Tori Died by Chocolate
The dangerous tale of seeking adventure and the finest chocolate in the world.
Tori was a gentle but adventurous soul, who very much liked chocolate. In most aspects of their life, Tori was quite frugal, but not when it came to chocolate. They tried every kind of chocolate they could, and it was never enough. They tried homemade chocolate. They tried imported chocolate from the "best" brands in the world. It still wasn't good enough for Tori.
One day, Tori had an idea. If all the chocolate they've tried so far was subpar, perhaps they were the only person who could make really good chocolate, chocolate good enough to satisfy them. So Tori began studying how chocolate was made. They learned that chocolate comes from a fruit! Specifically, the cacao fruit.
The fruit itself is long and has a hard outer shell. When broke open, it reveals these strange white fruits surrounding large seeds or beans. The fruit itself is sweet and tart, and smells a bit like citrus. However, cacao, the fruit from which chocolate comes, is not a citrus fruit. It turns out, cacao is a mallow, and so is more closely related to hibiscus and Durian! Tori was honestly shocked, and surprised they never learned this information earlier. It was hard to imagine that something which seemed so alien could end up becoming their beloved chocolate.
Apparently there were many varieties of chocolate fruit, just like there are many varieties of other fruits. Different varieties created slightly different kinds of cacao. They also learned that the beans are roasted and also fermented. It's partially this fermentation process which gives each kind of chocolate its own unique properties. Sometimes the results are extremely fruity. Other times the process will give the chocolate a much nuttier flavor.
Again, Tori was shocked by just how involved chocolate making was, and just how much time is spent crafting that perfect chocolate bar. Still, they knew they could do better, if they could just start from the source. And so, they planned their trip. The cacao fruit originated in Mexico. So that's where Tori decided to go.
Tori knew that the journey would be difficult. It would be hard to find rare varieties of cacao. Tori wasn't looking for modern commercial operations, but remains of older varieties of cacao, first domesticated many centuries ago by the Maya. They searched all across the internet, in every forum they could find, making sure to learn as much as possible about different locations that might have the golden prize.
A month later, Tori hopped on a flight to Mexico. They were eager to start their journey. The flight was long, or at least it seemed that it took forever. Tori really wanted the plane to land and start their trek through the rain forest. When the plane landed, they quickly got off and met up with their contact in the area, Belén, a local ethnobiologist.
It had taken quite a lot of effort to convince Belén to make this journey with Tori. After all, they were perfect strangers, and the trip would be dangerous. It was only through weeks of discussion on the issue that they convinced Belén that their interest in chocolate was no mere fancy, and that the trip would be beneficial to both of them. They were both convinced that the location that Tori had identified would have something of great interest both to the culinary world and to academia.
There were three separate locations that the two had plotted as options. One spot, which they revealed to no one, was the best option. It was still a long shot, but if they were right, it would be an amazing find. And so they rented a car, and drove as far as they could, until the paved roads became dirt roads, and finally until even the dirt roads ended, and they had to make the rest of their way by foot.
The trees and undergrowth became thicker and thicker until it was almost impossible to move forward. The journey was slow, and the humidity was nearly intolerable. But they continued on, always keeping a close eye on the plant life, hoping to find signs of cacao. After many hours of walking, they were about to give up, when they saw it. A cacao tree. The fruit was was the right shape, size, and color. There were a few seedlings nearby as well, likely of the same variety.
The duo marked the spot on their map, and began collecting samples. Things were going well, until they went horribly wrong! Tori cried out in pain and fell to the ground. Belén jerked their head quickly to see what happened. Running over Belén noticed Tori was holding their ankle. Looking down, they saw multiple small puncture marks on Tori's ankle.
Tori panicked. The poison was setting in. Their vision was going dark. There would be no slice of chocolate cake in Tori's future. Or so they thought. Belén acted quickly, grabbing Tori and carrying them. Luckily Tori was fairly light, but Belén was still quite worried that they wouldn't make it back in time.
Luckily Belén knew how to properly handle snake bites. They kept the wound below the heart, slowing down the spread of poison through the body. They also knew better than to use a tourniquet, which could cut off blood supply and cause more damage to the ankle and foot. Still, depending on how venomous the snake was, there might not be much time.
When they finally got to the hospital, a doctor examined the bite. A vine snake. A painful bite that could become infected, but luckily with proper treatment, it's non-fatal to humans. Belén fell into a chair and finally relaxed. Tori felt a little embarrassed about having panicked so much. But Belén shook their head and assured Tori that it was always best to assume the worst when it comes to snake bites. Better to be wrong and alive than wrong and dead.
Tori was soon released, and the pair spent the next few weeks looking over the samples they found. They thought of nothing else while they waited for the genetic tests and chemical analyses to finish. They of course had their doubts. It was always a long shot.
The first email arrived. Inconclusive…
The second email. Inconclusive…
Tori and Belén became more and more worried. Would they have to make a second trip just to get enough samples to be sure? Was it worth it?
The final email. Samples match…
They now had test results showing that the samples they found were indeed what they were looking for. Now they could gather a proper team and start propagating this chocolate. But this story was just beginning. The cacao tree takes up to five years to start producing chocolate. And it would take even longer before they found just the right process to turn this rare fruit into the perfect chocolate.
Chocolate is a really interesting product. I love chocolate, and am interested in all aspects of it, from the fruit through the aging process and the creation of various confections. I first tried cacao fruit when I visited Peru. It's hard to find in the US, but there are more and more places online that sell it. It's something to try at least once.