Since cocoa crops were first established in the Caribbean in the 17th century, the islands have been a sumptuous haven for chocoholic delights, from gooey chocolate spa wraps to oh-so creamy chocolate to tours around organic cocoa plantations. Here's our tips on discovering the best Caribbean chocolate in the tropics.
For the last 300 years, the Caribbean islands have been synonymous with the velvety, rich taste of chocolate. Native to Central and South America, cocoa was first brought to the region via the Spanish, who kept it a closely guarded secret for over a century, such were its sensual delights. Today, look out across the Caribbean landscape and you’ll discover fields of tufted cocoa plants scattered with brightly coloured pods.
Yielding around 40 cacao beans each, these reddish-purple pods are encased in a tough rind and plucked on islands like Grenada, St Lucia and Barbados each year. Naturally occurring fungi causes the fermentation of the pulp sugars – notably glucose, fructose and sucrose. It’s then ground into a paste and separated into two components — cocoa powder and cocoa butter. And, voila – chocolate is born.
In contrast to the austere diet fads popular in Europe, the Caribbean region has long since sanctioned chocolate consumption as a healthy indulgence. Even luxury spas believe that it holds therapeutic benefits when slathered on the body. Chocolate, it seems, is a mega-force for good – even without a single calorie being consumed.
Beauty experts across St Lucia, Barbados and Grenada are increasingly adding chocolate therapy sweet-treats to their spa menus. All use locally-harvested cocoa beans with products that run from chocolate-enriched moisturising masques to yummy scrubs and sensuous praline potions said to contain rejuvenating anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory aids. Cocoa crops in Grenada are renowned for their deep, intense flavours, while in Barbados and St Lucia the texture is typically creamy, smooth and subtle.
In Barbados, tours of the beans-to-bar production facility at the Agapey Chocolate Factory in Bridgetown takes visitors on a compelling journey through the life of criollo, trinitario, national cocoa beans. Tour guides - well aware of the seductive lure of all things chocolate – are sure to maximise the power of chemical dependency and unbridled decadent want. Visitors are not only offered plenty of opportunity to smell the chocolate, but also to taste.
At the Grenada Chocolate Company, chocolate recipes draw inspiration from the rich bounty of local fresh spices. Using 100% organic ingredients, the results are utterly sublime – as visitors seduced by the intoxicating chocolate-rich aromas will readily testify.
No need to actually consume chocolate at the Hotel Chocolate Estates in St Lucia, just breathe deeply and suck in the air of this tropical cocoa plantation. Inspired by a 1920’s copy of 'Cocoa & Chocolate, Their History from Plantation to Consumer', the owners create incredible chocolate against the romantic backdrop of the famous Piton Mountains. Guests can not only sample Caribbean chocolate here in gastronomic form, but also treat their bodies to a soothing cocoa-infused massage in the spa – it’s easier on the waistline than a five-course splurge (unless you inadvertently lick your lips....)
Header photo: Brightly coloured pods and cocoa beans © Chantal Coady/Grenada Chocolate Co
Are you a chocoholic? Have you explored any of these Caribbean chocolate spots? Let us know in the comments below.
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About the author: SarahWoodsSarah Woods
Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.