Cuba's digital destination
Cocosolo, approx 12 miles west of downtown Havana, is a marginal neighborhood that is not visited by many people. Because it’s a somewhat rough area, some people call it Havana’s Wild West. However, everything is not black-and-white and the truth is that this is a working-class neighborhood with an unfortunate past that it has not been able to shake off entirely.
My friend Eduardo lives in Cocosolo and is one of the thousands of new self-employed workers in Havana. He has a license to produce and sell fast foods and has specialized in peanut candy bars. Different from most, Eduardo does not sell his product from a stand or window in his home, or peddle his merchandise on the street. Eduardo is a wholesaler, one of the very few who exist in the city.
With a couple of friends as helpers, also self-employed, Eduardo has managed to create a small factory in his home where he produces peanut candy bars, or “turrón de maní.”
In Cuba, peanuts are practically the only nuts that are grown. All other, like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios are imported. Peanuts, however, grow in abundance, especially in the western region of the country. The town of Jovellanos in Matanzas province is especially known for its peanut farms.
Peanuts are sold everywhere in Cuba in different forms: roasted salted peanuts and sugared peanuts, both in cones, and peanut candy bars, either the brittle or nougat kind. This confectionery has become a cultural phenomenon. Walking down the streets of Havana, for instance, it is difficult to not bump into a peanut vendor—manisero in Spanish, whether at bus stops, parks, plazas, etc. The bars come in different sizes and prices, from 1 peso to 20 pesos.
Eduardo’s factory, which is installed in his own home, makes peanut bars of 2, 3 and 5 pesos. His confectionery goes to other independent businesses, whether small cafeterias or itinerant peanut vendors. The demand has been growing by day and at present he manufactures at least 1,000 peanut bars on a daily basis. This may not be a business that will make him rich, but for now it is enough to support his family and provide jobs for other employees.
Work starts in the early morning from Monday to Friday. Eduardo first collects the bags with the peanuts that were roasted the previous day. He shakes the bags against a hard surface so that the seeds are split in two, thus making it easier to shell the seeds. He and his employees get rid of the shells in a primitive but effective manner: with a fan that literally blows away the shells.
The next step is mixing the split peanut seeds with sugar, which may be white or brown, and a small amount of salt (Eduardo’s trade secret) to enhance the flavor. Eduardo only uses peanuts from Jovellanos, aware that he will obtain a quality seed.
This mixture is then grounded in an electric apparatus designed and manufactured by Eduardo himself. When this first grinding is through, the peanut grinder is thoroughly wiped so that no seeds remain in the blades. A second and final grinding is necessary for the paste to acquire a finer and more compact quality.
This paste is then put in greaseproof paper molds that have been previously cut according to the size of the bar. This should not be refrigerated. If kept at room temperature away from moisture, peanut bars are able to keep their properties and texture for about seven days, and will last five more days before it goes bad.
This very smooth peanut paste made by Eduardo and his employees/friends can be found all over the city. Unfortunately, the bars do not come with a brand name. But there is one way however to know it the bar you have just bought is his—just take a bite and if it tastes heavenly, it was made by Eduardo.