I recently travelled to Ecuador for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Galapagos Islands. While I was there I spent an enormous amount of time learning about the remarkable efforts going into the conservation and protection of all of the endemic species that populate that remote area of the world; visitors are quickly instructed in the proper ecological etiquette, including the fact that shoes have to be rinsed after visiting an island to ensure that no seeds will be carried from one place to another and all luggage going in and out of the Galapagos has to be sprayed with insecticide to prevent invasive insects from taking hold … all in an effort to protect the health and purity of the finches, iguanas, cormorants, blue-footed boobies and sea lions. Being the type who studies up before I travel anywhere, I knew a bit about all of this before I left home, but when I was finally in the country, I learned about another effort that came as a complete surprise. Many Ecuadorian chocolate makers are taking similar measures to protect their unique cocoa bean – the Nacional – and the delicious Arriba chocolate that it produces, and the nation’s government is starting to support their efforts.
The Arriba is a uniquely flavored chocolate, remarkable for its lack of bitterness, its depth, and its floral overtones. Even though there is no official regulation as to what is and what is not Arriba (made from the Nacional bean) chocolate, the taste distinction is clear. The problem is that the lack of definition and standards control has resulted in products being made with mixes of the Nacional bean and beans that are less expensive and easier to grow, known as the CCN-51. Though the CCN-51 cocoa bean produces excellent chocolate, it does not have the same distinctive flavor as the Nacional, and there are fears that because commodities traders and growers are mixing the beans in order to bring down the overall costs of production, the flavor may be lost to the world in the same way that many of the animal species have been.
Ecuadorian chocolate is some of the most delicious in the world, and the Arriba is like no other. If you are interested in tasting Arriba chocolate and helping to support the efforts of the local farmers, make sure that when purchasing Ecuadorian chocolate you purchase only bars or products that specifically indicate the single origin and that only Nacional cocoa beans have been used.