Let’s discover chocolate: is it really a fruit?
Chocolate lovers rejoice – the love of your life is a fruit! Well, that is according to Chris and Lynn Jahnke’s light-hearted theory.
“Chocolate is made from seeds of cocoa fruit, so in my mind, that clearly makes chocolate a fruit,” joked Chris.
“And are we not encouraged to eat more fruit?” he asked of the 24 people visiting a Charley’s Chocolate Factory tour in April 2018.
They all nodded in agreement and chuckled as if hoping his theory was actually true.
What is true is that chocolate is produced from cocoa beans, which come from the husked and ground seeds of Theobroma cocoa fruit.
But it’s the high fat and sugar content of chocolate as we know it that lowers its reputation as a healthy food.
Obesity and high blood pressure are just two of the medical issues associated with its high consumption.
Potential health benefits of dark chocolate
It’s not all bad news for lovers of the popular treat, however.
According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, eating dark chocolate may lower bad cholesterol, prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.
I learnt this and many other fascinating facts about chocolate on a ‘Cocoa Tree to Chocolate Bar’ tour at Charley’s Chocolate Factory last week.
Owners Chris and Lynn are “walking encyclopaedias” on the subject.
They’ve become deeply entrenched in the industry since moving from Melbourne to rural Queensland and buying their 400 acres at Mission Beach.
“We first came to Queensland in 1994 to escape the cold winters,” Chris said.
“We loved it and kept coming back year after year during winter and eventually came across this property at Mt Edna.
“It was a banana farm back then. We bought the place but didn’t want to grow bananas so we removed them and set up to run beef cattle but there wasn’t enough land for a full-time venture.
“After a few years commuting between Melbourne and North Queensland, we sold our inner-city apartment and business and moved here permanently.
“We looked at growing other fruit crops from macadamias and mangoes to lychees but most took too many years to bear fruit and I’m a bit impatient!
“Then I watch an ABC Landline show on cocoa. I knew chocolate was made from cocoa and chocolate is ‘moderately’ popular! The rest, as they say, is history.”
Today Chris and Lynn successfully grow cocoa on Mt Edna and turn it into award-winning chocolate.
They also take guests on regular tours of their nursery, plantation and factory at 388 Cassowary Drive, Mission Beach, North Queensland.
Ancient people were chocolate lovers too
Traces of cocoa have been found in drinking vessels carbon-dated to 3800 years ago, said Lynn.
“The earliest civilisation associated with the drink is the Olmecs of southern Mexico.
“It’s thought the Olmecs watched animals crack open the cocoa pods but they spat out the part that’s now used to make chocolate.
“What they wanted was the sweet, sticky lining that protects the seeds.
“The Olmecs opened the pods, extracted the seeds and left them to ferment. They then let them dry in the sun, then lit fires and roasted the beans.
“They cracked the beans open and extracted the nibs, which they pound into a powder-like substance to make a beautiful and nutritious drink.
“How did they know to do that 3800 years ago? They didn’t have the technology, food science, and chemistry as we do today. They just knew instinctively what to do.”
Lynn said that throughout most of its history, cocoa was a drink until English chocolate maker Joseph Frye made the first solid bar in 1847.
Today, 83 billion US dollars worth of chocolate are eaten worldwide every year and it takes five million tonnes of cocoa per year to make that much, said Chris Jahnke.
“Seventy per cent of those five million tonnes of cocoa is grown in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana.”
Statista figures show that in 2015 Switzerland had the highest per capita consumption of the treat worldwide at 8.8 kilograms in that year. China ranked the lowest at only 200 grams per capita.
Chris said more recent studies ranked Australia at No. 7 in the world, just behind the United States at No. 6.
“Cocoa is a tropical tree that’s fussy about where it’s grown,” he said.
“It likes hot, humid conditions with lots of rain.
“Worldwide, cocoa grows most successfully within 15 degrees to the north and south of the Equator, provided the local conditions of high humidity and rainfall are also present.
“To grow cocoa in Australia, the best areas are in North Queensland near the coast between Tully and Mossman.”
Where is Charlie’s Chocolate Factory?
Mission Beach is located between Tully and Mossman.
At Charley’s Chocolate Factory, the plants are grown from seed and the chocolate is manufactured onsite.
Among their accolades, the business won the 2017 International Cocoa Award under the Cocoa of Excellence Program.
For more information visit www.charleys.com.au