The chief ingredient in Ombar chocolate is of course the amazing cacao. We use cacao from Ecuador; a fine flavoured variety called Nacional Arriba which is indigenous to Ecuador. Back in 2015, our co-founder, Richard, went to source to meet the farmers growing Ombar's cacao and to better understand the process our cacao goes through before we receive it in the form of fruity, crunchy nibs.
The above pictures show the two main varieties of cacao that grow in Ecuador. Both are cacao pods - this is how it grows on the tree. On the left is the Nacional Arriba - the fine-flavoured cacao that has given Ecuador the reputation as one of the world's top exporters of the best cacao. The cacao pod on the right is CCN51 a hybrid variety with higher yields, more disease resistance, but lacking that coveted aroma of Nacional Arriba. People are very divided over whether CCN51 is a bad thing for Ecuador. For us, sticking with and protecting the heritage variety makes the most sense.
After harvesting, the cacao beans are scooped out of their pods and fermented for several days in wooden boxes like those above. The white fruity pulp surrounding the beans ferments naturally and is essential for achieving some of the chocolately flavour in the cacao. Without this step, the cacao would be very sour and astringent.
After fermentation, the cacao is spread out in the open to dry in the sun. It takes a few days to reach the desired humidity level.
The northern province of Esmeraldas is one source of cacao for Ombar and these friendly guys are from an association we visited. Around 95% of Ecuador's cacao comes from small holdings - farmers with a few hectares of land on which they grow cacao and a variety of other fruits. The farmers will harvest the cacao pods and take the beans to an association - like a co-operative - for fermentation and drying.