Chocolate! Chocolate!

Steelgrass Farm is an 8-acre family farm specializing in cacao, vanilla beans and palm blossom honey. There are 100 trees in a 10-year-old chocolate orchard that produce about 1,000 single estate chocolate bars every year. Many confectioners combine chocolate that was grown in various regions, but single estate chocolate means that all of the chocolate was grown on one farm.

Dylan Butterbaugh is an Oahu-based chocolatier who blends Steelgrass Farm’s vanilla and chocolate into 70-percent dark chocolate bars. Harvest year and bar number are handwritten on each package.

Siblings Emily and Will Lydgate are owners of Steelgrass Farm and fifth-generation residents whose great-grandfather was John Mortimer Lydgate. Lydgate Beach Park was named after John, who was a missionary and worked to preserve the Hawaiian language as well as sacred sites.

Steelgrass Farm provides chocolate tree field-testing for the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (UH CTAHR), which includes tracking growing information. One year ago, Will and Emily acquired an additional 10-acre plot and planted 600 chocolate trees from their own seed. They plan to plant an additional 2,400 trees by next year.

Chocolate

“Since the late 1800s, people have been bringing high-quality cacao trees to Kauai from all over the world,” says Tony Lydgate, who is Will and Emily’s father. “We’ve discovered that the Hawaiian Islands contain the finest genetic varieties of cacao trees. The great thing about that is, nobody has to bring seed material or pods from anywhere else in the world. The reason that’s important to us is because cacao is susceptible to diseases such chocolate ebola, which can spread through an orchard like wildfire.”

Hawaii is the only state that is able to grow chocolate trees, which are tropical plants and equatorial trees that like 90-degree temperatures and 95-percent humidity. California, Florida and Texas get frost and if the trees are exposed to 60-degree temperatures for any length of time, they begin to die.

“We want to be one of Hawaii’s leading producers of high-quality chocolate,” says Tony. “We think it’s a niche crop with tremendous economic benefit for the state. I predict that in 10 years, chocolate is going to be a significant export crop for our state.”

What’s growing: “Everybody used to think there were only three varieties of chocolate trees: Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario,” explains Tony. “UH genetic research indicates that there is a pure genetic strain of Criollo, but almost all cultivars are mixed together and now called Upper Amazon Forastero.”

Season: It takes three years for a seed to grow into a tree that provides harvestable fruit. After tiny flowers bloom on the trunk of the tree, they turn into fruit three to four months later. Steelgrass Farm harvests chocolate pods in November and December and again in May and June.

Health benefits

The American Chemical Society found that specific chocolate-loving microbes in our gut convert an otherwise indigestible portion of chocolate into anti-inflammatory compounds, which serve to prevent or delay the onset of some forms of cardiovascular disease that are associated with inflammation.

Short-term studies indicate that consuming 1.6 ounces of dark chocolate daily keeps cholesterol from gathering in the blood vessels, reduces the risk of blood clots and slows down immune responses that lead to clogged arteries. Chocolate helps blood vessels dilate and relax which increases blood flow and is better for your heart.

Dark chocolate is considered 70 to 85 percent chocolate, and 100 grams contains 11 grams of dietary fiber. It’s rich in minerals such as magnesium, manganese, iron and copper.

To purchase single estate, Kauai grown chocolate bars, palm blossom honey and vanilla beans, visit www.Steelgrass.org.

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Marta Lane has been a Kauai-based food writer since 2010. Marta is the author of ‘Tasting Kauai: Restaurants — An Insider’s Guide to Eating Well on the Garden Island.’ For more information, visit www.TastingKauai.com.

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