Supporting Local Chocolate Isn’t Just About Taste—It’s About Celebrating Our Heritage

On November 15, 2021, local chocolatier Theo & Philo shared the news on their social media pages that a fire had broken out in the basement of the building where their production was taking place. As of their posting, they foresee that due to smoke damage, they will need to dispose of large batches of chocolate, impacting their holiday commitments.

In a recent episode of “What’s AP? Araling Panlipunan Rebooted,” hosts Sab Schnabel and Ceej Tantengco examine the role of cacao in our history and culture, and why we should support our local chocolate and chocolatiers.

In the 17th century, the first cacao beans were brought to the Philippines through the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. It worked because the Philippines’ climate is similar to that of Mexico.

“Cacao trees can grow all over the Philippines, and so chocolate is part of the food culture of different provinces,” says historian and “What’s AP?” co-host, Sab Schnabel.

During the colonial period, the Philippines became a supplier of cacao to Spain and its empire. However, we were seen as a supplier of the raw materials, rather than chocolate connoisseurs and manufacturers.

And so despite cacao finding a natural home in Philippine soil, many people today tend to reach for foreign brands, ranging from American candy bars, to Belgian or Swiss chocolates. But Pinoy chocolatiers are trying to change that—and help the Philippines take its place in the world of chocolate.

Philo Chua, the founder of Theo & Philo, began in 2007 with a dream of making bean-to-bar Filipino chocolate. Chua began by making 44% milk and 70% dark chocolate bars, focused on getting high-quality, Filipino versions of the classics. But soon, the chocolatier became more adventurous.

“Dark chocolate with orange is a very European flavor…so that was when we decided to use calamansi,” he says. It was followed by a Pinoy twist on rice krispies chocolate: pili nut and pinipig, and from there the flavors only got more Pinoy.

By using local ingredients and creating surprising, yet delightful flavor combinations with chocolate like adobo, green mango and salt, turon, and more, Theo & Philo are reclaiming our ties with chocolate. And it’s not just them. Other local brands like Auro, 1919 Chocolate, Malagos, and more are all innovating and building a vibrant chocolate scene in the Philippines.

Their commitment to bringing Filipino flavors into the spotlight and their journey in doing so teaches us to love what is sariling atin—because our chocolate is just as rich as our heritage.

“Local artisanal companies put a lot of effort into quality and unique flavors,” says “What’s AP?” co-host Ceej Tantengco. “It translates to higher prices [compared to mass-produced chocolate], but it makes for a more sustainable industry long-term and helps keep quality high. And it just feels right for our cacao farmers and chocolate companies to get the recognition, because deserve naman talaga. They earned it.”

This holiday season, consider gifting your loved ones with Filipino chocolates. That way, you’re not just supporting the local industry, you’re also giving them the gift of our delicious heritage.

“Give Filipino chocolates a chance,” says Chua. “By supporting local chocolate makers or local companies, they’re really helping make a better community for us all around, Let’s not think of (Filipino chocolate) as ‘ganun lang,’ let’s look at them in a different way—that they’re something great.”

“What’s AP? Araling Panlipunan Rebooted” is the podcast that looks at Philippine history with fresh eyes. Get it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. Keep an eye out on Theo & Philo’s Facebook page to find out how you can support them this holiday season and as they recover.

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