Bohol’s Chocolate Princess revives heirloom cacaos planted in backyards

The province of Bohol, located in the Central Visayas Region, is known for its natural wonder, which is also a favorite tourist destination: the Chocolate Hills. It got its name from the color of the hills during the summer, when the lush, green grass on them turns brown. 

Those who are unaware of this circumstance often ask “where is the chocolate?” not knowing that the answer can be found in the backyards of the locals. 

According to Dalareich Polot, a chocolate maker based in the region, cacao is part of the culture of Bohol. 

“With so much Spanish influence spread across Bohol, it has become the norm for Boholanos to have one to three cacao trees either in the back or front of their houses,” Polot said. 

She believes that there are more than 10,000 historical cacao trees located in each town across Bohol. Most of these trees are of a variety called “criollo,” which means “native” in Spanish, an heirloom variety considered one of the best varieties of cacao. 

Many of these trees, the  chocolate maker added, have been planted by grandparents. Unfortunately, they’ve been ignored in recent years and have not been given the attention they so richly deserve. 

Dalareich Polot launched a program to revive cacao trees in Bohol to help small farmers earn an income from them.

In response to this, Polot launched a project during the last quarter of 2018 called “Adopt a Cacao Tree and Preserve Bohol’s Cacao Heritage.” 

Dalareich Chocolate House and the Bohol Cacao Council created the campaign to rehabilitate trees, raise funds to bring the trees back to harvesting conditions, and provide additional income to the cacao farmers as well as their families. 

“Being the chairman of Bohol Cacao Council as well, I'm spearheading the activities of the cacao farmers and at the same time learning from them. We bought cacao from these small farmers and empowered them,” Polot said, also expressing her wishes to become a full-time farmer herself. 

The rise of Dalareich Chocolate House 

Polot has been involved in the chocolate business at a young age. Her mother started their small family business in chocolate making, branding their tablea, or balls of ground cacao beans, after Dalareich. 

Polot's mother established the small family business of chocolate making before it was developed into Dalareich's House of Chocolate.

“My mom learned how to make tablea from my grandmother. My mom was the youngest so she was also helping in making tablea for a living,” Polot shared.

Eventually, Polot’s mother kept the business going in order to feed her family consisting of five children. 

After graduating college with a degree in engineering at Bohol Island State University (previously Central Visayas State College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Technology), Polot decided to help her parents in their small business by designing the new packaging of the product, making a website, and going to purchasing offices to personally endorse their products. 

To further help her parents, Polot studied business in a short course under Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Women program in the University of Asia and the Pacific in 2011. By 2014, Polot acquired a scholarship in Ghent University to study cacao and chocolate.

“It opened a lot of doors for me, I was highly educated not only in making chocolates, but the science of cacao and chocolate,” she said. 

Shortly after, Polot went home to Bohol and innovated their business. She also launched another brand known as “Ginto Chocolates” which follows a bean to bar concept using the cacao from the region. 

Polot established another brand called Ginto Chocolates which offers artisan bars.

Additionally, the chocolate maker began educating Boholanos and farmers on cacao quality, fermentation, and what real chocolate is. 

Local cacao farmers play an important role in Polot’s chocolate making business since they provide the raw materials needed to make the products found in Dalareich Chocolate House. 

Dalareich's House of Chocolate offers unsweetened chocolate or tablea.

Dalareich offers unsweetened chocolate or tablea and cacao nibs. Meanwhile, Ginto Chocolate offers 75% and 55% dark chocolate artisan bars. 

Teaching and empowering the cacao farmers in Bohol 

“I would always tell the farmers that our chocolates are not ours but theirs because they cultivate the cacao trees for three to five years. Processors like me are just processing their output. I believe farmers should be educated, prioritized and appreciated more,” Polot said. 

She shared that she teaches the farmers on how the beans should be fermented and selected for her company.

According to Polot, she wanted to give back to the farmers because they play an important role in her livelihood.

“In Bohol, we don’t have huge farms so we only do basket fermentation. I teach a few small farmers how to do it because it is a very critical stage that determines the quality of your chocolate. Sometimes, I do my fermentation myself and I'll only buy wet beans from the farmers,” the chocolate maker said. 

A reason why Polot is determined to include small farmers in her business efforts is because she and her siblings were able to finish college with the help of cacao and cacao farmers. Now, she dedicates all her accomplishments to the people who made it possible: her parents and the local farmers. 

“If you wanna start a business that also advocates farmers, you need to really experience being a farmer or go with them to really appreciate their hard work. From that you will be inspired to do your business well and support them more,” Polot advised. 

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