Cocoa Origins: Peru
In the craft chocolate industry, Peruvian cocoa is known for its amazing and bountiful flavour. In this article, we’re going to take quick dive into the cocoa that grows in Peru.
History of Cocoa in Peru
Peruvians originally had little need for cacao seeds when it came to seeking stimulation, as the Incas would chew coca leaves – of which cocaine is derived from.
The cultivar strains of cacao that grow in Peru change dramatically from region to region. In Piura and Cusco, for example, you’ll find majority being indigenous varieties. Whereas in San Martin and Ucayali, you might find the majority of cacao growing to be CCN-51. CCN-51 is a high-yielding, disease-resistant variety of cacao, it is commonly associated with commodity cacao and the mass chocolate industry. CCN 51 with its high productivity and hardiness to diseases is one of the most planted cultivars in Ecuador.
There is great debate as to the origin of cacao, with many speculating it having originated in the tropical Andes foothills. Once cacao was domesticated, it was introduced in Central America and Mexico by the Maya civilisation where it became a fundamental element of the their rituals. Indeed, the Maya civilisation used cacao as currency.
Peru’s Major Regions, Farms and Key Players
Peru has 12 major growing regions of cacao. Including Tumbes and Piura on the coast; Amazonas, San Martín and Ucayali in the Amazon region; and the rainforest areas in Cajamarca, Huánuco, Junín Ayacucho and Cusco.
Peru ranks amongst the world’s most biological diverse countries. Its cacao terroir and different altitudes gives it such a unique taste, from region to region.
In August 2019, we visited a handful of cacao farms and plantations in the San Martin region of Peru. In the city of Tarapoto this included Finca Ecoperlacha, Cacao de Aroma, Paradisi co-operative, and Acopagro.
San Martin experienced major growth of CCN-51 after the Peruvian government introduced a development initiative to combat coca farming with the promotion of the farming of cacao. This originally started in 2010 and finalised around 2013-2016. Whilst this helped shift farmers away from producing coca (for cocaine production), many farmers believe that producing fine flavour cacao would have been a much healthier and better solution.
And indeed, in the most recent years the government too realises this was the wrong decision. Instead of mass-planting CCN-51 they should have planted and grafted flavour cacao that one might find in, for example, Piura or Cusco.