoa which obviously do not possess these qualities,” he said.
“The fine-flavoured cocoa is much more expensive than the bulk cocoa. Around 1925 we were the fourth largest producer of chocolate doing around 34,000 tonnes. Currently it’s 400-500 tonnes a year.”
Some of the best cocoa in the world comes from T&T, and Trinitario is one of the three varieties of cocoa indigenous to this country. The others are criollo, which is also fine flavour, and the lower-grade forastero—Trinitario cocoa is actually an interbreeding of these two varieties).
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T&T supplies the cocoa for the renowned Gran Couva chocolate bar made by the French chocolatiers Valrhona.
“Who’s not into it should get into it,” Paul said.
“Revitalise the abandoned estates and this will enable the farmers to get a better price. When we started our co-operative in 2010 we were paying $4.65 for a kilogramme of wet cocoa beans. We now pay $10 because we were able to cut out the middlemen—the fermentary operators, the brokers and we as a co-operative deal directly with chocolatiers. By doing that we were able to get the farmers a better price.”
The co-operative, which comprises 46 members, supplies the cocoa beans which are then dried, fermented and stored.
“The local cocoa industry is definitely growing. More people are becoming aware and getting excited to be involved in it,” Paul said.
Ameera Mohammed-Ali, who took part in the festival for the third year, said the market has assisted her tremendously in growing her customer base.
This year, her business—Svadisa Creations— which has been in existence for some three and a half years and is jointly-owned by her husband Zayaad—offered chocolate samosas which proved to be a big hit.
“The creativity of the items that vendors c0me up with draws more and more customers. This event has done wonders for our business as opposed to advertising. It’s much better to go out there and let customers taste the food. Most of our customers come from the Green Market and the Up Markets and because of that we are constantly meeting new customers,” Mohammed-Ali said.
The chocolate and coconut samosas, serve with caramel and a dark chocolate sauce, cost $8 each.
“The idea for the chocolate samosa came from inspiration for the Chocolate Day. We like to put our creations out there,” Mohammed-Ali said.
All the products were made from locally sourced items.
The various local markets, Mohammed-Ali explained, are a great source of networking, helping vendors source local raw material.
“These markets have different chocolate vendors who, in turn, help us in getting what we need, for example the cocoa powder. I prefer to use local products because it’s important to help the local farmers and that’s important for the cocoa industry,” she said.
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