Balinese Cacao Beans - what’s the scoop
Bali Cacao is one of the last remaining under-commercialized, under-manipulated origins of cacao on earth. Historically, cacao found its way onto the verdant slopes of Bali via the Isle of Java. Java was the site of some of the very first planting of cacao outside of its native origin in southern Mexico and over the centuries cacao fruits, seeds and trees were traded or carried into Bali. In Bali, cacao found both the perfect ecosystem; diverse, shady, damp and cool, as well as the perfect guardian; the Balinese practice natural food forest agriculture and the cacao was allowed to thrive wild and free without breeding for production capacity or other traits. Typical cacao in Bali grows under a canopy of coconuts, mango, mangosteens and durian and grows alongside coffee, bananas and papaya with vines of vanilla climbing up the trunk…A truly beautiful natural system and a truly unique and powerful wild mix of cacao genetics.More history…. in the day of the Maya and into the days of the Aztecs, the coastal region of Soconusco, Mexico was the growing region of the prized cacao gardens of these Meso-American cultures. When the Spanish arrived, they learned of this prized crop and quickly took control.
Today, the lore of these genetics still ring true; in particular, Theobroma Pentagones. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, this strain was considered the most prized of all cacaos in the Aztec kingdom. This almost extinct strain of cacao, hinges on a few controlled botanical gardens in the tropics. Perhaps one day, she will flourish again and the world will understand why the Aztecs cherished this variety.
Surprisingly, the first country to receive cacao outside of the Americas was the Philippines. The Spanish explorers took beans/seedlings of these cherished cacaos of Soconusco along with them on their journey westward across the great Pacific. Cacao flourished in the Philippines and eventually made it’s way south into Indonesia, in particular to the island of Java. Here, the Dutch took these prized genetics and planted vast plantations of highly prized cacao. The most valued plantations were located on the eastern part of Java, because of it’s fertile lands and perfect conditions for cacao cultivation. Today, the Java Criollo is still regarded as one of the most sought after and rare cacaos in the world.
The same cacao genetics that made it’s way to Java, made it’s way to the small island next door - Bali. But Bali was anything but an island of plantations. Bali, as it is to this day, was a mystical island of small family farms with a deep history of multi-cropping; the tradition of growing multiple crops on a piece of land. In Bali, these lands are referred to as “food forests’. Quite literally, you can walk into the rich, fertile back yards of Bali and feed yourself with a wondrous meal of cacao, clove, durian, mangosteen, vanilla, rice, banana, coconut and a myriad of other exotic and nutritious foods.
For over a century, these cacao genetics have changed very little. Bali, being a remote island that doesn’t produce much cacao, has pretty much been forgotten in the greater world of cacao and has been ignored in regards to introducing other varieties, clones or hybrids. (Now, as a quick disclaimer, the owners of Big Tree Farms, being very experienced in the world of cacao and organic agriculture in general, do not feel new varieties or hybrids of cacao are, in any way, lower quality than “heirloom” strains. Cacao, as humans or any other species, in order to survive must change and adapt. We respect cacao unconditionally and prefer to honor this sacred fruit, regardless of it’s origin. Who are we to insult Mother Nature?).
The Bali cacao that BTF offers is of incredible quality and flavor. The flavor profile tends to be very gentle and mild with notes of the exotic fruits and spices that also inhabit the food farms; clove, nutmeg, banana and vanilla. It is truly a fantastic cacao for all purposes.
Big Tree Farms also works with cacao farmers on the island of Lombok and are now starting to work with farmers on the island of Sumatra. We hope to offer these origins to our raw cacao customers in the very near future and when we do, we will offer more details on the history of each origin.