Hawaii Chocolate Festival Michael Conway

Wow Cacao

Hawaii is the only state that grows cacao, and our growing chocolate industry is getting noticed around the world. Taste for yourself at the Hawaii Chocolate Festival Saturday

Ladies, gentlemen and chocoholics, we direct your attention to center stage for the presentation of Hawaii’s first Auwe! Award. It is an honor given to an individual or situation that best exemplifies lolo (idiotic) behavior.

This month’s award goes to U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who recently blasted a promising and emerging enterprise in Hawaii for receiving federal support dollars. His indignant dig was directed at Hawaii’s cacao and chocolate industry.

Hawaii Chocolate Festival Feb. 25 at Dole Cannery

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Hawaii's growing gourmet chocolate industry is turning heads among chocoholics everywhere, and a recent rant by a Republican senator is helping to spread the word. Taste the truth for yourself at the Hawaii Chocolate Festival Saturday. Pictured here is Michael Conway of Dole, a pioneer in growing cacao, the beans from which chocolate comes. Bud Muth photo

“Chocolate from Hawaii? We don’t need it,” the senator’s list of Wasteful 100 says. “Nearly $50,000 was awarded to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to help support the emerging Hawaiian cacao industry and provide outreach during the second annual Hawaiian Chocolate Festival.”

The senator’s oversight report “Wastebook 2011” highlights more than $6.5 billion in examples of wasted taxpayer dollars. The report details 100 unnecessary, duplicative and low-priority projects in the federal government.

Hawaii’s allocation was listed No. 18 and represents one of the smallest amounts in a list of major allocations, ranging from state infrastructure construction projects to college research, each valued at tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

(Heavens, don’t anyone tell him how much we’re asking for rail.)

“It is very insensitive and reflects the misunderstanding people have of how dramatically agriculture in Hawaii has changed over the last decade,” says Michael Conway, Dole’s manager of agriculture operations and a pioneer in local cacao cultivation. “Hawaii’s diversified agriculture has spawned new products, entrepreneurial ventures and new opportunities.”

Nonetheless, the tiny state of Hawaii caught the senator’s attention, and news of its so-called “wasteful” stipend has spread through the national media and Internet.

One assumes the mere thought of cacao and chocolate in a state that built its reputation on sugar and pineapple leaves a bad taste.

It’s actually bittersweet.

While the negative publicity puts diversified agriculture and the newly organized Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association on the defensive, it is a blessing in disguise.

Thanks to the good senator from the Sooner State, Hawaii’s relatively unknown cacao farming sector is getting far-reaching publicity that it could not otherwise afford. The awareness Sen. Coburn is bringing to Hawaii’s cacao and chocolate is worth many times more than the paltry $48,000 that’s being criticized.

Perhaps the industry should thank him for bringing it up in the first place.

Nonetheless, we can’t hide behind our no-talk-stink morality and not have a little fun with the senator’s poke at Hawaii particularly during February, “Hawaii-Grown Cacao Month,” and in time for the second annual Hawaii Chocolate Festival, Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., at Dole Cannery Shops.

So in reaction to his “Wasteful 100,” we present Hawaii’s “Tasteful 10.” This is chocolate-countdown filibuster to help Sen. Coburn get his political foot out of his mouth and replace it with talking points about the highest quality, connoisseur-class chocolate made in America.

10) Our cacao is all-American. Like coffee, Hawaii is the only American state where cacao (kuhKOW) is grown. It is unique because of local climate and Hawaii’s location 20 degrees north of the equator. Grown on small farms on all islands the largest being 20-acre Waialua Estate on Oahu Hawaii’s cacao beans have distinctive character, resulting in unique flavors.

9) Seeds of a growth industry. Many stakeholders are sweet on cacao’s future. Although the number of cacao farms is small, about 21 with 61 acres, the potential is huge.

“Not only is the chocolate industry growing rapidly in the U.S., but in Hawaii this industry is excitedly being recognized by businesses, our state Legislature, our university, farmers and the media for its potential to parallel the Hawaiian coffee industry in producing one of the world’s finest specialty products,” says Derek Lanter, president of the Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association.

The chocolate industry in Hawaii today is where the wine industry in Napa Valley was decades ago, with an even greater potential for expansion.

The U.S. Census Bureau for Foreign Trade reports a 16.8 percent increase of “cocoa preparation” exports from 2009 to 2010, making it Hawaii’s eighth-largest overall export and the largest overall consumable export. Market demand far exceeds supply.

8 ) Pods of pucker power.

Despite its popularity, most people do not know the unique origins of this treat. A chocolate bar is the end result of a long and delicate process that typically starts on a small farm.

Cacao is a funny-looking tree with colorful, rugby ball-shaped pods that sprout from the trunk and hang on the branches. Each pod houses about 40 cacao beans, also called cocoa beans. It takes about three to five years before a cacao tree bears fruit, according to local growers. Each tree bears about 30 usable pods a year, which translates to roughly 1,000 beans a year.

Cacao farming is labor intensive. Every part of cacao farming, from planting to harvesting to fermenting, is done by hand.

When cocoa beans reach manufacturers, such as Guittard of San Francisco, they are refined into chocolate.

The type of chocolate milk, dark or white is determined by the amounts of cocoa butter and chocolate liquor the chocolate contains. White chocolate does not contain chocolate liquor, and as a result, has no pronounced chocolate taste. It commonly tastes like vanilla. But let’s not quibble.

7) Chocolate cache and cash. Because Hawaii’s cocoa production is limited, it is a rare, highly soughtafter commodity in the market. This places Hawaii chocolate in the gourmet or connoisseur class of food. Europeantrained chef and chocolatier Philippe Padovani classifies Hawaii’s product as “grand cru,” denoting a premier variety. Coupled with Hawaii’s strong brand image, it is as exotic and out-ofthe-box luxurious as it gets. The pricey, artisanal product is among the most expensive on the market at about $40 a pound.

6) How do I love thee?

Americans consume about 3 billion pounds of chocolate per year, which totals $13 billion in sales. Sixty-six percent of chocolate is consumed between meals.

On Saturday, between meals from noon and 5 p.m., one can taste all things chocolate at the second annual Hawaii Chocolate Festival at Dole Cannery Shops. Presented by Special Events Hawaii, admission includes 10 chocolate samplings from the state’s top chocolatiers. Everything from chocolate vodka and beer to chocolate orchids and fragrances will tantalize your senses.

5) It could save your life.

Chocolate consumption is scientifically linked to longer life, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. It is a major source of dietary copper, which is required for a healthy lifestyle. Cocoa and chocolate are rich in minerals, and a source of energy thanks to antioxidants it contains. A 40-gram chocolate bar contains the same amount of phenol as a glass of red wine.

4) You can bathe with it.

The Indigenous Soap Company of Honolulu uses Hawaii-made chocolate in its handmade, all-natural bath soaps. Its limited edition organic cacao soap will be available at the Honolulu Chocolate Festival.

Another use of chocolate is as a massage rub. Spas declare chocolate as the new skin savior with classic confection brands marketing massage creams and treatments, along with a basic cocoa base.

3) You can drink it.

A favorite beverage at the Chocolate Festival is Hawaiian Hot Chocolate offered by Sweet Paradise of Maui. Proprietor Melani Boudar describes her specialty as “thick, rich shots of 70 percent Waialua Estate chocolate with Hawaiian chili pepper, vanilla bean, Kona cinnamon, ginger and almond gluten-free milk.”

2) Epicurean consensus.

State Rep. Corinne Ching (27th District Liliha-Nuuanu) admits, like so many others, that chocolate is her culinary passion. She also savors a vision for the state, saying: “Chocolate is a $75 billion industry, and Hawaii’s climate and location in the Asia-Pacific region make it a possible export to Japan, where chocolate consumption is increasing at a rate of 25 percent annually and to China at a 15 percent increase annually.

“It is revenue, a job creator through a unique product based on quality over quantity a win-win for environment and sustainability and its ability to create jobs in research and science, culinary arts, agriculture, cosmetics and retail. How many crops can do all of this? It’s the last of the ancient connoisseur crops of the world, and its world-class quality aligns perfectly with our world-class tourism image.”

1) It just tastes good.

Tickets to the Hawaii Chocolate Festival Feb. 25 at Dole Cannery Shops cost $20 in advance online at hawaiichocolatefestival.com, $25 at the door.