Tag Archives: Criollo

Modern Kings: Consumers in the Chocolate Aisle

(https://www.flickr.com/photos /lyza/49545547 )

Grocery stores, supermarkets, food marts, or whatever you call them, the places where millions of Americans get their food each week, are crucial to a vibrant nation.  While their presence influences the economy among many other sectors, this post will examine their relationship with consumer choices.  Modern grocery stores sell much more than food—beverages, hygiene and cleaning supplies, magazines, pharmaceutical goods, alcohol, clothing, gasoline, pet supplies, household items—the list goes on and on.   In 2017, the average number of items carried in a supermarket was over 30,000 (“Supermarket Facts”).  Although there are many products, shelf-space at grocery stores is nevertheless finite, leading to extreme competition among manufacturers to get their products in front of Americans.  After decades of this competition a short list of conglomerates dominate both the grocery store brands and the manufactures that supply them.  These few entities have tremendous influence and are involved in many industries.  An excellent example of this market penetration is the chocolate industry.

Mars, Mondelez, Ferrero, Nestle, and Hershey “dominate the mature markets of Europe and North America” and capture nearly two-thirds of global chocolate market share (Leissle 73-74).  This percentage is staggering, and a quick trip to CVS confirms the dominance.  The image above shows the traditional chocolate selection at the local CVS store in Cambridge, MA and each of The Big Five has a large presence.  Mars brands include Dove, M&M’s, Twix, Milky Way, and Snickers.  The Mondelez brands are Toblerone, Cadbury, and Oreo.  Ferrero surprisingly only has one brand in the pictures which is Butterfinger.  Nestle owns the brands Rolo, Reese’s, KitKat, Crunch, and Raisinets despite some of these brands produced by Hershey here in the United States.  Lastly, Hershey brands are many—Hershey Kisses, Heath, Reese’s, York, Almond Joy, Brookside—just to name a few.  Each of these brands comes in countless varieties and there are over easily several hundreds of bags of chocolate in each store.  So, chocolate is big business, but there is much more to the industry.   Careful analysis of this curated selection of chocolates reveals much more than what meets the eye in an ordinary trip to the grocery store. 

The adventure exploring this multi-faceted industry begins in a surprising place, the non-traditional chocolate selection in the same CVS store.  Aptly titled “Premium Chocolates,” this stand is much smaller and contains more expensive and more exclusive brands.  This premium selection includes only a handful of brands which provide a stark contrast to the brands above.  Ghirardelli, Russell Stover, Whitman’s, and Lindt’s Excellence, are the most prominent and all owned by Lindt & Sprüngli.  Also making an appearance are Ritter Sport, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Turtles.  There are only two Big Five brands—Raffaello and Ferrero Rocher—both which are owned by the company of the same name, Ferrero.  This display encourages the consumer to associate these chocolates with special occasions, luxury, health, romance, extravagance, and celebration, all events worth the companies hope consumers will splurge for.  Intense Dark, Irresistibly Smooth, Salted Caramel Cascade, Hazelnut Heaven, Sea Salt Soiree, Blood Orange Sunset, Raspberry Radiance, Cherry Tango, 90% cacao content, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Non-GMO verified, gluten free, and numerous other slogans and labels all indicate this chocolate is for the advanced palate and educated consumer.  However, more than a label is often needed to convince customers for the surcharge.  Three common avenues of getting higher prices are trade certifications, better cacao quality, and retail product differences.

First, trade certifications are stamps of approval from agencies that generally commit to serving a mission like paying higher cacao prices to farmers, working to end child and forced labor, helping develop community infrastructure in Africa and other cacao-growing regions, and many more.  So many organizations with so many different names and goals pose a difficulty to consumers trying to select which certification is best supporting the industry.  To give an example, one of the most popular is Fairtrade, which is overseen by Fairtrade International.  As Kristy Leissle explains, “Fairtrade International is an intermediary between labeling organizations and producer organizations.  Labeling organizations certify that chocolate companies comply with Fairtrade price terms, and that producer organizations comply with Fairtrade producer terms” (Leissle 141).  These terms touch on working conditions, the environment, sustainability, child labor, discrimination, and more.  The producers who meet these the necessary conditions and pay a certification fee receive a Fairtrade Minimum Prize on all cocoa sold in return.  While it sounds good in theory, issues arise in practice like the price floor not rising quickly enough with inflation and other ingredients in bars not being certified yet taking advantage of the Fairtrade premium.  As one author explains “I do not challenge the sincerity and ambition of [the Fairtrade] approach, nor the purity of its motives,” but she continues and emphasizes that Fairtrade is “the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market.  This noble endeavor for the salvation of the free market was tamed and domesticated by the very forces it wanted to fight” (Sylla 18).  Nevertheless, however misguided a consumer’s perceptions may be and despite procedural problems like those raised by Sylla, trade certifications like Fairtrade are working towards higher profits for vulnerable members of the cacao supply chain and are a means for brands to demonstrate why to pay more for chocolate bars. 

Another way these luxury companies convince consumers to pay more for chocolate is the quality or type of cacao, and in this case the classification of the plant species it comes from.  In order to understand this specification, some historical context and geography is provided.  First, criollo, forastero, and trinitario are the three main types.  Criollo is most associated with the original Mesoamerican cacao plants, distinguished by “long, pointed, warty soft, and deeply ridged pods which contain seeds with white cotyledons.”  Forastero is most associated with plants that originated in South American and Africa which have “hard, round, melonlike pods, and the seeds have purplish cotyledons” (Coe & Coe 26).  From this description it follows that criollo cacao is harder to produce, and it is with fewer pods and higher disease susceptibility.  However, with this additional work and higher risk comes a greater reward in the form of better flavor and improved aroma.  This is compared to forastero which is hardier but looks, tastes, and smells different.  In fact, forastero is often translated as “strange” or “foreign” (Leissle 164).  The remaining category, trinitario, is a hybrid of these two varieties that balances the “desirable vigor of the forastero plant with the superior quality of the criollo bean” (Coe & Coe 26).  This simple classification system has faced challenges in recent years as scientific studies claim the existence of many more varieties.  Nonetheless, with this still as the predominant classification, criollo is found only Mesoamerican regions, forasteros mainly in South America and Africa, and trinitarios in North America, South America, Africa, India, and the Philippines/Indonesia region.  For the 2016-2017 season, the African countries of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria were forecast to comprise about 71% of world cacao production (Leissle 42).  In addition, it is commonly estimated that forastero provides more than 80% of the world’s cacao crop (Coe & Coe 26).  With its clear production advantage and preference by large cacao conglomerates, forastero thus comprises most of what is known as bulk cocoa.  With this historical context and geographical positioning, it is easy to see how both producers and consumers would pay a premium for criollo chocolate varieties. 

The third means to add value addressed in this post is in the handling of the cacao, the machinery used in processing, or the recipe used to make the retail product.  Once again, it is important to essential to have background knowledge on the industry, from a comprehensive cacao vocabulary to an intricate understanding of the many important steps that lie between the cacao tree to final chocolate bar.  First, there are several important terms to clarify for this post.  These definitions are largely sourced from the 2019 spring semester of the Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food course at Harvard College.  Cacao pods refer to the large and colorful fruits that grow on the trunks of the cacao trees.  The three major types are described in the above paragraph.  The cacao beans are the seeds inside of this pod, covered by the cotyledon which is a white, often sweet, pulp that connects the beans.  The cacao shell or husk is the outer layer of the bean, while the nib is the internal, dried, and fully fermented portion we associate with chocolate.  Chocolate liquor is the what forms from the ground cacao nib.  This liquor has two parts, cocoa butter which is a waxy ivory-colored fat and the cocoa powder which is what remains.  Finally, Dutch-process cocoa refers to the powder if it undergoes alkali treatment to neutralize the harsh acids found in the original cacao.   Also, to briefly review the process, the first step is to have ripe cacao pods on cacao trees.  This is difficult because cacao trees only grow in a range near the equator and it takes roughly five years for a tree to bear fruit.  These ripe pods must be removed carefully to avoid damaging the trunk.  Next, the cacao beans and pulp are removed so that the fermentation process can begin.  This process takes usually takes about a week and often involves several stages.  Fermentation can also occur in a variety of containers, from a makeshift pile of leaves to coolers to wooden boxes.  After this stage is complete, the beans move on to drying which also lasts about 7 days.  The beans are then sorted and bagged before they are transported to the manufacturing facility.  The first step here is to roast the beans and then a process called winnowing where the bean is deshelled, and the cacao nib is separated from the husk.  This nib is ground to form the chocolate liquor and then a hydraulic press extracts the cocoa butter.  One of the final steps before molding and wrapping the bar is conching which aims to evenly distribute the cocoa butter and improve the texture of the chocolate. 

Specialty producers understand the cacao plant and the process and seek high-quality materials or develop mission-driven processes in making unique bars.  The uniqueness and craft can enter at many, nearly all the stages along this supply chain.  Some companies embrace the bean-to-bar model and begin by choosing select cacao pods or varieties, and proceed to oversee fermentation, drying, roasting, and more, customizing every stage until the finished product.  These slight differences can have large impacts on the final taste and other attributes of the bar.  The video above highlights Phil Landers of Land Chocolate, a bean-to-bar company based in London.  Other companies set standards for the bean variety, type and length of fermentation and drying, etc. and then focus on the recipe or the work in the kitchen.  Craft chocolate makers produce far fewer batches or quantities of chocolate and thus tend to focus on fine details more effectively than the commodity cocoa supply chain and companies.  In short, specialty chocolate confectioners try to extract the natural flavors of the bean and experiment with unique processes and flavor combinations, while large companies order beans in bulk and strip all the cocoa down to a uniform powder that can be combined with traditional ingredients (sugar, milk, and butter) to make a consistent, inexpensive, candy staple.  They are nearly two distinct industries, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, connected by the thread of making chocolate.

An examination of Fairtrade, the three types of cacao, and the chocolate-making process provides a better understanding of the differences between the premium chocolate section and the traditional chocolate section in CVS.  The premium section takes advantage of each of these paths while the conventional selection almost exclusively offers Big Five chocolate brands.  While there is insufficient room to analyze the chocolate selections of other specialized, higher-end grocery stores or even chocolate-exclusive shops in this blog post, the differences and the attributes discussed here are likely to be amplified.  With this new enhanced understanding, consumers can now enter the candy aisle with more confidence of what some products are and what they are associated with.  Sidney Mintz suggests a challenge to the conventional “we are what we eat” mantra; “In understanding the relationship between commodity and person, we unearth anew the history of ourselves” (Mintz 211-214).  Knowledge and money are power, and consumers can make choices that will transform industries as we know them, should they choose to.  Maybe one day the conventional chocolate selection will look more like the premium offering in CVS today and the cacao industry will no longer suffer from the many issues it currently battles.  This transformation can start one consumer at a time.  So, the next time you enter the grocery store realize the influence you have.  If you won’t take my word for it, listen to Bill Gates—”When I walk into a grocery store and look at all the products you can choose, I say ‘My God!’ No king ever had anything like I have in my grocery store today” (Kurtz & Boone 72).

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Kurtz, David L., and Louis E. Boone. Contemporary Business. South-Western Cengage Learning, 2009.

Landers, Phil.  “Bean to Bar – Meet London’s Single Origin Chocolate Pioneer.” YouTube, Design Milk, 22 Jan. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3QjYCZ2-xs.

Leissle, Kristy.  Cocoa.  1st ed., Polity Press, 2018.

Lyza.  The New Fred Meyer on Interstate on Lombard, https://www.flickr.com/photos /lyza/49545547

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.

“Supermarket Facts.” The Voice of Food Retail, Food Marketing Institute, www.fmi.org/our-research/supermarket-facts.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. 1st ed., Ohio University Press, 2014.

Cacao and its Varieties

Cacao products come in many varieties, some of which begin with the beans themselves. While not always immediately distinct, the seeds and the trees from which they are obtained both display considerable diversity. This diversity is of considerable importance both in study of the tree and to the industry surrounding its products. Generally, a few major variants of cacao are commercially recognized. This text aims to provide an overview of the major varieties of Theobroma cacao, of their significance to the groups involved in their utilization, and on how these groups are themselves important in defining these varieties. The different varieties of cacao are often presented as definite categories, even as specific cultivars to consumers. However, the definitions of these varieties tend to be rather inexact, and often do not correspond closely if at all to botanical knowledge. Indeed, much of the categorization of cacao instead has historical, geographical and recently, economical origins. Nevertheless, differences between trees and trends in these do exist even if their naming may be inaccurate. Further, genetic diversity; whether displayed by varieties or otherwise, of cacao trees is of particular importance to cacao producers, since the diversity in a given cacao population may greatly affect the productivity and health of that population.

The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao is an undergrowth tree which requires rather specific conditions for successful cultivation. The tree requires locations that provide it with moisture and an environment with what might be describes as rich, or messy environment, the better to accommodate the midges which pollinate the tree. Of particular note is that the cacao tree is susceptible to many afflictions, such as blights, fungi, pod rots and other pests and diseases. Thus, the cacao tree is a remarkably fickle plant, the cultivation of which presents many difficulties. As shall be further investigated below, different varieties of the plant may exhibit different degrees of resistance however; while genetic variety, more specifically, is of special importance. (Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 19 – 21)

Cacao cultivars and terroir in marketing. Image credit: Own work.

According to recent analysis, the genus Theobroma may be subdivided into 22 distinct species, most of which grow mainly in the Amazon basin. Theobroma cacao also seems to have originated in this area, but has, at least in part due to human activity migrated north into Mesoamerica. (S & M Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 24 – 25). Theobroma cacao is commonly divided into three or four main varieties, each with various subdivisions. Many of these varieties are contentious however, subject both to varying definitions and levels of recognition. Many varieties are defined by historic usage and location rather than strictly botanically, and perhaps their most important utility is as a marketing tool. (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.163)

The ancient spatial separation between South American and Mesoamerican cacao trees itself defines the main, perhaps most definite cacao varieties: the criollo variety (Theobroma cacao ssp. cacao), defined by long, heavily ridged pods is native to Mesoamerica. Criollo, or “local” variety commonly counts as the most prized and was commonly grown by the Aztecs and Mayans. While this variety is often considered to be of superior quality, it is also particularly vulnerable to disease and pests. Remarkably, this cultivar is also perhaps the only one supported by actual genetic evidence (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.165)

Forastero cacao (Theobroma cacao ssp. sphaerocarpum), defined by its round pods is native to South America. The forastero, or “foreign” variety is, though less prized, the most widely produced cacao; making for most of world production. Though its taste may be considered inferior, this variety is considered sturdier and more resistant than Criollo. Though the distinction between these varieties is one of the most common and arguably most definite, it already demonstrates how cacao is commonly labelled for political, economic or geographical, rather than botanical purposes. As hinted at by their very names, the distinction between the two originated after the conquest of Mesoamerica, when the Criollo, or local populations, which had declined along with the native inhabitants were supplemented with forastero, that is, foreign stock brought in from south America. (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.163)

Three varieties of cacao. From the left: Forastero, Trinitario, Criollo. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Insofar as they may be considered useful botanical categories, the closeness of these particular varieties is demonstrated by their having retained the ability to produce fertile hybrids: they are also commonly considered ancestral to most other varieties. A third major variety is Trinitario, which is already somewhat poorly defined as any hybrid between criollo and forastero. (S & M Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 26). These major varieties of cacao together make for most worldwide cacao production, with the forastero being most prominent, providing around 80 % of all cacao. In addition to these three, various other varieties of cacao may be identified, notably the nacional variety. Each of these major varieties also contains various more or less obscure sub-varieties, such as (West African) Amelonado, which are often defined mainly, even exclusively by growing locality.

Global distribution of the main cacao varieties. Blue: Criollos, Green: Forasteros, Red: Trinitarios. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Despite their limited utility for biological purposes, the actual variety in cacao is of considerable importance to the cacao industry. To the consumer, these varieties provide some insight into the origins and terroir of cacao.  Meanwhile, to the grower, these varieties are of material significance, since diversity, or lack thereof, may greatly affect the profitability of a cacao plantation. This fact is especially obvious in places where the cacao tree is not native but introduced. The cacao tree, as aforementioned, is rather susceptible to various diseases, and the lack of genetic variety commonly found in introduced populations may exacerbate such issues. This may be observed, for example, in Amelonado cacao in Ghana, introduced there from Brazil. These trees necessarily have rather less genetic variety than traditional cultivars due to the loss of genetic diversity that occurs when a new population is established from a limited selection of a parent population. The difference in genetic diversity may be readily established through comparison with older, traditional populations. This issue is particularly prominent in some parts of Ghana due to poor infrastructure and the repeated use of seeds from the same plantations. The result is unhealthy and hence unproductive trees with low yields: undesirable to any grower. (Motamayor, p. 83 – 84)

Thus, the designations of most cacao varieties are less useful as botanical categories than one might expect based on how these names tend to be used. However, while the relevance of these categories to the biologist may be limited, their wider utility as cultural and economical concepts is considerable. while the designations of cacao varieties are not generally reliable indicators of botanical properties, they are still important both as more general indicators of diversity and as a cultural and economic phenomenon.

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2018

Coe, Sophie & Michael, The True History of Chocolate, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013

Motamayor, Lanaud: Molecular Analysis of the Origin and Domestication of Theobroma cacao L. Managing Plant Genetic Diversity. IPGRI 2002, https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/download/14003/PDF (Retrieved 07-03-19)

Multimedia Sources:

Tamorlan, Tres variedades de cacao; Creative Commons 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tres_variedades_de_cacao.jpg

Sémhur, Main cacao species – World distribution map – blank, Creative Commons 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Main_cacao_species_-World_distribution_map-_blank.svg

A Chocolate Renaisscance in Mexico City

Find yourself in Mexico City (CDMX) and you may be overwhelmed with the current culinary scene, namely the exploding revival of one of the country’s oldest exports–cacao. Along the tree-lined streets of the La Condesa neighborhood, next to art deco apartment buildings and vegan cafés, you’ll find yourself among myriad contemporary chocolate shops headed by a new class of Mexican chocolatiers. Head to Mercado Jamaica, one of the city’s oldest traditional public markets, and you may find it hard to resist the allure of seven different types of mole–each made with a distinct combination of cacao and chili. Pop into the city’s recently opened chocolate museum, MUCHO Museo del Chocolate, and sample a mix of traditional chocolate-maiz drinks and triple chocolate tamales. Even a stop into the local Sumesa supermarket yields a unique assortment of both traditional brands like Nestle and Hershey’s and the new artisanal elite. This is where I found myself this week when a last-minute reading period trip to CDMX landed me in one of the hotspots of cacao and chocolate history. Digging deeper into the roots of Mexican chocolate, I visited museums and supermarkets, conducted tastings, and sampled as much as I could get my hands on. In doing so I noted a renaissance of sorts, with the chocolate landscape becoming increasingly dominated by a revival of Mesoamerican techniques and traditions.

An Enduring History

Long before the introduction of foodstuffs like sugar and milk by the Europeans, cacao was an integral element of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultural life. The Olmec civilization of the Mexican Gulf Coast, known for their large head sculptures and use of jade, was originally believed to have been the first one to domesticate cacao–with the Mixe-Zoquean word kakawa coming into use as early as 1000 B.C. It was not until 2006 that Hershey Foods chemist W. Jeffrey Hurst conducted residue analysis on archaeological ceramics and discovered that pre-Olmec villagers of the Chiapas plain in the Soconusco region had actually been some of the first to turn the bean into chocolate nearly 38 centuries ago. As Michael and Sophie Coe point out in their seminal work A True History of Chocolate, the Theobroma cacao tree likely originated in the northwest Amazon basin and was exploited for is sweet pulp before pre-Olmec villagers in Chiapas found a means of turning it into something more reminiscent of modern chocolate.[i] Emerging cultures in other areas of modern-day Mexico grasped on to this new foodstuff, namely the Maya who despite flourishing several centuries after the Olmecs nonetheless employed their tradition of drinking chocolate. Mayan writings the Popol Vuh, as well as the Dresden Codex, include mentions of cacao in creation narratives, and the custom of combining cacao, water, and maize to create a foamy chocolate drink was popular, as was chokola’j–the custom of drinking it with others. The fall of the Maya and the conquest of the southern regions of present-day Mexico by the Aztec Empire between the 12th and 15th centuries brought a new culture in contact with cacao. The Aztecs similarly drank chocolate, as well as utilized it as a form of currency. Sixteenth-century Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún confirmed these diverse uses, writing at one point about “chocolate kits” given to him by Aztec merchants: “They gave each noble two clay bowls…gave two hundred cacao beans to everyone, as well as one hundred seeds of that plant they call teunacaztli, and a tortoiseshell spoon for mixing the cacao. This was done by all merchants when they came from afar.”[ii] The concept of cacao and its combination with other foodstuffs like vanilla, peppers, and achiote was entirely new to the Spanish when they arrived in the late 15th century, but its flavor quickly became an acquired taste as conquistadors engaged in what Coe and Coe refer to as “crossing the taste barrier.”[iii] Such chocolate scholarship has often credited the Spanish with importing cows and cane sugar, in turn initiating a hybridization of cacao in which both classic tradition and European preference informed its new taste. Marcy Norton rebukes the Coe’s account, however, in “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics,” suggesting that the Spanish internalized Mesoamerican chocolate traditions and instead sought to emulate them on a wider scale in Europe. She writes:

“During the early history of chocolate among Europeans, the transmission of taste did not accord with the top-down structure of society. Instead, it flowed in the opposite direction: from the colonized to the colonizer, from the “barbarian” to the “civilized,” from the degenerate “creole” to the metropolitan Spaniard, from gentry to royalty. The European taste for chocolate emerged as a contingent accident of empire.”[iv]

Across the ocean, the custom of drinking chocolate as a frothy beverage continued, though the Spanish did add their own twist with sweeteners like cane sugar and “New World” spices like cinnamon, anise, and rose in place of spices like chile peppers and achiote.[v] The transformation of chocolate from drink to bar, from small-scale farming to mass production is an important one–but not integral to this story. I plan to focus instead on the centuries-long endurance of these Mesoamerican flavors, namely their contemporary renaissance.

A Visit to El Museo

One of the best places to start is with a visit to MUCHO Museo del Chocolate, in the Juárez neighborhood of CDMX. Finally within a tropical climate, I was able to see a cacao pod in person with the beans, nibs, winnowed shells, and sweet mucilaginous pulp first exploited by pre-Olmec villagers on display.

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The museum’s many rooms contained not only the history of chocolate but several art pieces depicting its enduring cultural value. Pictured below is a recreation of the making of a chocolate drink in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, with the woman pouring a large batch of cacao and water into a separate container. She would most likely pour the mixture several times, in order to achieve the frothy consistency so sought after by its drinkers.

IMG_4780In order to mix the cacao with the water, however, the cacao beans would need to be winnowed (or deshelled) and their nibs rolled on a stone ledge called a metate with a rolling-pin-like “stone mano.”[vi] This would create the paste needed to successfully mix the cacao into a beverage. The reconstruction below, though inaccurate to the extent that most Mayan women wore loose fitting tunics rather than going bare-chested, shows the process of grinding the cacao–namely how physically arduous the process was.

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The museum’s extensive exhibits and popular chocolate shop show just how important not only chocolate itself but its history has become in shaping cultural ideas of Mexico. Museum founder Ana Rita García Lascurain points out at that its inception in 2012, the museum was aimed at helping people understand, “how Mexico gave chocolate to the world.” Below is a feature conducted by Mexico City’s premier cultural news channel, Canal Once, in which you can take your own tour of the unique facilities.

Tasting #1: Chokola’j

The museum’s downstairs chocolatería was emblematic of the city’s larger Mesoamerican chocolate renaissance. After consulting the shop’s owners, I sampled three of their most popular and traditional offerings–agua con chocolate, chocolate caliente con chile picante (in lieu of their sold-out corn and chocolate drink pozol), and a tamal de chocolate. My travel partner and I then engaged in the Mayan tradition of chokola’j–or “drinking chocolate together.” The most prominent element of the agua con chocolate (“water with chocolate”) was its frothy texture and refreshing effect in the heat of an 80-degree day. As pointed out by scholars Louis E. Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro in field work from the late 1990s in Oaxaca, Mexico, contemporary agua con chocolate recipes almost always employ a molinillo, or “long wooden stick with rings at the bottom that spin when the stick is rolled between the palms.”[vii] The woman preparing our agua con chocolate did the same. My travel partner lauded the drink’s lack of milk, noting that they preferred its light and air taste to heavy contemporary American and European recipes. As Mexican pastry chef José Ramon Castillo points out in his blog post entitled “The ABCs of Mexican Chocolate,” the mixture of cacao with water rather than milk, “makes the sensation of the Mexican cocoa butter palpable on the lips, which doesn’t happen with cacao from other countries.”

IMG_4808The chocolate caliente con chile picante (“hot chocolate with spicy chili”) carried the same light texture in its lack of milk but also had a different mouthfeel due to its hot temperature and inclusion of spice. My first sip of the drink was jarring considering that most of the chili flakes were floating at the top of the mug, as pictured below. The spice dimmed down a bit until the drink’s final sips when the grounds at the bottom became salient once again.

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Moving from beverages to food, we sampled the tamale chocolate (“chocolate tamale”), a sponge-cake like combination of the country’s two most traditional exports–corn and chocolate. Due to the shop being sold out of pozol­–the fermented corn and chocolate drink common in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica–I opted for the tamale in the hopes that I could replicate a similar combination.

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It was demure in sweetness, as were the two beverages, but lacked the bite of the chocolate caliente con chile picante or the freshness of the agua chocolate. The three products proved nonetheless to be a strong introduction to the use of cacao outside of chocolate bars. Still in pursuit of the latter, however, I hit the streets of CDMX once again to comb through its many supermarkets and artisanal shops.

Tasting #2: Chocolate Bars

Gathering twelve test subjects from the likes of Australia, the United States, Mexico, and Canada, I conducted my second tasting in the courtyard of the Red Tree House–a small bed and breakfast in La Condesa. The six samples were all made in Mexico, and included Hershey’s 60% Dark Chocolate (Sample A), Ricolino Kracao Milk Chocolate with Pineapple (Sample B), MUCHO Museo’s single-origin Maravilla chocolate (C), Turin 33% Milk Chocolate (D), ki’Xocolatl 72% Dark Chocolate with Spices from Chiapas (E), and Nestle Abuelita Chocolate (F). The results were as follows:

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Hershey’s 60% Dark Chocolate (Sample A)/48.90 MXN, 2.54 USD

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This Mexican Hershey’s bar is notable for its high cacao content, as compared to the classic American flavor. The bar nonetheless contains milk, in order to replicate the mouthfeel of a pastry as indicated on the packaging. Participants were keen on this chocolate’s high cacao content, some going as far as to guess 80%, and lauded its “beautiful earthy tones.” Two of the participants preferred this chocolate to more expensive single-origin samples.

Ricolino Kracao Milk Chocolate with Pineapple (Sample B, pictured right)/16 MXN, .83 USD

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This chocolate-bordering-candy bar was at the tasting’s lowest price point. Participants noted that it was one of the sweetest samples, with “nutty, creamy, [and] floral” tones. Several guessed that the bar contained rice crispy bits or raisins rather than pineapple.

MUCHO Museo’s single-origin Maravilla chocolate (C)/72 MXN, 3.74 USD

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This chocolate is a single-origin criollo variety grown in the birthplace of chocolate as we know it–Chiapas. MUCHO began selling this bar at the museum’s inception in 2012. Most of the participants ranked this chocolate their second choice, raving about its bitter lasting aftertaste and fruity tones.

Turin 33% Milk Chocolate (D)/ 63 MXN, 3.27 USD

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This milk chocolate was dividing for participants. Some lauded its “caramel, dulce de leche, maple” notes while others decried its taste as “too sweet.”

ki’Xocolatl 72% Dark Chocolate with Spices from Chiapas (E)/99 MXN, 5.14 USD

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This 72% dark chocolate, at the highest price point, was the overwhelming favorite among participants. The company was started in 2002 according to their website, with the mission of creating, “Quality products presented with a beautiful and original image that mixes the concept of modernity with the legendary Mayan culture.” Tasting participants were fans of the bar’s “floral” tones and noted flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper.

Nestle Abuelita Chocolate (F)/20.50 MXN, 1.06 USD

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The final sample, Nestle’s Abuelita chocolate, was well received despite being typically dissolved in water or milk for hot chocolate. Originally Mexican-born, Nestle acquired the brand in the 1990s. Participants tasted “cardamom, brown sugar, cinnamon, [and] pepper” and noted its “crystalline, crunchy” texture. When interviewing Mexican participants about the chocolate, they shared that most younger generations blend the chocolate into drink form while older generations prefer it plain. It was clear that Abuelita had clear cultural resonance, with several participants noting that they had grown up on the product.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Mexico City has undergone a revival of Mesoamerican chocolate techniques and traditions through the establishment of museums, chocoloterías, and artisanal shops. Even supermarkets have featured an emergence of offerings, where brands like ki’Xocolatl sit next to modern household names like Nestle and Hershey’s. The question then becomes how to make Mexican-based brands with higher cacao content and less sugar and milk content more moderately priced. If brands are truly fixed on reviving Mesoamerican traditions, like the conceptualization of chocolate as a health food and medical panacea for example, then their products should be accessible and affordable. A $5 chocolate bar is not, after all, the most economically feasible choice.

 

[i] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013, 71.

[ii] de Orellana, Margarita, Richard Moszka, Timothy Adès, Valentine Tibère, J. M. Hoppan, Philippe Nondedeo, Nikita Harwich et al. “Chocolate: Cultivation and Culture in pre-Hispanic Mexico.” Artes de México 103 (2011): 75.

[iii] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013, 220.

[iv] Norton, Marcy. “Tasting empire: chocolate and the European internalization of Mesoamerican aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (2006): 660-691.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013, 128.

[vii] Grivetti, Louis E., and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: history, culture, and heritage. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

*Note: Scholarly sources are featured above, while multimedia sources are embedded.

 

Lets talk about chocolate sauce

 

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CHOCOLATE SAUCE- Picture was taken by me

 

A few months back my aunt Bazat Saifiyyah made a chocolate sauce that everyone in my family went completely crazy over. We would eat it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With many different foods such as ice-cream, strawberries when they were in season, spread over toast or just eaten plain.

For my blog post I want to explore within the context of my aunt’s recipe, the ingredients that go into it, where does the chocolate come from, the historical backing and also the perception of chocolate and its health benefits.

The recipe 

 

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A picture taken by me to show the ingredients that go into the chocolate sauce. 

 

 

The ingredients that go into the chocolate sauce are butter, dark chocolate compound, Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa, Hershey’s caramel syrup, icing sugar, milk and fresh cream.

The chocolate sauce is made by melting butter over a low heat flame, then add the dark chocolate compound broken up into many pieces. Then after this has melted the milk and fresh cream are added and then whisked until fully mixed. Then after this, the Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa powder is added with the icing sugar. After this, the caramel syrup is added. Then the whole mixture is to be whisked over a low flame for two minutes, then it is ready to be eaten.

This is a short video that I have taken during the making of the chocolate sauce.

 

What is the history behind the recipe?

Cacao first came to be cultivated agriculturally by the Olmecs in the lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast ( C ) It was picked up by the Mayans and then from them the Aztecs. In this time the way that they processed the cacao bean was very different then how it is processed today. The cacao pod would be harvested and then its beans would be dried, roasted, shelled and then ground on a metate to make a paste, this paste could have other flavoring additions to it depending on the culture that it was made in. This paste was then made into balls from which a hot foamy chocolate drink was made, this seems to have been the primary way in which the Mesoamericans consumed their cacao. However, there are mentions of it being used in other food items. ( C )

This is a video that demonstrates the Mesoamerican chocolate making practices.

This cacao consumption was picked up by the Spanish during their colonization period. It became an extremely important part of their culture and practices. Then it was picked up by the European colonizers and it became joined with sugar that was also being produced in the colonies. Then came the inventions that changed how chocolate was produced such as conching by Rudolph Lindt in Switzerland, this made the chocolate smooth by breaking down the large particles in a machine. ( P ) Also, the addition of dairy products like milk and cream to chocolate changed drastically how chocolate was enjoyed by many people.

Where does the cacao come from? 

The two chocolate products that go into making this compound are Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa and Mordes dark compound chocolate ( CD D16 ). Both these ingredients are processed differently to reach the state that they are in.

Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa- 

The processing of cacao to reach cocoa powder was invented by Coenerad Van Houten in the Netherlands. He developed a technique which processed cacao beans in such a way that they separated into two compounds, cacao butter, and a solid cake.  ( P ) The cacao butter was the more prized of the two compounds and often it was sold by companies and not used with the solids of the beans that it came from.  The solid cocoa cake that was made was then ground up into a fine powder and it is used in chocolate drinks and baking. Another process that also goes behind the cocoa powder made today is the dutch processing technique which is a treatment done by adding alkaline salts to neutralize the bitter taste and also to have a darker colored chocolate. ( P )

There is no mention of the product about where the cacao that goes into this process comes from. This makes the cacao completely anonymous.

This anonymity of chocolate shows a shift in the attitudes of people towards cacao beans and their sourcing. In the past centuries, before the manufacturing of chocolate became so connected to the industrialized process, the sourcing of the cacao bean was of utmost importance. The criollo pods were counted as the best type of cacao, it has the sweetest flavor and the richest taste ( P), the finding of this pod is extremely rare nowadays and many expert chocolatiers try with great difficulty to get a hold of this criollo pod to make their chocolate. This pod was mainly used by the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs and then it was transported to Hispanic plantations such as Venezuela during their period of colonization. ( P ) The most common type of cacao in use today is the forastero variety, this is purple and of a darker color then the criollo variety, it is also extremely bitter however the multiple industrial processes that cacao beans go through these days balance out the bitterness. Then there is also the Trinitario variety, this is a cross breed between the criollo and forastero, it was developed in Trinidad, this is the most resilient variety and it has a more pleasant taste than the foraestro. ( P )

The other factor that matters a lot in the sourcing of cacao is where is it grown, this contains the Terrior of the landscape and also carries a lot of history and chocolate traditions and culture with it. Chocolate has a dark history intertwined with the slave trade and abuse of peoples in plantations. In the modern day, the roots of colonization, the booming cacao trade, and European chocolate culture has led to established cacao farming in many parts of the world that were colonized such as Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ecuador and West Africa. Today West Africa produces 75% of the worlds cacao and most of this cacao is exported for production abroad, only 4% of the worlds chocolate is consumed by its people. West Africa collectively produces 3 million metric tonnes of cacao in a year( L 8)

There is a lot that goes into the cacao bean and if it is made so anonymous its history is wiped away and its variety and subtleties are emitted out of the chocolate making process as nobody knows where it originates from.

Mordes dark compound chocolate ( CD D16 ) 

This chocolate is also another example of the anonymity of the cacao bean today. The ingredients that go into making this bar are as follows, Sugar, Edible Vegetable fats, Cocoa Solids and Emulsifiers ( 492, 322 ) CONTAINS ADDED NATURAL (VANILLA) FLAVOURING SUBSTANCES, Hydrogenated Vegetable Fat Used- Contains Trans Fats.

This bar does not have a cacao percentage in it however it has cocoa solids, so it does not have cacao butter in it.

This is a video that demonstrates how chocolate bars are made today.

 

 

A look into Hershey’s

Hershey’s was founded in 1903 by Milton S. Hershey, it came to be known as Americans most iconic chocolate. It had a great influence on American business and taste. ( L 11 )

The two struggles that this company faced and managed to overcome were, one, the struggle to develop milk chocolate, so they made their own dairy farms and sourced their milk from there. Two, the struggle to control the sugar supply chain. Sugar used to come from Cuba and during the period of 1916-46 there was a highly volatile situation and this affected the sugar supply chain. To face this problem Hershey brought land in Cuba where he established his own sugar plantations, for the transportation of this sugar he also built some connecting railways.  ( L 12 )

This is a video that demonstrates the history and founding of Hershey’s chocolates.

Health effects

The potential health risks in consuming chocolate are environmental factors of polluted soil and water, problems in other ingredients such as milk, sugar, soy lecithin, inclusions, manufacturing issues, allergy or sensitivity to certain ingredients mixed with the cacao or to the caffeine, and a very high sugar and saturated fat content and a very high calorie content. ( L 12 )

There has also been a lot of contemporary research on the health benefits of chocolate. These are Antioxidant, Cardioprotective, Psychoactive, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-allergy and Anti-tumoral properties ( L 12 )

After knowing some of the history behind chocolate and everything that has gone into making it, one can eat the chocolate sauce with more understanding of what actually goes on in the making of it.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013 – ( C)

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009. – ( P )

Chocolate class lectures, Carla Martin, Harvard Extension School, Spring 2018 – ( L )

History of Hershey’s chocolate, Charles Dean Archive, Published on Jan 9, 2014 on Youtube

Milk Chocolate from Scratch How it is made, Science Channel, Published on Oct 30, 2016 on Youtube

Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate Making, National Geographic, Published on Oct 13, 2017 on Youtube

Classifying Cacao

In 1753, Carl Linnaeus officially classified the cacao tree as Theobroma cacao, or “the food of the gods” (S. Coe and M. Coe 17). Cacao’s voyage from Mesoamerica to Europe marked the beginning of an expeditious rise in popularity for chocolate beverages and a bevy of other products. European additives and processes would change chocolate consumption from traditional Mesoamerican beverages and recipes, but the source, cacao trees, would remain the same. Originally, cacao trees were classified based on specific qualities which rose to three classifications based mostly on region. Currently, over ten distinct types of cacao have been classified with different varieties inside each distinct type. The classification of cacao has continued to get increasingly more complicated since its initial introduction to Europe and will continue as scientists discover the intricacies of the cacao tree and its genome.

Cacao’s Origins

Cacao originates from the two genera Theobroma and Herrania which have only recently been considered distinct. (McNeil, D. Chase, and A. Chase 31)  Theobroma cacao, the most studied and used species from either of these genera,  originates from South America, but both wild T. cacao and cultivated T. cacao made their way to Mesoamerica and into Mesoamerican traditions for food, medicine, and rituals. The Mayans cultivated cacao and chocolate into a high art by churning it until it created foam, adding spices and flowers like achiote, and using it as a stimulant (Presilla 13). Cacao became a token of elite in Mesoamerican civilizations and, by the time the Spanish had reached Mesoamerica, cacao beans were being used as a currency. The first cacao was brought to Europe in 1502, ten years after Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World; Columbus brought cacao back on his fourth voyage after visiting the island of Guanaja. There Columbus encountered what he thought to be “almonds” which he described the Mayans as holding “at a great price” (S. Coe and M. Coe 108-109). Columbus even brought cacao beans back to Europe, but people were more concerned with the treasures he brought back and not the small, brown, dirty beans. Chocolate would not be prepared as a drink for almost thirty years later in Europe.

A short article on Columbus’ “discovery” of chocolate from the Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-deborah-r-prinz/columbus-discovers-chocol_b_5962930.html

Three Classifications of Cacao

Mesoamericans had an awareness and their own classifications of strains of cacao, but Spanish colonists began trying to name and classify cacao based on their tastes and appearance. Names like cacao dulce and cacao blanco emerged as descriptors; the only classifier that would remain would be Criollo which meant “born in the New World” (Presilla 33-34). Although scientists have now discovered over ten different, distinct strains of cacao, cultivators and farmers in South America still classify cacao by the three original classifications handed down: Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitarios. Criollo and Forastero are largely based on geographic region, Criolo from northern South American and Meso America and Forastero from several parts of South America. Trinitarios are presumed to be a hybrid of Criollos in Trinidad with small strain called Amelonados in the Lower Amazon Basin. Although the old classifications are used often, there have been found nine distinct strains within the “Forasteros” category that have barely any relation to each other. Trinitarios, a hybrid of Criollos and Amelonados, was created in Trinidad after a severe plant epidemic that destroyed cacao groves; cultivators brought pods from the Orinoco basin which mixed with original Criollo trees in their groves creating a new hybrid which they named after the island – Trinitarios (Presilla 36).

What would be considered the three traditional variations of cacao:

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Current Classifications of Cacao

In this same manner, cacao strains have become tangled and interwoven, creating hybrids of all varieties. Cacao originally classified as Forasteros makes up 90% of the world’s cacao production and harvesting (Presilla 37). Differentiating and classifying cacao strains has been particularly difficult because of the extreme similarities in genetic makeup of all forty Theobroma-Herrania plants (McNeil, D. Chase, and A. Chase 38). The chemical makeup of cacao is more complex especially when considering how different cacao strains affect the human body through antioxidants, stimulants, and neuroactives. Although scientists have been able to differentiate over ten strains of cacao tree, each species has also been hybridized and has specific varieties within each species. Each variety has a chemical makeup that is equally complex. Scientists still do not fully understand the effects of cacao and its products on the human body; chocolate’s addictive quality is theorized to be in affect because of the numerous neuroactives within cacao, but it has yet to be confirmed (McNeil, D. Chase, and A. Chase 45).

How many types of cacao are there?

Chocolate and cacao are largely undiscovered still. New strains and varieties appear every year and cacao continues to blend with other varieties. Cacao has been constantly changing since its discovery, traveling all the way from its origins in South America across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa. The cacao tree and chocolate have been globalized with the help of Spanish colonists and explorers and will continue to create new classifications and spread as the world demands chocolate. From three strains to ten strains, the genetic variety of cacao is slowly being discovered and shaped in a global market for a single product: chocolate.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

McNeil, Cameron L., Diane Z. Chase, and Arlen F. Chase. Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a cultural history of cacao. Gainesville: U Press of Florida, 2009. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print

How a Tree of the Past Can Help us Make the Chocolate of the Future

               It seems that every article about chocolate begins with a reference to its ubiquity and intoxicating nature. Perhaps there is no other way to remind the reader what is at stake with a food so bound in nostalgia and lust. In keeping with the tradition, I have selected a quote by Simian Sethi, author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. She describes chocolate as “the stuff of life and love — celebrated, debated and imbued with far more than calories”. But as the title of her book suggests, cacao, the raw material to make chocolate, is among a growing list of foods threatened by our changing biological, chemical, and physical planet. Warmer temperatures lead to evaporation rates too high for the sensitive plant and increase the prevalence of fungal and insect pests. Soils in cacao growing regions are nutrient-depleted, and extreme weather events jeopardize water stability. Scientists across the globe are working to address these concerns by developing delicious, highly productive, resource-efficient, and disease-resistant varieties. Knowledge of the botanical and natural history of the cacao plant is critical for this research because understanding how the plant has historically evolved can help us design a plant for the future.

               All chocolate starts as a seed inside the fruit of a Theobroma cacao tree. Recent DNA analysis suggests this specie originated – with slightly different genetic makeups – in both the Peruvian Amazon River Basin and the foothills of the Venezuelan Andes. Humans initially cultivated the crop for the sweet pulp that coats the seeds, and ancient Mesoamerican civilizations were the first to prepare and consume the seeds themselves. The human expansion of the plant ever since has largely influenced its current genetic diversity.

               Starting during the end of the 1600s, the Spanish brought cacao eastward to present day Philippines, Java, and Indonesia, and the Portuguese later brought cacao to West Africa (which would later become the world’s largest supplier of cacao). The above map outlines the botanic origin of Theobroma cacao in striped red as well as major transoceanic movements of the plant. Due to temperature and humidity constraints, Theobroma cacao must be cultivated within 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the equator. This range is indicated on the map above with the dotted horizontal lines for the Topic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Due to the unfortunate inverse correlation between proximity to equator and wealth, the regions suitable to growing cacao are also some of the poorest.

spread-of-the-cacao

               Starting during the end of the 1600s, the Spanish brought cacao eastward to present day Philippines, Java, and Indonesia, and the Portuguese later brought cacao to West Africa (which would later become the world’s largest supplier of cacao). The above map outlines the botanic origin of Theobroma cacao in striped red as well as major transoceanic movements of the plant. Due to temperature and humidity constraints, Theobroma cacao must be cultivated within 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the equator. This range is indicated on the map above with the dotted horizontal lines for the Topic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Due to the unfortunate inverse correlation between proximity to equator and wealth, the regions suitable to growing cacao are also some of the poorest. {Photo sourced here}

               The cacao variety originally cultivated in Mesoamerica, later titled Criollo, enjoyed a subtle and complex flavor profile and was the first variety to supply the exploding global demand. But at some point in the 18th century (the exact date is unknown), a new source of genes was introduced into the world’s commercial cacao stocks when Iberians discovered cacao growing wild in the South American mainland. The natives knew it as a fruit, but it had never been made into chocolate. This variety, called Forastero, has a harsh, bitter and sour flavor with no secondary notes, but boasts higher yields and greater disease resistance. After a series of disease epidemics over cacao groves in Trinidad, farmers reestablished the crop with the Forastero variety. These plants were then crossed with some of the remaining Criollos and a hybrid, called Trinitario, was born. However, it is important to consider that even before human intervention, Criollos crossed and backcrossed with Forasteros hundreds or thousands of times to form subvariants. DNA analysis is the only way to unscramble these gene mixes and recent analysis actually challenges the traditional belief that Criollos, Forastero, and Trinitario are the only genetic grouping. Forasteros are now classified into 9 unique groups, and as cacao DNA research continues, classification will be further fine-tuned (however, rapid deforestation in cacao habits risks eradication of varieties before we have the chance to discover them).   

               Each Theobroma cacao variety has its own unique characteristics from the size, color, and smoothness of the pod to the shape, flavor, and fattiness of the seed. Understanding the botanical development and characteristics of each variety allows scientists to select for specific traits and assemble a crop suitable for our changing environmental conditions. DNA analysis also allows scientists to test progeny for certain alleles rather than waiting 10 year for them to mature.

Over the last centuworld-crop-populationry, cacao under cultivation has become more uniform and has lost its adaptation to niche environments and specific areas. The genetic base is steadily narrowing, and Criollo, and its superior flavor profile, holds a dwindling share of the world’s cacao supply. The visualization to the left is the current global distribution (across the three antiquated variety categories) of cultivated cacao. {Graphic sourced from Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker}  

               In addition to understanding genetic varieties, research on cacao’s botanical history helps us understand its current ecological systems. For example, large modern cacao plantations suffer from pollination rates which are substantially lower than those of wild trees. This in turn leads to lower pod yields. When researchers looked at this phenomenon in the context of the Theobroma cacao tree’s natural history, the problem became clear. The tree is exclusively pollinated by midges, a fly that likes to lay its eggs on wet decomposing matter not present in neatly manicured plantations. Considering the natural ecosystem surrounding cacao could also help identify biocontrol species and other plants adapted to shade the sun-sensitive cacao tree. Cacao’s botanical history is especially useful compared to other crops that must reseed every year. Because of cacao’s longer generations, modern cacao is quite similar compared to wild cacao.

               I am not the first to claim that the Theobroma cacao specie is at risk and requires new cultivation varieties and techniques. Due to chocolate’s almost universal adoration, any news article on the topic goes viral. One especially well written article by Bloomberg Markets titled “To Save Chocolate, Scientists Develop New Breeds of Cacao” goes into more detail than this short blog post about new varieties scientists have developed (the article can be found here). But the botanical history of how the Amazonian plant became a $100 billion per year global industry often goes untold in these narratives about the future. It was the years of selective breeding and understanding of the plant’s biological nuances that gave rise to today’s industry. And as we face climate change and its multitude of siblings, an understanding of the past is critical to constructing the future.

Bibliography

“Cacao Bean Varieties.” Scharffen Berger. http://www.scharffenberger.com/our-story/about-cacao/bean-varieties/.

“Chocolate from the New World.” Indigenous and Non Indigenous Plants and Animals (web log).

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Motamayor, et al. “Cacao domestication I: the origin of the cacao cultivated by the Mayas.” Heredity 89, no. 5 (May 14, 2002): 380-86. doi:10.1038/sj.hdy.6800156.

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Schatzker, Mark. “To Save Chocolate, Scientists Develop New Breeds of Cacao.” Bloomberg.com. November 14, 2014. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-14/to-save-chocolate-scientists-develop-new-breeds-of-cacao.

Scott, Michon. “Climate & Chocolate .” Climate.gov. February 10, 2016. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate.

Sethi, Simran. Bread, wine, chocolate: the slow loss of foods we love. New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2016.

Cacao in the Caribbean

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Photo of cacao pods taken by me, 2017e846.

Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean are important in the history of the cacao trade and chocolate production.   While cacao did not originate in the Caribbean, the climate and location make it a major part of the cacao industry beginning in the 1500’s.  The Caribbean became a main location for cacao production and shipping, but disease and the desire for greater profit caused a downturn in the growth of cacao in the Caribbean.

 

Demand for chocolate increases in Europe, and the Caribbean takes on a more important role in the chocolate industry.  By the early 1600’s, England is embracing chocolate for its medicinal properties, as well as its taste (Momsen and Richardson, location 19611).   This demand for cacao encourages the growth of the cacao trade in the Caribbean islands.  The Spanish introduced the criollo variety of cacao as a crop to the Caribbean in the 1500’s from Venezuela (Momsen and Richardson, location 19253).  Cacao grows well in the Caribbean, and the physical location also makes it an ideal shipping location to access Europe, as it is on the shipping route from South and Central America.   By 1665, cacao and ginger are the main export crops in Puerto Rico (Momsen and Richardson, location 19091).  Trinidad is a major source of cacao production in the Caribbean as well, and their cacao is considered of superior quality (Momsen and Richardson, location 19252).  The quality of Trinidad cacao is most likely due to the original criollo type cacao planted there at the time.   However, after their cacao crops are devastated by disease, when the industry attempts to revive itself years later, they plant the forastero type of cacao, which is considered not to have the same high quality taste as criollo, and the industry never fully recovers (Momsen and Richardson, location 19278).  Problems with Spain cause cacao production in the Caribbean to become even more important to Europe.

Spain’s attempt to control the cacao trade makes Caribbean cacao production more important.  Although Spain prohibits the export of raw cacao beans in Venezuela in the 1700’s, cacao already has a foothold in the Caribbean (Momsen and Richardson, location 19126).  Privateers control Caribbean shipping to a great extent and the cacao trade into the 18th century (Momsen and Richardson, location 19126).   In fact, Dutch privateers trade with Venezuelans and are active in distributing cacao back to Europe (Coe and Coe, location 2732).  Spain’s attempt to control the cacao trade pushes Europe into finding new ways of promoting cacao production.  In some ways, dealing with privateers may be easier for Europe than dealing with Spain, as privateers are interested in money; but they are independent sources for obtaining cacao from the Caribbean, and are not as concerned with politics.  Additionally, Britain can obtain cacao directly from many of the islands of the Caribbean as they control a number of the islands that produce cacao.   The cacao crop itself is grown in a more natural setting than many agricultural crops in the Caribbean.  Cacao trees in Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean are grown in cacao forests.  Multiple species of trees are interspersed, and planted in a more natural habitat.  While touring a cacao farm in Puerto Rico, one can walk through a cacao forest, and observe it in the same way it would have been hundreds of years ago.  In Puerto Rico, cacao trees, coffee trees, banana trees and others are often mixed in together.   This unobtrusive way of growing cacao makes it easier to grow and more difficult to control.

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Photo of cacao pods on the tree before they are ripe taken by me, 2017e846.

A desire for greater profit changes the scope of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico’s role in the cacao trade.  By 1800, the major exporters of cacao in the Caribbean, Grenada and Trinidad, are using other islands such as Puerto Rico and Cuba to send their crops to Spain (Momsen and Richardson, location 19098).  Most of the islands have stopped producing cacao on a large scale, and although cacao is still grown in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean, many of the large farms are planting more profitable crops.  Cacao is often combined with growing coffee and other crops, providing a more diversified farm.  This helps to stabilize the farm’s income.  Cacao farms use of slaves throughout much of the Caribbean contributes to the huge profits being made in the chocolate industry.  On many of the Caribbean islands, slaves were used as labor for farms, including cacao farms (Higman 59).  Slavery is abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873 (The World of 1898).   In the Caribbean, when slavery is abolished, it is a turning point in cacao production, as the majority of the organized agricultural industry moves on to other crops that yield a higher profit.  The Caribbean is no longer as lucrative to the chocolate industry as a location for cacao growing.  However, some farms in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean continue growing their cacao crops, using hydropower.  Cacao is still grown in the Caribbean on a smaller scale.  The water of rivers in the mountains run equipment to make production of cacao easier and less labor intensive.  Yet the historical place the Caribbean held in the chocolate industry and trade with Europe is finished.

The Caribbean played an important role in the chocolate industry.  Though cacao did not originate here, as cacao’s popularity grew and Europe became aware of its many benefits, the Caribbean played its own role in the growth of chocolate’s place in society.  On a tour of a cacao farm in Puerto Rico, I was able to witness how cacao was farmed and produced on a smaller scale in the 1800s.  The way that hydropower was used is impressive, and the experience of walking through a cacao forest is one I would recommend.

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Coe, Michael D.  The True History of Chocolate.  Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Higman, Barry W.  Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834.  University of the West Indies Print, 1995.

Momsen, Janet Henshall, and Richardson, Pamila.   “Caribbean Chocolate.”   Chocolate:  History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.

“The World of 1898:  The Spanish-American War.”  Library of Congress, Hispanic Reading Room.  Retrieved from:  https://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/slaves.html.

Cacao: For Luxury, Flavor, or Health?

Wherever I share information about cacao, it is the Maya obsession with cacao that people find most surprising.

From religion, marriage ritual, and chokola’j drinking ceremonies to fete visiting dignitaries, to economics, agronomy, botany, and currency, to death and the afterlife, cacao was as vital as maize to ancient Mesoamerican diets.

It is understood that this importance started  with the Olmec and probably even earlier. But the cacao obsession continued for the Maya, the Aztec, and forward from there, even into the post-Columbian. There are still pockets of ritual chocolate drinkers in central America and southern Mexico, but so much knowledge has been lost to time, in this regard and others. Colonialism brought about the end of most of the native cacao plantations, as the cacao plantations throughout mesoamerica were laid waste by disease, and by the loss of aboriginal peoples who also succumbed to abuse, neglect, and disease (Ferry, 1989).

The loss of ancient expertise which spanned back over millennia after so many from the native populations were lost (Acuna-Soto, 2002; 2005), and the over-all colonial mismanagement and exploitation, eventually brought about the end of a colonial enterprise in cacao.  There was clearly a cause (the co-option by  the colonial Spanish), in depleting the widespread native stake in the cacao agronomy, and the concomitant extinction of ancient varieties and strains of cacao. It is easy to imagine that the Spanish cacao plantations, in contrast to the native Cacao forests, were hostile not only to growing healthy cacao, but also beneficial insects and any similarly symbiotic plants, bacteria and fungi that might keep pests and diseases at bay.

Fortunately there were a few Spanish colonial priests who diligently recorded so many aspects of native Mesoamerican life. And by their works we know some about the medical conditions that the American peoples used cacao for. Some of these made their way to Europe, where Europeans expanded greatly on the indications for cacao, much of it very often quackery and superstition (Coe, 1996).

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Censer Lid with Woman Holding Cacao
Guatemala, Maya, A.D. 250-450
Coastal Plain
Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala City

One additional cause of surprise  for people that I visit with about cacao, is the possible myriad health benefits of consuming cacao (as dark chocolate). When I understood that the Madécasse company had found their cacao sourced in Madagascar from plantations apparently growing an old line of Criollo, there was a mix of happiness and trepidation. Happiness on learning my taste buds are discerning for having discovered this otherwise low visibility chocolate bar to be yards ahead of the rest (as far as cost, taste, and aftertaste goes). Trepidation because  of what will happen as elites jump on a criollo dark chocolate bandwagon with a well-monied vengeance. I also envision supply issues for cacao, as what was done to the subsistence grain Quinoa (Philpott, 2013).

Perhaps my trepidation is a form of misplaced paranoia, as Madécasse does not appear to compete with the overpriced much-hyped hipster founded and hipster marketed brands. Madécasse bars taste so much better than the bars I have tried at twice the price earlier, when I was experimenting with taste and price. My reasoning is that the elites will spend their money on fancy wrapping and understated marketing themes that play to ideals of exclusivity, narcissism ,and greed. Hopefully they might be leaving the plain wrapped Heirloom Madécasse bars for humbler, albeit savvier consumers. And by that route spare us related supply issues.

The company at the top of the chocolate Elite is Amedei, the Tuscan manufacturer of “The World’s Finest” chocolate. At 17 dollars a bar on Amazon.com, the Amedei bars are rightly called the “world’s most expensive” Chocolate.

It is a lovely, even elegant manufacturing facility.

But are they distinguishable from less expensive bars?

I am not well-to-do so I will not be taste testing Amedei any time soon. What I can do is contrast the Amedei marketing and branding with Madécasse’s marketing and branding. This video above, of the Amedei processing plant, is very stylish and even understated. The stylish understatement speaks volumes to a new elite sensibility around inconspicuous consumption (“Luxury Branding,” 2015).

I had become aware of the fine Amedei wares but had passed on the opportunity to purchase. To begin a contrast, I was completely unaware of the flavor bonanza in Madécasse’s bean to bar product at 5 dollars or so a bar at Whole Foods (which is why I grabbed an “Heirloom” bar) and I was very willing to try it without knowing anything about the product. I was completely aware of the luxury symbolism pre-loaded into my psyche by the pricing alone of Amedei’s product line. My stopping point has been consistently around 6 dollars when I regularly contemplate the dark chocolate display at Whole Foods.

“Generally, luxury brands increase in profitability when consumers perceive that these goods offer more value (or premium degree) than other comparable products… We’ve found that symbolic brands can be more easily exported into nonadjacent categories than functional brands and can succeed in these categories when they consistently promote their core symbolic attributes.”      Reddy, 2005

The Madécasse company has a remarkable founder story in a field replete with fairly sentimental gestures (as opposed to effective gestures) underlying the basic marketing themes that Fair Trade has come to signify (unfortunately). Two Peace Corps volunteers who worked with the corps on the Island of Madagascar off the coast of Southeast Africa, decided to start a chocolate manufacturing concern in Madagascar.

The west coast of Africa where nearly 75% of the world’s chocolate is grown, does not produce chocolate product in any measurable quantity. The founders of Madécasse, Tim McCollum and Brett Beach, went beyond the Fair Trade gesture of direct relations and direct sourcing from farmers in developing countriesin the purchasing of raw materials, and decided to manufacture the product in-situ on Madagascar. Instead of the more common practice of exporting the raw cacao to be produced in more developed countries.  (Evans, 2014)

Moving a bit beyond the caring connections idealism in Fair Trade symbologies and signifiers, such as farmer stories and founder stories, Amedei, with its implications of an inconspicuous consumption that is a signifier to elites (Eckhardt, 2015), is a stark contrast to the practically shy (by comparison) marketing themes of the Madécasse brand.

However, another complicating discovery for my consideration here, is that the Forastero cacao of a few areas in Brazil that were tested and compared to Nacional of Ecuador, and Trinitario of Venezuela and New Guinea, are highest in flavan-3-ols (Oracz, 2015) under varying roasting conditions.

And so now we have three confounding consumer ideals, the inconspicuous elite consumers  of Amedei (varietal craft chocolates), the tasty and cheap Madécasse (heirloom criollo bars), and the additional health benefits such as what might be obtained via consumption of Brazil forastero dark chocolate products.

cacaobeancomparison

The health benefits of cacao clearly show promise for the most common health issues in our times. One disease in particular which may have some treatment options with combinations of compounds found only in cacao, is Trigeminal Neuralgia (Cady, 2010). Also known as “suicide disease” trigeminal neuralgia has a severe impact on well-being by the intense and unrelenting facial pain associated. The sufferers are not always responsive to an array of treatment regimes for it, which include medications. Without relief by medication, the treatments will culminate in surgeries that may or may not work. At the end of options, the suicide disease leads to irreversible decisions of too many of its sufferers. But the likelihood of those afflicted with trigeminal neuralgia finding an avenue for relief by dietary intake of pure dark chocolate, is greatly decreased by the actions of chocolate marketing by producers.

When otherwise beneficial chocolate products are branded and publicized as either luxury, revived ancient heirlooms, or for perceptions of a rarified tastiness, the likelihood is greatly decreased that a general public realizes the benefits of cacao as a supplement that can possibly alleviate an issue so drastic as Trigeminal Neuralgia, and possibly other debilitating medical issues as well.

While it is understandable that a company will distance its products from liability for any claims of health benefits, there are still ways for chocolate producers to inform the public and enhance well-being by providing access to information as a sideline in their marketing. But if cacao producers are more concerned with taste and pricing, there is  going to be little to no energy expended on figuring out how to boost the beneficial compounds, such as might be done by a careful attention to roasting temperature and humidity.

The importance of cacao health benefits in marketing chocolate, has taken a rear seat to the luxury and taste components when it comes to marketing and branding cacao products in the form of consumable dark chocolate bars. This is an artifact of the times, where marketing and branding is imprinting tastes and compulsions with imagery, symbology, hierarchy and status; by appealing to more base human emotions and selfish drivers of human behavior. In that context, might it also be unethical to ignore the health benefits in order to reach consumers with status and hierarchy concerns, vis-a-vis developing needs for taste and status at the expense of educating about less tasty/less status, but with more health benefits?

The amount of energy and expenditure in creating branding ideals around chocolate that have less to do with its intrinsic life-improving benefits and more to do with perceptions of materialistic benefits, is truly wasted effort.

Bibliography & Works Cited

Acuna-Soto, R, DW Stahle, MK Cleaveland, and MD Therrell. “Megadrought and Megadeath in 16th Century Mexico.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. 8.4 (2002): 360-2. Print.

Acuna-Soto, R, DW Stahle, MD Therrell, Chavez S. Gomez, and MK Cleaveland. “Drought, Epidemic Disease, and the Fall of Classic Period Cultures in Mesoamerica (ad 750-950). Hemorrhagic Fevers As a Cause of Massive Population Loss.” Medical Hypotheses. 65.2 (2005): 405-9. Print.

Bertoldi, D, A Barbero, F Camin, R Larcher, and A Caligiani. “Multielemental Fingerprinting and Geographic Traceability of Theobroma Cacao Beans and Cocoa Products.” Food Control. 65 (2016): 46-53. Print.

Cady, RJ, and PL Durham. “Cocoa-enriched Diets Enhance Expression of Phosphatases and Decrease Expression of Inflammatory Molecules in Trigeminal Ganglion Neurons.” Brain Research. 1323 (2010): 18-32. Print.

“CHOCOLATE MAKERS DISCOVER “EXTINCT” COCOA IN MADAGASCAR.” Specialty Foods, Inc. (n.d.): n. pag. 4 Oct. 2012. Web.

Christenson, Clayton M., Taddy Hall, and Scott Cook. “Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure.” Harvard Business Review Dec. 2005: n. pag. Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Publishing, 01 Dec. 2005. Web. 11 May 2016.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

 Evans, Lisa. “How A Chocolate Company In Madagascar Overcame The Odds.” Fast Company. Mansueto Ventures, LLC, 3 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 May 2016.

Ferry, Robert J. The Colonial Elite of Early Caracas: Formation & Crisis, 1567-1767. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. Print.

“Flavors of Cacao – Chocolate Database.” Flavors of Cacao – Chocolate Database. Manhatten Chocolate Society, 5 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 May 2016.

“Luxury Branding Below The Radar.” Harvard Business Review Sept. 2015: 26-27. Https://hbr.org/2015/09/luxury-branding-below-the-radar. Harvard Business Publishing, 9 Sept. 2015. Web.

Henein, Maryam. “The Future of Chocolate: Will It Turn GMO?” Truthout. Truth Out, 26 Mar. 2013. Web.

M. E. Giana, W. B. Russell, and A.J W. Jonathan. “The Rise of Inconspicuous Consumption.” Journal of Marketing Management. 31 (2015): 807-826. Print.

Martín, María Á, Ana B. G. Serrano, Sonia Ramos, María I. Pulido, Laura Bravo, and Luis Goya. “Cocoa Flavonoids Up-Regulate Antioxidant Enzyme Activity Via the Erk1/2 Pathway to Protect against Oxidative Stress-Induced Apoptosis in Hepg2 Cells.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 21.3 (2010): 196-205. Print.

Oracz, J, E Nebesny, and D Zyzelewicz. “Changes in the Flavan-3-Ols, Anthocyanins, and Flavanols Composition of Cocoa Beans of Different Theobroma Cacao L. Groups Affected by Roasting Conditions.” European Food Research and Technology. 241.5 (2015): 663-681. Print.

Philpott, Tom. “Quinoa: Good, Evil, or Just Really Complicated?” Mother Jones. Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress, 25 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 May 2016.

Pigott, Sudi. “The New Chocolate Elite – FT.com.” Financial Times. The Financial Times, 19 Mar. 2009. Web. 11 May 2016.

Ploetz, RC. “Cacao Diseases: Important Threats to Chocolate Production Worldwide.” Phytopathology. 97.12 (2007): 1634-9. Print.

 Ramanujan, Krishna. “Ezra Update: Cornellian Takes Skills to Madagascar’s Chocolate Industry.” Ezra Update: Cornellian Takes Skills to Madagascar’s Chocolate Industry. Cornell University, 2009. Web. 11 May 2016.
Reddy, Mergen. Terblanche, Nic “How Not to Extend Your Luxury Brand.” Harvard Business Review Sept. 2005: n. pag. Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Publishing, 01 Dec. 2005. Web. 11 May 2016.

 

Schilling, Frederick. “Cacao, Its Diversity and Place in Modern Marketing.” CACAO (n.d.): n. pag. Living Tree Community. Big Tree Farms and Amma Chocolate, 2009. Web.

Vázquez-Ovando, JA, F Molina-Freaner, J Nuñez-Farfán, I Ovando-Medina, and M Salvador-Figueroa. “Genetic Identification of Theobroma Cacao L. Trees with High Criollo Ancestry in Soconusco, Chiapas, Mexico.” Genetics and Molecular Research : Gmr. 13.4 (2014): 10404-14. Print.

W. Pam. “Re-Discovery of Ancient Cocoa in Madagascar Became an Impetus for the HCP |.” Heirloom Cacao Preservation. Hcpcacao.org, 20 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 May 2016.

Wielgoss, A, Y Clough, T Tscharntke, B Fiala, and A Rumede. “A Minor Pest Reduces Yield Losses by a Major Pest: Plant-Mediated Herbivore Interactions in Indonesian Cacao.” Journal of Applied Ecology. 49.2 (2012): 465-473. Print.

Criollo: An Endangered Variety

Fine cacao production is estimated to account for less than 5 percent of the global market. Criollo variety, the ancestor to a number of contemporary cultivars accounting for the majority of this thin market, is believed to be domesticated by the Mayans during the Classic Period around 900 AD (Penn). While Criollo cultivars are relatively scarce in the contemporary cacao cultivation, they have accounted for the majority of cacao cultivation for most of its history.

 

Cacau_boom_Maria_Sibylla_Merian_1705_plate_XXVI
reproduction of the colored plate by M.S. Meriam (1705 Amsterdam), The first iconography of Criollos Cacao in America (Dutch Guiana)

Although a number of different factors ranging from the introduction of hybridized varieties across new territories to mass production of chocolate have all contributed to the current preference of Forastero over Criollo, the decline of Criollo is predominantly due to substandard yield and high susceptibility to diseases like witches broom, water-pod disease and brown pod rot. Of the numerous Criollo varieties, the so-called “purest” are in fact the most vulnerable to these diseases.

chocolate-strains
Distribution of Cacao cultivars around the globe

One of the most sought after varieties, Porcelano, known for the white beans and it’s translucent white juvenile pods is infamously fragile, hard to cultivate, and susceptible to all three diseases. (Ciferri, 387) Porcelano is a non-botanical common name describing the white bean sub-variety of Criollo cultivars in Venezuela, south of Lake Maracaibo. (Presilla, 65) A variety similar  to this cultivar is also found in the Peruvian Nacional varieties with appearance similar to the Venezuelan Porcelano.  Although many of the specialty cacao cultivars have low disease resistance, the substantial premium they could account for in comparison with bulk cacao may be a source of increased income and quality of life in an industry where the average farmer makes approximately $2 per day depending on region and quality of production. (Penn state)

 

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Porcelano Criollo pod in one of the very few remaining Porcelano groves near Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Genetic sequencing results published by Penn State on a number of Criollo varieties have shown that due to the intrinsic self-pollinating characteristics of Criollo as a dioecious plant – a plant that has both male and female organs – Criollo cultivars are uniquely homozygous; their genome contains duplicates of the same gene.(Penn State) This condition, although does not directly cause a disease, is well studied in humans and mammals where genetic conditions, such as lower resistance to disease and autoimmune disorders, may be caused by a pair of recessive alleles. Although this is not entirely studied in the cacao plant, given that the genome itself was sequenced just recently, it is likely that similar duplicate genes may result in lower disease resistance characteristics among Criollo cultivars in comparison to Forastero cultivars.

Genome
Genetic sequencing of Theobroma cacao

Genetically modified disease resistant Criollo varieties may be the future of saving this seemingly endangered plant.(Penn State) However, that will further neutralize the gene pool as it will favor the propagation of a single “breed” over a range of available genetic diversity within Criollo varieties. A similar situation in coffee, specifically in the more fragile and lower yielding Caffea arabica, has led to the introduction of a single disease resistant variety that is threatening to neutralize the diversity of Arabica, most notably in the Colombian market. An alternative solution is to promote cross-breeding of varieties within the Criollo family in order to increase the diversity. In turn, specialty cacao, much like wine and specialty coffee can focus on designation of origin, not only in regard to plant variety, but more importantly in relation to terroir.

Quality and taste profile of cacao beans have as much to do with the specifics of a place as it does with the particularity of the plant variety. Cacao prefers shade, yearly temperature of around 21 to 32 degrees Celsius. It prefers high humidity that is consistent across the year with no droughts and monsoons. The preferred soil is relatively sandy, nutrient rich, slightly acidic and well-drained with substantial depth that allows for the growth of cacao’s tap root. Cacao has an unusually deep root system for a tropical plant, because it naturally grows in well-drained riparian-zones. All of the above characteristics mean that cacao is highly particular, but as the cacao industry has shown, Theobroma cacao can tolerate conditions different from those listed above. The varying conditions are likely to – as of in the case of coffee and wine – contribute to place-specific taste profiles that may be marketed under specific designation of origin, much like the concept of Appellation in the French wine industry.
The argument here is to suggest that specialty could be different from the Eurocentric notion of purity; purity as it was found in a seemingly static state in one moment in time and history. Perhaps the cacao plant could cross-breed across different varieties with more attention given to particulars of “place” as opposed to specificity of cultivars.

The Atlas of Economic Complexities interactive map 

 

Sources:

Ciferri, R., and F. Ciferri. “The Evolution of Cultivated Cacao.” Evolution 11.4 (1957). Web

Penn State. “Finest chocolate may get better: Cacao tree genome sequenced.” ScienceDaily, 28 December 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101226131600.htm>

Presilla, Maricel E.“The New Taste of Chocolate.”Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. 1-59. Print

Zhang, D. “Genetic Diversity and Structure of Managed and Semi-natural Populations of Cocoa (Theobroma Cacao) in the Huallaga and Ucayali Valleys of Peru.”Annals of Botany” 98.3 (2006): 647-55. Web.

 

Media Sources:

Merian, Maria Sibylla.Veranderingen der Surinaamsche Insecten. 1705. Engraved by Pieter Sluyter.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/Cacau_boom_Maria_Sibylla_Merian_1705_plate_XXVI.png

Xavier Algout,“The Genome of Theobroma Cacao.” Nature Genetics 43 (2011). http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v43/n2/fig_tab/ng.736_F4.html