Cacao, Chocolate, and the Pride of Hawaii
Chocolate is more than just food. It’s a luxury, a delight, and an experience.
The scientific name for cacao is theobroma cacao. Theobroma comes from the Greek words ‘theo’ (god) and ‘broma’ (food). Cacao, meanwhile, is the Hispanicized spelling of the indigenous Mesoamerican word for the cacao tree, pod, and seed. Put it all together, and you get Cacao, Food of the Gods! Anyone who’s ever tasted chocolate can probably get behind this etymological definition.
Believe it or not, Hawaii is the only U.S. state to cultivate the cacao plant domestically—and surprisingly, cacao isn’t even a species indigenous to the island! In fact, the cacao tree is native to the dense tropical regions of Mesoamerica. Throughout the years, though, the humble cacao bean underwent a massive global migration. It spread far and wide, bringing the joys of chocolate to every culture on earth.
When Spanish conquistadors first came across indigenous South American peoples, they also encountered cacao and chocolate for the first time. Cortez and his men brought it back to Spain, where it spread to the Spanish colonies, and soon it was all over Europe. These days, the largest producer of cacao beans is Cote D’Ivoire, with 37% of the world’s total as of 2018! Ghana captures second place behind its fellow West African nation.
Hawaii and Cacao Culture
But back to Hawai'i. How did cacao get from the rainforests of South America to the Hawaiian islands? The roots of Hawaiian cacao can be traced back over 200 years, beginning in the 1830s. The first documented cacao came to Hawaii via Guatemala, according to the Hawai'i Chocolate Association. Those early cacao trees were planted in the gardens of King David Kalakaua.
In the 1850s, German physician and botanist William Hillebrand planted cacao trees in what is now called the Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu. But Hawai’i’s cacao production remained relatively small-scale until the 1980s, when chocolate mogul Hershey came to Hawai’i, piquing local interest. Before then, commercial farming of cacao was practically nil—just a point of biological and scientific interest.
Then, in the 1990s, the Dole Company came to Hawai’i, sensing an investment opportunity. They planted an orchard in Oahu, but the massive farm quietly imploded due to mismanagement. However, all was not lost, as Hawaii's local farmers quickly took up the torch of cultivating cacao from bean to bar. These days, cacao is one of Hawaii's most vital crops, and the island’s chocolate-making industry is flourishing.
Everyone wants to have a hand in the Hawaiian celebration of cacao. Micro-batches produce the purest and best-tasting product this side of Oahu. As a result, the island has become a hub of a truly exceptional delicacy: craft chocolate. It’s something that all Hawai’ians can be proud of, and people the world over can enjoy tasting.
That’s why Kona Gold has created our own Coffee Cacao Bars. Perfectly balanced, delicious, and decadent, these bars will remind you why Hawaii is so often called paradise. Shop our collection today, and discover the flavors of the Big Island.