If you’re in the US, unless you move to Hawaii (not a bad idea!) it will be impossible to find truly local cacao or chocolate unless you’re extraordinarily committed to growing it yourself. Cacao beans grow in warm, tropical climates within 20 degrees of the equator. Cacao originated in the Amazon basin, though the top 5 cacao growing nations (highlighted in blue on the map above) in recent years are:
- Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa
- Ghana, West Africa
- Ecuador, Central America
- Cameroon, West Africa
- Nigeria, West Africa
You might be wondering how Africa became the #1 producer if cacao is native to Central and South America? According to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), “it was Hernan Cortés, leader of an expedition in 1519 to the Aztec empire, who returned to Spain in 1528 bearing the Aztec recipe for xocoatl (chocolate drink) with him.” The drink became popular after they added sugar (some trends are tough to change!) and the Europeans began planting throughout their respective Central and South American territories in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. By the 1800’s, mechanical processing techniques made cocoa more affordable, thereby increasing demand. It was at this point that planting in “nearby” Nigeria and Ghana took place – to “feed the machine.”
The "Where" cacao grows can change rapidly from year-to-year based on the price of cacao and the price of "competing" tropical crops. For instance, when we began working with our partners Koptan Masagena in South Sulawesi, Indonesia was the #3 growing nation in the world. Their global rank has since fallen to #6 as farmers have replaced aging trees with more lucrative crops like oil palm and rubber.