Some long-time members of TheChocolateLife may realize that Samantha Madell recently left the community and chose to delete all of her contributions when she left.
Among those contributions was the link to a research paper by Juan Carlos Motamayor, et al, (Geographic and Genetic Population Differentiation of the Amazon Chocolate Tree) referring to a new classification scheme of 10 distinct varieties. Published in 2008, this list has already been updated to include at least three more genetically distinct varieties of cacao, up from the more conventionally understood 3+1 (criollo, forastero, trinitario, and nacional).
I think we may see another classification scheme in an upcoming paper by a Penn State research group. My understanding is that it will be published by the end of the year. Clay, do you know what to expect from this?
Brady: I read of the research, which focuses on Central American "criollos." If you take a look at Motamayor's map, the geographic distribution of what that research labels criollo is vast.
We may see some distinction within the criollo group but I don't know that the new Penn State research is broad enough to add new varieties or if it can only add varieties within the criollo group.
I guess we'll have to wait to find out. Whatever is technically correct, the larger issue is how to communicate this to consumers. It's clear that the trinity+1 view is wrong but the industry (me included) has done such a good job in the last 20 years promoting criollo, forastero, trinitario (+ nacional) that it's hard to see what use and/or outcomes might be. I personally have abandoned the trinity+1 naming in all my new work and writing, just as I advocate for the use of "origin" over "single-origin."
From the Penn State article:
"The Theobroma cacao genome sequences are deposited in the EMB:/Genbank/DDBJ databases under accession numbers CACC01000001-CACC01025912. A genome browser and further information on the project are available from http://cocoagendb.cirad.fr/gbrowse and http://cocoagendb.cirad.fr."
And there is this other release on "pure nacional" being found in Peru. Apparently, they are genetically more or less identical to the Nacional found in Ecuador and have the same aroma, but have a higher proportion of white beans than the Nacional found in Ecuador.
The Peruvian Nacional is also different in that it grows between 3500-4100 ft, the highest recorded for any cacao.
If you take a look at Motamayor's map you'll see that the range for Criollo is quite large - which makes sense for cultivated varieties. However, there is some distance (not only as the crow flies but also in elevation) between the Cacao Nacional in Ecuador and the Cacao Nacional in Peru - which leads to the questions of how the distribution occurred, which is the "original home" (if either was, there may be a different common ancestor), and rethinking the range of habitats suitable for growing cacao.
The old one (3+1) is clearly broken and Motomayor et al is not complete, and the recent announcement of pure Nacional found in Peru is confusing.
Any new classification scheme is probably going to be based on new genetic research but anything new is going to have to go up against all of the marketing that has been done around 3+1 even though it's woefully inadequate.
Any ideas on what you'd like to see that might be useful without being too complicated?
Personally, I think any new system should start with a geographic overlay - named denominations that are protected as in the AOC in France and the DOP in the EU.