On multiple occasions, Peru has won the prize for “Best Gastronomic Destination in the World” at the World Travel Awards for the quality and variety of its products such as potatoes, coffee, mango but also its superfoods. Thanks to the diversity of its territory and the richness of its land, Peru is one of the countries with the best cocoa beans. It includes one of the rarest varieties of cocoa in the world, cocoa chuncho! From 2017 to 2021, Peru became the first exporter of certified organic cocoa. The cocoa producers are engaged to respect the environment and the social conditions of their employees.
In this very restrictive year, Peru is the guest of honor of the 1st international competition for chocolates originally produced, organized by the Agency for the Promotion of Agricultural Products of France (AVPA). The pandemic is not stopping the Peruvian companies from accessing new markets and going international. Fifteen Peruvian companies representing the regions of Cusco, Junín, San Martín, Ucayali and Lima, arrived in Paris to participate with their best chocolate bars with fine cocoa of the varieties chuncho, criollo, bellavista, goose, senorita, VRAE - 99. With inclusions of maras salt, coffee, cocoa nibs, passion fruit, elderberry, coconut, sesame, blueberries, aguaymanto and camu camu, Peruvian chocolates highlight the diversity of flavors that will delight the French juries.
Peru, the origin of cocoa
Cocoa (Theobroma cacao L) is endemic of South America. Recent studies from Peru and Ecuador, including archaeologist Quirino Olivera Núñez, record the existence of archaeological cocoa more than 5,000 years old, present long before the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Peru has the largest territorial extension of the center of origin of cocoa in the Amazon, with great diversity and genetic variability of the species. In this sense, the link between the cultivation of cocoa and Peru is welded.
The Andean country produces around 151,622 tonnes of cocoa per year. Currently, cocoa is boosting the economy of thousands of families throughout the basin, with a stable and competitive production of fine-flavored cocoa, in great demand on the international market. 80% of the crops are found on plots of less than 2 ha.
The tropical forest extends over 60% of the Peruvian territory, which makes it the ideal setting for the production of cocoa. Among the cultivated varieties and the wild ones, eight are thus produced in this territory. The main cocoa producing areas are: San Ignacio, Jaén, Bagua Grande Bambamarca (Cajamarca); Tarapoto, Juanjui (San Martin); Tocache, Tingo Maria (Huanuco); Satipo (Junin); Valle del rio Apurimac (Ayacucho); Valle del rio Urubamba, Quillabamba (Cuzco); Rio Huari (Puno).
There are three main varieties of cocoa: the Forastero cocoa, as well as the noble Trinitario and Criollo cocoa. Forastero, considered the ancestor of all varieties of cocoa, is characterized by its very strong cocoa taste, not very aromatic and slightly bitter. This variety thus represents around 80% of world culture. For its part, Criollo is the most refined of the noble cocoas, not very acidic, very weakly bitter. Trinitario cocoa has a powerful cocoa taste rich in aroma and a very slight acidity.
Located in northern Peru, San Martín is the most cocoa-producing region, concentrating 10.9% of national production. Cusco represents 3.6% (fifth producer) and Madre de Dios accounts for 0.2% of production (Source: MINAGRI, 2021).
Cocoa production in Cusco is concentrated in the provinces of La Convencion, the districts of Echarate (86%), Quellouno (7.2%) and Vilcabamba (5.5%). In Madre de Dios, production is concentrated in Tambopata, two departments with a vocation for the production of fine and aromatic cocoas. The La Convencion valley of the Cusco region of Peru is home to 17,832.00 hectares of cocoa, having developed beautiful native varieties of cocoa called "chuncho", among which five main types; pamuco, mountain chuncho, spearhead, achoccha, miss, among others. The fruit of this cocoa is characterized by obtaining a grain with a sweet taste and a floral aroma. This variety allows chocolate makers to make bars with high concentrations of cocoa and to obtain delicate flavors, with low astringency.
In the area of the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers (VRAEM), 929 hectares are dedicated to cocoa production, among which the VRAEM 99 or ganzo and VRAEM 15 varieties stand out.
Cocoa is the 5th most important product nationally by area and the 5th most important product in terms of number of producers.
Rosario Pajuelo, director of PROMPERU France
Can you tell us about recent archaeological discoveries around cocoa?
“Recent archaeological research carried out jointly by Ecuadorian and Peruvian researchers has confirmed that the Upper Amazon (Alta Amazonia) is the center of origin and domestication of cocoa. In a presentation at the International Cocoa Symposium in November 2017, Quirino Olivera, extraordinary research professor at the Universidad Científica del Sur, explained that the various research carried out in the Upper Amazon of Ecuador and Peru has allowed to identify the oldest archaeological cocoa in the world. This is a very important scientific breakthrough for our country and for archaeological research worldwide. Cocoa is part of the culture. It is present in much of the Amazon rainforest. It is proven that cocoa has its origin in the Amazon, first in the wild and then, at some point, it is domesticated by Amazonian societies to incorporate it as a drink linked to the gods and to great ritual ceremonies.
In Peru, the archaeological theme of cocoa had remained almost unnoticed, until Dr. Francisco Valdez, in his archaeological research, carried out for ten years (from 2000 to 2012) in Palanda, Santa Ana-La Florida, in the Upper Amazon of Ecuador, discovers evidence of 5500-year-old cocoa, which ranks it is the oldest in the world. Two thousand years older than the archaeological cocoa found in Mexico. The traces of cocoa discovered at Palanda have been recorded inside ceramic vessels associated with burial contexts buried in the center of a spiral-shaped architectural platform, identical to the spiral-shaped architecture discovered by Quirino Olivera N. (2012) in the Huaca Montegrande in Jaén, Peru. In his book, the researcher explains that possible evidence for cocoa could be discovered in the spiral architecture of Montegrande. In addition, it presents some images and comments of archaeological pieces that have the shape of cocoa pods in gold, Spondylus shell and ceramics, which express the sacredness that cocoa had for the pre-Hispanic cultures of the Amazon and the Andes.
What is the history of cocoa in Peru?
“Since Antiquity, cocoa (Theobroma ssp.) Has been an emblematic product of America, its cultivation and consumption have been part of the life of peasant families in the tropical regions of the continent. Since the 17th century, cocoa, transformed into chocolate, has been introduced in Europe and quickly adopted as a premier food for its nutritional qualities and energizing effects. Today, chocolate is a very popular product around the world and is often regarded as an item of fine taste, the quality of which is synonymous with luxury. Despite its universal acceptance, little research has been done on the origin of this fruit so deeply rooted in American culture.
In Peru, cocoa is present mainly on the “selva” part. Today it is known that cocoa grows in the wild and it produces fruit up to a maximum height of 1200 meters above sea level, which corresponds to the steep slope that gradually descends to the east of the Andes mountain range.
Cocoa is present on ancient ceramics that are found in Peru. The earliest evidence for the use of cocoa came from various ceramic artifacts: stirrup-handled bottles, a globular jar with a streamlined neck, as well as several container fragments from landfills. Further evidence was collected from bowls and field samples obtained from the dumps. Cocoa is very present in culture, especially in traditions. Recent archaeological studies have shown that the consumption of this fruit took place in Upper Amazonia for more than five thousand years. Cocoa is found during Inca ceremonies, in a setting built by the community and considered sacred.
What are the main cocoa importing countries from Peru?
The United States and European countries such as France and Switzerland are among the major consumers of cocoa. Peruvian cocoa attracts for its variety and its particular aromas. In 2020, 54% of Peru's cocoa exports go to one of the countries of the European Union (notably the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy). The second biggest customer for Peruvian cocoa is the United States with 21%, or about $ 50 million. Finally, South Korea, Canada and Malaysia complete the list, these countries import less than 5% of cocoa from Peru.
Peru attracts many countries because we have received international certifications USDA ORGANIC, FAIRTRADE, WORLD FAIR TRADE ORGANIZATION, ORGANIC AGRICULTURE… The Peruvian Amazon is home to 6 of the 10 genetic varieties of cocoa that exist. Production is focused on three products: cocoa liquor / paste, cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
What is the secret of the success of Peruvian cocoa?
Peruvian cocoa is characterized for its exceptional taste and flavor as well as for its excellent quality. It has become one of the favorite products of the best chocolate factories, making Peru one of the largest exporters of organic cocoa in the world. It is a cocoa sought after for its aromatic and refined side. Behind this production, there are small producers and their families.
Source : PROMPERU France