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"This is where chocolate begins," Pop says, plucking a ripe, yellow cacao pod from a tree before splitting it open with his machete. Inside, the thick white pulp cushions a kaleidoscope of purple beans covered in sticky gel. I pop one in my mouth, taste the sweet tropical nectar and then bite into a raw bean. Before it's dried, fermented, roasted and mashed, cacao is just a mild-tasting legume.
We continue along the winding path, smelling and tasting other fruits and aromatic leaves. It's all part of Pop's Agouti Cacao Farm Tour in this tiny Mayan village of San Pedro Columbia in southern Belize.
Cacao has been prized in Mayan culture for centuries. The word is said to originate from the Mayan word ka'kau. Long revered as a drink consumed by the elite, the beans were once used as a form of currency.
Agouti Cacao Farm, run by 57-year-old Pop, his wife, Virginia, and their 15 children, is in a remote part of this Central American country, some 40 minutes by car from downtown Punta Gorda. Chocolate "agritourism" in the area has been picking up steam, thanks in part to the public's insatiable love of chocolate and the increasing popularity of "origin designated" chocolate bars. Tourists are trickling in for cacao farm tours, chocolate-making classes and most of all, chocolate tastings.
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