All cocoa beans are divided into two main varieties: consumer and rare noble.
Today, it is generally accepted to distinguish four varieties of cocoa beans:
Criollo and Forastero are the ancestors of modern cocoa varieties. All other varieties are hybrids of these cocoa beans. Today, there are no “breed” varieties of cocoa, but, as in winemaking, the names of the varieties correspond to the region or country of production.
The noble variety of Criollo cacao was cultivated even before the advent of Columbus. Historically, he grew up on the territory of modern Venezuela. This variety is called Criollo – “noble” – because of its extraordinary taste. The seeds are characterized by low acidity, slight bitterness and a rich aroma, in which fruity notes can be traced.
All Criollo trees are very sensitive to weather conditions and prone to diseases. Therefore, the share of this noble cocoa is only less than 5% of the world harvest. Noble varieties of cocoa are grown in very small quantities in Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Guatemala.
More than 90% of the world’s chocolate production is obtained from Forastero beans.
Forastero is the opposite of Criollo, cocoa from the Amazon rain forests, that’s why it was called forastero – “foreigner”. Now it is mainly grown in West Africa, thanks to the tree’s resistance to arid climates and diseases.
Beans of this variety have a tart taste with bitterness or sourness. A distinctive feature of Forastero from other varieties of cocoa beans is its rich chocolate flavor.
Despite their unpretentiousness, there are varieties of Forastero of such high quality that they are classified as noble cocoa: this is “Nacional” from Ecuador and its subspecies “Arriba” and “Esmeralda”.
Three types of Forastero are most often used to make chocolate: soft and harmonious in taste fruit cocoa from Ghana, delicate cocoa from Nigeria and bitter cocoa from Ivory Coast.
The name of this variety corresponds to its homeland – the island of Trinidad. In 1727, a natural disaster destroyed most of the chocolate trees. By crossing the remnants of Criollo with imported Forastero, it was possible to obtain a new variety – Trinitario. Now it accounts for 15% of the world’s cocoa harvest.
This variety combines the unpretentiousness of consumer cocoa with the aroma of noble. Due to its pleasant rich taste, it is most often referred to as noble cocoa.
The least known cocoa and the fourth grade is National. This variety of beans was relatively recently rediscovered in Peru in 2011. In its pure form, it is considered the rarest cocoa in the world (0.1 – 1% of the world harvest). Candies prepared from this variety have a rich creamy taste with a slight bitterness.
To date, Trinidad has the most complete database of genetic data (International Cocoa Gene Pool) of chocolate trees. Further classification, research and breeding are underway to improve the viability of chocolate trees and the taste of cocoa beans, which means: new taste discoveries await you and me!