How Grenada Is Turning Itself Into a Chocolate Destination
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Recently, high in the hills of St. Andrew parish in Grenada, a grove of cacao trees granted me temporary reprieve from the scorching sun. I was wandering around L’Esterre Estate, a 200-year-old, 75-acre farm owned by the family of 30-year-old Bobbie Garbutt. She's a veritable Willy Wonka mining the thousands of cacao trees here to make specialty chocolate—little buttons that, thanks to intercropped fruit trees whose flavors infiltrate the soil, naturally pop with the woodiness of nutmeg, the sweetness of bananas, and the tang of passion fruit and Seville oranges.
Grenada has the ideal environment for chocolate production: Squarely situated within the chocolate growing region that exists only 20 degrees north or south of the equator—and with hilly terrain that drains water runoff to avoid suffocating cacao tree roots—Grenada has loamy, volcanic soil that supports Criollo and Trinitario trees from which fine flavor cocoa is made (only 12 percent of exported beans globally have this designation, compared to the bulk beans from Forastero trees found in most parts of the world).
Though once the world's largest exporter of cocoa under British rule in the 1760s, Grenada later went two and a half centuries without a domestic chocolate-making company—encumbered, in large part, by colonialism and slavery. But a pro-private business surge in the 1990s—following Grenada’s 1974 independence from Britain and the prime ministerial terms of trade unionist Eric Gairy and communist Maurice Bishop—invited innovative enterprises to grow, with the trailblazing tree-to-bar Grenada Chocolate Company opening in 1999 under the notion that profits from chocolate should go to farmers instead of the Grenada Cocoa Association or foreign producers. Following that lead, Belmont Estate, Crayfish Bay Organic Chocolate, Jouvay Chocolate, Taste ‘D’ Spice Chocolate, and Tri-Island Chocolate have since opened as chocolate-making businesses in the last decade.
Garbutt, whose family also owns Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel, a Relais & Châteaux property that offers estate tours, chocolate tastings, and chocolate-forward takes on Caribbean cuisine, has recently created in L’Esterre Chocolate, the seventh and newest bean-to-bar chocolate business in the 125,000-person nation, earning Grenada the distinction of having the most chocolate factories per capita of any country in the world.
This chocolate boom has proliferated in all manner of experiences, whether it be the eco-tourism bent at Crayfish Bay with rustic overnight stays available, bespoke chocolate-bar-making with farmers at Tri-Island, the classic cocoa plantation experience at 300-year-old Belmont Estate, or the large-scale cocoa processing facility tour at Jouvay. One afternoon, to get a condensed taste of Grenada’s chocolate options, I spent a fragrant hour at the House of Chocolate, a small museum near the spice market in the capital of St. George’s, and sampled locally made bars while gaining a comprehensive understanding of Grenada’s rich chocolate history.
Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell is seeking to capitalize on this heritage, branding Grenada as the Chocolate Isle. He has commended bean-to-bar entrepreneurs for making the agricultural sector “innovative, thriving, and even sexy,” and is encouraging the connection between tourism and agriculture to create niche experiences for visitors in outer parishes that, in turn, increase the likelihood that farmers and agro processors can grow their businesses.
Executing those initiatives is largely the responsibility of Grenada Tourism Authority CEO Petra Roach, who touted her organization’s efforts to “visit organic cocoa plantations and chocolate makers nestled in Grenada’s lush rainforest, hear the story of Grenada’s chocolate, make their own chocolate potions, and indulge in delicious chocolate-inspired cuisine and cocoa-infused island life.”
One evening at Calabash’s amber-lit Rhodes Restaurant, I ravenously cut into a braised beef short rib, paired with a creative combination of flavors: cacao-buttered mashed potatoes with freshly grated nutmeg, caramelized papaya, and ancho pepper-chocolate demi sauce (think: mole gone Grenadian)—all garnished with crunchy cacao nibs. For dessert, I devoured a sublime breadfruit, a tropical starch drizzled with a velvety white chocolate ganache.
Ramces Castillo, the executive chef at Calabash, believes that amid the fusion of African, European, Indian, and Caribbean influences within Grenadian cuisine, the unconventional use of chocolate in dishes makes Grenada—named “Culinary Capital” by the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) in 2021—a “playground for chefs.”
Chef Andre Church of The X-Perience by Chef X-treme, an all-inclusive dinner service for private homes and yachts, makes innovative use of the island’s chocolate in his herb-crusted fish filet with al dente pasta and cocoa spice spinach sauce. In addition, Belinda Bishop’s Flavours of Grenada facilitates authentic gastronomic experiences that expose visitors to Grenadian chefs experimenting with cocoa.
Grenada is also one of the few places in the world where chocolate is produced from bean to bar, meaning the farmers are involved in every step of the process, from harvesting to roasting to grinding and molding. That helps ensure that the chocolate is fresh, pure, and ethically produced—and more profits are staying with chocolate-makers themselves.
“In the past as a region, we’ve been guilty of selling our beans to the highest bidder and allowing the money to leave our shores with beans inside sacks,” says Aaron Sylvester, head of Tri-Island. “We are […] rewriting that narrative and decolonizing the market bean by bean.”
“There’s no denying that Grenada’s chocolate-makers are harnessing the essence of the island’s ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit,” says Naguib Sawaris, the owner of luxury developer Joyau de Caraibes Ltd. Sawaris's company, in addition to its landmark Silversands resort, has an expanding portfolio of five-star hospitality plays on the island, including soon-to-open Beach House, which will feature chocolate prominently at its restaurants and spa. “We believe that by enhancing our visitors’ experience with the delicious flavors of Grenadian chocolate, we’re also contributing to the growth and development of the local economy.”
In St. Andrew parish, Garbutt at L’Esterre says that she sees a bright future for the collegial chocolatiers of Grenada, most of whom have also built export markets in the U.S. and Europe. As we spoke, storm clouds accumulated overhead, ready to douse the cacao trees with some much-needed rainfall. Nearby, pink cone ginger, silk cotton trees, and soursop trees ornamented the landscape.
“We have always worked collaboratively and supported each other instead of competing,” Garbutt says. “We often share equipment, knowledge and know-how, facilities, and customers [...] Our collective goal is to put Grenadian chocolate on the map.”
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler