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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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How about starting on Hawaii? It's a small group and there is the resource of Skip Bittenbender's group and access into the Ag department in the Hawaiian state government. 

Kona is a good example in coffee ....

:: Clay

Absolutely! Something I want to work on the minute I get my head out of the weeds :-)


When you're ready, let's set up a discussion forum in the Hawaii Cacao group and invite the members there to contribute.

Have fun in the weeds!

:: Clay

What I want to see is the most accurate labeling today's technology can provide.  That includes genetics but it shouldn't stop there. And I do think more accurate geography could be easier to implement and more meaningful.  Take for example, Hacienda San Jose, where alot of bean types are grown.  Their Chuao does not taste the same as the ones found in Chuao Village. I think that reinforces what you and Seneca are saying?    I think a more specific label could also give the consumer insight to the quality of post harvesting practices, if we start to see more plantation names, certain reputations might be formed.  Even broad origins give some insight to post harvesting practices.  Overall, I wonder how it is possible to appreciate the chocolate we have without really knowing what it is?


One of the things that people don't always consider to be part of "terroir" is post-harvest processing and manufacturing techniques. Champagne is not just a defined region, it's a method of production AND the use of particular grape varietals.

A controlled denomination of origin system would include all of these aspects (e.g., Marañon pure Nacional as the type, a specific geographic descriptor, and then a description of the general protocols for fermentation [e.g/. 2/2/2] and drying.

I think it's pretty easy to appreciate chocolate without really knowing where the cocoa beans come from. However, more knowledge leads to a different depth of appreciation. Recently, I came across a definition of connoisseur as someone who can say, "I can appreciate that - even though I don't like it."

Getting to specific genetics will be interesting and depend upon confounding political factors over which there is no control.

whatever the reasons are, i am very saddened by this development. I have always found her posts and contributions well documented, insightful, enlightening and I have often found myself coming back to them for reference. In my still short journey from bean to bar she has been a reliable source of information and advice. Clay, this is a field where information has long been in the hands of few big players, and the repository of knowledge you have made possible with Chocolatelife is extremely valuable for as long as it counts with contributions of well informed people like Samantha.



Samantha was one of the strongest contributors, technically, to TheChocolateLife, and her contributions will definitely be missed. It was a shock to me that she left in such a peremptory fashion. If you are interested, it's possible to retrieve much (but not all) of what Samantha contributed through the magic of Google's cache.


Search on Google for "samantha madell thechocolatelife" then click on the 'cached' pages link. In most browsers you can save the page as an HTML file. However, you only get this one page, the page navigation links at the bottom don't point to cached pages, but to the pages on TheChocolateLife that no longer exist.

I too am very saddened to lose Samantha Madell as part of this community. Her posts were to me, among the most valuable posts on TCL. I now regret that I had not spent more time reading everything she had written, but I am glad there is a way to retrieve some information via Google's cache.Thank you Clay.

Brendan, Gwen and Clay- Glad you joined the discussion.

I think Brendan's right, it would be an astonshing taxanomic effort. You can get a good sense of that just by looking at the paper wrtten by Cuatrecasas (Clay, thanks for attaching the link.) I've seen it cited before, but never read any of it until this week. I agree with Gwen though. Keeping the system unchanged just to avoid confusion doesn't seen right to me.

Renaming the Family is a start, but the Family, Genus and Species aren't as important to the consumer. When you talk about the subspecies or varieties, I think that would be most useful to a consumer and the grower as well. From the trade point of view, there are only two varieties: criollo and forastero. If you have flavor bean (Nacional for example) listed as a Forastero, is the farmer getting a premium for their beans? (This, I'm sure opens another whole topic about farmers benefiting from a premium). Another reason to update the system is usage of pod shapes(Amelonado) as a way to differentiate varieties, as this has been shown to be fairly useless. Although, when some 80+% of all beans being classified as Forastero, and they are growing all over the world, they couldn't possibly be the same or of equal quality. For example, genetics has identified markers that significantly differentiate between upper and lower Amazon forasteros. If it's too unrealistic to expect a new classification to differentiate groups, then I think the consumer deserves to have the grade at which the beans were rated for quality. Just because the beans are Madagascar doesn't mean the manufacturer used premium grade beans.

Concerning the Ecuadorian bean specifically. Arriba is often thought of as synonymous with Nacional. It is my understanding that Arriba is only a subtype of Nacional. I also haven't found it written anywhere that Nacional beans are found outside Ecuadorian borders but I'm not sure why we think that way. Every other type has traveled the globe, why couldn't a Nacional bean have been taken (smuggled even) at least across the Colombian border. I still have questions about Santanders beans and seen another forum that refers to them as the same as the Ecuadorian Nacional.

You raise a lot of interesting questions - which is what I have come to expect (and respect) from you.

You are right, as far as the consumer is concerned, there are three major types of beans, criollo, forastero, and trinitario. Forasteros and trinitarios are grown around the world, criollos have a much more limited range. Because of the way cacao is pollinated, there is a huge amount of natural hybridization going on and it is usually the case that you can spot pods with different genetics on the same tree, not just in the same area of an orchard. Morphological analysis (shape) reveals little, and genetic testing makes no sense as it takes too long and is too expensive.

From what I have learned, Arriba is the name given to the unique flavor of the true Nacional bean. The Nacional has been described as a forastero with many criollo characteristics, but no-one knows how the bean evolved. I have been told that attempts have been made to plant Nacional varieties outside of Ecuador, but none of those experiments resulted in plants that produced cacao that remotely resembled the flavor of Nacional planted in Ecuadorian soil upriver from Guayaquil. Colombia is a net importer of cacao and my understanding is that much of the cacao that is used for Santander bars is actually Ecuadorian and not native Colombian. The Colombian beans are of lesser quality and are used for the domestic market. Santander is owned by the largest chocolate company in Colombia - if not South America. They are best known for the Jet brand of candy bars.

The idea of using classification is an interesting one that would make a lot of sense if grading systems around the world were standardized. The grading systems are used to determine the price of cacao and are mostly used in the commodity market. However, the grades that are used in the Dominican Republic are different from Venezuela. Here is a quote from the ICCO site on grading:

"Cocoa grading differs across producing and consuming countries. However, over the years, the physical market has developed standard practices set out by the main international cocoa trade associations: the Federation of Cocoa Commerce Ltd (FCC) and the Cocoa Merchants' Association of America, Inc. (CMAA). For example, the FCC distinguishes two grades: good fermented cocoa beans and fair fermented cocoa beans. Samples of good fermented cocoa beans must have less than 5% mould, less than 5% slate and less than 1.5% foreign matter. A sample of fair fermented cocoa beans must have less than 10% mould, less than 10% slate and less 1.5% foreign matter. These tests are carried out through the so-called cut-test. Such a test involves counting off a given number or weight of cocoa beans, cutting them lengthwise through the middle, and then examining them. Separate counts are made of the number of beans which are mouldy, slaty, insect damaged, germinated or flat."

But you're right, knowing that a bar was made from Madagascan Trinitario hybrids with the highest grade would provide some useful information. I think this would make the most sense would be for the smaller artisan producers and hope that the trend trickled up.
Hi All,

Just adding to what Clay has said, there is a paper in a journal called Tropical Science from 2004, issue 44, pp. 23-27 that is called "The first Ecuadorean 'Nacional' Cocoa Collection Based on Organoleptic Characteristics."

The paper is worth a look for those interested in the issue of Nacional. This is me paraphrasing the introduction:

Nacional, which has an "Arriba" floral flavor, was so damaged by Crinipellis Pernicosa and Moniliophtora roreri that hybrids were brought in with high yields and low susceptibility to these diseases. These varieties hybridized with the remaining Nacional, eroding the Arriba flavor which is now virtually non-existent.


Also, if you haven't read "The Genetic Diversity of Cacao and its Utilization" by Bartley, then you might want to request it from your local library. It is a great book that is extremely relevant regarding reclassification of cacao.


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