Author / Photographer Julien Huang
If you’re a chocolate enthusiast, don’t miss out on Pingtung, the emerging cocoa hub in Asia! In the 2023 International Chocolate Award (ICA)’s Asia-Pacific Bean-to-Bar and Craft Chocolatier Competition, Pingtung County clinched an impressive 59 awards, including 7 golds, 25 silvers, 20 bronzes, and 7 specials. This consistent global recognition underscores Pingtung’s exceptional achievements.
What’s even more remarkable is that chocolate produced in Taiwan boasts the world’s shortest production and processing distance. In contrast to cocoa-producing regions like Africa and South Asia, which export raw cocoa materials for global processing and sale, often resulting in extensive deforestation of tropical rainforests, Taiwan has distinguished itself with the shortest production chain. Martin Christy, co-founder of ICA, who visited Cocosun in Pingtung, noted that there is no other region globally quite like Pingtung. Every stage, from cocoa tree cultivation and fermentation to sun-drying, roasting, and processing, takes place within the region. The entire industry is built on sustainable land management principles and a favorable working environment, delivering cocoa to consumers with the briefest journey from origin to table.
The history of cocoa cultivation in Taiwan dates back to 1922 when the country attempted to cultivate cocoa by experimenting with seeds imported from Indonesia. Despite numerous efforts, the challenging dry and cold winter climate of Taiwan, along with technological barriers in processing, thwarted these attempts. The turning point came after the millennium when betel nut cultivation faced accusations of causing oral cancer and soil degradation. With heightened awareness of health and environmental concerns, farmers in Pingtung, previously engaged in betel nut cultivation, felt the need to transition. It was then that they gradually shifted towards experimenting with cocoa cultivation.
Interestingly, cocoa trees thrive in the rain but shy away from intense sunlight. Surprisingly, the once extensively planted betel nut trees in Pingtung now serve as natural canopies, creating a shaded and humid environment conducive to cocoa growth. This unique concept of cocoa plantations beneath betel nut trees has transformed Pingtung into the northernmost cocoa-producing region globally. With over 200 hectares dedicated to cocoa cultivation, Pingtung has nurtured around thirty distinct chocolate brands and more than a hundred cocoa farmers, including a significant number of young farmers revitalizing the aging agricultural community.
Cocoa produced in Taiwan is not only a raw material for chocolate but also a versatile resource for farmers. They extract cocoa butter to create skincare products like lip sticks and face masks. Additionally, immersive tourism experiences allow visitors to explore organic cocoa plantations, pick cocoa pods firsthand, learn about the crop’s life cycle, and even make their own cocoa lip balm from cocoa butter. In recent years, some cocoa farmers have introduced initiatives allowing people to adopt cocoa trees instead of buying chocolates for occasions like Valentine’s Day. These innovative and holistic explorations of cocoa, providing visitors with an experience for all five senses, appear to be unique features that set Taiwan apart!