The Chocolate Life

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Dear Friends: There is just one species of cacao but different strains: Theobroma cacao, which is highly variable in its morphology depending of many surrounding factors and a quiet high unstable inner genetic, can be basically catalogued into two groups: The ones with purple seeds and the ones with white seeds. The purple seeded trees occasionally produce an offspring of a “albino” Cacao, which in some cases will bear only white seeded offspring creating a new strain by its own genetic changes. The terms “criollo” or “forastero” or “trinitario” means nothing, since “forastero” just means “foreign” and “criollo” means “local strain”. The central American cultures domesticated in ancient times strains with white or pink seeds because they knew that the lack of purple tannins in the seed produced a smoother chocolate drink, not as bitter as the purple seeded strains. So when a purple seeded strain appeared around they called it “foreign” and was usually rejected because of the bitterness of its seeds. So all purple seeded strains were considered forasteros independent of the exterior appearance of the Seedpod or Tree. But as well as today, different farmers cultivated and where passionate with different strains, however everybody knew that the whiter the seed, the better the chocolate drink, some domesticated pink seeded strains, other white seeded strains, etc. but all where “local strains” or criollos, pink seeded and white seeded. For example the natives of xoconusco, Mexico domesticated a strain with seeds with pink tones, in Izalco in El Salvador the natives domesticated a completely white seeded strain, and so forth... Some farmers, although in smaller scale domesticated purple seeded strains, these where local strains too, considered therefore “criollos”.
Short after the Spanish conquest two plagues attacked the central American region destroying most of the white seeded strains: Moniliasis and black pod disease. Since then, purple seeded hybrids, called trinitarios have ruled overt the market because of pest disease resistance and mayor production. This because the purple agents in the seeds repel most plagues and diseases and strengthens the plants productive properties but reducing strongly the flavor quality.
Because of this incident many of central American criollo strain plantations where greatly reduced and some strains even extinguished. Now with the new global fever for fine chocolate, many growers around the world are trying to rescue white seeded hairloom strains or create white seeded strain hybrids to get the best tasting chocolate of all. In my case I´m trying to rescue only pure white and soft pink seeded strains for my plantation. The final complex flavors of the resulting chocolate are afected by the micronutrients of the earth where it is planted, so each cacao from a different location will have its own bouquet as in coffee

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Comment by Clive Brown on February 17, 2012 at 5:53pm

Clay, Walter, where can I find out more on fermentation methods for different beans? Any recommended reading?

Comment by Clay Gordon on February 17, 2012 at 5:46pm

Clive, Walter:

The term "criollo" is Spanish, not Aztec or Mayan. It means roughly "native" or "from here" as in comida tipica y criolla. Forastero means, roughly, foreign. Criollo was the cacao that was growing in what is now Mexico and Central/Meso America, Forastero was the cacao growing far away ... in South America.

Rather than breeding Forastero from Criollo, the reverse is more likely true as evidence accumulates that the ancestral homeland for cacao is the Upper Amazon River basin in the Andean lowlands of what is now Ecuador/Peru/Bolivia. Thus the linguistic irony (and proof that the victors write history) that the "native" cacao was actually an introduced plant and the "foreign" plant was the ancestor to all the "native" varieties.

Ancient mesoamericans (Toltecs, Olmecs) would have been the first to domesticate cacao, looking for ways to grow cacao that was both less bitter and took less work in post-harvest processing. In general, the paler the seed, the lower the quantity of bitter chemicals and the less time and work is required during fermentation. Not all criollo is white or extremely pale and some varieties have a varying mix of dark and pale(r) seeds.

It is very important to match the post-harvest processing steps to the specific variety of bean. These steps are modified by many local factors including climate differences and things like the size of the fermentation boxes being used. On Grenada, the standard fermentation box size used by the government cocoa association is six tonnes and fermentation takes eight days!

Comment by Walter Rieger on February 17, 2012 at 4:03pm

Dear Clive:

All the cacao that was grown in ancient times in mesoamerica was designde as criollo by their inhabitants, they found out that the whiter the seeds the less bitter is the taste of cacao. White beaned are a special genetic degeneration where the seeds dont producce any pigments. There are purple seeded criollos as well but for our ancestors, like mayas or aztecs, the most valuable cacao was the white one. The most important thing abaout cacao is that you obtain a standard harvest and fermentation during time from a variety which taste you like. Some people dont like white seeded cacao because it lacks too much the bitter taste of Chocolate, so all depends on the consumers taste!

Comment by Clive Brown on February 2, 2012 at 1:44pm

THis is  really important info regarding the nomenclature of cacao breeds. I was under the impression that forestero was grown out of the original native criollo because it was hardier and produced more fruit, and also  that trinitario was another hybrid produced at the 'chocolate university' in Trinidad.

Are you saying that only the white beaned fruit can only be called criollo? This is of importance to me as I about to go to India to discover what kind of cacao is produced there and where to source the best flavour.

Would there be any value in different fermenting techniques to each 'breed'? i.e. ways to lessen the bitterer taste in forestero.

And finally, do you have any knowledge on cacao growing in India?

best regards

Clive

Comment by Walter Rieger on October 19, 2011 at 8:16pm

Similar "Trinitario" events ocurred in several other places in America where purple and white or pink seeded cacao where grown together, you just can not call them "Trinitario" because they didn´t originate in Trinidad. In this times a big diversity of hybrids are dispersed in the ancient growing regions of Pink and white cacao species. Most pure strains of pink and specially white cacao sucumbed to fungal and bacterial infections from the time of the conquest to our days, all because of their lack of the purple agents that make them more resistant to plagues. This is why pure white and pink seeded cacao strains are very difficult to find in our days in this regions.

Albino Cacaos as well as other albino animals and plants are not supposed to survive in nature because of their low ability to tolerate environmental conditions. Cacao is not an exception, and so eventually one white defectuos seed appear on certain purple seeded Pod, and in specially rare conditions, this seeds give offspring to a 100% white seded cacao strain such as "Porcelana".

The Native American cultures always had and still have a deep religous respect for albino animals and albino natural ocurring events, and cacao again is not the exception. So the spread of white seeded cacao by mankind and the journeys of ancient tribes to find the this particular strain seem logical. They where looking for a "White sacred cacao". So the spread of a natural degeneration was possible because of the care given to this plant by humans. This explains why the ancient "criollos" of South America and the ones from the Mexican forests are identical in their DNA.

The Seeds where white, and the chocolate obtained from this species was of a particular and exceptional quality.

I am reproducing a 100% pure white seeded cacao strain, from a old Tree that I found in an Isolated forest here in El Salvador after a huge jurney to find a white seeded cacao strain (I feel I have found a trasure). I couldn´t find white seeded strains at any nursery or plantation in the whole Country, all the "Criollo" growers grow purple seeded strains, not even pink ones.  I´m sure this is a remanent from that strains grown by our ancestors at the time of the conquest in the valley of Izalco and Acajutla, even if this tree is in a different location (I called this strain "Marfil" because of its color). At this same location I found a Pink seeded strain, and a strain that gives about have of the seeds white and half soft pink. This place is mentioned in ancient Historical documents as being a "very fine cacao growing region" and sure that it is! (sorry that I can not mention the speciffic location!!!)

Comment by Chocolate University Online on October 17, 2011 at 6:15am
The Trinitario variety which originated in Trinidad, where it derived its name from, is a crossbreed of Criollo and Forastero which is why its being a separate type is arguable. What I didn't know though was how it rules over the market. Thank you for that info!
Comment by Thomas Forbes on October 16, 2011 at 12:44pm
Last summer a number of cacao farmers mentioned a cacao blanco.  I have not seen it yet but will explore it more on my next trip.

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