[above image: Chuao coast. Source: Google Images.]
Venezuela bears the finest cacao in the world. Some industry experts state that the Venezuelan coastal soil in Chuao is particularly conducive to cacao, but others state that the distinct quality of the beans should actually be attributed to the methods of fermentation and drying. In either case, it is of no dispute that the cacao of this region is of particular excellence.
On the continent, one of the finest criollos hails from Chuao, an isolated plantation region in the northern coast of Venezuela, which bears a history to the 16th century. The region is so geographically isolated that it may only be accessed by foot or on boat, when weather conditions permit such travel. Located near the Choroni, another region of fine cacao production that has, unfortunately, been ravaged by crop disease and excessive tourism, the effects of which have spilled over into Chuao and has, at times, threatened its reputation as one of the highest quality producers of cacao in the world.
[above image: Trinitarian pods. Source: cacaoweb.net]
The beans of Chuao tell the story of a region that is struggling to produce a premium quality product in the face of endemic crop disease. In order to maintain production, the original Criollo groves, which are in infamously demanding and delicate crop, were mostly replaced with a heartier, more disease-resistant species of trees, known as the Trinitario. As the name suggests, these trees originated in Trinidad, and are a hybrid pairing of the Criollo (Venezuelan origin) and Forastero (Amazon origin) trees that were cultivated in the region.
From as early as the 1670s, Spaniards were introducing hybrids as a means of boosting and controlling production. While the Trinitario trees are less delicate than the native Criollo, they are still known to produce a high quality cacao that may be used in fine dark chocolate products around the globe.
Unfortunately, even the heartier Trinitario groves have faced difficult growing conditions and have failed to thrive as they had in earlier times. Many plantation regions of Chuao have added Amelonado trees, which are deemed to produce an inferior product. In spite of this development, the current mixture of cacao beans is still considered to produce some of the highest quality cacao products in the world.
[above image: fine chocolates bearing the Chuao origin. Source: https://www.lassens.com/blog/chuao-just-say-chew-wow/%5D
A thriving black market maintains a demand for “pure” Criollo cacao, which is extremely rare are there is an extremely limited supply of healthy Criollo trees in Venezuela. In 2000, the Official Journal of Industrial Property of Venezuela granted an appellation of origin in recognition of Chuao. This action protects the cacao produced in the region from imitators as it places strong legal limitations on the use of its name. Such a deal has created additional financial boost for the region as it has been able to enter into exclusive marketing and licensing agreements with various international fine chocolate companies. Boosting the profile of the product has further legitimized the connection that the people of Chauo have to the plantations of the region as it is a symbol of their culture and history.
Coe, Sophie D., Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson: London, 2013.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press: New York, 2001.