As we walked along the beach road towards Chuao, a coastal Venezuelan town, a local was approaching from the other direction, swinging a machete in time with his steps. On either side of the concrete surface, the dense jungle towered above: enormous mango trees, banana groves, bamboo thickets and the shorter cocoa (or cacao) plants that make this particular stretch of the Caribbean so special.
“How much of this is cacao?”, my friend asked as the three of us greeted one another. The man looked puzzled and slowed his steps, allowing the tip of his blade to scrape along the road’s surface. Raising it to eye level, he drew a wide arc through the air with its point, indicating the plants with long, thin leaves that surrounded us. “This is all cacao”. Moving towards the nearest tree, he looked with a discerning eye at the oval pods growing out of its trunk. Finding one to be sufficiently ripe, he twisted it from the plant and, using the curb rather than his weapon, opened it with three swift cracks around its perimeter.
Removing the empty half and throwing it back into the jungle, he revealed a stack of slimy white seeds within the other. “Suck on the seeds, they are delicious” he said, resuming his stroll towards the beach. Delicious, perhaps, but not at all what we’d expected – rather sweet and tangy, like mango, and leaving a tingling sensation in the mouth. “They don’t look or taste like chocolate until after fermentation” he shouted back in response to our bemused expressions.