Food of the Gods – The 3 Main Cacao Varieties

There are 3 main cacao varieties . The cacao tree is named “Theobroma cacao” by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753. The word “Theobroma” comes from ancient greek and means “food of the goods”!

Cacao is the Mayan word retained by the Spanish colonisers of mesoamerica to describe the tree and its produce.

Raw cacao beans are very nutritious, they contain nearly 50% fat (cacao butter), they are rich in proteins, minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, sodium and phosphorus). They contain vitamins A, B1, B2, and B6. Raw cacao has the highest plant based source of iron, also a natural mood elevator and anti depressant. Cacao is one of the richest antioxidant foods and works very well balancing the metabolism. Its an energy source and all of these indicators make the “food of the gods” a superfood. Its true that cacao has all of these healthy goodies but just in its purest RAW form.

Once heated up to between 100-150˚C roasted cacao beans loose most of their nutritional benefits during this thermal process.

Here are the 3 main types of cacao

  • FORASTERO- The versatile

The most commonly grown cacao is forastero. Its most likely native to the Amazon basin. Today forastero is mainly grown in Africa, Ecuador and Brazil, it accounts for 80% of the world cacao supply. What makes it so popular is that its much hardier and less susceptible to diseases. It has a much higher yield than the criollo variety. Forastero cacao has a purple coloured bean and is mainly used to give chocolate its full bodied flavour. Its bitter taste has a short duration and is unsupported by secondary flavours, which is why its often blended with superior cacaos. There are many forastero subspecies: Amelondo, cundeamor and calabacillo to name a few. Amelondo cacao is the most extensively planted cacao of all. While most forastero is bulk cacao there are exceptions as the Ecuadorian cacao Nacional , or ariba forastero which is used as fine cacao. Forastero got its name from the spanish who at first imported criollo cacao from Venezuela. They regarded criollo as the original variety of cacao, as opposed to the “foreign” forastero variety from the Amazons region.

  • TRINITARIO – The Hybrid

Trinitario is a natural hybrid biological class resulting from cross-pollination. Legend recounts, that it first came into existence on the island of Trinidad after a hurricane nearly completely destroyed the local criollo crops in 1727. Assuming all the tree were dead, the plantations were replanted with forastero, but spontaneous hybrids appeared. Trinitario combines the best of the 2 other main varieties – the hardness and high yield of forastero and the refined taste of criollo. The quality of cacao varies between average and superior, Its predominantly fine flavour cacao. Trinitario populations are usually variable in pod and bean characteristics because the parents have high contrasting characters. They can now be found in all countries where criollo cacao was once grown – Mexico, the Caribbean islands, Columbia, Venezuela and parts of southeast Asia.

  • CRIOLLO – The rare

The criollo tree is native to central and south America, as well as the Caribbean islands and Sri Lanka. Only 5% of the worlds production is criollo.

Criollo’s are particularly difficult to grow as they are extremely vulnerable to a variety of environmental threats. The beans have a white to pale pink colour and their taste is described as delicate yet complex, low in classic chocolate flavour, but rich in secondary notes of long duration.

Considered to be the “prince of cacao’s” criollo is prized as an ingredient in the very finest of chocolates.

There are few criollo subspecies: Ocumare 61 and Chuao are the most important. Porcelana is the rarest from the criollo variety.

Cacao is cultivated on roughly 17 million acres (27,000 sq.mi / 69,000 world wide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States (FAO), the top 10 cacao – producing countries in 2005 were as follows:

































Peru is on 15th position with only 28,500 metric tons, which is nearly 50 times less than the top position.

  • Pure  Nacional – The rarest

In 1916 diseases struck the pure Nacional in Ecuador and within 3 years 95% of the trees were destroyed. The prized cacao was thought to be lost until now..

In Peru 2007 an amazing rediscovery was made by Dan Pearson and Brian Horsley. In a remote horse shoe shaped canyon surrounded by 6000 ft canyon walls, they stumbled upon some small isolated farms. It was here they found cacao pods filled with a rare mix of 40% white beans and 60% purple beans in the same pods, or in some cases the pods were completely filled with white beans. Familiar with only the purple beans and a cacao pod they were curious about the rare white beans and sent leaf samples to the USDA for testing.

After several tests the results where confirmed that the rare Nacional plant where growing throughout the canyon. The high canyon walls in Maranon Canyon created a unique micro climate for the trees.

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