Tag Archives: Caribbean

Chiseled Chocolate and Other Delights: Cacao Shopping in a Haitian Supermarket

Intro:

When Boris Yeltsin visited a supermarket in the US in 1989, he was floored. The nondescript Randalls in Houston ended up being more powerful than the “screens, dials, and wonder at NASA.” The trip ended up “shatter[ing] his view of communism.” If the Russians back home got wind of American supermarkets, “there would be a revolution” he confided in his comrades (Hlavaty, 2016).

Nearly thirty years later, supermarkets continue to amaze. Visitors to Haiti, where I have lived for the past 8 years, continue to be amazed by Caribbean Supermarket, a family business founded in 1995 that has Haiti’s largest selection of local and imported goods. I had first written about Caribbean when I worked at Peace Dividend Trust (now called Building Markets) as part of the project’s Agribusiness Case Study Series.  Interviewing the procurement manager, I had discussed the store’s stockage of over 300 local products, and Caribbean’s continued push to buy Haitian goods (You can read the whole thing here). When I received the class assignment for Chocolate Class, I was interested to go back to the store to see how cacao, a historically prominent crop in Haiti, was portrayed and displayed.

As a note, Haiti tends to be a lightning rod for political, sociological, economic, botanical – well just about every type of commentary there is. A recent book about Haiti opened by quoting Ira Lowenthal, an anthropologist who has been in Haiti for 40 years, as saying: “Haiti is the most studied developing country in the world, and least understood” (Schwartz, 2017, Epigraph). As such, there are many things this post will NOT cover. The “right” or “wrongness” of having a US-style supermarket in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Whether a supermarket in Haiti is less authentic than going to a local marché (market). Whether the assignment should have been conducted in the rural zones and not the capital of Port-au-Prince. As Mr. Lowenthal suggests, there is nothing if not continued, sustained interest in the country, and I will leave such topics for further dissection by Haiti’s active local and international blogger community.

What this is then, is an overview of how Caribbean Market, situated in Petionville (a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti) that serves both upper and middle class Haitians , as well as foreigners (including diplomats, missionaries, and NGO workers), serves as a microcosm in which to view the history of chocolate, particularly the way in which chocolate was hybridized as a result of the encounter between the Old World and the New. For if supermarkets are indeed a revolution, then how does cacao and chocolate get portrayed in one situated in the only country to be created from a successful slave revolution that defeated the French, English and Spanish? Let’s find out.

History of Chocolate in Haiti:

As Sophie Coe and Michael Coe write in The True History of Chocolate, “chocolate was invented almost four millennia ago” (Coe, 2013, p. 214). As for Haiti, my previous post for Chocolate Class, described how Hernando Cortez started Haiti’s first cacao plantation in the 1500’s. While not initially successful, Haiti’s cacao production did eventually flourish from the 17th to the early 19t century, at which point Haiti was producing 10x more cacao than Venezuela. However following the Haitian revolution of 1804, there was a precipitous decline in production due to political infighting and redistribution of land that saw a smallholder farmer model replace the larger plantation systems of colonialism.  (Should you want to learn more, the rest of the blog can be read here).

Modern Haiti has worked to revitalize their chocolate industry, producing a nascent chocolate trade (Another shameless plug for my last blog), while continuing their very Mesoamerican chocolate habits of drinking what C-Spot.com called the “champagne of the empire,” and Haiti calls Haitian spiced hot chocolate (Chery). Modern Haiti also has a very complex series of trade relationships with the world around it; a former French colony,  the country’s largest trade relationships  (Trading Economics, 2018) are not with the colonizer but rather with the United States (Miami is a 90 minute flight from Port-au-Prince), and the Dominican Republic, a former Spanish colony with which Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola. Going into Caribbean, I was interested to see how all this played out in how chocolate and cacao were displayed and portrayed.

Going to Caribbean:

Entering Caribbean, one must first prove their fearlessness by battling it out for a parking spot in the often packed 75+ space parking lot. Only a fool would go on a Saturday, or even certain Sundays, so to hedge my bets I go on a Thursday afternoon. Sliding easily into a prized vacancy, I hike up the hill (Haiti comes from the Arawak word for mountains) to the store’s entrance. Hiking through the parking lot also offers an opportunity to define the audience of Caribbean. (While I could just go into Caribbean and start photographing customers, the guards are armed, and I would prefer not to start any kerfuffle.) The cars show the mix of the middle-class and upper-class Haitians and foreigners who peruse the market. As shown in the photos below, you can see older cars (such as the Hyundai Accent) that are 10-20 years old (probably valued between $5,000-$15,000) as well as the more expensive Toyota Land Cruiser Prados (which start at $75,000).

Drinking Chocolate: 

Cacao was first encountered in drinkable form – and as Amanda Fiegl writes in her 2008 article, “A Brief History of Chocolate,” for the  Smithsonian, for about “90 percent of chocolate’s long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn’t have anything to do with it.”  According to INAFORESTA’s “History of Cocoa,” the “Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate, originally in the form of a drink.” The Olmecs would grind the cacao beans and mix them with water, and then add spices, chiles, and herbs to the mix. The Aztecs and Mayans soon got in on the action, and in 1528 AD cacao was first brought to Europe (Spain) by Cortez. Cocoa then made its way to France in 1615, and England (1650), and continued to spread throughout Europe (INAFORESTA).

Thus for a country situated in Latin America, and colonized and/or invaded by France, England, and Spain (see Philippe Girard’s 2010 book, Haiti: The Tumultuous History for a complete history), it is no surprise that the drinking chocolate selection at Caribbean is plentiful. Upon entering the breakfast aisle, one encounters at least 20 different types of drinking chocolate, including breakfast drinks such as Carnation Breakfast Essentials, Ovaltine, Milo (Nestlé), Carlos V (Nestlé), Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate, Nestle Hot Chocolate, and Choco Listo, all which are produced outside of Haiti. The two Haitian chocolate options that are available are Choko Toro, and Chocolat Jeremie. The price ranges for breakfast chocolate drinks go from 110htg (a little under $2) for the local Choko Toro (3 cacao balls), to 615 htg (a little under $10) for an 18oz Ovaltine container. Those watching their weight can get a can of SlimFast Chocolate-flavored drink, but it’s going to cost you 1,800htg (~$27) for an 18oz container.

For those who don’t have time to prepare their chocolate beverage, you can purchase a ready-made, locally produced Chocolate Blast Ti Shake for 35htg (~$.50), whose packaging proudly boasts 9 grams protein and Vitamins A+D. Or if you have money (and fat) to burn, you can purchase a Myoplex Chiseled Chocolate Protein Shake for a heftier 365htg (~$5). There is also the Dutch-owned Chocomel (flavored chocolate milk) for a little over a dollar, the Nestle-owned Milo drink out of the company’s Australia division (available for the same price as the Chocomel), and Mrs. French’s AK-100 Vanilla Corn Drink Accassan,(which is a Haitian corn-based drink similar to others in Latin America and the Caribbean -see the Mangeons Lakay blog for more information).

Of particular interest in the drinking chocolate aisle is the branding. One of the local Haitian brands, Towo (which is a division of the Weiner Brand in Haiti) uses the creole word for bull (towo) to portray a product that gives one strength, or force as one would say in Haiti. The brand Towo additionally produces coffee as seen below, to further tie the stimulant properties of the cacao and coffee together.  As Marcy Norton writes in her 2006 article, “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”, for the Mesoamericans, drinking chocolate “invigorates one.”  And according to INFORESTA, historically drinking cacao was shown to be a “strengthening, restorative, aphrodisiac” (Another interpretation for the bull perhaps-Europa anyone?) (INFORESTA). The “strengthening” motto is reinforced by the Milo brand as well, which shows a soccer player forcefully kicking a ball. Other brands, such as the Colombian Choco Listo, emphasize vitamin content, additionally hearkening to the invigorating properties.

Another item to note is that there is not a lot of flavoring in the drinkable chocolate aisle, besides sugar and dried milk (and of course the depiction of chocolate itself as a flavor to enhance drinks). The chocolate flavor that harkens the most back to the pre-colonial times is instead a chocolate paste placed in the peanut butter aisle and produced by Haitian brand FnF S.A. FnF S.A makes Chocolate Butter with Peanut Butter and Honey which includes cinnamon, salt and ginger. These are flavors (save for the peanut butter) that are common in traditional Haitian hot chocolate-see recipes here, here, and here. As Norton writes, “Spanish colonists modified traditional Mesoamerican chocolate by adding or substituting spices esteemed in the Old World—cinnamon, black pepper, anise, rose, and sesame, among others—in place of the native flower spice complex, achiote, and chili peppers” (Norton, 2006). Although once again, the addition of spices is really just seen here in the Chocolate Butter. All the other chocolate items are either in their natural state (the local cacao) or complemented with the Old World’s biggest influence on chocolate-sugar (all the imported drinking chocolates).

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So should you need to slim, to energize, or to improve your health, the beverage aisle has an option for you. As Norton explains, “Europeans in the New World selected the cacao beverages that best fit their needs or temperament,” and at Caribbean, your drinking chocolate options are wide and varied indeed.

Chocolate Bars:

Chocolate bars originated in England in 1830 (INOFRESTA), and soon spread throughout the world. The Caribbean chocolate bar aisle has a wide range of these worldly chocolates- American childhood staples such as Hershey’s Kisses, M&M’s (plain and peanut), KitKats, as well as higher end European and American chocolate products such as Ferraro Rocher and Lindt LINDOR Truffles. There are also gift boxes, chocolate tins, and premium chocolates, such as multiple varieties of the Chocolove brand and Vanuatu Kakaw, a Mexican chocolate company looking to revitalize that country’s cacao industry. Prices range from $1 for the M&Ms-level chocolates to $5 for the Chocolove/Vanuatu bars. The bags of Lindt and boxes of Ferraro start at $7 and can go up to ~$30, depending on how many gold foils you are looking to unwrap (or what you have to apologize for).

However, most noticeable in the chocolate aisle is what’s not there: any Haitian chocolate. There are no bars from Haiti’s first bean-to-bar company, Askanya, and the Haitian origin tablets of Taza are nowhere to be found. Yet, it is not clear that Caribbean is to blame for this- as there have been many discussions of issues of the Haitian chocolate industries growing pains (final plug for my last blog post here). That being said the absence of any Haitian chocolate bars is noticeable, and it is the hope that the bars made in Haiti will be able to be sold side-by-side with the imports. Much of what has been discussed this semester in Chocolate Class is about a return to chocolate becoming more equitable, and away from the dichotomy that the raw product was taken from the New World and turned into something “civilized,” so being able to see Haitian chocolate bars represented in the chocolate bar aisle is an important step to balancing and re-framing perceptions.

 Other Chocolate Items:

As INOFORESTA writes, “Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses. Not surprisingly, a plethora of new chocolate products began appearing as it became more popular, including chocolate with dried fruits, with liqueurs, fondu, praline, stuffed chocolates, powdered, spreads, frostings, pastes, hard candies, soft drinks and many, many others. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet” (INOFRESTA). This we see as we explore the other chocolate items of Caribbean.

For example, there is the chocolate-flavored Kremas (a typical Haitian liquor-see more here), and a slew of chocolate baking mixes, including a wide range of Ghiradelli Brownie Mixes, as seen below. There’s also Bakers Chocolate and Nestle chocolate morsels, Hershey’s Baking Cocoa and a blend of Natural and Dutched Cocoa from The Saco Pantry, which works with Kiva to support micro-finance loans through sales of their products. These items are priced between $5-$10, of course, providing you can buy just one unit.

There are also several locally-made chocolate ice cream options (along with the assorted foreign brands such as Breyers, Ben and Jerry’s, Hagaan Daaz and Blue Bunny). One flavor, Deliciously Dark, is an Italian-style gelato made in Haiti by the restaurant Portofino, which sells the ice cream in supermarkets throughout Port-au-Prince. The Deliciously Dark flavor is shown in its current state of consumption below.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-02 at 08.20.05

Thus in the “other” chocolate items, there is a stronger representation of the hybridization of cacao and chocolate, offering both products that were innovations in other countries (See “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert” by Carla Martin) as well as innovations within Haiti through alcohol and ice cream.

Conclusion:

I go to Caribbean Supermarket probably 3-5 times a week to buy everything from baby formula to baby wipes to baby food (my children eat up a large part of my budget), but going through the supermarket looking specifically at the cacao and chocolate was an eye-opening experience. The types of chocolate were broad, from the numerous types of drinking cacao (from pure cacao to sugar- and vitamin-infused chocolate powder, and whatever goes into making the flavor Chiseled Chocolate) to the most “authentic” spiced cacao product, which was the Chocolate Butter with Peanut Butter and Honey. There was a wide array of chocolate bars, as well as chocolate baking mixes, chocolate alcohols, and chocolate ice cream. Chocoholics entering Caribbean are in good hands.

That being said Chocoholics with a taste for Haitian chocolate will need to consume their chocolate in something other than bar form, which is something that will hopefully change in the future. There’s been a strong effort in Haiti to improve local purchasing and local production from both the government and the private sector, and hopefully this will result in local bars and other new chocolate innovations being available at the supermarket.

Regarding price points, there are certainly products that are priced out of range for most (the $27 Slim Fast, and the $5 Vanuatu bar), however there were many products placed under a $1 that would allow the middle class and emerging middle class to take part of, to borrow from Yeltsin, the “revolutionary” supermarket experience. As Haiti continues to develop, it is expected that more supermarkets will expand and more people will have access to these products.

“In the early sixteenth century, the use of cacao in beverages was a unifying trait of linguistically and geographically diverse communities encompassing Mesoamerica, and perhaps even extending beyond its frontiers” (Norton 2006). Caribbean Supermarket shows this by having an array of chocolates from Colombia to Belgium; from Mexico to most importantly, Haiti. You have chocolates such as Hershey’s and Mars that source from the ancestor countries of Haitians in West Africa, chocolate from colonizers such as France and Belgium, and chocolate from those in which trade relationships have begun to replace the uneven relationships of the past. Walking through Caribbean Supermarket, one gets the feeling that the knowledge and issues to explore within cacao and chocolate in Haiti and abroad are endless. And who wouldn’t want to study chocolate for life?

Works Cited:

About. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.sacopantry.com/cocoa/

About us. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.caribbeansupermarketsa.com/home/about-us/

Acassan. (2013, May 17). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://mangeonslakay.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/acassan/

Café Selecto | Votre pause-café. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://selectohaiti.com/home

Chery, M. (n.d.). Chokola Ayisyen (Haitian Hot Chocolate). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://loveforhaitianfood.com/chokola-ayisyen-haitian-hot-chocolate-2/

Chocolove. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.chocolove.com/

Chokola Ayisyen (Haitian Hot Chocolate). (2013, December 31). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://mangeonslakay.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/chokola-ayisyen-haitian-hot-chocolate/

2.(2018, March 08). Chokola: Challenges and Successes in the Haitian Cacao Industry. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/chokola-challenges-and-successes-in-the-haitian-cacao-industry/

Coe, M. D. (2013). True history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson.

Fast, R. S. (2016, December 10). Haitian Spiced Hot Chocolate with Coconut, Chokola Ayisyen. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.thehungryhounds.com/blog/2016/12/10/haitian-hot-chocolate-chokola-ayisyen

Fiegl, A. (2008, March 01). A Brief History of Chocolate. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/

Girard, P. R. (2010). Haiti: The tumultuous history – from pearl of the Caribbean to broken nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

(n.d.). Haiti. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/haiti

(2018). Haiti Balance of Trade | 2008-2018 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://tradingeconomics.com/haiti/balance-of-trade

(n.d.). History of Cacao. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treesandmarkets/inaforesta/history.htm

Hlavaty, C. (2016, May 12). When Boris Yeltsin went grocery shopping in Clear Lake. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://blog.chron.com/thetexican/2014/04/when-boris-yeltsin-went-grocery-shopping-in-clear-lake/#photo-433894

Kuperberg, I. (2012, February 28). Supermarket Leads in Buying Local / Un Supermarché Donne Le Ton En Achetant Localement. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://buildingmarkets.org/blogs/haiti/2012/02/28/supermarket-leads-in-buying-local/comment-page-1/

Martin, C. (n.d.). The History of a Classic American Dessert. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/

Schwartz, T. T. (2017). The Great Haiti Humanitarian Aid Swindle. Port-au-Prince: Timothy Schwartz.

Seriously Dark Gift Box. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://www.tazachocolate.com/products/seriously-dark-gift-box

N., & M. (2006, June 01). Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics | The American Historical Review | Oxford Academic. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article/111/3/660/13687

(n.d.). Vanuato Kakaw® empresa orgullosamente 100% mexicana. Retrieved from http://www.vanuatokakaw.com/portal/

Welcome page. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://askanya.ht/

», H. F. (2013, December 29). Cremas (Kremas or Cremasse) -. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://haitiancooking.com/recipe/cremas-kremas-or-cremasse/

 

 

 

Cacao in the Caribbean

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Photo of cacao pods taken by me, 2017e846.

Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean are important in the history of the cacao trade and chocolate production.   While cacao did not originate in the Caribbean, the climate and location make it a major part of the cacao industry beginning in the 1500’s.  The Caribbean became a main location for cacao production and shipping, but disease and the desire for greater profit caused a downturn in the growth of cacao in the Caribbean.

 

Demand for chocolate increases in Europe, and the Caribbean takes on a more important role in the chocolate industry.  By the early 1600’s, England is embracing chocolate for its medicinal properties, as well as its taste (Momsen and Richardson, location 19611).   This demand for cacao encourages the growth of the cacao trade in the Caribbean islands.  The Spanish introduced the criollo variety of cacao as a crop to the Caribbean in the 1500’s from Venezuela (Momsen and Richardson, location 19253).  Cacao grows well in the Caribbean, and the physical location also makes it an ideal shipping location to access Europe, as it is on the shipping route from South and Central America.   By 1665, cacao and ginger are the main export crops in Puerto Rico (Momsen and Richardson, location 19091).  Trinidad is a major source of cacao production in the Caribbean as well, and their cacao is considered of superior quality (Momsen and Richardson, location 19252).  The quality of Trinidad cacao is most likely due to the original criollo type cacao planted there at the time.   However, after their cacao crops are devastated by disease, when the industry attempts to revive itself years later, they plant the forastero type of cacao, which is considered not to have the same high quality taste as criollo, and the industry never fully recovers (Momsen and Richardson, location 19278).  Problems with Spain cause cacao production in the Caribbean to become even more important to Europe.

Spain’s attempt to control the cacao trade makes Caribbean cacao production more important.  Although Spain prohibits the export of raw cacao beans in Venezuela in the 1700’s, cacao already has a foothold in the Caribbean (Momsen and Richardson, location 19126).  Privateers control Caribbean shipping to a great extent and the cacao trade into the 18th century (Momsen and Richardson, location 19126).   In fact, Dutch privateers trade with Venezuelans and are active in distributing cacao back to Europe (Coe and Coe, location 2732).  Spain’s attempt to control the cacao trade pushes Europe into finding new ways of promoting cacao production.  In some ways, dealing with privateers may be easier for Europe than dealing with Spain, as privateers are interested in money; but they are independent sources for obtaining cacao from the Caribbean, and are not as concerned with politics.  Additionally, Britain can obtain cacao directly from many of the islands of the Caribbean as they control a number of the islands that produce cacao.   The cacao crop itself is grown in a more natural setting than many agricultural crops in the Caribbean.  Cacao trees in Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean are grown in cacao forests.  Multiple species of trees are interspersed, and planted in a more natural habitat.  While touring a cacao farm in Puerto Rico, one can walk through a cacao forest, and observe it in the same way it would have been hundreds of years ago.  In Puerto Rico, cacao trees, coffee trees, banana trees and others are often mixed in together.   This unobtrusive way of growing cacao makes it easier to grow and more difficult to control.

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Photo of cacao pods on the tree before they are ripe taken by me, 2017e846.

A desire for greater profit changes the scope of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico’s role in the cacao trade.  By 1800, the major exporters of cacao in the Caribbean, Grenada and Trinidad, are using other islands such as Puerto Rico and Cuba to send their crops to Spain (Momsen and Richardson, location 19098).  Most of the islands have stopped producing cacao on a large scale, and although cacao is still grown in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean, many of the large farms are planting more profitable crops.  Cacao is often combined with growing coffee and other crops, providing a more diversified farm.  This helps to stabilize the farm’s income.  Cacao farms use of slaves throughout much of the Caribbean contributes to the huge profits being made in the chocolate industry.  On many of the Caribbean islands, slaves were used as labor for farms, including cacao farms (Higman 59).  Slavery is abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873 (The World of 1898).   In the Caribbean, when slavery is abolished, it is a turning point in cacao production, as the majority of the organized agricultural industry moves on to other crops that yield a higher profit.  The Caribbean is no longer as lucrative to the chocolate industry as a location for cacao growing.  However, some farms in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean continue growing their cacao crops, using hydropower.  Cacao is still grown in the Caribbean on a smaller scale.  The water of rivers in the mountains run equipment to make production of cacao easier and less labor intensive.  Yet the historical place the Caribbean held in the chocolate industry and trade with Europe is finished.

The Caribbean played an important role in the chocolate industry.  Though cacao did not originate here, as cacao’s popularity grew and Europe became aware of its many benefits, the Caribbean played its own role in the growth of chocolate’s place in society.  On a tour of a cacao farm in Puerto Rico, I was able to witness how cacao was farmed and produced on a smaller scale in the 1800s.  The way that hydropower was used is impressive, and the experience of walking through a cacao forest is one I would recommend.

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Coe, Michael D.  The True History of Chocolate.  Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Higman, Barry W.  Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834.  University of the West Indies Print, 1995.

Momsen, Janet Henshall, and Richardson, Pamila.   “Caribbean Chocolate.”   Chocolate:  History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.

“The World of 1898:  The Spanish-American War.”  Library of Congress, Hispanic Reading Room.  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/slaves.html.