Sustainable Chocolate Company Cru Shares the Story of Cacao

The company Cru is highlighting the migration story and traditions of chocolate. Karla McNeil-Rueda and her partner, Eddie Houston, operate the business out of their home kitchen near Sacramento, California, selling chocolate bars, drinks and roasted cacao beans to select vendors across the United States.

For McNeil-Rueda, chocolate is more than a sweet dessert. “To us, chocolate is not a snack but a food, a ritual, nourishment. It is our history. It is an ancestor,” she tells Food Tank.

McNeil-Rueda grew up in a small town on the border of Honduras and Nicaragua where her family grew sugar cane and coffee. In 1998, after Hurricane Mitch devastated the region, she left farming to pursue an education in industrial engineering and sustainability. She went on to study fine chocolate confectionery and cacao technology at the Chocolate Institute of Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2005, she moved to the U.S. and created Cru in 2016 with Houston.

“I am very thankful that in making chocolate at home I have found a way to live a life that is more normal and natural to me,” McNeil-Rueda says.

Cru Chocolate sources its cacao directly from smallholder farms in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Their farmers value biodiversity and food sovereignty and do not use pesticides in their crops. The company also provides education for its farmers and supplies aid for equipment purchases, helping them to grow their own businesses.

“We source in a way that encourages long-term relationships with farmers,” McNeil-Rueda says. “Long-term thinking and the support to access opportunities allows people to see their farm as a multigenerational dream and not just a cash crop.”

An estimated 5 million households globally depend on cacao as a cash crop. Chocolate is a global US$130 billion industry, yet many farmers still earn less than US$1 per day according to a report from the International Cocoa Initiative. This can make wage disparity a persistent problem in the industry.

“For the farmers that we work with, their biggest challenge is to find more people that can source directly from their farms who have the technical understanding and the cultural sensibility to navigate the barriers that sourcing and logistics present,” McNeil-Rueda says.

In addition to supporting farmers, Cru hopes to educate customers on the ancient tradition of chocolate making. Chocolate’s origin is a cacao-based drink mixed with corn and spices, often enjoyed throughout the day. The Mayan and Aztec people of Central America were the first to cultivate, ferment, and dry cacao, inventing a process that is still used today.

“I hope consumers can see that what they love the most comes from people that they are being taught to fear and resent,” she says. “I hope consumers can see that migration is not just natural and necessary but that it creates what we love most, not just in a recipe but in our lives.”

Photo courtesy of Etty Fidele, Unsplash

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