Newspaper article The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Australia)

The Sweet Life -- Food of the Gods

Newspaper article The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Australia)

The Sweet Life -- Food of the Gods

Article excerpt

Byline: Cathy Winston The Independent

"WE CALL these jungle M&Ms," offered my guide Cuthbert. "Try one."

They looked more like fat white grubs clustered inside the cacao pod -- the botanic term mucilage didn't make them sound any more appealing.

But my love of chocolate meant that very little would deter me from trying it fresh from the plant.

Sweet and fruity, the soft white outer layer melted away until just the cacao bean was left, although this one wouldn't be starting the fermentation, drying and roasting process along with the rest of the crop from the plantation in St Lucia's lush SoufriE re hills.

It's all a long way from Cadbury's Buttons.

But while the food of the gods is more commonly associated with the Aztecs and Mayans, it has been grown on this Caribbean island for more than 450 years.

The French introduced the cacao trees that flourish in the island's rich volcanic, rainforest-shaded soil. And as they wrangled with the British for power, with St Lucia changing hands 14 times in 150 years, the crop survived the political turmoil.

Now, a Chocolate Heritage Trail highlights 20 indulgent spots across the island, with extra events and activities taking place during August's Chocolate Heritage Month.

Meanwhile, the three-hour tour at Boucan by Hotel Chocolat -- the best-known name among St Lucia's chocolate producers -- is the perfect crash course in all things cacao.

Wandering in the shade of laden fruit trees, with prickly soursop and breadfruit growing alongside guava and orange, we traced the bean's journey, from Cuthbert's carefully maintained seed bank to the ripe yellow or orange pods.

I learnt how serious the chocolate-making business is. Despite modern scientific methods dictating the estate's choice of tree -- a cloned trinitario hybrid for intense flavour and hardiness -- the process doesn't seem to have changed much in centuries.

Packed into boxes, the beans are still covered with banana leaves and left to ferment for seven days, throwing off almost as much heat as the Caribbean sun. …

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