The history of Venezuelan cocoa is born in the Amazon

Among the many theses about the place of origin of cocoa, the one that points to the extensive Amazon region, including the Orinoquia, as the area where the first specimen of the plant known as Theobroma cacao.

Other theories claim that this plant is native to Mesoamerica, and there are even those who claim that the region where the cocoa tree really comes from is between the southern part of Lake Maracaibo and the Magdalena River.

Those who support this last theory maintain that the wide diffusion of cocoa to the rest of the continent was carried out by human beings, animals and certain meteorological factors that helped transport this seed, rich in proteins, starch and fat, many kilometers to the north, until reaching the lands of the Mayan civilization.

There are chronicles that assure that the Spanish conquerors found cocoa plants in the vicinity of the upper Orinoco and in the Venezuelan Amazon. These plants grew wild in different coastal regions of eastern Venezuela and in the basin, banks and tributaries of Lake Maracaibo. The indigenous people of the region called the plant and its almond cocoa chacote.

The Florentine chronicler Galeotto Cey, who was in the Province of Venezuela between 1544 and 1553, he describes in his texts a tree whose fruit contained seeds like flat chickpeas that, although a bit bitter, were good and healthy, and the indigenous people claimed that served to counteract the effects of any poison. Of these, only the membrane that covers them was consumed.

The truth is that there is no scientific evidence of how this peculiar variety of Creole cocoa came to our country. Baron Alejandro de Humboldt claimed that the culture of cocoa planting and the habitual consumption of chocolate were brought from Mexico by the same Spanish conquerors.

The cocoa seed, together with cultivation techniques from other latitudes, found in the old province of Caracas a prodigious soil where it managed to develop like never before.

The extraordinary cocoa from this area, considered the tastiest, most nutritious and healing of all, began to be marketed at the end of the 1616th century and by the year 300.000, according to the records of the activities in the port of La Guaira. , 70.000 fanegas were sent to New Spain (today Mexico) and another XNUMX to Spain. Soon the planting of cocoa spread to areas such as Chuao, Ocumare, Choroní, Caruao, Cata, Tucupido and Río Caribe, among many other places in Venezuela.

The cocoa-producing areas in Venezuela have varied through the centuries. By the mid-XNUMXth century, production was concentrated in the provinces of Maracaibo and Barinas, in what is now the southern part of Lake Maracaibo, and in the states of Mérida and Táchira. Towards the end of the XNUMXth century
The leading role was assumed by the province of Caracas, currently the Capital District, together with the states of Miranda, Aragua and Carabobo.

At the beginning of the 50th century, the areas of greatest cultivation in Venezuela were the current Falcón and Lara states. And in the mid-seventeenth century the leading role of cocoa was taken by the province of Cumaná, current Sucre state. During this time the demand for Venezuelan cocoa increased by XNUMX%. By then it was already famous in the world, especially in the European market, due to its sweet almond, quite far from the characteristic bitterness of other varieties.

The income from cocoa became the key to the economy of the province, since it was used to finance the militias, tithes for the Church, tributes to convents and the construction of sacred works. This cocoa economy remained prevailing throughout the eighteenth century and part of the nineteenth.

According to Humboldt, cocoa was planted throughout the strip of territory between Cumaná and the south of Lake Maracaibo, and there were an estimated 16 million Creole cocoa trees. There was no other product that could replace cocoa in terms of supporting the region's economy; Neither gold nor silver nor pearls did. Neither can sugar cane, cotton or tobacco. Cocoa reigned supreme during the 300 years that Venezuela was under Spanish rule.

The marketing of Venezuelan cocoa, however, had its ups and downs. There are records of numerous protests dating back to the end of the XNUMXth century where Creole producers complained about the invasion of cocoa from Guayaquil.

It was practically a flood that entered Mexico through the port of Acapulco with a lower quality product, which reduced prices and made the almond trade from Caracas less profitable. Similar conflicts arose a few years later with cocoa from Trinidad and Martinique.

The idea of ​​those who protested was to cut the chain of intermediaries to ensure that Venezuelan cocoa traveled directly to Spain, and that was the demand of national producers during the XNUMXth century.

Cocoa produced in the region that today corresponds to the state of Trujillo (which apparently was the first area where it was grown for commercial purposes) was exported to Spain and Mexico through Lake Maracaibo, but most of the cargo was diverted to the Caribbean island of Curaçao, a colony of the Netherlands, which generated a commercial flow to other European countries that paid better prices.

This became frequent in other Venezuelan ports. To regularize this situation, which affected its commercial interests, the Spanish Crown created the Compañía Guipuzcoana, which was in charge of establishing a strict monopoly regarding the distribution and marketing of cocoa.

This decision aggravated the situation of the producers, since from 1728 the Compañía Guipuzcoana monopolized the cocoa monopoly; Free trade and export of the fruit was not possible without it passing through the hands of the Basque company.

The Venezuelan owners always viewed the Compañía Guipuzcoana with suspicion, and even in 1749 an uprising led by Juan Francisco de León was organized. According to Antonio García Ponce, in 1776 the mayors of the Cabildo de Caracas formally complained, since the officials of the Compañía Guipuzcoana reviewed the shipments grain by grain to discard the small ones or the broken ones and then blamed the Creole harvesters for the poor state of the merchandise, when the truth is that the conditions of storage and transport, responsibility of the Guipuzcoana, were far from ideal.

The tension between the growers and the company was progressively souring and was undoubtedly a fundamental factor in the rupture of relations between the Spanish authorities and the Cabildo de Caracas, which precipitated on April 19, 1810.

The independence wars that followed immediately dealt a heavy blow to the cocoa economy. Coffee assumed a leading role during those years. Added to this unfortunate situation was the process of hybridization of Creole cocoa with other foreign varieties of lower quality, but which resulted in greater immediate productivity. Such is the case of Trinitarian cocoa, introduced from the east of Venezuela. Although cocoa from Trinidad spread rapidly throughout the national geography and bore fruit immediately, it was much more bitter and less full-bodied than the native Creole grain.

From these grafts between the Creole and the Trinitarian, somewhat inferior varieties were born with names such as: forastero, margariteño, zambito, angoleta, macho or pompón. This considerable decrease in quality caused the international markets to reject cocoa from our country.

One more element came against it: the cocoa plantations that arrived in Africa at the hands of the Portuguese colonizers in 1824, the year in which the first chocolate factories were also founded in Switzerland, France and England. From then on, an aggressive cultivation of cocoa took place in the English colonies, in regions such as Accra (Ghana) and the Guineas, which allowed African cocoa to achieve 18% of world production by 1901 and by 1940 it already monopolized the 66%.

At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, another unctuous and dark liquid appeared on the Venezuelan scene: oil. In a few years, the production of Creole cocoa was overshadowed by the tons of oil that were exploited in our country and flooded the global economy.

However, the best cocoa in the world resisted in small redoubts, in a few hectares scattered here and there on the map of Venezuela. Such is the case of the highly valued and famous Chuao and Porcelana cocoas.

The quality of cocoa produced in Chuao became world famous under the name of Cacao Chuao. Since then it has been the favorite of the most prestigious chocolatiers in the world. This cocoa begins to bear fruit approximately 6 years after planting and its load does not cease. Its cobs are wrinkled, pointed, with very marked grooves and white and reddish almonds, whose fruity flavor is only comparable to those of Zulian Porcelain. This flavor has been described by specialists as "panela or malt and caramel flavor".

Porcelana cocoa is grown south of Lake Maracaibo. It is considered, along with Chuao, as the highest quality on the planet. It is highly appreciated for its extraordinary aromatic power, its smooth flavor and its delicate texture. It owes its name to two of its qualities: its almond is completely white and contains a higher fat content. By having a higher fat content, its quality is superior, as it contains more flavonoids and vitamins, as well as omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9 oils.

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