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Is Ecuador home to the world's best chocolate?

•, By Irene Caselli
 They are not talking about oil, Ecuador's main export, but cocoa beans.
The smooth, bitter-tasting paste extracted from the beans is the key ingredient in chocolate and one of this Andean country's claims to fame.

It is also deeply connected to the history of Ecuador, the world's largest exporter of cocoa until the beginning of the 20th Century.

Plant disease and the rise of new cultivations in British and French colonies across Africa and Asia saw Ecuador lose its top spot in the early 1900s.

Cocoa started losing its appeal to farmers and was replaced by bananas and coffee, which were more lucrative.

West Africa became the world's leader in cocoa production and exports, with a focus on so-called "bulk" or "ordinary" beans, used for processed chocolate-flavoured candies and sweets.
Vintage chocolate

"Fine" or "flavour" beans, the top-quality varieties used in gourmet products because of their superior taste, account for only 5% of the world's cocoa production, but demand is increasing.

Much like wine, chocolate reflects the flavours of the region where cocoa beans are grown, and how they are dried and fermented.

Over the last decade, as the demand for more flavourful cocoa has risen, Ecuador has emerged as the pre-eminent exporter of fine beans.

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