Where does chocolate come from?

In our chocolate tastings, one of the matters we’ve discussed at some length is where chocolate comes from. Cacao is a tropical tree, native to Central and South America, but that region now produces only a small fraction of the world’s supply. Very little chocolate, as we understand it (and as we were tasting!) is produced there, however — at least considering production for export. This is a bit of a shame, since many of the cacao-producing countries are fairly poor, and they would do well to “move up the value chain” and keep a greater share of the revenue in their own countries. I’m only aware of one company that actually manufactures finished chocolate bars in the country where the cacao is grown (excluding the very small supply of domestic cacao grown in Hawaii), and that’s Madécasse in Madagascar. We haven’t included any of their bars in our tastings because all the ones I’ve seen from them fall into the category of “chocolate with stuff in it”, and we’re only doing plain chocolate bars.

There are a lot of different ways to understand where various parts of the chocolate-making process occur, but thanks to the Harvard Center for International Development’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, there are some great tools for understanding and visualizing international trade flows in all sorts of commodities. The trade in cacao and chocolate is not broken down quite as finely as I would like, but a good proxy for cacao production is net exports of cacao beans, as shown in this map:
World map showing net exporters of cacao, colored in accordance with the dollar value of exports.

One way to understand which countries make chocolate would be to look at net imports of cacao beans, the exact converse to the previous chart. But I thought it was more interesting to look at net exports of finished chocolate (2010 data):
World map showing net exporters of finished chocolate products, colored in accordance with the dollar value of exports.
What I didn’t realize at the time I saved this map was the extent to which some countries’ trade in chocolate is close to balanced: notice how France and the United States both seem to be underrepresented here. If you look at gross exports of chocolate, rather than net, those missing countries reappear. (And the biggest net importer? The United Kingdom, which buys lots of German chocolate while the Germans don’t seem too keen on reciprocating — bilaterally, $326 million from Germany to the UK versus only $28 million from the UK to Germany.)

UPDATE: Just realized I forgot about El Rey chocolate from Venezuela — probably because I haven’t seen it in stores in a really long time.

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