The Largest Cocoa Producers in the World
According to a study of Euromonitor in 2017, the Europeans are the biggest consumers of chocolate in the world, leaded by the Swiss, (19 lb/person/year) the Austrians (18 lb/person/year), and the Germans (17 lb/person/year). Despite all the brands in the USA offering products with chocolate, our country only holds the 10th place, with 10 lb/person/year, just before the French with 9 lb/person/year. However, has you must know, cocoa is not grown in these countries, but in countries where the climate is more favorable and where cocoa has become a real source of development since the 20th century. In this article, you will learn which are these countries, and above all, what are their particularity.
I – Ranking of the largest cocoa producers
Cocoa is grown within about 20° north and south of the equator. The trees need high humidity, protection from wind, uniform temperatures, abundant rain (between 200 and 250cm each year is ideal), and heat. Following are the largest cocoa producers in the world, and the particularities of their cocoa.
A - Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast is the largest cocoa producer of the world with more than 2 million tons every year. Cocoa represents 40% of the exports revenues of the country, which is phenomenal. This dependence can endanger the country if the price of cocoa falls, like in 2021, putting million of farmers in trouble. Indeed, the Ivorian governement decided to lower the prices after increasing them to be re-elected.
Flavors profile: coconut, tobacco-spice, leather, and toasted bread.
Charasteristics: mostly bulk-grade, reliable, simple, and bold. Used by chocolate makers as foundations for blends.
An Ivorian cocoa farmer harvesting cocoa pods, by Oiko Credit
B - Ghana
In The Republic of Ghana, Ivory Coast’s closest neighbour, cocoa represents 30% of the exports revenues of the country, and 800 000 farmers are cultivating the ‘food of the gods’. Since 2008, the production has rised increasingly, due to partnerships with multinational companies as Cadbury Cocoa.
Flavors profile: warm spices, coffee & nuts, balancing wooden-bitter with long finish.
Characteristics: maintains some of the best seed gardens in the world for breeding, thus generally dependable “high-quality bulk-beans”. The cocoa trees are mostly Amelonados. It delivers solid flavor that often serves as a baseline reference for professional tasting. It has neutral acidity, a relatively mild bitternes, and is full bodied.
A Ghanaian cocoa farmer, by David Greenwood-Haigh
C - Ecuador
Even if Ecuador produces only 4% of the cocoa in the world, it is responsible of the production of 70% of the fine upper class cocoa. The Ecuadorian cocoa is called ‘Arriba’ or ‘Nacional’, because it only grows in this country, and was declared a ‘symbol product’ by the government due to its importance in the economy, the history, and the culture.
Flavors profile: bold chocolate gilded in florid violet, lilac, jasmine & orange blossom, along with red & blackberries – is now highly variable, experiencing the creep of cereal grains, coffee, cotton, & bluestone. Also spices (especially the ever-more-common cinnamon/ishpingo), and pecan/peanut overtones.
A farmer extracts the seed of cacao at Las Gemelas farm, Ecuador. By César Morejon, The Wall Street Journal.
D - Cameroon
In Cameroon, cocoa is the main cash crop to more than 75% of the population. But the poverty of the farmers endangers the sector, because their work is not sufficiently profitable.
Flavors profile: notes of malt, slight cherry, toasted nuts, and fruity notes.
Characteristics: slighly bitter, with some acidity. Mostly Trinitario cocoa trees, a hybrid between the Criollo and the Forastero.
A cocoa farmer in Cameroon, by Jacqueline Kubania.
E - Nigeria
Despite its ranking, this African country has not totally taken advantage of its cocoa, for several reasons: the cocoa trees are old, as the farmers, the farming methods are obsolete, the chemicals are used in an inappropriate manner, and the country mostly produces cocoa for chocolate, not for other products like cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and cocoa liquor.
Flavors profile: robust and rather monotonic, with a basic cocoa flavor.
Characteristics: bitter, intense, forward and agressive.
A Nigerian cocoa farmer inspects his crop, by Rainforest Alliance
F - Indonesia
Located in Southeast Asia, cocoa production is recent for this country (since the 80s). But as Nigeria, the cocoa trees are old, and the farmers are facing bad government policies and a high level of cadmium content in their cocoa.
Flavors profile: low cocoa essence gives way to natural, faint caramel-cream underneath smoked-leather tones & nut-skins, complemented by subtle citrus & spice. A combination that cuts incredibly well with milk chocolate.
Characteristics: light body / heavy flavor, due to cloudy/wet climate. The beans are mechanically dried over wood fire, coconut shells, or propane rather than sun-dried, imparting that smoked flavor.
An Indonesian cocoa farmer, by Dirk Lebe
G - Brazil
Historically, Brazilian cocoa has been considered as low quality, with farmers focused on the quantity. The Forastero, the most common variety of cocoa and the most cultivated in the country, is known for its lower quality in terms of aromas and flavours, unlike others varieties like the Criollo, the Trinitario, or the Nacional. However, Brazilian farmers, after some efforts, succeeded in improving the taste by changing some variables in the manufacturing process. Today, some cocoa farms grow very high quality cocoa, like the ‘Riachuelo’ cocoa farm, in the Bahia region, which has provided us with their cocoa for decades now.
Flavors profile: direct though less simple than conventionally thought. Quite region-dependent & variable with some cocoa types exhibiting feral fruit tones & big woods. Can be both quite acidic & acrid, & yet with correct handling & control can also deliver strong baseline flavor with overarching nuances.
H - Papua New Guinea
In this country, more than 150 thousand families rely on cocoa farming for their livelihood, but the cocoa industry has been in decline since an outbreak in 2008. After that, some problems have appeared, like low and stagnant yields, and inconsistent quality.
Flavors profile: generally fire-dried to lend a smoked flavor; decent cocoa; fairly acidic fresh fruit (occasional banana too) countered by Earthen aspects (dark peat / whiskey / tobacco); watch-out for astringency & bitterness
A cocoa farmer from the Papua New Guinea, by Puratos
Voilà! Now, you know more about where cocoa is mostly grown. Next time, when you will taste your chocolate bar, try to guess where its cocoa comes from thanks to its aromatic notes. In the meantime, we are writting the next article about the difference between blended cocoas, cocoas coming from one country/region, and cocoas called “Single Estate”, coming from a unique cocoa farm.