Only in paradise does chocolate grow on trees. This past summer, I was in Bali, Indonesia, wandering around with my friend Weja on a patch of unused land behind his house. This land had been inherited by Weja's family through more generations than anyone can remember. The property juts out to form a precipice then plunges down into a breathtaking ravine.
Just a few scruffy trees grow on the land, including a semi-wild cacao tree. Most of the cacao pods were already past ripe when we came upon it, and had been hollowed out by birds and weevils. But one pristine fruit remained. Weja twisted it off its stem and offered it to me because he knew of my passion for all things chocolate (on which he blames all my dental problems, by the way).Chocolate as we know it comes from the bitter purple-black seeds inside the pod, but that day I enjoyed a rare treat: the sweet-tart ivory flesh of the fruit. The texture is creamy and slippery, and has to be sucked away from the seeds.
I also brought home some cacao seeds, or cocoa beans, grown in the misty hills of Bali. Traditionally, the fruit pods are split and the seeds fermented under shiny banana leaves, then sun-dried. As much as I would love to make my own home-made chocolate bar with these seeds, it is actually extremely difficult to do. To try it yourself, check out this site. Personally, I enjoy cacao raw, chopped and sprinkled over my morning cereal. Raw cacao can now be purchased in lots of health food stores and online. Unadulterated chocolate may be an acquired taste, and it won't replace a good bar of chocolate, but it has a unique flavor and it's supposedly great for you. To buy raw cacao and to learn more about about its healthful properties, click here.