August 12, 2020

A Story of Uniqueness: Cacao and Roses from Ecuador

By Fernando Echeverría Dávila, Second Secretary – Embassy of Ecuador in the Netherlands.

Ecuador’s unique situation at the centre of the world has gifted it with exceptional conditions as concerns its climate and biodiversity. Its diverse “Four Worlds” of CostaSierra, Amazonia and the Insular region all exist within the borders of one place: Ecuador. 

As a result of these rich conditions and unique geographical position, Ecuador has been fortunate in having a special and rich biodiversity which extends to a wide range of botanical species. In this context, I would like to share the story of two of the most important products which grow in our fertile land: cacao and roses.

The Spaniard conquistador Hernán Cortés, after having defeated and conquered the Aztec Empire, returned to Spain in 1528 with the recipe for xocoatl, a ceremonial beverage made from cacao beans. Upon arriving in Europe, nearly 500 years ago, it did not take long for Europeans to give the cacao plant an appropriate scientific name ¨Theobroma cacao¨, meaning ¨beverage of the gods¨. Today, among the various products of the cacao plant, chocolate remains the most popular.

Cacao farm in Ecuador. Photography by David Greenwood-Haigh.

Until recently, it was believed that chocolate originated in Mesoamerica, since it was there that Europeans came into contact with it first. Mayan artefacts and hieroglyphs describe their deities consuming chocolate. The study of Olmec and Aztec culture has also unearthed various uses for cacao in these societies, including rituals. Yet, the consumption of chocolate was not exclusive to these cultures. In South America, chocolate has been consumed by indigenous cultures since time immemorial.

Only a couple of years ago, an archaeological expedition to the Ecuadorian amazon rainforest discovered ceramic remains which contained the oldest traces of cacao identified to date, indicating that cacao and its by-products have been used for approximately 5,000 years in the area of land which we now call Ecuador. 

While the botanical origin of cacao may continue to be subject to long debates, it is undeniable that Ecuador produces one of its best varieties, denominated as ¨nacional¨ and known for its rapid fermentation. This variant is produced in special climate zones which allow for the beans produced by this cacao plant to produce a mild chocolate with great flavour and aroma, a fact which has resulted in its international recognition as a ¨cacao fino de aroma¨ or “arriba”. Only about 5% of the total world production of cacao is recognized as such, making it highly priced and sought after by the most exclusive chocolatiers. As concerns its effect on the environment, cacao is sustainable and important for the ecosystem that depends on its existence. 

Roses from Ecuador Photography by Albrecht Fietz.

In the same way that the New World gave cacao to the Old World, the latter brought the beautiful and splendid rose to our lands. Like our chocolate, Ecuadorian roses enjoy prestige around the world for their beauty, variety, colour intensity, stem length, and most importantly, their fine scent. Ecuadorian roses are planted at altitudes above 2,500 metres above sea level in the Ecuadorian Andes, where spring is essentially eternal, receiving just the right amount and intensity of sunlight, a fact which is only made permissible by Ecuador’s position at the centre of the world. 

It is important to mention that without the dedication and tireless work of our farmers and producers, the production of cocoa and roses would not be possible.

In particular, as concerns Roses is specifically linked to the empowerment of women, as they play a fundamental role in their production, handling and control. 

An ideal gift to accompany Ecuadorian chocolate is a bouquet of roses from Ecuador. I wish to encourage you to taste, smell and experience our products, all the while remembering the special conditions which allow for Ecuador to produce these goods. Each bite tells a story which starts in Ecuador.

Main picture: Mitad del mundo, Pichincha, Quito. Photography by Ecuador Ministry of Tourism.

About the author:

Fernando Echeverría Dávila is an Ecuadorian career diplomat (Second Secretary). He began working in the Netherlands at the Consulate of Ecuador in The Hague in 2015, in the capacity of Vice-Consul. From August 2018, upon the reopening of the Embassy of Ecuador, Fernando was designated as the Deputy of the Mission, dealing with a wide range of bilateral, multilateral and legal affairs. 

Fernando holds some university degrees; he is Agronomist, Agribusiness Engineer, and Lawyer. Furthermore holds postgraduates degrees in Clean Development Mechanisms and Climate Change and a Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy. 

Prior to joining the Ecuadorian Foreign Service, Fernando worked in NGOs concerned with environmental protection and rural development. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility of Ecuador, where he has held positions in the following Departments:  Bilateral Relations with Asia and Africa, Bilateral Relations with Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and Environment and Climate Change. 

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