Sunday, December 1, 2019

This Month in the Garden: A Visit to Lydgate Farms-Home of Kauai Chocolate Farm & Tour

Lydgate Farms-Kauai Chocolate
On a recent visit to Kauai, I had the opportunity of visiting Lydgate Farms. Lydgate Farms is a 46-acre farm located in the town of Kapa’a in Kauai where visitors can become educated all about where chocolate comes from-from cacao bean to chocolate bar, while enjoying samples of Hawaiian fruits and experiencing a chocolate tasting like no other. Emily and Will Lydgate, owners of Lydgate Farm, are the great-great-grandchildren of William Ludgate, who arrived in Hawaii as a young man in the 1860s. Lydgate Farms’ predecessor, Steelgrass Farm was created by Lydgate descendants on Kaua’i in 2008, when the farm began to produce chocolate, vanilla and honey. To honor the heritage and family connection to the islands, Will took over the farm and made the decision to rename it from Steelgrass to Lydgate Farms in 2016. In 2017, Lydgate Farms was recognized among the best in the world at the Cocoa of Excellence Awards and have now been recognized for their award-winning vanilla and Palm Blossom honey.
Lydgate Farms Vanilla Beans
Kaua’i, being the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain, has the most developed and fertile soil for growing a wide variety of useful plants, including the cacao bean and other fruits that influence the taste of Lydgate's honey and chocolate. 
Vanilla Orchid (Vanilla planifolia)
Growing right off the trees at Lydgate Farms is Vanilla planifolia, a species of vanilla orchid, native to Mexico and Central America and widely grown among the tropics. This plant is one of the primary sources for vanilla flavoring and the cultivation of vanilla is extremely labor-intensive. Vanilla bean is an epiphyte, which means is grows off a host tree and derives nutrients from the air, rain and sometimes debris around it. It takes three to five years for a vine to mature enough to start producing vanilla pods (beans) and once there are finally blooms, the flowers have to be carefully hand pollinated within 12 hours, best in the early morning hours. If pollination is successful, it can take up to two months before a bean is formed and up to nine months before the beans can be harvested. Once the pods are harvested, they are cured in hot water (heated to 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit), humidity wrapped for two weeks, dried for two to three weeks, then conditioned. By this time, the beans are exploding with aroma and flavor, and almost ready. They are placed in closed boxes lined with wax paper to finalize the curing process.
 Acerola Cherry Used for Flavoring Chocolate
Acerola Cherry, grown on the farm is a rich source of vitamin C, and also contains vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. It has been known to be used in the treatment of scurvy and is also used in the prevention of heart disease, atherosclerosis, blood clots, and cancer. The edible portion of the fruit contains from 1000 to 4500 mg/100g. vitamin C, which far exceeds the vitamin C content of peeled oranges. 
Lydgate Farm Walking Path
Come along!
Papyrus Trees
Here is Cyperus papyrus, a species of aquatic flowering plant belonging to the sedge family Cyperaceae, which was used as a writing surface in ancient times, dating back as early as 3000 BC. The bark of the long stalks of Papyrus plants were cut into sheets and used as paper and the highly buoyant stems were made into boats. Papyrus is now often cultivated as an ornamental plant and used as a specialty writing material by artists and calligraphers.
The peeled bark of the Papyrus plant was used to make paper.

Hala (pandanus tectorius)
The Hala Tree can be seen throughout the Pacific and is identified by its very distinctive thick aerial roots that spread outwards into the ground. The pineapple-shaped fruit of the female Hala tree is used as a food source in many of the Pacific Islands and are often consumed fresh or as a preserved food. The trunks of the tree can be used as building material, while the leaves are used for thatchingThe leaves are weaved or braided to create items including baskets, floor and table mats, hats, sandals, fans and ceiling tiles. The soft and durable leaves of the Hala tree are known as Lauhala, lau meaning "leaf" in the Hawaiian language. 
Kauai Fruits Grown on the Farm
During the tour, you also have the opportunity of tasting several unusual tropical fruits grown on the farm, including Star Fruit, Dragon Fruit, Rambutan, and Marney sapote which are all quite delicious! 
Kauai Fruit Tasting Left to Right: Star Fruit, Rambutan, Mayney sapote (backdrop left), longan fruit (in container), Dragon Fruit (center) and Buddha’s Fingers (far right). 
Dimocarpus longan, commonly known as the longan fruit is a sweet tasting fruit with many health benefits. It is known to possess anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects and is used in the treatment of anemia, iron deficiency, stress and insomnia. It is also rich in Vitamin C. To access the fruit, lightly bite the shell just to break it open and squeeze out the fruit. (Photo Credit: photo insert showing a peeled longan fruit taken by Surukuku (Nelson Ramos-Lopes) - Minha Autoria, Public Domain, Wikipedia)

Star Fruit or Star Apple (averrhoa carambola)
Star Fruit is native to tropical areas and has a slightly apple taste. To get to the jelly-like pulp that is sweet and very juicy, cut the fruit in half. Star Fruit is best when eaten fresh.

 Pitaya (Dragon Fruit)
Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) or Strawberry Pear is a sweet and crunchy fruit known for its nutritional value as being antioxidant-rich while being only 60 calories. It is low in sugar and high in vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds (polyphenols and carotenoids) that has been linked to reducing cancer risk. It's high vitamin C content may also help to fight chronic disease and boost the immune system. Dragon fruit is actually derived from a large variety of night blooming cactus in the family Hylocereus, which includes just 20 species. To access the fruit, cut it straight down the middle with a sharp knife and scoop out the tasty center.
Rambutan (nephelium lapaceum)
Rambutan (nephelium lapaceum) has a spiky exterior with a sweet grape-like fruit at its center. This fruit has several beneficial properties, including a source of copper, which plays a role in the proper growth and maintenance of the brain, heart and bones. It also contains smaller amounts of manganese, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc. There are over 200 varieties of Rambutan, but only a few are cultivated and consumed.
Lydgate Farms Fruit Tasting
This unusual looking fruit is called Buddha’s Fingers Citron (medica sarcodactylis) or fingered citron. Unlike other citrus fruits, most varieties of Buddha's Hand lack pulp or juice. Mainly used for its form and aroma, Buddha’s Hand fruit can also be used as as a zest or flavoring in desserts, such as candied citrus peel, where it can be eaten individually or used in baked goods. The fruits are also made into marmalade, eaten in salads or are used in liqueurs such as vodka, while the thick rind of the fruit can be sliced and added to salads.
Lydgate Farms Fruit Tasting

Lipstick Palm (Cyrtostachys renda)
While strolling along, you may get a glimpse of this colorful palm. Lipstick palm is a widely grown ornamental in tropical regions for its vibrant bright lipstick-red stems; hence, the name. It has limited traditional uses including the use of stems for flooring and leaves for thatch. 
Wili-wili (Erythrina sandwicensis)
Wili-wili (Erythrina sandwicensis) or Hawaiina Coral Tree is a species of flowering tree in the pea family that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It is the only species of Erythrina that naturally occurs there. Wili-wili produces fiery orange, chartreuse, or pale yellow crab-claw blossoms during the summer months. This native forest tree was severely threatened by the arrival of the invasive erythrina gall wasp that arrived in Hawaii around 2005, but is making a comeback, thanks to the introduction of a natural predator to this wasp. The native Wiliwili was originally established at lower elevations on the dry (leeward) sides of the major Hawaiian Islands. The name Wiliwili means twist-twist in Hawaiian and refers to the seed pods, which twist open to expose the seeds.
Clumping Bamboo 'Ohe'
Clumping Bamboo 'Ohe' can be found in the rainforests of the Hawaiian Islands and was one of the first "canoe plants" brought to Hawaii by early Polynesian settlers. This particular type of bamboo has a non-invasive rhizome structure (known as pachymorph rhizome) verses the running type and has a variety of uses. Hollow or split stalks have been used for musical instruments, water storage, paper, ropes, mats, hats, screens, baskets, fans, umbrellas, brushes, roofing tiles, and as a part of the sleds of old Hawaii called holua. 
Theobroma cacao, also called the cacao tree or cocoa tree
After learning all about the different fruits and beneficial plants grown on the farm, our tour guide brought us to the anticipated Cacao trees. Cacao is the key ingredient in chocolate and has quite the history! 
Cacao Tree
Cacao originated in the Amazon region of South America and it’s consumption can be dated back to over 5000 years ago. During ancient times cacao beans were an important part of religion and daily life in the South American and Mesoamerican cultures. In fact, the Cacao tree was worshiped as a divine plant and a form of chocolate drink was used as a sacrament in religious rituals. The cacao bean was also used as currency. The Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations found chocolate to be an invigorating drink, mood enhancer and aphrodisiac, which led them to believe that it had mystical and spiritual qualities. The Mayans worshiped a god of cacao and chocolate was reserved only for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles at sacred ceremonies. Chocolate as a drink first reached the Western world in the 1500’s and was so expensive that only the wealthy could afford it. 
Cacao tree or cocoa tree
The concept of chocolate grew in 1824 England, when John Cadbury opened his first store selling tea, coffee, cocoa and drinking chocolate, which was seen as a healthier alternate to alcohol by the Quakers. As John’s trade continued to grow, he asked his brother Benjamin for a helping hand. By 1897, the Cadbury brothers had produced the first milk chocolate bar. The Hershey's followed in 1905, and in 1907, produced the first Hershey Kiss, which was a smaller and more affordable alternative.
Cacao Pods
How is chocolate made? Chocolate is a fermented food and cacao growers use wild yeasts for fermentation, opposite to the wine industry where standardized yeast strains are used. Fermentation is a time sensitive process and wild yeasts from the farm create a balance of types of local microorganisms which are site specific, meaning that the bars are unique. The fermentation process starts right at the farm right after the beans are harvested.
 Cacao pod
The basic process of cacao bean fermentation involves a large amount of wet cacao seeds (approximately 40,000 at a time) loaded into a vessel. Lydgate uses 2’x2’ untreated maple plywood boxes. During 5-7 days of fermentation there are two main phases, the anaerobic phase in which the sugar in the pulp of the cacao seed is converted to ethyl alcohol by yeasts, and the aerobic phase where oxygen is introduced by turning the beans. At this time, alcohol is converted to acetic acid by acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria). During this part of the reaction, the temperature of the fermenting beans can get very hot, as high as 126º F. The acetic acid produced causes chemical changes that turn simple bitter flavors into the fine flavors associated with great tasting dark chocolate. 

Kate breaking open a cacao pod to expose chocolate beans.
Here is our knowledgeable tour guide, Kate splitting open a cacao pod to show us the seeds inside. The seeds are slimy and covered in a sweet white pulp with the purple bitter inside. It is amazing how from these seeds the delicious chocolate we all know is made! 
Chocolate Tasting Time!
At the end of the tour, be ready for a chocolate sampling and learn how to become a chocolate connoisseur! 
Lydgate Farms, Kauai Chocolate
The tour experience was remarkable and I learned more about chocolate than I could ever imagine.
Lydgate Farms Kauai Chocolate
Thank you for stopping by This Month in the Garden for December and I hope you learned a few things about chocolate! Be sure to stop by on the 1st. of each month for This Month in the Garden, as I share gardening tips, information and horticultural adventures!

For more information or to book a tour, visit Lydgate Farms.

~As Always...Happy Gardening! ~

Author: Lee@A Guide to Northeastern Gardening,© Copyright 2010-2019. All rights reserved.


  1. Your tour sounds fantastic. I have seen the star fruit in the super market but didn't know what to do with it. It would be interesting to taste it. I might give it a go the next time I see some available. I have been on a cocoa tour before. That is also interesting.

    1. I am glad you enjoyed the virtual tour Lisa. It was an amazing experience and the Star Fruit is delicious!

  2. Oh, Lee it's interesting post. I've not known many things about Hawaii and Lydgate Farms. I liked seeing vanilla, cacao pods, papyrus, lipstick palm...I used to make cookies with vanilla and to drink cacao at the cool evening. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I learned so much Nadezda and have a new appreciation for these plants.I I am so glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Replies
    1. Your are very welcome Cloudia. The farm is definitely worth the visit!

  4. I love RAmbutans! The'yre the best!

    1. They are quite tasty. I never even knew anything about them before coming to Kauai!

  5. Wonderful green jungle and so many exotic fruit I never knew before! Thank you for sharing, lovely Christmas Season.

    1. Thank you for visiting! I loved your photos from your travels to Florence. Thank you for sharing!

  6. What a fabulous tour! There are so many fruits and plants that I have never seen before, so thanks for sharing :)

    It's great to see you at 'My Corner of the World' this week!

    My Corner of the World

    1. I always enjoy your posts Betty and thank you for hosting. It was fun getting to share a little bit beyond the northeast.

  7. Wow, so many things to learn as I visit bloggers. Very interesting. The world is so large, and fun to see where others live and what they do. Your tour photos were terrific. Thanks for sharing.

    Peabea from Pictorial Tuesday

    1. Thank you for hosting! I am glad to have found your blog and will be by often to visit!

  8. Cacao pods are lovely, but I prefer the finished product!

    1. Me too...but it was so much fun learning all about where our chocolate comes from. This was quite the education!


Thank you for visiting. I love reading your comments and knowing you have been here, and will try to reciprocate on your blog. If you have any questions I will try my very best to answer them. As always...HAPPY GARDENING!