South Bahia Cabruca Cacao
Cacao is the fruit of the cacao tree, a tree of medium dimensions – between 4 and 8 meters – with long leaves of approximately 30 cm. the fruit measures between 15 and 30 cm in length and has a width of 7 to 12 cm, ellipsoid shape and contains 30-40 kernels.
It is native to the rainforest areas of tropical America, and in its progression has given origin to two important groups: criollo and forastero. The latter became diffused in the Amazon Basin, and is considered the real Brazilian cacao, with its egg-shaped fruits with a smooth, slightly furrowed or wrinkly surface and purple seeds.
A mutation of forastero cocoa gave light to catongo cacao, with white seeds, discovered in Bahia. Cacao has best adapted to the south of this state, where 95% of all Brazilian cacao is produced.
In Bahia, the first historical record of cacao dates back to 1655, when D. Vasco de Mascarenhas sent a letter to Major-Captain Grão-Pará, talking about his fondness of the fruit. In 1746, cacao started being cultivated in southern Bahia, especially in the county of Canavieiras. In 1752, it reached Ilhéus, and ever since it has been the most characteristic local cultivation. Adapting very well to the Bahian Atlantic Forest, it had become the most important export of the state by the early 20th century. After the incidence of witch’s broom in the area, an illness affecting cacao trees caused by a basidiomycete fungus, which significantly decreased local production, fungus-resistant varieties were introduced to the area, among which Theobahia and the clones CEPEC 2002-2011 are especially worth mentioning, making up a large part of trees in many production areas.
In the Bahian cacao region, much local knowledge and experience has developed, giving birth to a unique agricultural model – the cabruca system. The traditional cacao planting method of southern Bahia follows the “cabrucated forest” system, characterized by the planting of cacao trees in the shade of Atlantic Forest trees, and has been used in the area for more than 200 years. This practice was devised by the first immigrants, and can thus be considered a precursor to current agroforestry systems.
Frequently, cabruca cacao is associated with organic cacao production.
However, not all cabruca cacao is organic, as the cabruca system only implies the type of plantation (in the shade of Atlantic Forest trees), but leaves it up to the farmer if he wants to use pesticides or other techniques for controlling pests. Despite this, many cacao growing communities and farms of southern Bahia produce organic, agroecologic cabruca cacao, in order to have good, clean and fair fruits.
All of this explains why the area is known as “Cacao Region”, being mentioned even by great writers such as Jorge Amado, retelling its story, which is tightly connected to the culture and history of the area. This is why a big part of the local tourism is oriented towards cacao and its most famous product, chocolate.