World renowned Philippine chocolate

- Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

The Philippines has never been known for chocolates.  In fact, there was no such thing as Philippine chocolates back in the day until  heretofore unknown brand, Malagos Chocolate started winning awards in renowned international competitions in 2015.

The family behind this now famous brand is the Puentespinas, and one of the family members, Rex Puentespina, is the brand’s official chocolate maker as well as head of sales and marketing for the company. The Puentespina family has always been in the agri business for the last 30 years.  Their main line is ornamental plants and cut flowers.  The matriarch, mom Charita, purchased the nearby farm located behind their family-owned resort that had existing cacao trees intercropped among the coconut trees.  She decided to rehabilitate those neglected cacao trees, being the agriculturist that she is.  One can say that their venture into cacao was purely accidental, but now, it is what excites them most.

What prompted them to go into chocolate-making?  This business-minded family decided add value to their cacao venture by going into chocolate-making.  They researched and requested for assistance from a Holland-based NGO whose members were mostly retired Dutch professionals whose mission was to help third world countries upgrade their skills.  From them, Rex said, they learned how to properly make chocolates.

According to him, “Ang Philippines kasi nasa equator between 20 degrees North and 20 degrees South of the equator,” which makes it ideal for cacao growing.  The biggest cacao producers are the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Papua, New Guinea, Indonesia, and the South American countries which lie along the same general area in the equator.  What makes it even better for us is the fact that cacao trees grow best under coconut trees which are found everywhere in the archipelago.  Cacao fetches a good price in the commodity market, so our local farmers can double their income from just coconut farming.

There is also a world shortage in cacao amid a growing concern for how ethically commodities are grown.  In countries that have been marked as proponents of child labor or poor labor conditions are shunned by first world countries.  The Philippines, thankfully, does not have this stigma and our own government is supportive of cacao farmers.

Our soil is ideal for cacao growing, and what makes it profitable in the long run for cacao farmers is the fact that three years after planting, the cacao trees can be harvested and the trees can stay productive for fifty years.

When the Puentespinas started making chocolates, their market was limited to Davao to gain experience and confidence. All weekends found them in Davao’s malls for sampling activities.  Working their way slowly to Manila, they joined food bazaars where they conducted numerous taste sampling activities to introduce their brand. Chefs started learning about them and before long their chocolates were being incorporated into these chefs’ creations.  They also maximized the benefits of social media, now the cheapest avenue for start-ups.

Then the family took a bold step—they started joining international competitions and went to the US to meet up with other chocolatiers who expressed genuine surprise that Philippine chocolates had world-class quality. They joined two international competitions, the London-based Academy of Chocolate Awards whose mission is to promote fine chocolates to the world, and the International Chocolate Awards which hold regional competitions among Scandinavian countries, Asia Pacific, US, etc. with positive results.  A new chocolate drinking competition was also launched, and in the 2015 competition held in Germany, Malagos won the silver medal.

Definitely, chocolate-making is not a walk in the farm.  The long process of drying, roasting and series of taste tests until one hits the sweet spot is tedious and meticulous.  The family behind Malagos is lucky in that the coffee beans produced in their land located at Brgy Malagos (hence the name) is ideal for growing not only cacao but most other fruits as well.  The area is rich in fruit trees, and Rex says this has probably given their cacao a unique fruity taste all its own. He likens the situation to grapes.  Given the same variety, grapes grown in Australia will have a different taste from those grown in France.  Like wine, Philippine cacao has its own flavour profile that is unique to us.  You have to start with good beans, but combine it with good roasting and fermentation.  All the needed processes are done at the Malagos farm, from tree to the chocolate bar, says Rex.

Their first lucky break came from a big order from Japan, known for its strict quality standards.  In fact, the Malagos chocolates are sold in Japan as a health food because of its low sugar content.  The Malagos chocolate bars (all dark chocolates) proclaim cacao contents of 65%, 72% and 85%.  At 85%, the sugar content is as low as 15%, and there are only four ingredients used here unlike the commercial supermarket chocolates which most like have 80% sugar and only 20% cacao.

They have two chocolate lines:  the unsweetened pure cacao also called cocoa liquer which is simply roasted, ground, tempered, then molded.  For this line, they won two awards last year, which are testimonies to the consistent high quality of their chocolates.  No “tsamba” here.

Malagos uses only local sugar from Bukidnon and Digos.  The family behind Malagos continues to help their community by buying only local sugar.  They also buy from small cacao farmers, teaching them valuable techniques on how to grow cacao properly.

Malagos Chocolates was officially launched only in 2013, but this brand has put the Philippines in the world map of chocolates.  Rex says that our government agencies have helped them tremendously along the way.  The Dept. of Agriculture was very supportive, DTI and CITEM have been tireless in helping them promote the brand, the Dept. of Science and Technology helped them acquire the necessary specialized equipment, and they got financial support through loans from the Land Bank.

I’m sure many of us have not personally tasted this award-winning chocolate.  They are available in specialty stores and in SM Cultura, Rex says.  Before you grab that imported bar, check out our very own Philippine chocolate first.

Mabuhay!!!  Be proud to be a Filipino.

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