History of Cocoa

By tradition, it is said that the origin of cocoa is in Mesoamerica, between Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras where it was invented about 2000 BC.
However, recent studies have shown that at least one variety of Theobroma Cacao has its origins in the high-Amazonia, and has been cultivated here for over 5000 years.
The culture of cocoa in Ecuador is deep-rooted and the history tells us that when the Spaniards arrived, these trees were already in the Pacific Coast, and cocoa was thus well anchored in this region long before the arrival of the European.

Today there are several types of cocoa cultivated in Ecuador, but the variety known under the name of "Nacional" is the most popular among the chocolate manufacturers, for the quality of its grain and its ultimate aromas.

However, the arrival of devastating diseases such as the "monoliosis" or "witch broom" hundred years ago caused the massive introduction of foreign varieties, mainly coming from Venezuela.

These varieties were mixed with the original cocoa giving as results productive fruits but the aromatic quality was not as interesting as the original one. Then we thought it would be possible to find the ancestral varieties which were gradually lost during the process of hybridization, and so to recreate the varieties with equivalent aromatic properties has the native variety "Nacional ".

The hypothesis of an ancestral variety verified was thanks to the analysis of the stocks of varieties of the INIAP (National Agricultural Research Institute) and the UTQ (Technical University of Quevedo). These stocks correspond to the varieties cultivated in all the coastal zone of Ecuador. Thanks to the genetic methods of analysis developed by the CIRAD (Agricultural Research for Development), certain trees were identified as the original plants of every cocoa trees cultivated today in Ecuador.

Studies of paternity has confirmed this hypothesis.

However the origin of the Ecuadorian cocoa was still unknown, so it was necessary to resort to new DNA analyses to find indications between the various varieties of origins. There are some wild varieties of cocoa in the Amazonia from Colombia to Guiana and also in Brazil.

For decades, the search for such varieties in their natural state was made. The resultant plant material from this important prospection is currently preserved in several local and international collections. The investigative project had access to this material and so it eased the comparison between the genetics of the wild material and the native Nacional variety.

This comparison allowed to validate important common origins with the trees collected more than thirty years ago in the Amazonian region of Zamora Chinchipe, in the South of Ecuador.

In spite of the fact that currently, these crops are more developed on the coastal region of the pacific region, the oriental region of “Zamora Chinchipe” seems to be the region of origin of the domestication of the Nacional variety. The exchanges between the Amazonia and the Coastal societies could explain this migration which seems quite old.

The first European to discover cocoa was Christopher Columbus, when arriving on the lands of current Nicaragua during his fourth journey. More than a thousand years before the discovery of America, the Toltec, Mayan and Aztec cultures already cultivated it. They used the cocoa as a currency and to make a delicious drink, the "XOCOLAT", as Hernan Cortes discovered it when Moctezuma II organized feasts in his honor. However, for its too bitter taste, it took a century to be introduced and used in Europe for the making of beverages.

Controled by Spain, the exchanges of cocoa were profitable by the middle of the XVI century, which maximized its crops on the current Ecuadorian coast. In 1600, there was already small plantations on the edge of the Guayas River. This cocoa was recognized for its quality and its unique floral aromas coming from the native variety which we call today "Aroma Nacional" or "Sabor Arriba". In 1789, the Royal Decree obtains the right to export the cocoa from Guayaquil instead of Callao.

In the first part of the XIX century, more than 50 % of the production of cocoa was in Venezuela. By 1820, Portuguese introduced cocoa in Ghana and in other countries of Central Africa. At that time, three quarters of the world production of cocoa was consumed by Spaniards. During this period, cocoa began to expand in Brazil as well.

At the end of the XIX century, the Swiss produce the first milk chocolate. The Swiss chocolate craftsmen received then numerous prizes during international festivals, creating the great industry we know today.

The "Gran Cacao"

In 1830, Ecuador foundation is created. A lot of wealthy families dedicated their lands to the culture of cocoa in farms called "Grandes Cacaos”. Located generally in Vinces and in other cantons of Los Rios Province, it was then common to entrust the administration of the farms to a third part in a way that the owners could spend long holidays in Europe. This is the explanation of "Paris Chiquito", nickname given to the city of Vinces.
The production of cocoa doubled in 1880 (15000 TM), then it tripled (40000 TM). During 1890s, Ecuador is then the first country in the world in terms of export volumes. The first banks of the country were created on the solid basis offered by cocoa, engine of the Ecuadorian economy.

The period of 1920 is a disaster. The appearance and expansion of the diseases Monilla and Escoba de Bruja reduces the production to 30%. Plus a lack of transport means and to international market difficulties due to the World War I, the cocoa and the Ecuadorian economy enter for a period of crisis and instability.
Today, the Ecuadorian cocoa correspond to a mix of the Nacional and the Trinitarian introduced after 1920 due to its resistance to diseases. Nevertheless, the Cocoa Arriba remains as Ecuador provides the unique weather conditions for its cultivation.