Chapter 10

Philippine Cacao Icon

March 30, 2022

I SPRAINED my foot so badly in ascending Mayon volcano that I had to stay in the house for a month.

Under the circumstances, I was not sorry to find myself settled in a roomy and comfortable dwelling.

It was:

  • on the banks of a small stream
  • in the middle of a garden a lot of coffee, cacao, oranges, papayas, and banana trees despite the tall weeds around.

Several over-ripe berries had fallen to the ground. I had them collected, roasted, mixed with sugar into chocolate. The natives greatly excel in making chocolate. With the Spaniards, chocolate replaces coffee and tea. Even the half-castes and wealthy natives drink a lot of it.

The cacao-tree is only at its best in the hottest and dampest climates. In temperate climates under 23° C, it produces no fruit.

It was first imported into the Philippines from Acapulco either:

  • by a pilot called Pedro Brabo de Lagunas in 1670 according to Camarínes
  • by some Jesuits during Salcédo’s government between 1663 and 1668 according to Sámar.

Since then, it has spread over much of the Philippines. Although it is not cultivated with any excessive care, its fruit has an excellent quality.

The cacao of Albáy, if its cheapness be taken into consideration, is at least equal to that of Carácas, which is so highly prized in Europe. Caracas cacao is so expensive that it is largely mixed with inferior kinds.*

In Albay, they are grown in small gardens close to the houses. But the natives are so lazy that they frequently allow the berries to decay even if the native cacao sells for a higher price than that imported.

At Cebu and Négros, a little more attention is paid to its cultivation. But it is not enough to supply the Philippine demand. It has to import the deficiency from Ternate and Mindanao.

The best cacao of the Philippines is produced in the small island of Maripipi, which lies to the north-west of Leyté. It is difficult to obtain, the entire crop generally being long bespoke. It costs about 1 dollar per litre. The Albáy cacao costs from 2-2.5 dollars per “ganta” (3 litres).

The Indians generally cover the kernels, just as they are beginning to sprout, with a little earth, and, placing them in a spirally rolled leaf, hang them up beneath the roof of their dwellings.

They grow very rapidly, and, to prevent their being choked by weeds, are planted out at very short distances. This method of treatment is probably the reason that the cacao-trees in the Philippines never attain a greater height than eight or ten feet, while in their native soil they frequently reach 30 and sometimes even forty feet. The tree begins to bear fruit in its third or fourth year, and in its fifth or sixth it reaches maturity, when it usually yields a “ganta” of cacao, which, as I have mentioned, is worth from two to two and a half dollars, and always finds a purchaser. *

  • From 36,000,000 to 40,000,000 lbs. of cacao are consumed in Europe annually; of which quantity nearly a third goes to France, whose consumption of it between 1853 and 1866 has more than doubled.

1853 | 6,215,000 lbs 1866 | 12,973,534 lbs

Venezuela sends the finest cacaos to Europe, those of Porto Cabello and Caracas.

That of Carácas is the dearest and the best, and is of 4 kinds:

  1. Chuao
  2. Ghoroni
  3. O’Cumar
  4. Rio Chico

England consumes the cacao grown in its own colonies, although the duty (1d. per lb.) is the same for all descriptions.

Spain, the principal consumer, imports its supplies from Cuba, Porto Rico, Ecuador, Mexico, and Trinidad.

Several large and important plantations have recently been established by Frenchmen in Nicaragua.

The cacao beans of Soconusco (Central America) and Esmeralda (Ecuador) are more highly esteemed than the finest of the Venezuela sorts.

But they are scarcely ever used in the Philippines, and is not part of their economy.

Germany contents itself with the inferior kinds.

Guayaquil cacao, which is only half the price of Caracas, is more popular amongst the Germans than all the other varieties together.

The profits from a large plantation would by large. Yet it is very rare to meet with one. I heard it said that the Economical Society had offered a considerable reward to any one who could exhibit a plantation of 10,000 berry-bearing trees. but in the Society’s report I found no mention of this reward.

Anuual typhoons destroy large plantations in a single day. In 1856, a typhoon completely tore up several large plantations by the roots just before the harvest. It naturally discouraged the cultivators.†

This allowed the free importation of cacao. People could buy Guayaquil cacao at $15 per quintal. The local cacao cost $30.

The plant is sometimes attacked by a disease of unknown origin, noxious insects, and rats and other predatory vermin. Rats sometimes attack it in such numbers that they destroy the entire harvest in a single night.

Travellers in America say.that a well-kept cacao plantation is a very picturesque sight.

In the Philippines, however, or at any rate in East Luzon, the closely-packed, lifeless-looking, moss-covered trees present a dreary spectacle. Their existence is a brief one. Their oval leaves, sometimes nearly a foot long, droop singly from the twigs, and form no luxuriant masses of foliage. Their blossoms are very insignificant.

They are of a reddish-yellow, no larger than the flowers of the lime, and grow separately on long weedy stalks. The fruit ripens in six months. When it is matured, it is of either a red or a yellow tint, and is somewhat like a very rough gherkin. Only two varieties appear to be cultivated in the Philippines.*

The pulp of the fruit is white, tender, and of an agreeable acid taste, and contains from eighteen to twenty-four kernels, arranged in five rows. These kernels are as large as almonds, and, like them, consist of a couple of husks and a small core. This is the cacao bean ; which, roasted and finely ground, produces cacao, and with the addition of sugar, and generally of spice, makes chocolate.

Till the last few years, every household in the Philippines made its own chocolate, of nothing but cacao and • sugar. The Indians who eat chocolate often add roasted rice to it. Nowadays there is a manufactory in Manila, which makes chocolate in the European way. The inhabitants of the eastern provinces are very fond of adding roasted pili nuts to their chocolate.

• C. Scherzer, in his work on Central America, gives the cacao-tree an existence of twenty years, and says that each tree annually produces from 15 to 20 ounces of cacao. 1,000 plants will produce 1,250 lbs. of cacao, worth 250 dollars; so that the annual produce of a single tree is worth a quarter of a dollar. Mitscherlich says that from 4 to 6 lbs. of raw beans is an average produce. A litre of dried cacao beans weighs 630 grains; of picked and roasted, 610 grains.

  • In 1727 a hurricane destroyed at a single blast the important cacao plantation of Martinique, which had been created by long years of extraordinary care. The same thing happened at Trinidad.– Mitscherlich.

F. Engel mentions a disease (mancha) which attacks the cocoa tree in America through its roots. The tree soon dies. The disease spreads so rapidly that whole forests of cacao-trees utterly perish and are turned into pastures for cattle.

Even in the most favoured localities, after a long scason of prosperity, thousands of trees are destroyed in a single night by this disease, just as the harvest is about to take place.

An almost equally dangerous foe to cultivation is a moth whose larva entirely destroys the ripe cacao beans; and which only cold and wind will kill.

Humboldt mentions that cacao beans which have been transported over the chilly passes of the Cordilleras are never attacked by this pest.

  • G. Bernoulli quotes altogether eighteen kinds ; of which he mentions only one as generally in use in the Philippines.

† Pili is very common in South Luzon, Sámar, and Leyté ; it is to be found in almost every village. Its fruit, which is almost of the size of an ordinary plum but not so round, contains a hard stone, the raw kernel of which is steeped in syrup and

Europeans first learnt to make a drink from cacao in Mexico, where the preparation was called chocolatl.*

Even so far back as the days of Cortes, who was a tremendous chocolate drinker, the cacao-tree was extensively cultivated.

The Aztecs used the beans as money. Montezuma used to receive part of his tribute in cacao.

Only the wealthy ancient Mexicans ate pure cacao. The poor, on account of the value of the beans as coins, used to mix maize and mandioca meal with them.

Even in our own day, the people of Central America use the beans as small coins, as they have no copper money, and no smaller silver coins than the half-real.

Both in Central America and in Orinoco there yet are many unpenetrated forests which are almost entirely composed of wild cacao trees. The natives gather some of their fruit, but it is almost worthless.

They have much less flavour than the cultivated kinds. Certainly it is not picked and dried at the proper season, and it gets spoilt in its long transit through the damp woods.

Since the abolition of Slavery, the crops in America have been candied in the same manner as the kernel of the sweet pine, which it resembles in flavour. The large trees with fruit on them, “ about the size of almonds and looking like sweet-pine kernels," which Pigafetta saw at Jomonjol were doubtless pili-trees.

An oil is expressed from the kernels much resembling sweet almond oil. If incisions are made in the stems of the trees, an abundant pleasant-smelling white resin flows from them, which is largely used in the Philippines to calk ships with.

It also has a great reputation as an anti-rheumatic plaister. It is twenty years since it was first exported to Europe ; and the first consignees made large profits, as the resin, which was worth scarcely anything in the Philippines, became very popular and was much sought in Europe.

  • The general name for the beverage was Cacahoa-atl (cacao water). Chocolatl was the term given to a particular kind.

F. Hernandez found 4 kinds of cacao used by the Aztecs, leading to 4 varieties of drinks.

The third was called chocolatl, and apparently was prepared as follows :An equal quantity of the kernels of the pochotl (Bombax ceiba) and cacahoatl (cacao) trees was finely ground, and heated in an earthen vessel, and all the grease removed us it rose to the surface. Maize, crushed and soaked, was added to it, and a beverage prepared from the mixture ; to which the oily parts that had been skimmed off the top were restored, and the whole was drunk


diminishing year by year, and, until a short time ago, when the French laid out several large plantations in Central America, were of but trifling value.

According to F. Engel, a flourishing cacao plantation requires less outlay and trouble, and yields more profit than any other tropical plant. Yet its harvests do not yield anything for the first 5-6 years, are very uncertain, due to the numerous insects which attack the plants.

In short, cacao plantations are only suited to large capitalists, or to very small cultivators who grow the trees in their own gardens. Moreover, since the abolition of Slavery, most of the plantations have fallen into decay, for the manumitted slaves are entirely lazy.

The original chocolate was not generally relished in Europe.

When, however, at a later period, it was mixed with sugar, it met with more approbation. The exaggerated praise of its admirers raised a bitter opposition amongst the opponents of the new drink.

The priests were so against chocolate on fasting days.

The quarrel lasted till the seventeenth century, by which time cacao had become an everyday necessary in Spain. It was first introduced into Spain in 1520; but chocolate, on account of the monopoly of the Conquistadores, was for a long time prepared on the other side of the ocean.

In 1580, however, it was in common use in Spain, though it was so entirely unknown in England that, in 1579, an English captain burnt a captured cargo of it as useless.

It reached Italy in 1606, and was introduced into France by Anne of Austria. The first chocolate-house in London was opened in 1657, and in 1700 Germany at last followed suit.*

  • Berthold Seemann speaks of a tree with finger-shaped leaves and small round berries, which the Indians sometimes offered for sale. They made chocolate from them, which in flavour much surpassed that usually made from cacao.