ECUADOR: Snacks and maiz tostado

I really struggled finding exported snacks from Ecuador – I checked multiple Latin and South American groceries in Ottawa and Calgary, plus online. Ecuador is a major food exporter, however, and trip down my local grocery aisle had bananas, mangos, yellow dragonfruit, melons, and more all from there. However, these are generally grown as cash crops for export – about 25% of the world’s banana crop comes from Ecuador. I was hoping instead to find some snacks that were more genuinely “Ecuadorian”.

Ecuadorian cacao – This isn’t an Ecuadorian company, rather it’s a British one that sources high-end cacao from single origins like Ecuador. Cacao used to be Ecuador’s major cash crop (and is an indigenous plant to the region). The country was the main world producer until the market crashed in the early 20th century. Cacao is still grown there, but the focus is on smaller amounts at higher quality. However, Ecuador mainly exports the cacao, it’s turned into chocolate elsewhere. As for this bar itself, it’s just a really nice dark chocolate, with a nice bit of depth from the sea salt.

GuayusaGuayusa is a herbal tea that’s related to yerba mate, and almost the entire world’s guayusa crop is grown in Ecuador. The dried leaves smell very green and herbal. Mild tasting tea, kind of like an earthier green tea, and feels like it should be bitter but isn’t. It’s hard to get an exact comparison for how caffeinated it is, but most sources average it around the strength of black tea, with the upside that unlike tea, it can be steeped for a long time without going tannic and bitter.

Tome Tropical Fresa – I am not 100% certain if this pop is truly Ecuadorian or if it’s something made for the export / ex-pat market – kind of like Brio not actually being from Italy. If you do know, please let me know in the comments! It’s an intensely sweet strawberry-flavoured pop, but with enough acidity to keep it from being too cloying.

And now a snack that’s really Ecuadorian, instead of just an export good (admittedly the corn itself is from a Peruvian brand).

Maiz tostado is a type of Andean popcorn, made with cancha corn (a wide kernel corn variety). It’s also made with chulpe, a slightly thinner variety of corn – they may just be two different sizes for the same thing, since cancha and chulpe seem to get used interchangeably.

Regardless, this is a really fun and easy recipe (from Laylita’s Recipes) – just have a lid handy for when they start to pop! It’s kind of like inside-out popcorn, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside.

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