Ecuador Focus Story: The Kennedy's meet Guancavilca’s Treasure
Whilst on their travels in South America, the Kennedy’s team were invited to try the best selection of chocolate that Ecuador has to offer – which included the lovely family owned business called Guancavilca’s Treasures, producing in house chocolate in a signature, traditional fashion. The Kennedy’s immediately greeted the super friendly owner – Mario, and his son – who proceeded to show them their finest selection of bars, they explain, that the family has made together.
The history of Ecuador is dominated by cocoa export and indeed, the country’s claim to fame is chocolate and its origins. After the unfortunate Witches Broom plant disease that occurred in the early 1900’s, cocoa started losing its appeal to farmers and was replaced by bananas and coffee, which were more lucrative, but in recent years, Ecuadorian chocolate has been recognised for its vibrancy and uniqueness. Much like wine, their chocolate reflects the flavours of the region where cocoa beans are grown, and how they are dried and fermented.
Is there a secret to chocolate making? Perhaps a signature family recipe or tradition that has been passed down through the generations is the secret to chocolate perfection – and if this is the case, Ecuador would be a definite supporter of this. It seems that the skill to make chocolate in this country is hereditary. There’s something about a small family-owned business that makes the whole process so special and is not even worth comparing to an industrial style.
The secret is in the compassion and thoughtful touches that go into each bar, but unfortunately these types of businesses are never fully recognised, under-appreciated and more often than not, underpaid.
On top of a trip to the Galapagos and a casual meeting with Otto Sonnenholzner (the Vice President of Ecuador), the Kennedy’s family were invited to a chocolate tasting session – where all of the country’s top suppliers of cocoa and chocolate were on offer to taste and enjoy. The exhibition gave local farmers and local businesses a chance to make their unique and traditional recipes and treats known to the world, and with many having hopes to start exporting outside of the country. One of the displays caught their attention in particular – an intimate, family owned business called Guancavilca’s Treasure.
The company owner, Mario Llaguno, (pictured below) stated: “My family and I do the whole process for chocolate production, our small cocoa plantation is in the Santa Elena’s peninsula, 15 minutes from the Pacific Ocean and our cocoa is from the CCN-51 variety which is a clone of Nacional cocoa or ‘Arriba’ – “the proximity to the sea gives our chocolate a unique flavour.”
The cocoa variety CCN-51 is apparently resistant to fungal diseases and has the potential to produce four times in Latin America compared to fine flavour varieties such as Nacional. It was developed in the 1970’s after the Witches Broom wiped out the entire Nacional variety and has been considered a staple replacement as it can be blended with fine flavour varieties for a well-rounded chocolate.
Mario continued to speak to the Kennedy’s regarding his role in the business: “I am in charge of the cocoa plantation including its harvest, fermentation, natural drying, roasting, the husking until obtaining the cocoa nibs, grinding of the nibs until obtaining the cocoa paste or cocoa liquor – which represents around 75% of the process.”
“For a large part of this process, I have the help of my two children - Mario Andres and Juan Pablo when they return from school and then my wife, Jenny, is the chocolatier who does 25% of the remaining process, which is; the refining of the cocoa paste, the tempering of the paste, the moulding of the chocolate and the packaging. These final stages all take place here in Guayaquil city, as the family’s cocoa plantation is too remote.
Lorna Kennedy, Events Manager, reviewed the day’s event and her family’s meeting with Mario and his family: “Mario and his sons were very eager to show us the bars they produced, especially for the exhibition; they were all hand-packed and beautifully designed. You could definitely tell that these bars were made with love – each one had been handmade by Jenny, the mother of the family, and she certainly did a good job!
“We were then offered handmade truffles, 100% cocoa bars as well as standard (varying cocoa percentage) chocolate bars. All of the varieties were particularly smooth, with a really unique cocoa flavour – a definite fruity aroma, whilst also being undeniably creamy.”
Mario concluded: “We believe that to obtain a good chocolate, you have to have a plantation free of chemicals, a good fermentation that lasts seven days until the sugars break down, this enhances the flavour and aroma, a sun drying naturally not forced and a good roasting. We test it ever 30 minutes manually until we reach the exact point, a good refining, a good tempering to obtain firmness and shine adding a good presentation.
“Our goal is to publicise our chocolates worldwide; we believe in what we produce, and we know it is a delicious product!”
Mario’s company have the health and operating permits approved by the ARSCA (Agency for Health Regulation and Control), for their nutritional tables and stability, with the percentage of cadmium in their chocolate being certified by the PROTAL of ESPOL’s laboratory. Their Guancavilca’s Treasure brand is a registered trademark of the IEPE (intellectual property institute) and has the support of the Ministry of Industries of Productivity and Finances.