Traditional chocolate makers beware, there may be a new player in town! Although Europeans have known about cocoa beans since 1502, following one of Christopher Columbus’ expeditions, nobody has been able to plant a cocoa tree on the continent, until now.
Thanks to a project from the La Mayora Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Fruit and Vegetable Growing, cocoa trees are being grown, with success, in a greenhouse in Algarrobo, Málaga. What’s more, if things go according to plan, the first beans will be ready for harvest in 2020. These would be the first cocoa beans grown in Europe, following a failed attempt in the 18th century.
Trees are being grown at the moment in two greenhouses, one with and one without heating. Ideally they will find a way to grow the trees without heating, which would reduce costs. Another challenge is finding the right insects for pollination. Since these are not native plants in Europe, and manual pollination is not really viable, ideally a native insect would be able to be adapted. One final hurdle is the sale of the final product. The continuity of this product will depend on what the market is willing to pay for this chocolate, although expectations are that it will be a very small market and this will be a gourmet product.
This is, for the most part, an experiment at the moment, but if anyone’s going to be able to determine cocoa’s viability, it’s La Mayora. This institute has a lengthy and successful track record, and was able to introduce avocado, mango and cherimoya in the 1970s.