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Is it time for an updated classification of cacao varities? Today the most commonly accepted classification of cacao 'varities' is as follows:

1. Criollo
2. Forastero
2a. Nacional
3. Trinitario

Even when E.E. Cheesman wrote "Notes on Nomenclature... " in 1944 he felt the system above was inadequate. Today, and back then, the terms Criollo and Forastero were not used as defined and were also too broad to apply to the distinct differences in cacao. Today, many pure varities are almost wiped out and replaced with hybrids. I thought that in 2008, genetics must have surely identified markers to clear up the controversy surrounding nomenclature and in turn new nomenclature created to distinguish all the varities that exist. It has been very difficult to find an answer to this and I still have not found one. Along the way, I have come across numerous alternatives to the above. And in 2008, as Cheesman wrote in 1944, it seems that "changing nomenclature at this point would cause even more confusion and out of convenience the terms have been kept, if in some cases they are indicated with qualifiers indicating origin."

It seems clear to me that genetics does identify that Nacional was incorrectly identified as Forastero, but where it belongs is still not agreed upon by everyone. Some research identifies it as a subtype of Criollo while another as a separate variety of it's own.

Does anyone think cacao should be reclassified? If so, does anyone want to take a stab at suggesting an alternative classification model?

Tags: cacao, cheesman, classification, cuatrecasas, genetics

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Alan, thanks for the suggestions. I'm always interested in reading suggestions. I've definitely seen Bartley's book. There's a big portion of his book devoted to drainage systems that I skimmed through, but overall found quite a bit in the beginning of that book as well as the last quarter of it that interested me. His address's the topic of cacao classification in terms similar to Cheesman. As for your other suggestion from 'Tropical Science', I flipped through my notes and don't believe I have seen that one. I'll look for it next time I go to the library, unless you know an internet link to a full text version. I found it tonight on some sites I need to pay a fee for. While looking for that article I came across the following:
A fascinating paper! I have an American friend who works in Ecuador. I'll probably send this on to him because he's interested in helping the Ecuadorians improve their lives.
Samantha, I'm glad to see you found this discussion. I read the study (thanks for the free link!) this week and found it exciting that this work has been done and someone can actually propose a new classification.

Have you or anyone else found an interpretation or commentary on this study(do you have your own commentary)? As you noted, more studies still need to be done. But, now I'm wondering how easily could a new classification be applied. If genetics were needed to determine the differences how easily could the international cocoa trade identify these populations. As Clay mentioned with the grading systems, maybe small companies could start using the system for identified populations and the trend might trickle up. It looks like Curaray could easily be used for a big part of Ecuador. Even there though, some clusters of Nacional were found.

Also, Clay, you mention above that pods on the same tree can have different genetics. If this is very common then I would imagine that only producers working directly with farmers could make good use of this system. I just didn't see in Motamayor, etc. study how any of the clusters could now be identified with organoleptic techniques. That would seem necessary for this system to succeed.
I quickly looked over the article, but it raised a few questions about their methodology:

1) The map shows that only plants from South America and Central America were used. What about all of the other cacao plants in other parts of the world? Africa, Indonesia, Hawaii... In order for a new classification system to be implemented it would seem that you'd want to do it on a worldwide basis. What if more germplasms are found in Africa or elsewhere?

2) What happened to Trinitario? It just seems to have been dropped with no explanation. (Clay's article on this subject at Serious Eats does the same thing.) Look back at Brady's original list
1. Criollo
2. Forastero
2a. Nacional
3. Trinitario
If you compare the new list then you'd assume that there were only 2 real classes to start with: Criollo and Forastero. The new list keeps the sub-type of Nacional and the other 8 are supposed to be variants of Forastero. Where is Trinitario?
Dear Samantha:

What I miss in Motomayor's cluster is the natural and abundant presence of cacao "Nacional" in the Beni and Pando departments of Bolivia. That is not surprising, as it is hard to get there and Bolivia is not known as a origin of cacao.

The Baure cacao history goes back to the Jesuit time of the Gran Moxos. It is still not clear to me if this cacao was brought by the chatholic orden, or it was found and cultivated there for the first time.

I can confirm that chocolate experts where very surprised about the Baure cacao (apparently a forastero type) almost insisting it must be criollo as it was too good.

The genetic classification is one areas to be looked at, but also to classify the qualities of existing varieties, by defining quality first.
Any updates on this issue? Is this new 10 varieties classification scheme gaining acceptance or are the Big 3 still firmly in place? Any thoughts on where this is heading?
For the forseeable future, I think that this is only going to be of interest to researchers. From a consumer perspective I don't see the expansion of the classification system to be of much use - it will only make things more confusing. As Volker pointed out - where is Nacional on the list? Where is Trinitario? The industry has spent so much time and money educating people to this level of classification that I don't see them wanting to go any further.

Sam is right to a large extent - Trinitario is almost meaningless as a useful descriptor these days, and the old "all forastero is trash" attitude is, well, old. I've personally tasted how proper fermentation and drying can affect the taste of liquor made with the "lowly" CCN-51 in Ecuador.

As a chocolate professional I think it is important to work to preserve as much diversity as possible for many different reasons. However, most consumers don't care (and probably shouldn't have to) about the meaning of the differences between Iquitos and Marañon varieties of cacao - as they are expressed in the chocolate they eat.
Such fascinating information on classification, thanks everyone who added to this discussion.
Since I grow cacao I have noted how easy it is to have cross pollination and how quickly cacao adapts to different environments. In only 5 years you can have pods that look substantially different from the mother trees. I believe that each country/growing region could develop its own unique distinct strain. From a scientific standpoint the classification of cacao is a subject that is in its infancy. The big question in my mind in how does the classification effect chocolate quality. You could have a 100% criollo that is poorly fermented and processed compared to a forestero that is treated well in production and the forestero will be hands down superior in taste. Could future classification include bean quality in terms of taste? While traveling in the mountains of Guatemala years ago, I say cacao pods that I have never seen before. What if there is undiscovered types of cacao, just waiting to be classified.
As an FYI - here is a link to the page on where you can download the study Sam mentions.

From the project brief:

Brief Description

The project aims to evaluate the characteristics of fine/flavour and bulk cocoas through a series of scientific evaluations of physical, chemical and organoleptic parameters, and to provide methodologies, standards and instruments for universal use in differentiating fine/flavour from bulk cocoa.

Project Objectives

The main objective of the project is to provide universally acceptable criteria to differentiate between fine/flavour and bulk cocoas. More specifically, the project aims to evaluate the characteristics of fine/flavour and bulk cocoas through a series of scientific evaluations of physical, chemical and organoleptic parameters and provide methodologies, standards and instruments for universal use in differentiating fine/flavour from bulk cocoa.
Project Components

The project has six components towards achieving the stated objectives. The project components are:

* Fermentation and drying trials;
* Chemical assessment of quality parameters;
* Preparation and analysis of cocoa liquor;
* Organoleptic assessment of sensory characteristics;
* DNA profiling and spectral image analysis;
* Analysis and interpretation of results.


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