rediscovering cacao with AMO Cacao
I had the pleasure of visiting two completely opposite types of chocolate shops while I was in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was really interesting to see how each makes their chocolate products and the contrast was overwhelming. This post is about the chocolate philosophy of AMO Cacao.
Fernel Bobadilla is the brains behind AMO Cacao. Educated at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada as a documentary filmmaker, the self-proclaimed idealist has lived in several places around the world including the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, where he worked as a cherry picker and “learned about organic farming, better food, and a better lifestyle.”
I met Fernel at the Cacao and Chocolate Festival at the Botanical Gardens in Puerto Vallarta in 2015. He and I were both speakers at the event, and he told me then that I must come to Guadalajara and see how he and his team make chocolate. I accepted the invitation, and last October visited the AMO Cacao chocolate kitchen, where I saw a group of happy people working together to create the purest chocolate on the planet.
Fernel likes to think of cacao beans as grains–partly because in the Mexican language, there is no exact word that translates to what we think of when we say cacao or cocoa beans. At AMO Cacao, the cocoa beans are not fermented. They are raw beans that have been washed and sun dried for one to two days, and are then low-temperature roasted for 12 minutes in two frying pans on small burners in a tiny kitchen. This is chocolate in its most primitive form, but the resulting product is delicious authentic chocolate that truly is a health food with a very strong social conscience.
AMO Cacao employs intellectually challenged individuals to help make their chocolate. The company also puts great emphasis on the sustainability of its chocolate making endeavours. “Sustainability and social responsibility are key components to our operation,” says Fernel, who emphasizes that AMO Cacao is not making and selling chocolate. It is selling cacao in as pure a form as possible.
making cacao into a healthy line of chocolate products
At present, AMO Cacao is buying its cacao in Chiapas, Mexico, from a fellow who operates an Agro-Ecological Centre where he connects chocolate makers like AMO with the growers who are producing the finest quality certified organic cacao. “My mission is to make cacao into a healthy line of chocolate products, and eventually, cacao elixirs, so that people can dance without drugs.” Fernel is referring to the magical components of cacao, and the fact that it contains cannabinoid receptors that are similar to THC found in marijuana, producing a mildly psychoactive effect when taken in a pure form. Cacao is indeed your feel good, happy place food if processed purely without artificial additives or much sugar.
Fernel believes that by reintroducing pure cacao into the Mexican culture, it will produce long-lasting effects. “My focus is on teaching the Mexicans how to rediscover cacao,” says Fernel. “It has been in our genes and our culture for 3,000 years. It will change our humour, produce less violence, and less crime.” To help achieve his dream, Fernel launched a program called Planta Cacao in which he is encouraging anyone with land to grow cacao.
“If you have land that you are not using–even if it’s just one hectare–we will help you plant the cacao and improve the local economy,” says Fernel. Planta Cacao is targeting land owners in the four states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoachan, and Colyma. “We are co-creating a new network of cacao in Mexico.”
At the time of my visit last October, Planta Cacao had 8,000 cacao trees growing at three different locations at different stages of growth. I visited their location in San Pancho near Puerto Vallarta and witnessed how the cacao grains are sprouted in water and then planted in soil mixed with coconut fibre, to create a substance similar to peat moss. It was very exciting to see this community driven grassroots project that is using cacao to transform the Mexican landscape and culture.
And that is what Chocolatour is all about. Visiting different parts of the world to see how cacao and chocolate have affected and in some cases, transformed the local culture. Fernel wishes to thank his father who helped fund the AMO Cacao project, which launched a socially responsible company where Fernel works with his two sisters (one is in charge of production, and the other in charge of sales,) but also spawned a whole new movement that is helping Mexico rediscover the magic and importance of cacao as a way of life.
“Cacao used to be the gold of the Mexican people 3,000 years ago, and we can make it our gold again–if we handle it right,” says Fernel. Currently, AMO Cacao is working with nutritionists and psychologists to develop an Alzheimer Bar to help with cognitive powers. The key ingredients of the bar are curcumin and agave syrup, which combined with the cacao, have a very positive effect on neuro transmitters. AMO Cacao is also working on a bar to help cancer patients and an energy bar featuring matcha and Peruvian maca. Look for more about AMO Cacao in Volume II of Chocolatour.