El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chocolate: A basic Ecuadorian ingredient

By Lance Brashear

The French have played an important role in the history of Ecuador. It was the French Geodesic Mission that confrmed the exact shape of the Earth in the 1700s. And in 1809, Napolean Bonaparte prompted the first shouts of independence in Quito when he deposed King Fernando VII. But the French influence has also come in more subtle, yet equally inspring, ways

In the "Manual de la Cocinera," (Cook's Manuel), published in Quito in the 19th century, there is one simple recipe for chocolate: chocolate ice cream, under the title of "Helados Franceses," or French ice cream. The book, which was re-published two years ago by the hertiage branch of city of Quito, is a testament to the cooking techniques of the time - a mixture of European and local influences. But it seems ironic that a French recipe for chocolate would end up in a local cookbook when the raw material for chocolate – the cocoa bean – is found naturally in Ecuador, not France.

The long history of chocolate, though, is the story of how people forgot where it came from, while recent history is about re-discovering its origins.

A Brief History of Cocoa

Cacao is the Spanish word for cocoa (just switch the letters o for a, and vice versa). Though genetic testing has shown that cocoa originated from the Amazon basin, it spread to Mesoamerica thousands of years ago and was consumed by the Aztec and Mayan civilzations.

In her book, "The New Taste of Chocolate (revised, 2009), A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes," author and chocolate expert, Maricel Presilla says that cocoa dealers from the earliest times understood the nuances of the cocoa bean and often identified them by the region from which they came, knowing which ones to value more than others. She says, "The quality of the bean could be tasted in the final product…the chocolate, to which spices were often added."

The Spanish (Hernan Cortez and company) discovered cocoa in their conquest of the new world. Chocolate soon became an aristocratic drink in European society and it was consumed exclusively in liquid form until the 19th century.

Then in 1828, Conrad Van Houten of Netherlands determined how to extract cocoa butter and solid from the liquor and created an alkali treatment which made the mix darker and less acidic.

In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt of Switzerland combined cocoa with sugar, through a process called conching, which allowed chocolate to melt better and blend more smoothly and completely with doughs and batters. And that same year Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate (adding milk to chocolate mass).

So, with time the quality of chocolate seemed to matter less and less as it was industrialized. Eventually people never really quetioned its origin.

Republic of Cocoa

Ecuador does not produce an especially large amount of cocoa, but it does produce the greatest volume of fine or flavor beans in the world. The term fine or flavor is used by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) and refers to cocoa beans which have a distinctive flavor, distinguishing them from "bulk" beans. Bulk beans are cocoa varieties that have a chocolate flavor, but lack certain properties, or tasting "notes," found in flavor beans, which give a floral and fruity aftertaste.

Flavor beans actually represent a very small percentage of world cocoa production – only five percent. But the majority of those flavor beans – 60 to 70 percent - are grown in Ecuador. In contrast, Ivory Coast grows ten times more cocoa than Ecuador, but none of it is fine or flavor.

In her book Presilla explains the revolution that occurred in the classification of chocolate, a result of the advances in genetic testing. Cocoa is currently classified under ten categories, or clusters, one of which is the fine or flavor cocoa of Ecuador known as "nacional," or national cocoa.

Ecuadorian cocoa is often referred to as "arriba" cocoa, a name derived from the location of its discovery centuries ago, "up river," from Guayaquil, along the Guayas River in the area of present day Manabi, Los Rios, and Quevedo. Arriba cocoa is part of the national cluster and simply refers to the region from which it comes, distinguishable by its aroma and flavor.

Lourdes Delgado, cocoa expert and producer of the Chchukululu Chocolate brand (it means "singing bird" in Quechua) says arriba cocoa is described as having a floral and fruity fragrance and taste – distinguishable from cocoa grown in other places. There is something particular about the "up river" location that gives it these unique characteristics.

The French

In recent years the world has begun to rediscover the origins of chocolate. And in Ecuador, ironically, a couple of French guys are helping to reintroduce it to Ecuadorians.

Cyril Prudhomme is a French pastry chef who came to Ecuador five years ago. Last year he opened Cyril Boutique, which is attempting to take chocolate (and other pastries and breads) to another level in Ecuador.

"This is something new in Ecuador…at a high level and totally French," he says.

Jerome Monteillet, better known as Chez Jerome to Quito diners, says the interest for a chef who leaves his own country and comes to another is to experiment. At his restaurant he does just that with Ecuador's signature product.

"We mix French techniques with flavors here. I like to make a filet mignon...with bacon, and on top put a layer of sal prieta - a mix of peanut and salt which is prepared in the province of Manabi. I serve it with a sauce with a cacao base. It is a French style sauce but instead of aromatizing it with cognac, with pepper, I do it with 100 percent cocoa. It is not sweet. It is a French preparation with a national product."

In their own ways, both Prudhomme and Monteillet have brought a part of France to Ecuador. And though Chez Jerome is the first to say the French are complicated about their food - an assertion with whch Prudhomme would agree - he finds a way to keep it simple for today's recipe.

Helado de chocolate

Cook’s Manuel - 1882


1 ½ cuarts, milk (leche, cuartillo i medio)

8 oz cream, (crema, 8 onzas)

6 id chocolate, shaved

8 id sugar

Put all of these simple ingredients into a pot over the fire, stirring with a spatula. When it has boiled sufficiently so that that composition is very thick, transfer to a varnished, ceramic bowl and let cool in order to freeze it.

Fondant de chocolate

Chez Jerome - 2012


400 gr dark chocolate chips

400 gr butter

12 whole eggs

400 gr sugar

220 gr flour


Melt together the butter and the chocolate in a water bath (bain marie). In a bowl mix together the eggs and the sugar until fluffy, then add slowly the melted chocolate, followed by the flour. In a small mold put some butter and flour so the fondant does not stick, then add batter and bake 6 min. in the oven at 236ºF (113 degrees C)

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