Chocolate & Vanilla

Madagascar is best known for three things: Lemurs, chocolate, and vanilla

Madagascar is know for its chocolate, with bars often produced as single-sourced beans because the cacao is of high quality and uniquely flavored. I was very excited when I finally came across ethically sourced Malagasy chocolate, and 72% dark, at that. As a rule, despite how desperate I might be to satisfy my chocolate cravings, I will not buy it unless it is fair trade or ethically sourced. I was delighted to finally find a company, Tsara, producing bean to bar chocolate, “bringing far more income directly to the Madagascan people”, according to their package.

While 72% is less dark than my usual 88% favorite, I was running low on my traveling stash, so I was very happy to find it. It’s very smooth with notes of..just kidding. My chocolate palate is not that discerning, but I do know good chocolate when I taste it. And, of course, the bit of added sugar comes from the cane produced on the coasts.

While Roberts chocolate was in most shops that stocked chocolate, it wasn’t until I got to the airport at their premier chocolate shop that I found their fair trade bars. These made the same bean to bar claims as the Tsara. They also promote ‘raise trade’, for a sustainable Madagascar, which is something I haven’t come across before finding this chocolate. As I was on my way to visit a friend and his family in Mauritius, and didn’t want to arrive empty handed, I was happy I’d found some nice chocolate to give them. One bar, I would love to have tried if it wasn’t only 65% cocoa content, was the Malagasy lime with sea salt bar. I did, however, strike what I hope will prove to be gold with a 100% single-source bar (which I’ll save to share with Michael).

Though my bar didn’t contain vanilla, if it had, it, too, would have come from Madagascar, as it is world-renowned for its vanilla beans. Vanilla beans actually come from orchids, endemic to the tropics. They are pods that are produced by the plant, harvested and dried, and most often simmered to derive vanilla extract.

Lots of orchids grown in the Ranomafana rainforest (though I always seem to miss the flowering seasons when I travel…)

While traveling in the rainforest areas, it was common for spice sellers to approach us, selling a variety of spices ranging from peppercorns to coriander pods. But their big ticket item was vanilla beans. Even at that, I bought a bag with six pods, with the vanilla scent strong even through the sealed-plastic wrapping, for 15,000 ariary, which is U.S. $1.50. Because of the demand for Malagasy vanilla, the government has set a maximum limit of 100 kg (about 3 1/2 ounces) that is allowed through customs.

So if you love chocolate and vanilla (and lemurs), Madagascar should be on list of destinations. But you’ll have to brave the summer season of rainy, hot, and humid weather if you want to see the orchids in bloom.

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