Cacao and Chocolate Culture in India

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Chocolate, like most other places of Asia, isn’t the first, second, or even fiftyth item that comes to mind when you think of India. Yet chocolate is global; it has expanded to markets all over the globe, including India. In reality, with a population of roughly 1.4 billion people, India’s chocolate industry is one of the world’s fastest expanding. But, the story of chocolate in India is far from straightforward, with widely disparate customer preferences, distribution routes, and raw materials accessible to makers.

Some of these challenges are the result of the Indian economy’s rapid growth, while others are simply the result of decreased average purchasing power. Most Indians are attempting to relocate to cities in search of better employment and infrastructure. Yet, many Indians continue to rely on agriculture for a livelihood. The majority of the crops they cultivate are commodity crops, primarily for sale to other regions of Asia and the West.

Cocoa is one of these crops that is still a minor participant in the local market. Chocolate is created from cocoa, often known as cacao. So why don’t they cultivate more of it?

A Short History of Cacao in India

Although I’d want to offer a really extensive history of cocoa production in India, down to particular dates, growing locations, and volumes, I couldn’t discover such information during my study. I couldn’t even locate exact information about when cocoa arrived in the nation, as I could in the Philippines and Hawaii. But here’s what we do know: the fruit was transported to southern India by a British business as early as the end of the 18th century.

This seems reasonable given that nearby Sri Lanka was already cultivating cocoa at the time. The period also coincides with the almost two centuries of British occupation of India, which lasted until the countries independence in 1947. Up until that moment, India had only farmed a limited quantity of cocoa. Yet, that chocolate is reported to have come from local criollo varietals in South America, most likely through Indonesia.

The main change in Indian cacao occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. This is when the British chocolate company Cadbury began distributing seedlings to farmers. According to the Indian cacao growers I met for the audio episode on Indian chocolate, this is approximately the time Cadburys cocoa arrived in Kerala, and presumably also in nearby Tamil Nadu. These seedlings were selected primarily for their excellent production.

Farmers have mostly continued to cultivate since the number of pods they produce is what gets them money. Since then, India has continued to develop cacao, and Cadbury has continued to purchase the majority of it. Nevertheless, output levels have declined in recent years, in line with the decreasing global market price for cocoa, which has been declining since 2015. The tropical south of India now produces less than 1% of the world’s chocolate supply, but consumes more than twice that much.

Cacao cultivation in India

Cacao consumption in India will surely rise further, but cocoa planting is at a halt. The most apparent reason for this is because the crops have a low market price, making them undesirable to local farmers. Nevertheless, this is just a portion of the narrative. Additional variables contributing to the country’s poor output include crop prices vying for the same land, markets and cultural significance for current crops, and the different inputs required to cultivate cocoa at a premium price.

Cocoa is now mostly grown in four southern Indian states: Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. Although cacao has been planted in these areas for decades, the tree is steadily becoming popular in different portions of each state. This is particularly true when Cadbury began promoting local farms. About 2005, the tree became popular in Pollachi, a town in western Tamil Nadu. Farmers like Harish Manoj Kumar, proprietor of Regal Farms in Pollachi at the time, added cocoa to their existing fields, which were often based on coconut.

The majority of these farmers continue to sell their cocoa to Cadbury or the local enterprise CampCo. Yet, Harish is one of a tiny handful of farmers that have joined the premium cocoa market. This has entailed totally changing his farm’s plantings into a closed organic system, employing natural fertilizers, and standardizing output to be constant year-round. Yet, such an effort is beyond the desire of most farmers since it displays a specific passion to cocoa, and it is just difficult.

Water supply has been a major source of contention in recent years. Indian farmers would always prioritize their mother trees (the moneymakers); coconut producers will cheerfully chop cocoa to save water for their coconut trees. Yet, coconut prices vary, as do cocoa prices, which is why the Ministry of Agriculture is so intent on getting farmers to diversify their crop rotation. Regrettably, cocoa lacks the allure of certain smaller plants and spices.

I don’t see farmers lined up any time soon to grow additional cocoa. They will do so, I believe, only if the weather circumstances, water supplies, and mother crop allow them to do so.

Soklet Chocolate Co-Founder Karthi Palaniswami

Cacao upkeep and processing necessitates the employment of even more labor, a commodity that is in low supply. People just do not want to work on farms any more. Although there has been a cocoa shortfall owing to low cacao prices, Indian cocoa growers are paid above market price for their cocoa. Cacao enterprises such as GoGround in Kerala state even go around a few times a week to collect wet beans from the farmers with whom they deal.

Customers have traditionally purchased both dry cocoa and wet beans for the same price, but firms such as GoGround are operating outside of India’s commodity cacao market. Farmers are paid in cash for high-quality cocoa harvested on the same day, and they will not pay for anything less. Yet, imported beans account for little more than half of the country’s cocoa consumption, and at present prices, that share is only expected to grow.

Since that is what farmers provide, the firm now offers both organic and non-organic chocolate. But, because to market demand, they are attempting to persuade farmers to increase their organic produce. Organic certificates still signify a lot to customers, therefore many of the chocolate producers that purchase from them demand organic beans. This comprises small batch bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturers from India. Nonetheless, bean to bar chocolate is still a relatively new notion in India.

India’s Contemporary Chocolate Culture

Cadbury Dairy Milk is, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular chocolates in India. We owe it to the Brits, adds Soklet’s Karthi Palaniswami. The bars are very sweet, with more sugar and milk than chocolate. When you consider traditional Indian sweets, which include a lot of dairy ingredients, the attractiveness of such a bar becomes evident. This is due in part to the cow’s reputation as a holy animal in India for religious reasons.

In most regions of the nation, it is unlawful to slaughter a cow. As a result, they devour all of the surplus milk generated; my opinion is that this naturally makes milk chocolates more enticing and familiar. The sweetness of milk chocolates is evident in their attraction. This is why, in an Indian shop, the majority of chocolate labels contain sugar as the first ingredient.

The FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) allows no fat other than cocoa butter and milk fat in anything labeled as chocolate. But, as certain companies in the West have shown, there are ways around this. As in Hershey’s Very Dark bars, hinting that a product is chocolate without ever directly using the term.

Like we witnessed in Malaysia, many Indians are exposed to the concept of chocolate via goods that have no evidence of cocoa derivatives. Chocolate-flavored beverages or pastries are used to introduce others. Yet, this has the potential to alter since branded chocolates are no longer the sole participants in the market. India is seeing an increase in the number of chocolatiers offering bonbons and chocolate bars prepared with less ingredients.

Several of these chocolatiers use Callebaut chocolate, a Belgian firm that is extending its operations with a plant in India. Yet, Callebaut is not the only firm striving to grow. Moreover, their premium market will not be the only segment of the chocolate business to grow in the next years. Part of this is due to the availability of local bean-to-bar chocolate brands, but it is also due to India’s involvement in the availability of chocolate-making gear.

Machines for Producing Chocolate in India

India is a contemporary hub for the manufacture of chocolate machines. Throughout the 18th, 19th, and much of the 20th centuries, most of the world’s chocolate equipment was custom-made in Europe, but current manufacturing has gone to Asia. Most of this manufacturing takes place in India, with businesses like Spectra leading the way. This is a key aspect in Indian chocolate culture since it gave local chocolate firms access to low-cost technology while also establishing India’s place in the world’s chocolate history.

The stone component is the fundamental component that has made Indian wet grinders the go-to for economical chocolate manufacturing equipment. To grind materials into a smooth paste, most chocolate refiners utilize steel balls or stones, with stones being the preferred option for first-time and hobbyist manufacturers. India happens to be the source of the world’s greatest stones for building such gear; they’re so wonderful that even Cocoa Town, a US-based machinery producer, imports them for their refiners.

Coimbatore, a city in Tamil Nadu state, is the core of India’s chocolate equipment manufacturing. While India’s equipment will surely develop with the global business in the future years, it is difficult to predict if other areas of the Indian chocolate industry will as well.

India’s Handmade Chocolate

In terms of population, India’s handmade chocolate manufacturers are in the minority. The United States is believed to contain at least 300 professional craft chocolate enterprises, with over 1000 more amateur chocolate manufacturers (only producing & consuming at home). In instance, India has approximately 12 professional artisan chocolate enterprises and a few dozen hobbyist chocolate manufacturers, despite having four times the population. Needless to say, the sector is in its infancy.

Naviluna Chocolate, previously known as Earth Loaf, was India’s first handmade chocolate producer, founded in 2012. Mason & Co. Chocolate was founded in 2014, and it has now grown into Cambodia thanks to two former workers. When Harish and his brother-in-law, Karthikeyan Palaniswami, launched their chocolate companies, Regal Plantations and Soklet, in 2015, things really took off. In 2017, their cocoa got an International Cocoa of Excellence award.

Besides from making Indian headlines, I believe that splash placed Indian cacao on a lot of people’s thoughts. As of this writing, every chocolate manufacturer in India uses Indian cacao in some manner. M & N Chocolate in Ooty, Toska Chocolate in Ahmedabad, Cocoa Mantra in Hyderabad, and Pascati Chocolate and La Folie in Mumbai are some more chocolate producers in India. Chitram Craft Chocolate in Coimbatore is a new firm founded in 2018 by Arun Viswanathan and his late mother.

Green Mango & Chilli, Beetroot Halwa, and Mango Lassi are just a few of the company’s innovative and distinctly Indian tastes. This kind of innovation is common in the local chocolate industry; you can learn more about how these tastes came to be on the podcast episode. With an unknown number of home chocolate makers in India, many of whom will surely graduate to their own brands in the very near future, the number of Indian chocolate producers is expected to grow dramatically in the near future.

Indian Cacao and Chocolate’s Future

Barring calamity, the Indian economy will continue to rise, with more customers eager to indulge in so-called Western pleasures like chocolate. Handmade chocolate will undoubtedly play a role in this. It is the only form of locally manufactured chocolate that not only honors the Indian roots of most of the cocoa used in its creation, but also the Indian tastes that many locals grew up with.

Local production is the solution even for individuals who import cacao from other countries and turn it into raw and other non-traditional chocolate products. Indians take delight in consuming foods Indian-made meals, manufactured in tiny amounts; it makes them feel unique. In my on-the-ground interviews, Karthi, Harish, and Arun all agreed that more chocolate producers would emerge from India. But what about cocoa production? Until significant price hikes are enforced, it is unlikely that anything will change.

According to Harish Kumar of Regal Farms, current cocoa pricing are unappealing to Indian farmers. Although if local chocolate producers are enthusiastic about utilizing locally produced cacao, there is a limit to how much high quality cocoa growers are prepared to devote their time on. Other crops will always exist as competitors. Chocolate manufacturing equipment is the only area that is uncertain, but with development expected in that sector as well, only time will tell how much change we will see in each sector of the Indian chocolate landscape.

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