Two Hawaii cacao producers have received medals for their cocoa at the 2021 Cocoa of Excellence Awards.

Maui Ku’ia Estate won a gold and Kauai’s Lydgate Farms won a silver for the Asia-Pacific region, while both were named in the world’s top 50 cocoas.

Their products were up against more than 230 other samples from 53 different origins, and were judged by a blind panel of 39 industry experts. Producers sent dried products to France, which were processed into liquor and 66% cocoa dark chocolate forms by a single chocolate maker.

It was the first time Maui Ku’ia had ever entered the awards, founder Gunars Valkirs said.

Maui Ku’ia chocolate’s distinct flavors may be partly due to a general level of stress it faces due to fewer rains, according to founder Gunars Valkirs. Courtesy: Maui Ku'ia

“I’ve always wanted to have world class cacao and world class chocolate. That was always the objective,” Valkirs said. “I didn’t expect it to happen this early.”

Cocoas from Papua New Guinea, China, Indonesia and the Philippines also won gold medals.

Silver medalist William Lydgate, owner of Lydgate Farms on Kauai and president of the Hawaii Cacao and Chocolate Association, said the wins vindicated the emerging local industry.

It confirmed a trend for Hawaii’s cacao, cocoa and chocolate, which has consistently won medals since 2015 and is noted for its fruity flavors. Lydgate said those flavors would only develop in coming years.

“We’re all celebrating that our region, that’s an emerging origin, is growing some of the best chocolate in the world,” Lydgate said. “While countries like Ecuador and Ghana dominate, Hawaii is one of the most exciting regions.”

Maui Ku’ia is also in the running for the 2022 Good Food Awards, which awards both tastes and responsible practices.

Valkirs said it was satisfying for the bean-to-bar cacao and chocolate production model in Hawaii.

“Most farmers do not make chocolate and most chocolate makers do not farm,” he said.

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