First Cocoa Bean Grown in Iceland

cacao plant iceland

The first cocoa beans ever grown in Iceland were recently harvested at the Gardening School of Reykir, making the dream of homegrown Icelandic chocolate one step closer.

Guðríður Helgadóttir, a horticulturist at the Gardening School in Reykir, stated to RÚV that cocoa plants have been cultivated for some 11 years in the banana greenhouse in Reykir, with the hope that one day a cocoa bean would grow on them. Now it seems that the years of work have paid off.

“These plants have been bred for for nearly a decade with the dream of creating Icelandic chocolate. Now, that dream is well within reach,” stated Guðríður. “This is the first cocoa bean to grow in Iceland, as far as we know. The cocoa fruit that we recently produced came from a flower that was fertilized last summer and remained green while it grew and developed into a cocoa pod. So now, it has suddenly turned this beautiful shade of yellow, and that’s when it bloomed, and I honestly can’t believe how we missed it!”

According to Guðríður, the Gardening School at Reykir received two cocoa pods in 2012. Some 80 plants sprouted from the seeds, but of these, only some three survived. But now, after a decade of care, the efforts are finally bearing fruit.

The conditions in the banana greenhouse in Reykir are favourable for cocoa plants, but there are still differences compared to the cocoa plant’s native habitat, making the process of producing usable cocoa rather difficult and complicated.

“In the plant’s native habitat, there are specific flies that pollinate the pods,” Guðríður stated to RÚV. “Of course, we don’t have those flies here, so we were considering whether we should manually pollinate by dabbing with a watercolor brush and mimicking bees by transferring pollen between the flowers. So, it was a bit surprising for us to see pods appearing without any human intervention in the greenhouse!”

Six Million Plants This Year, But Production Still Short of Carbon Neutrality Goal

Iceland needs to rapidly increase its plant cultivation in order to meet the government’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2040, RÚV reports.

Þröstur Eysteinsson, director of the Icelandic Forest Service, says that in order to meet the goal, plant production in Iceland will have to at least double over the next three to five years, and that production capacity will need to increase even more after that. Currently, there is not enough room in local nurseries and greenhouses to meet this demand.

“As the situation stands, our greenhouses are at full capacity,” Þröstur explained in an interview. “Because it’s May, the spring sowing has already been planned out and it isn’t possible to add anything that will be ready in spring 2023, that is to say, next spring. So for any new projects that are coming in, the earliest they could get plants is 2024.”

The Forest Service intends to deliver six million plants this year, says Þröstur, which is equivalent to pre-crash levels of production. “It was around five million last year, and four million the year before that. This is a rapid increase. Then we need seven to eight million next year, which we may not manage, and ten to twelve in 2025.”

Herbal Fragrance Library Opens

Nordic Angan, or the Icelandic Herbal Fragrance Library, is now open in the town of Mosfellsbær, just outside of Reykjavík. The library is the brainchild of Elín Hrund Þórgeirsdóttir and Sonja Bent who, per a recent press release, put considerable research and effort into “capturing the sweet scent of Icelandic flora by distilling plants and trees and making essential oils out of them.”

Jonny Devaney

Visitors can walk through interactive fragrance exhibitions and “experience the aroma of Icelandic nature in a fun and unusual way, stimulate their sense of smell, and enjoy nature in an untraditional manner. The collection is the only one of its kind because there’s no other library that focuses solely on the sweet scents of Icelandic nature.”

Guests can also walk through the “Scented Shower,” an installation inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing.’ The installation diffuses scents of the Icelandic forest into the air and allows guests to walk through a cool, aromatic mist of water and essential oils.

Jonny Devaney

The library has received funding from the Technological Development Fund, the Design Fund, and a grant for women entrepreneurs in Iceland and was in development for two years before opening.

The Icelandic Herbal Fragrance Library is located at 27 Álafossvegur in Mosfellsbær and is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12.00-5.00pm. Admission is ISK 1,200 ($8.60/€7.60) per person.

The Colourful Oddyssey of Icelandic Wool Dyeing

Wool dyeing Iceland

Following the winding outskirts of Reykjavík, a gravel road jostles you toward a wooden hut. The strong scent of herbs emanates from the doorway. Before you can enter into the warm space, Tryggur, a charmingly fluffy Labrador-collie mix, sidles up to you in shy greeting. He leads you in and sits down patiently amongst a colourful collection of yarns, waiting for a pat while his owner talks over the sound of gently bubbling pots.

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Geo Climate Biodome Depends on Investors

The establishment of a proposed 4,500 m2 [48,438 ft2] cluster of geodesic greenhouses on the edge of Reykjavík’s Elliðaárdalur valley will depend on private investors, RÚV reports. According to the chair of the municipal Planning and Transport Committee, the city is prepared to allocate land for the project and believes it will have a positive impact on recreation in the area, but does not have funds to offer for its development.

BioDome Reykjavík (previously known as ALDIN Biodome) is a project of the Spor í sandinn consultancy firm and, per a profile in The Polar Connection aims to not only be “the world’s first geo climate biodome,” but also the first carbon neutral one. Capitalizing on the wealth of geothermal energy available in Iceland as well as the country’s “fertile volcanic soil,” BioDome Reykjavík will “…create a lush, verdant oasis beneath a glazed dome…A place that will grow its own food, supporting indoor Mediterranean as well as tropical environments, for the health, nourishment and enjoyment of all who visit.” In addition to its rich plant life, the plans also include a plaza, specialty restaurant, and marketplace focusing on Icelandic produce.

Initial plans for the biodome were approved by the city in December 2017, after criticism from people living in the area led to a reduction of the height of the domes and the removal of proposed buildings on the west side of the site. The proposed parking lot was also scaled down. Spor í sandinn founder and CEO Hjördís Sigurðardóttir says the plans for the project have gone through five or six drafts and changed a great deal in response to a site changes as well; initially, the project was proposed to be located in the more central Laugardalur neighbourhood, but this was rejected by the city.

Having received an initial round of investment during the planning and design phase, Hjördís is currently looking to secure the next phase of financial support. In her interview with RÚV on Wednesday, she wouldn’t give a specific figure of how much the project was projected to cost but conceded that biodomes were “expensive structures.”

See project visualization photos and read more about the proposal for BioDome Reykjavík (in English) on the Spor í sandinn website, here.

Policy Needed to Combat Invasive Plant Species

Foreign plant seeds and pests that are brought into Iceland can cause damage to the Icelandic ecosystem. Plant ecologist Kristín Svavarsdóttir told RÚV that the government needs to develop a strategy to combat invasive species and is particularly concerned about seeds that are inadvertently brought into the country in imported soil.

Kristín says that this problem of invasive species dispersing around areas where soil importation is highest—i.e. cities and towns where there’s a lot of agriculture—is well-known in other countries and it’s the job of the Ministry of the Environment to create a policy to combat this phenomenon in Iceland. “This is classified as one of the largest environmental issues in the world, but we’ve completely ignored it,” she remarked.

The debate always revolves around individual species, Kristín continued, but she believes that the focus should be much broader. “Of course, we need to look at individual species but we also need to set rules and working methods both regarding how we’re going to prevent this and [how to] be aware of what species we’re bringing in—that’s to say intentionally, although of course there will also be species coming in unintentionally, in soil for instance. We’re kind of just letting things happen. It’s carelessness, pure and simple.”