You don’t get to see cacao pods in the USA unless you go to Hawaii, and even there they a rare sight. Cacao trees (from whence, of course, chocolate)
are cultivated only sporadically around the Hawaiian Islands. But Tony Lydgate of Steel Grass Farm on Hawaii’s garden island, Kauai, hopes to change that. His botanical garden features organic plants that bring value to the islanders and the earth. Cacao, bamboo (the “steel grass” namesake of the farm) and vanilla are the favorites. In these crops, he and his family put Kauai on the chocolate-making map and reclaim some of the farmland once owned by pineapple growers and sugar cane companies, all long-departed for cheaper labor in far-off lands. You can take a tour, eat some dark chocolate, lea
rn about the health benefits and see a glimpse of cacao’s USA future. Another producer is Malie Kai Chocolates, rejuvenating old sugar fields on Oahu. They offer an exceptionally smooth milk chocolate and mellow bitter-sweet made of pure Hawaiian, single origin cacao. “The natural growing conditions on the islands give cacao potential to be even bigger than Kona coffee,” says Nathan Sato, President of Malie Kai Chocolates. And check out the beautiful line drawings by Lynn Soehner that adorn the pack
aging. You can get a factory tour of The Original Chocolate Factory on the Big Island. For discussion, visit The Chocolate Life (where this post first appeared and get to know Clay Gordon who leads tours through chocolate’s growing regions & competitions.
Why no cacao in Florida’s orange groves or next to Texas Ruby Reds? Why not nestled in northern California’s salad bowl? Chocolate is finicky! Cacao trees only grow and bear fruit in a band 20 degrees north and south of the equator. They like tropical rain, shaded light and warm, moist air. They need forest mulch & midges for pollination; they are susceptible to pests and diseases. Beyond that, however, cacao is a great crop (full of color, literally, and history), and it is easily grown on small farms throughout the tropics. Hawaii is the northern tip of its growing region, so we’re lucky to have it and lets hope to see more.
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