Momotombo Chocolate: Empowering Nicaraguan Women


Bean to Bar, Chocolopolis, Regional Bar Collection, Sweet Sixteen / Saturday, October 6th, 2018

Momotombo Chocolate started its journey as a chocolate company with  “Just a pot, a fire and a spoon,” to quote founder, Carlos Mann. Carlos’ vision was to create “fresh” chocolate using methods that could be replicated in any home kitchen in Nicaragua using a clay comale and a homemade pot. This Chocolate Fresco was easy to produce, and it took advantage of the many wonderful local ingredients including cacao, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits, herbs and spices.

“The initial idea was only to make Chocolate Fresco. We wanted to create a new form of chocolate that was our own. Basically its a stove top artisanal chocolate. It’s a great example of what you could make if you owned a farm in Nicaragua, and had access to fresh cow’s milk, cacao, sugar, and honey. Which a lot of people do here.” – Carlos Mann

Where did the idea for Momotombo come from? Carlos launched his venture, not based on a market analysis, but based on the belief that it was necessary to create a chocolate company in Nicaragua.

“Some of the best cacao in the world grows here. Our cultural traditions are steeped in cacao, and yet as a country we never made any chocolate beyond drinking chocolates. All our eating chocolates were imported, mostly from the U.S.  So we decided to make our own.”

Carlos cites the importance of using cacao to create wealth for families. He points out that by adding value to the cacao in Nicaragua instead of merely exporting the cacao beans, more economic wealth is created in Nicaragua. This is where another personal motivation came into play in his decision to open a chocolate company. He wanted to create employment for women. Momotombo relies on women to add value to the cacao and to share the traditions with their families.

“I have worked with the majority of small operations in the country that are run by women. I admire the natural talent that Nicaraguan women have to transform fresh ingredients into delicious traditional foods and sweets. Countless young men and women have been sent to college in Nicaragua thanks to hardworking mothers who ran small artisanal food businesses.”

Chocolate Fresco starts with freshly-ground cacao that Momotombo processes by hand in a corn mill. They cook down a mixture of whole cow’s milk, sugar and honey before adding the ground cacao paste to create a wonderful, thick milk chocolate. They mix the chocolate base with a variety of nuts, spices and fruits soaked in rum before rolling it into small truffle-like spheres and coating the Chocolate Fresco in toppings such as sesame seeds, toasted coconut and roasted cashew pieces. The chocolate must be consumed in less than a month.

Carlos’ mission in starting Momotombo goes beyond the revival of a culturally-relevant food tradition. Chocolate Momotombo focuses on training women to become chocolate makers with the hope that these women pass the tradition on to their family members.

While Chocolate Fresco is wonderful as a local delicacy, selling short-shelf-life, refrigerated chocolates to a larger market presents significant challenges. If you want to create more wealth and keep it in the country, you need to grow sales to have a significant impact.

As Momotombo grew, Carlos and his team decided to add fully-refined chocolate bars to their product mix to reach a wider audience. They purchased European-style machinery and began refining local cacao into dark, milk and white chocolate.

We were happy to add Momotombo’s chocolate bars and some of their chocolate confections to our collection recently, and I have to thank Sunita de Tourreil of The Chocolate Garage for making it happen. Sunita has been working with Carlos for years, and when she decided to close down The Chocolate Garage, she offered us a chance to take some of her Chocolate Momotombo inventory. The craft chocolate community is a small one, and Sunita and I have been friends for years. Thanks to her, I’m now connected to Carlos and Chocolate Momotombo.

Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua 70% Dark Chocolate
Nueva Segovia 70%

Carlos stopped by Chocolopolis in a last-minute visit last weekend, and he brought a box of Chocolate Fresco with him. These large balls of chocolate are akin to a soft ganache that has more moisture. My personal favorite is the peanut-filled Chocolate Fresco that is rolled in sesame seeds. It reminded me a bit of an Asian treat I’ve tasted.

During Carlos’ visit to Chocolopolis, we had an impromptu meeting in the courtyard. Like many chocolate makers, Carlos was carrying a large bag filled with chocolate for us to taste, including two other origin bars from Nicaragua and bars from a personal project.

What I didn’t know until I met him is that Carlos is very passionate about plant-based medicine. He brought two bars of chocolate with him that are infused with plants native to Nicaragua that have various calming and anxiety-reducing properties. Carlos doesn’t sell these bars, he makes them because of a personal interest in medicinal plants. One is a milk chocolate bar infused with Ashwagandha, which, according to WebMD, is used in traditional Indian and African medicine to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and alter the immune system. The other is a white chocolate bar infused with centella asiatica (also known as Gotu Kola) which came with warnings from Carlos not to share it with anyone on blood pressure medication. This herb is used in traditional Indian medicine to treat many things, including leprosy.

Here’s what Carlos says about these bars:

“I make these for the love of it.  They are rather the result of my personal studies as an herbalist in Nicaragua and they are inspired by pre-Columbian medicinal drinking chocolates. I believe we will come full circle and that chocolate will eventually return to its medicinal roots. This is my personal exploration of that.”

Momotombo Bonbons with Seeds
Momotombo Bonbons with Seeds

 

We’re excited to add Momotombo’s wonderful native-Nicaragua chocolate to our collection, including the 70% Dark Chocolate made with cacao from Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua. This bar is competing in the first bracket of the Chocolate Sweet Sixteen competition, which starts today. Stop by to taste this bar along with the three other competitors in the bracket and vote for your two favorites. We repeat our happy hours on Wednesdays, so you have a chance to vote again on Wednesday if you can’t make it in today. In addition to Momotombo’s 70% Nueva Segovia bar we also offer boxes of two of their bonbons, Banana, Pineapple & Passionfruit Bonbons (dark milk chocolate) and the Chia, Linseed (aka Flax), Sesame and Coconut Bonbons (dark milk chocolate). The seeded bonbons are so much more addicting than you could ever imagine! Ask to try a sample on your next visit. We promise you’ll love them.

Momotombo Banana, Pineapple and Passionfruit Bonbons
Momotombo Banana, Pineapple and Passionfruit Bonbons