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The Curiosity of Cacao

The scientific name for cacao is theobroma cacao - from the Greek meaning ‘food of the gods.’  At Kona Gold, we’re inclined to agree! Creating mouth-watering craft chocolate is more than just a job for us: it’s our passion.

The History of Hawaiian Chocolate 

These days, chocolate exists in every corner of the globe and is beloved by many. But even though the islands are now a national hub of chocolate production, that wasn’t always the case.

Believe it or not, cacao isn’t originally from the Hawai’ian islands! The cacao tree is actually native to Mesoamerica. When Cortez and his conquistadors arrived in South America, they were amazed to discover what the Maya and Aztecs had long known: cacao and its byproducts were absolutely delicious. When Cortez arrived back in Spain, so did the cacao craze - and this tropical treat soon began to spread across Europe before eventually making its way to Hawai’i in the 1830s.

It didn’t take the Hawai’ians long to see the beauty of cacao, either. Cacao trees quickly found a home in the gardens of Hawai’ian royalty, and their popularity soon began to blossom. Still, the Hawai’ian chocolate business stayed relatively low-key until the 1980s and 90s, when food manufacturing giants like Hershey and Dole came to town.

Although the corporations didn’t find lasting success on the islands, the locals took over and built on the foundational infrastructure Dole had created. Innovative Hawai’ians turned a failing enterprise into a thriving economic opportunity, and the whole world is now better for it.

From Bean to Bar

 Have you ever wondered how the Hawai’ian chocolate business got off the ground? It all starts with the process that transforms the humble cacao bean into a luxurious chocolate bar.

It takes cacao trees between 3-5 years to mature, which is when they start to yield fruit. Cultivated cacao trees typically grow between 15 and 30 feet tall, and their wild counterparts can reach up to 60 feet! Cacao pods are approximately the size and shape of a large football and have a similar texture to boot. The pointed ovals are ridged with grooves and are bumpy and leathery on the surface. Sounds tasty!

Depending on the breed, the pods that are finally ready for harvest can turn dark red, yellow, or even light green. This work is best left to the professionals, as the cacao tree’s frame is remarkably slender and frail, and the roots are shallow. Cacao trees aren’t particularly hardy, but all the effort to keep them healthy and strong is worth it when you taste the finished product.

So how do these big, rough cacao pods become the silky, lustrous cacao bars that you can find at Kona Gold? Well, it’s quite a transformation, and it requires several steps, some elbow grease, and a whole lot of patience.

The harvested cacao pods are broken open, and the large white beans are separated from the hull. From there, the beans will be set out to ferment—a process that helps develop the flavor and which can last between two and eight days. This may seem like a long time, but the cacao beans are tasteless or bitter without fermentation—not exactly something you want in a chocolate bar.

 Once fermented and dried, the cacao nibs are removed from the bean shell, and then the nibs are ground down into cacao mass - aka the rough form of pure chocolate. Cacao mass is a liquid known as chocolate liquor. Before it goes out on the market, we add other local Hawaiian grown ingredients like our Vanilla and Estate Grown Kona Coffee. Then the solution is tempered to turn it into the solid bars of chocolate that we all know and love.

 At Kona Gold, we’re passionate about turning quality Hawai’ian ingredients into delectable treats. Perfectly balanced, delicious, and decadent, these bars will remind you why Hawai’i is so often called paradise.