Growing Garden Isle Chocolate

Garden Island Chocolate (GIC) is the only company on Kaua’i to grow, harvest, ferment, dry and handcraft cacao into bars that are 80 percent chocolate.

GIC strives to create and maintain an exemplary standard of quality artisan chocolate using organic and socially conscious ingredients.

What’s growing now: Açai, aetmoya, avocado, breadfruit, cacao, citrus, coconuts, coffee, Hawaiian chili peppers, macadamia nuts, mangosteen, miracle berries, rambutan, sugar-cane, vanilla, white pineapple.


Theobroma Cacao, or the cocoa plant, is a 15-to 26-foot-tall evergreen tree. It requires a humid climate with regular rainfall and good soil. It is an understory tree, growing best with some overhead shade.

The flowers are half-inch in size, and borne directly on the trunk and thick branches. The fruit, or pod, is 8 to 9 inches (10 to 15 cm) long and yellow, red, orange, green or purplish in color. It varies in shape, from ovoid to oblong, and is sometimes pointed at the base. A three-year-old tree may produce 80 pods.

Each pod contains up to 40 seeds, and must be fermented, dried and made into cocoa nibs. The nibs are ground into chocolate.

Season: Under ideal conditions, cacao will go from seed to harvestable fruit in two years. Pods mature in six months. Cacao plants produce fruit throughout the year on Kaua’i, but peak in the summer months.

What to look for: Scratch pods to determine if the fruit is ripe. Unripe pods will reveal green underneath.

Planting: Cacao trees do well when they are planted next to wind breaks and receive partial sun. The hungry plants require good soil, and plenty of water and drainage. “A lot of people think it’s like a fruit tree,” says Koa Kahili, “and that you can just dig a hole and put it in the ground. But it needs to go into soil that’s more like a nice, fluffy garden bed.”

He recommends planting them 6 feet apart, in a 2-by-2-foot hole, filled with good soil. “I use steer manure to fluff up the soil, and blue-rock dust to mineralize the soil,” says Kahili. When planting, be careful not to damage the root ball. To release the plant, turn the pot over into the palm of your hand, rather than grabbing it by the trunk.

Preparation: To turn seeds into nibs and nibs into chocolate is a cultivated art form, and is well-described on Kahili’s website. Once the pods are cut open, the pulp that surrounds the seeds can be eaten. The white pulp has a sweet-tart flavor, and is rich in magnesium and antioxidants. Kahili adds cacao nibs to smoothies, and chocolate into hot and cold drinks.

Tip: If you bring Kahili your cacao pods, he will process them and give you some chocolate.

Health benefits: Because of its high content of fat (cocoa butter), protein and carbohydrates, cocoa has a high nutritional value. Dark chocolate is considered 70 to 85 percent chocolate, and 100 grams contain 11 grams of dietary fiber. It’s rich in minerals such as magnesium, manganese, iron and copper. According to Mary Engler, Ph.D., RN, of the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues, 1.6 ounces of dark chocolate daily keeps cholesterol from gathering in the blood vessels, reduces the risk of blood clots and slows down immune responses that lead to clogged arteries. Blood vessels dilate and relax better with chocolate, and increase blood flow, which is better for your heart.

Garden Island Chocolate trees can be found at:

Farmers Market: Waipa (Tuesdays at 2 p.m.); Hanalei (Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.) Pre-order chocolate trees by calling 634-6812. Starts in 1-gallon pots normally cost $25; year-old plants in 3-gallon pots cost $50, but Kahili is currently selling them for half off. Visit for more information.


Kahili’s recipe for hot chocolate is similar to that of the Mayans, who blended spices into their brew. Using a Garden Island Spicy Pepper bar makes a flavorful drink. For a healthier version, use low-fat coconut, soy or rice milk. * 1 Garden Island Spicy Pepper bar, cut into slivers * 2 cups whole, organic milk Warm milk over low heat, monitoring closely so it does not boil over. Add chocolate and whisk until blended. Pour into two coffee cups. This is best enjoyed under a blanket with someone you love. Makes two servings.