Cacao nibs are the loop ingredient connecting a bar of processed chocolate with its wild origin; they are the cacao beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks, and broken into smaller pieces.
VAIcacao, an Italian-Salvadorian food startup focused on healthy eating and social sustainability, could not have chosen a better time for me to taste cacao nibs for the first time in my life, after a history of appreciation for the hundreds of craft chocolate bars tasted so far.
Sensorially speaking, the VAIcacao nibs emitted an intense and addicting floral odor as soon as I opened their fancy lilac wrapper. The taste was not striking like the cacao mass bars tasted, but nutty, with a delicate essence of violet.
Nutritionally speaking, high-quality cacao nibs are:
- one of the richest natural foods in magnesium (8% of the reference intake of an average adult), a mineral that regulates our metabolism and prevents migraines;
- a good source of other minerals, such as potassium and iron, and powerful antioxidants (flavanols);
- suitable for those minimizing sugar in their diet (containing no more than 1% of naturally-occurring sugars);
- a good source of fiber (about 12% of its weight).
Following is a brief interview with Elisa and Juan Rafael, the young pair behind the VAIcacao brand, to know more about their mission as entrepreneurs in high-quality food and their vision as healthy eating advocates.
Antonella: Thanks very much for your availability for this interview, Elisa and Juan Rafael. Please, could you tell something about your respective background and how did you come out with cacao products?
Elisa & Juan Rafael: Hi, Antonella. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to analyze the samples we sent you and for the mention in your blog!
Founder & CEO – Aurea Tradings
Born in Sardinia (Italy) in 1986, I grew up in contact with nature. Since a child, I showed interest in global issues of social and environmental impact. Being a yoga practitioner to stay in shape, I am a lover of “healthy eating”, preferring whole foods and experimenting with nutritious recipes.
After completing my studies in International Development & Cooperation, first in Italy and then in Spain, I traveled to El Salvador to work at the United Nations. In 2015, I decided to establish the company Aurea Tradings with my husband Juan Rafael, so in 2016 we created VAIcacao.
Juan Rafael Trigueros Hill
Co-founder & Executive Director – Aurea Tradings
I am fortunate to have grown in contact with nature, in a tropical climate, from a young age as I explored the interest in agriculture by always being around, learning at my family’s coffee and cacao farms in El Salvador. After attending a boarding school in the US, I then returned to my country to continue my education in Economics & Business.
I started my professional career in the beverage industry collaborating with the SABMiller subsidiary in El Salvador and learned how big multinational companies operate, and how a well-established brand such as Coca-Cola adapted its business strategies in a fiercely competitive market. I then moved on to obtain valuable experience in sales and administration by joining a firm who regionally represented producers of raw materials for the textile and petrochemical. I then became part of the Coconut Cartel LLC team, and helped the company grow from its initial startup phase into a solid business by securing a broad supplier network, and co-designing the operations in order to allocate and deliver its product profitably.
During my spare time, I helped create ES-CACAO, which is a Salvadorian cooperative of specialty cacao producers, holding a seat on the board of directors, and being involved in projects of cacao productions related to environmental and socioeconomic benefits.
In 2015, I co-founded with Elisa Aurea Tradings, a food importing and distributing hub in Europe, identifying the business strategy and operations for the launch of the VAIcacao brand, now living between Italy and El Salvador.
Apart from the company and personal information that we provided, we want to elaborate a bit more on the differentiation of our cacao nibs.
Our products come from very fine origin cacaos in Mayan Central America (called Mesoamerica). They are part of specialty cacao plantations and terroirs that develop interesting and unique flavor notes due to the interaction of genetics, sun, soil, and local weather. The quality is related to how the product is handled from harvest to processing, in equipment carefully supervised by artisans. The cacao farms that we have personally selected use the best agricultural and modern practices, such as planting varieties that are resistant to ground plagues and diseases, then grafting selected fine and flavor varieties to ensure quality and organic/bio results.
Through our hand-picked supplier network, we offer fine and flavor, single-origin cacao that is coveted by the best chocolatiers due to its superb quality. In addition, we intend to change how these specialty cacao beans are consumed and give customers the opportunity to use them in their purest form, as a superfood, and benefit from their excellent nutritional values.
VAIcacao as a brand that promotes a healthy lifestyle, and intends to provide transparency and authenticity to the food market with a range of pure, simple, healthy, and superior products.
A.: Where can we find your product and what about your market distribution strategy?
E. & J.R.: Through e-commerce, we have enabled worldwide shipping from our facilities in Sardinia, and we are currently in negotiations with a fulfillment warehouse in the Netherlands for more competitive courier costs to northern Europe. Also, we plan to set up our distribution and delivery services ready for the USA soon.
About B2B sales, we are currently activating accounts (stores and distributors) in different cities in the following countries: Italy, France, Germany, Netherlands, and the UK. With time, we hope to expand to the primary accounts in other nations as well.
Updates from VAIcacao
Identical bags, but different microorigins of cacao from Central America!
Thanks Elisa & Juan Ra for giving me the opportunity to appreciate this diversity of flavors in your delicious cacao nibs.
Check the batch number to know the origin of the cacao you are tasting. This idea may be the joy of any chocolate lover: having a tasting guideline printed not only for single-origin chocolate products, but even for their purest ingredient before being processed into chocolate.
Juan Rafael recently wrote me to inform me about the traceability of flavors in their microlots and their latest progress in El Salvador:
Our team decided to include other cacao origins on our latest import because our philosophy is to give an opportunity to different farmers across Central America and promote extraordinary and unique cacaos from the region. We have been involved in cacao farming for some years and we feel fortunate to know many cultivators and their fabulous crops. Selecting lots can be a savory experience but it can also become very challenging.
In the near future we will include more cacao origins that we haven’t had the chance to import yet, and give continuity to the cacaos with special flavors and aroma.
- ETC/HN-N3 & ETC/HN-SV: We started our project with this origin. The typical cocoa and fruity acidic flavor of this cacao beans makes it easy to combine it with sweet or salty recipes. The farm is located in the northeast part of Honduras, and the beans where transformed into nibs in El Salvador.
- CDC/NIC-HN: This lot was selected because of its great nutty and cocoa flavor which is very appealing to the overall consumer. The farm is located in Matiguás, Nicaragua and the cacao beans where roasted, winnowed and bagged in Honduras.
- ETC/SV1-N3: We decided to include a small quantity of this cacao from El Salvador, because of the strong floral presence in its flavor that could be interesting for industrial uses. This farm, located in Izalco, El Salvador, is beginning to enjoy its harvest after diversifying its plantation from coffee to cacao.
- ETC/SV2-N3: This cacao lot comes from one of the most antique cacao plantations in El Salvador. The farm is located in the coastal area of Usulután, near to Jiquilisco bay. The flavor characteristics of this cacao lot is brown fruit (raisins) as well as strong cocoa presence.
All of the selected lots have their unique taste and aroma, and we are constantly working and investing our resources to allocate them in different segments that demand premium quality and authentic products or ingredients.