Of all the gift items that are carried or sent back home by Hawaii vacationers, boxes of Hawaiian chocolates are by far the most popular. The price is reasonable, they’re easy to pack or ship, they taste great and the recipients love them. Take them to work, hand them to relatives and neighbors, keep some for spontaneous gift-giving, keep some for yourself. You can’t go wrong.
Chocolates are available as gifts just about anywhere in the world you vacation, but Hawaiian chocolate is special. There are two reasons for that.
Hawaii’s Big Island is the only place where cocoa is grown in the United States. (As a matter of fact, the Big Island is the only place in the world where the raw ingredients for all three major infusion beverages are grown — coffee, tea and cacao. Hawaii’s warm, tropical climate makes it an ideal location for growing them.)
“Cacao” is the name of a tree that produces large pods that contain the seeds commonly referred to as “cacao beans.” The beans are fermented, dried in the sun and then roasted. The roasted beans are then “winnowed.” This process removes the meat (also referred to as the “nib”) of the cocoa bean from its shell. The meat or “nibs” are then ground. Cocoa beans are almost 50-percent fat and the grinding process actually creates a liquid referred to as “chocolate liquor.” This liquor is a bitter tasting, pure, unsweetened chocolate.
If the liquor is allowed to cool and solidify, the result is the chocolate found in stores as “baking chocolate.” The liquor can also be pressed and the fat removed. The resulting two products are a dry cake of cocoa which when ground is called “cocoa powder.” The fat that has been removed is called “cocoa butter.” Cocoa butter is an edible vegetable fat which has only a very mild chocolate flavor and aroma. It is used not only to make chocolate, but also in cosmetics, soap and in tanning.
Additional ingredients are added to portions of the cocoa powder and cocoa butter. These ingredients include such things as sugar, vanilla and often milk. The types of added ingredients and the proportions used of each are what make one type of chocolate candy taste different from another. Once the recipe is completed, the mixture is placed in a machine that massages and smoothes the chocolate as it blends the ingredients together. This process is called “conching.” The mixture is slowly heated and then slowly cooled in a process called “tempering.” Tempering allows the cocoa butter to be distributed evenly throughout the chocolate.
Only the Big Island of Hawaii has makers of fine chocolate products who use locally-grown cocoa. Almost all of them also use another product grown locally in Hawaii: macadamia nuts.
Macadamias aren’t just delicious; they’re also highly nutritious nuts. They have the highest amount of beneficial monounsaturated fats of any known nut, and they contain 9% protein, 9% carbohydrate, 2% dietary fiber, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, selenium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.
If you’re going to take or send chocolates home, go heavy on the chocolate-covered macnuts. (Keep in mind and let your giftees know: macadamia nuts make dogs sick.)
There are a lot of different Hawaiian fruits used in making Hawaiian chocolate, too, all worth trying: mango, kiwi, papaya and pineapple, for example.
Hawaiian chocolates are available at virtually every retail store in Hawaii that sells food of any kind. (We locals like em, too!)