Here's a post from my chocolate blog (www.chocolateallthetime.com/blogspot). Comments?
You don't get to see cacao pods in the USA unless you go to Hawaii, and even there they a rare sight. Cacao trees (from whence, of course, chocolate) are cultivated only sporadically around the Hawaiian Islands. But Tony Lydgate of Steel Grass Farm on Kauai hopes to change that. His botanical garden (www.steelgrass.org) specializes in cultivating organic plants that bring value to the islanders and the earth. Cacao, bamboo (the "steel grass" namesake of the farm) and vanilla are the favorites. In these crops, he and his family hope to start a cooperative that puts Kauai on the chocolate-making map and reclaims some of the farmland once owned by pineapple growers and sugar cane companies, all long-departed for cheaper labor in far-off lands. You can take a tour, eat some dark chocolate, learn about the health benefits and see a glimpse of cacao's USA future.
Another producer is Malie Kai Chocolates (www.maliekai.com), rejuvenating old sugar fields on Oahu. They offer an exceptionally smooth milk chocolate and mellow bitter-sweet made of pure Hawaiian, single origin cacao. "The natural growing conditons on the islands give cacao potential to be even bigger than Kona coffee," says Nathan Sato, President of Malie Kai Chocolates. And check out the beautiful line drawings by Lynn Soehner (www.lynnsoehner.com) that adorn the packaging! For a stronger, earthier chocolate, try The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory (www.originalhawaiianchocolatefactory.com) on the Big Island. The owners (The Coopers) will tell you all about the importance of pure Hawaiian chocolate and how you can start your own crop.
But you will have to move to Hawaii! Why no cacao in Florida's orange groves or next to Texas Ruby Reds? Why not nestled in northern California's salad bowl? Chocolate is finicky! Cacao trees only grow and bear fruit in a band 20 degrees north and south of the equator. They like tropical rain, shaded light and warm, moist air. They need forest mulch & midges for pollination; they are susceptible to pests and diseases. Beyond that, however, cacao is a great crop (full of color, literally, and history), and it is easily grown on small farms throughout the tropics. Hawaii is the northern tip of its growing region, so we're lucky to have it and lets hope to see more.