Whether you prefer to call it cacao or cocoa, Theobroma cacao is a tropical tree native to the Americas. There are about 22 different species in the Theobroma family, which came from a common ancestor and shared many characteristics. Cacao’s siblings Theobroma bicolor and Theobroma grandiflorum are also sometimes used to make a chocolate-like product, as they have similar qualities.
Around ten million years ago, cacao diverged from its common ancestor. Since then, evolution and human interference have led to new types and variations we see today. The Theobroma cacao or ‘food of the gods’, is produced for commercial use. Ideally, it grows in tropical regions, with limits located 20° to the north and south of the equator.
There are three main types of cacao fruit:
FORASTERO: The most widely grown variety making up around 80% of the world’s cacao production. It originated in the Bahia region of Brazil, Upper Amazon region but is now also grown in Africa and Southeast Asia.
It’s preferred because of its robustness, resistance to disease, and high yields. Very tannic and astringent and can be overwhelming with its forceful aromatic power, but lacks finesse and diversity; It can be quite bitter and acidic but gives people full-bodied chocolate.
There are a few sub-varieties, such as Amelonado, Cundeamor, and Calabacillo.
Each will offer slightly different cocoa tastes. Amelonado is the most widely cultivated.
CRIOLLO: Is the highest quality out of all the varieties of cocoa but also the most expensive. It is rarer and grown far less commonly around the world because it produces lower yields than the other types and is prone to fungi diseases and pests.
Grows in minimal numbers in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, as it did 3000 years ago, accounting for five to eight percent of cocoa grown.
Criollo can also be found, but in rather purer and more restricted form in Venezuela, Colombia and some Caribbean islands, including Trinidad, Jamaica, and Grenada. Criollo also grows on the islands of the Indian Ocean, such as Java, Madagascar, and Comoros. It is a fragile species to the environment and of low production.
The most notable characteristics are that it has a slightly bitter taste but not unpleasant. It offers aromatic power combining strength and delicacy after processing. This type of cacao has elongated fruits that end in a thin tip. It is softshell and round seeds.
The cob is recognized for having ten grooves in well-marked pairs. More than 70% of cocoa production in Peru, belong to Criollo or fine cocoa.
TRINITARIO: is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero cocoa and takes some of the best traits from both. The two varieties were first crossed in the eighteenth century when the island’s Criollo plantations were almost wiped out by an environmental disaster.
It has the aromas and exquisite flavors from Criollo and the hardiness, high yields and resistance to disease from Forastero. Trinitario cocoa is nowadays cultivated throughout the world but still only makes up about 5% of the total world production.
Trinitario trees are now grown wherever Criollo is found, in Trinidad, islands of the Lesser Antilles, Java, Papua-New-Guinea and Sri Lanka, in the Indian Ocean. Cameroon also produces large quantities of Trinitario.
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