Chocolate from the Dominican Republic!
The Dominican Republic occupies a rather unassuming position out in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, nestled between Cuba and Puerto Rico. And while its geographical position on a map may be unassuming, its presence in the chocolate industry is quickly becoming more formidable.
Then again, when you start to look at the history and current chocolate climate of the Dominican Republic, this comes as no surprise. Some might even call it fate, considering that the Dominican Republic is closely linked to both the discovery of the new world and the “discovery” of chocolate itself.
Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in search for the New World, and while the Dominican Republic wasn’t the first piece of land he spotted, it was in the string of his initial discoveries. Columbus spotted the island late 1492, and the merging of this New World and the Old would drastically steer the military, political, and economical history of the world, including its chocolate!
Before we get too far into what Columbus has to do with Dominican Chocolate, we have to back track a bit. It’s not like the 15th century explorer pulled up to the Dominican Republic then sailed away with a Hershey’s bar. However, there was chocolate in the New World at the time, and Columbus would stumble across it as well.
It had been with the Aztecs, had been jealously prized, guarded, and traded among the indigenous people of South and Central America for hundreds of years. Thus, Columbus also encountered chocolate in the form of cacao beans when interacting with indigenous Mayan traders, and, after him, Hernan Cortez would begin interacting with the substance while conquering Moctezuma. The then mysterious substance would eventually make its way back to the old world, and once Europeans began to process the mixture according to their taste (adding sugar!), it gave birth to sweet chocolate as we know it and the ensuing trade that would eventually come full circle to impact the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic Goes Commercial
While chocolate was around Central and South America well before the Dominican Republic ever produced a bar, it’s safe to say its thanks to the Dominican Republic that we know anything of a chocolate industry. That’s because it was on the island of Hispaniola, which houses both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, that chocolate was first attempted to be commercially grown.
Granted, these initial attempts did not yield cataclysmic results, and the chocolate trade would have to pick up momentum elsewhere. Even though chocolate production in the Dominican Republic has come a long way since the 16th century, you wouldn’t think so looking at it on paper. The Dominican Republic only accounts for 1.4% of the world’s chocolate production.
However, that 1.4% is some of the best in terms of organic production and sustainability, which is what sets the Dominican Republic apart in the chocolate industry. In fact, in 2006 the Dominican Republic accounted for 70% of the world’s organic supply of cacao, and their skill in the trade is only picking up momentum. So what is it about the chocolate coming out of the Dominican Republic that makes it so special?
Among the Best Organics
For starters, Hispaniola is a perfect climate phenomenon in terms of ideal conditions you want in order to successfully farm cacao for the long term. Perhaps that is why Haiti and the Dominican Republic are showing great potential as long term contributors to the world’s craft chocolate industry.
The Dominican Republic sits between the 10 degree north and south belts around the equator that typically produces the ideal climate for chocolate. It maintains high temperatures year round, great natural soil conditions, and gets the ample amount of rainfall. The result is a consistent, organically grown cacao plant. This consistency likewise produces long term sustainable employment and trade for some 40,000 farmers and 350,000 associated workers.
The Dominican Republic is known for two special variations of the cocoa bean: Sanchez and Hispaniola. Both can be made organically, with the Sanchez variant being the more common of the two due to the temperamental nature of Hispaniola and the extra production care needed when processing it.
The key distinction between the two is its fermenting. Simply put, Hispaniola is fermented, while Sanchez is not. And while Hispaniola is usually considered the more pristine variant, Sanchez is still often the more preferred, especially in U.S. markets.
In terms of flavour, Dominican Republic chocolate has been self-labelled a “Caribbean flavour” by those who grow it. That’s because their trees originate from other South American and Caribbean countries like Ecuador and Venezuela, and its taste is often noted to have floral like characteristics.
In addition to these two types of beans, there is also a third type of cocoa special to the Dominican Republic, though also associated with Africa, known as Amelonado cacao. In the Dominican Republic they often cross breed Ameleonado with Criollo to make their version of the Trinitario hybrid variety.
While the previously mentioned situation of the Dominican Republic in the overall chocolate industry wasn’t incredibly impressive, the future picture only continues to get brighter for the small country. Its list of countries to export to is only growing as more countries develop and acquire a demand for chocolate.
In addition to this, joint efforts by the united Nations Development Program and the National Cocoa Commission has helped spur the Dominican Republic coffee industry to new heights through its National Action plan. In fact, the country is settings its goals high by seeking to triple its chocolate yield by year 2027.
The use of small, family owned plantations in positive partnership with craft chocolate connoisseurs is also helping to impact the chocolate trade on the microscopic level. Ambitious chocolatiers like Frenchman Valrhona are taking advantage of the country’s pristine conditions to experiment and develop new cutting-edge chocolate flavours for the world to enjoy.
The Dominican Republic only occupies a small space on the map, but its presence is only growing in the chocolate industry. While it does seek to improve its yields, its improvements in terms of offering a high quality, organic coffee will continue to be what sets it apart in the chocolate industry and makes it a prized indulgence by chocolate enthusiasts everywhere.
By David Gilbert