Filipino Chocolate & Cacao Culture

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There is some truth to the observation that Filipinos and Mexicans share a lot of similarities; the similarities aren’t just a coincidence. These similarities extend to chocolate, as well as other aspects of culture, such as Catholicism and a parallel colonial history. Or more accurately, the absence of such.

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Spanish Colonization of The Philippines

You may learn more about the history of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines by clicking here, which also includes information regarding when and how chocolate was first introduced to the country. During the more than 100 years that followed the Spanish conquest, both the Catholic Church and a system of colonial taxes were introduced (though they were never wholly successful with the latter). However, the widespread practice of Catholicism in Las Filipinas, as the islands were once called, is significant due to the fact that Spanish priests and friars maintained direct relationships with the local population, particularly via the use of the local language.

Even though it has been spoken for somewhat more than 70 years, the Filipino language is not yet universally recognized as a spoken language. Imagine, then, the hundreds of languages that were spoken in the Philippines more than 400 years ago, and the immense amount of influence that local priests must have had because of their ability to speak in some of those hundreds of languages. Additionally, people who held important positions in Spain’s Catholic hierarchy had control over a significant portion of the agricultural land that was used to pay taxes to the Crown. This influence extended to the land that was used for the cultivation of cacao.

During that time period, the Spanish more or less hand-picked which crops would be planted on those territories, basing their decision on the crops they wished to collect as tribute from the indigenous people. Cacao was one of those available options.

History Of Chocolate In The Philippines

It is not feasible to cultivate cacao in Spain, with the probable exception of the Canary Islands in the future. Therefore, in order for the Spanish to continue to consume chocolate, it was necessary for them to acquire the beans as a kind of tribute from each of their many colonies. Cacao was, in a sense, the ideal method to pay our respects. If it was managed properly, it could be stored safely for years, and it would be quite fine on the trip back to Europe, which would take many months.

But despite the fact that cacao beans were sent to Spain, the Spanish were also responsible for introducing something new to the Philippine culture: the eating of chocolate. However, the Spanish really drank chocolate in the form of a beverage, much as they had learnt to do from the Aztecs, which is contrary to the way that most people today imagine eating a bar of chocolate. Cacao seeds of the Criollo kind were really carried over from Mexico, which was also a Spanish colony at the time, and planted in the soil of the Philippines.

A link between the Philippines and Mexico was cemented by the planting of this first fruitful tree. This relationship has survived to the current day and has been maintained through the ages in the shape of the galleon trade. Consumption in the region has been steadily increasing since since the first crop of cacao was brought to harvest on one of the islands that make up the Luzon archipelago. Cacao was forced to become a part of the identity and history of the people who worked on the plantations that were overseen by Spanish friars. These farms required to utilize indigenous people to handle the harvest.

There is not a lot of evidence available on the time period in which the general populace of the Philippines started routinely drinking cacao. However, even when they gained their independence in 1946, they remained on top of the Asian market in terms of cocoa output for another half a century after that. And even once they were finally able to get their hands on it, the majority of people continued to consume it in the form of a beverage. They made the beverage by mixing tableya with water and serving it to themselves.

Traditional Chocolate Production & Consumption

Tableya, which is more commonly spelled tablea, is essentially a ball made of ground up cacao that is 100%. The cacao balls were traditionally processed using the Mexican metate method, which consisted of grinding peeled cacao seeds between two stones until they formed a paste. This process was repeated until a paste was formed. After that, the paste is rolled into balls, which are then stored in that form, untempered of course. When someone is ready to use the tableya to make sikwate, also known as hot chocolate, then one of those balls is added to water that is boiling and stirred rapidly until the mixture is the same consistency throughout.

The amount of respect that you had for the individual to whom you were serving the beverage was largely communicated through the quantity of water that was added. In point of fact, the Catholic church must have accorded you a high level of respect in order for you to be served sikwate at all, as they remained in control of cacao plantations until the end of their reign. Tableya continues to be the most common way for people in the Philippines to consume cacao even in the modern day.

It used to be that Filipinos who had cacao trees in their backyards would put the seeds out to dry in the sun, and then bring them to the nearest market, where a man would grind up their beans for a small fee. Today, however, most people in the Philippines don’t have cacao trees in their yards. After that, they could roll it into balls at home (because the temperature in the Philippines is high throughout the year, it maintains its pliability for a longer period of time) and store them for later use. Cacao trees, once a common sight in backyards across the country, are sadly becoming a thing of the past as more people move into urban areas.

In spite of this, there is not a significant history of chocolate consumption in the Philippines, much like there is in the neighboring region of Hong Kong. Tableya is not something you consume in the same way that a ball of chocolate would be eaten. A bite of that would be extremely bitter because there is no sugar (even though I’m sure all of us have tried a bite of the baking chocolate that we keep in our cupboards, am I right?). Even though chocolates have been manufactured in the Philippines in the past using mass production methods, tableya is still regarded as an entirely distinct product from chocolate. Therefore, the consumption of chocolate in the way that the majority of people probably think of it is not very common in the Philippines. The consumption of tableya, on the other hand, has become so widespread in recent times that it has contributed to a shortage of cacao.

The Cacao Industry In The Philippines

Cacao is believed to have first arrived in the Philippines in the latter half of the 17th century, more especially around the year 1670, according to the best available estimations. Cacao farms that were overseen by friars during the course of their history went through a number of ownership transitions, culminating in the majority of them being huge estates dispersed over the islands. It is important to note that the vast majority of those plantations can be found in the province of Mindanao, which is the most southern section of the nation, and more especially in the city of Davao.

Although about 80% of the nation’s cacao is still cultivated in Mindanao, this is slowly beginning to change as farmers all across the country strive to counteract the recent slump in cacao output as well as the drop in global cocoa prices. The attempts of the government to redistribute land have persisted, and as a result, many of the traditionally vast cacao plantations have been divided up and given to landless people in the surrounding area. Cocoa was already growing on the property, but many of the new farmers decided to remove it or neglect it in favor of other crops that seemed to have a higher potential return on investment.

This is only one of the many factors that contributed to the economic decline that began in the 1980s. At the same time, high-yielding cacao varietals from Malaysia were being planted all throughout the nation in an attempt to obtain more from less on these smaller parcels of land. This was done in the name of maximization of productivity. These more modern varieties of criollo were planted in lieu of many older criollo trees, albeit not all of them. At the same time, the Mars Chocolate Company was purchasing a significant amount of cacao from the Philippines.

A large number of farmers in the areas with the greatest cacao production were visited by Martians, who instructed them in the proper preparation of the cacao that the Martians had purchased. Cacao was processed even more swiftly as a consequence of this, with as little labor as possible put into it, and most significantly, the lowest possible price was given to the farmers for their crop. As a consequence of this, the farmers’ perceptions of cocoa as a cash crop were negatively impacted.

There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Filipino farmers, and each one of them has their own unique tale to tell about their relationship to cocoa. Some of these tales are longer and more passionately told than others. However, the decrease in cacao output in the Philippines may be attributed to a number of different variables, not all of which are within the control of the farmers. The decline in cocoa production in the Philippines during the 1980s, the expansion of cacao industries in neighboring countries, and the fluctuating prices of cacao-related crops like coconut are the most important things to keep in mind.

Recent intervention on the part of the government has resulted in tens of millions of cacao seedlings being planted across the country as a response to the revived interest in cacao production that has been seen on a global scale. In addition to that, this occurred over the course of only a few years. In order to achieve their goal of reaching 10% of the global market share within the next three years, the government has decided to give away free seedlings as part of their plan to increase national production by a factor of ten in comparison to levels seen in 2016. They had originally hoped to accomplish these objectives by the year 2020, but because it will take so long for the seedlings that were distributed to bear fruit, they have since decided to push back the deadline by two years.

Changing Tides For Filipino Farmers

Historically, only a small percentage of the cacao produced in the Philippines was fermented. To be fair, it didn’t really need to be since the vast bulk of their chocolate was a criollo kind from Mexico, which is inherently less bitter than other varieties of cacao. However, as part of its attempts to boost cacao output, the government is working to optimize the fermentation process and increase the amount of cacao that is fermented.

Fermentation is one of the processes involved in the production of chocolate. During this stage, many of the tastes that are often associated with chocolate are developed. Therefore, the unfermented or under-fermented beans that are typically used for the preparation of tableya are not ideal for use in the production of chocolate. The methods that were taught by the Mars firm a few decades ago are not used to prepare the beans in any way, shape, or form, not even in the slightest.

So, what options do farmers have? According to Val, who works for the Cocoa Industry Development Association of Mindanao (CIDAMI), some people are going to continue doing things the same way they always have and be quite pleased with the low profits from their cacao. However, there are now a number of materials accessible to those who wish to acquire better post-harvest procedures in order to increase the amount of money they make from their cacao. CIDAMI hosts courses all throughout the islands, and some local farmers are beginning to provide paid lectures on how to cultivate cocoa.

However, the current upward spike in cacao production in the Philippines is not a direct response to the country’s cacao shortage and a desire to become less dependent on imports of cacao. Increasing the production of crops that can be grown on land that is already being farmed is a deliberate move on the part of the government on both the federal and municipal levels. It is both conceivable and desirable to inter-crop cacao trees with other popular agricultural items in the Philippines, such as coconuts. These trees may be grown in close proximity to one another. Intercropping helps boost total yields throughout the nation, which in turn delivers more income to farmers and adds to the process of reforestation.

Additionally, existing fruit trees are often the ideal candidates for the role of “tree mother” for young cacao trees, since they may shield the young plants from the damaging effects of the sun. Farmers now have more opportunity to ferment smaller quantities of cacao more often, because to the rising popularity of local cooperatives. This helps farmers ensure that they only choose pods that are ready to be picked when they are mature. If there is a greater supply of cacao of a higher quality, then there will be an increase in the number of chances for farmers to add value to their harvests. It’s possible that some of them may go on to become the forefathers of the chocolate culture in the Philippines.

Craft Chocolate In The Philippines

This artisanal chocolate revolution in the Philippines has been in the works for some years at this point. However, getting the support of the general people in this area has not been very simple. Cacao is more often associated with tableya than it is with chocolate in the Philippines; the transition from cacao to chocolate is not as natural for Filipinos as it is in many other cacao-growing nations. Cacao is a fruit that may be consumed by drinking it or sucking on the pulp directly, and it can also be used to make cacao liquor.

However, there are some excellent chocolate manufacturers who are doing their best to spread the word about their products. Although I am unable to mention every chocolate manufacturer in the Philippines, there are a select handful who have made an outsized contribution to the industry. Auro Chocolate is perhaps the most well-known chocolate manufacturer in the Philippines among consumers located in countries other than the Philippines. Both in terms of working with local farmers and advertising their chocolate for consumption in the local area, they have done an excellent job (about four-fifths of their chocolate is purchased domestically).

If you were to ask a Filipino about the best local chocolate, though, they would almost certainly say Malagos Chocolate. Malagos Chocolate, which is located in Davao City and is often considered as one of the earliest tree-to-bar chocolate producers in the Philippines, sources the cacao for their 100% Filipino dark chocolate from their own enormous farm. Their Gardens have achieved widespread renown around the nation, and just lately, they were even recognized on an international level for their efforts. However, despite the fact that Malagos and Auro are both relatively substantial corporations, I would argue that the future of high-quality chocolate in the Philippines lies in the hands of small-scale producers.

It might be said that Cacao Culture Farms, in particular, has done a better job of making their identities known on social media, networking with local farmers, and generally simply making their presence known online. It’s one of the reasons I reached out to them in the first place about going to Mindanao as well. Because even though Filipinos living in the Philippines are their primary target market, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business for very long if they required consumers to go all the way to Davao City in order to collect their orders.

Because of the ongoing threat of domestic terrorism in the country’s south-eastern area, the whole region of Mindanao has been placed under the protection of martial rule for many years. As I’ve already said, the mission to convert the whole population of the Philippines to Christianity was unsuccessful. However, despite the terrorist threats (which are located hundreds of miles away from Davao City), there are a significant increase in the number of tableya and chocolate makers such as Cacao Culture. And as more farmers grow interested in adding value to their cacao crop, I view it as a terrific method to preserve Filipino cocoa consumption authentically Filipino. Moreover, as more farmers become interested in adding value to their cacao crop.

The Future Of Filipino Chocolate & Cacao

Although progress is gradual, it seems that many farmers in the Philippines are on board with the idea of adding cocoa cultivation to their current landscapes. Although not all of them are doing it with the intention of reforestation in mind, when money is tight and you can’t afford to feed your children, who cares about the environment?

You may anticipate seeing literally loads more cacao accessible on the market once the millions of trees that have been planted over the course of the last several years begin finally yielding cacao beans. It is my hope that a significant portion of this cacao would have value added at home rather than after it has been exported.

This covers the production of high-end items such as exquisite chocolates, cosmetics, and health foods, in addition to transformations lower on the scale, such as the transformation of cacao beans into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Therefore, although the future of chocolate production in the Philippines is promising, the future of cocoa production in the Philippines is also on the rise.

As part of this narrative, I would want to extend my deepest gratitude to Ken and Sheila of Cacao Culture Farms, as well as to Val of CIDAMI and the many other individuals that I had the opportunity to meet and speak with. Your understanding of the cocoa sector in the Philippines has been quite helpful.