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Cacao Quality
01-31-2012

The quality of the copious amounts of chocolate (Theobroma cacao) consumed each year can be affected by numerous factors, including locations grown, harvesting time and conditions, and the fermentation process used (See HC 101123-441). But, it all starts with the bean.

The three main types of cocoa bean grown are Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario, a hybrid of the other two.

Forastero is the most common cocoa bean grown, accounting for more than 90% of production. Forastero means "foreigner" in Spanish. Originally from the Amazon region, various types of Forastero trees have spread all over the world. The most common variety is the Amenolado found in Brazil and West Africa. Considered the lowest taste quality bean in the chocolate world, Forastero bean production predominates due to its disease resistance and dependability. While Forastero is the "bulk bean" used more for its consistent performance rather than subtle flavors, there are a few exceptions, such as the Ecuadorian Cacao Nacional or Arriba Forastero, both used for fine flavoring.

Criollo beans were the first to be imported exclusively from Ecuador by the Spanish. Criollo means "native" in Spanish and distinguishes it from the Forastero beans. Criollo has the distinctive complex taste of fruit, caramel, nuts, vanilla, and tobacco, and can also display a reddish color. Two hundred years ago, Criollo beans were the predominant cocoa bean. However, the beans easily succumb to disease and have a lower productivity than the "workhorse" Forastero bean. If you ever find chocolate containing the Criollo bean, know that you are getting a rare and flavor-complex chocolate experience. Two varieties of the Criollo bean for which to look are the Ocumare 61 and the Chuao, both from Venezuela. It seems any chocolate where the beans originate from Venezuela would be a delectable delicacy as the country is known for producing chocolate with complex fruit flavors, especially red plums and dark cherries.

Trinitario beans are a hybrid of the Criollo and Forastero beans developed in the mid-1700s in Trinidad. In fact, the name Trinitario is derived from the island where it first came into existence. Other locations producing Trinitario beans include Venezuela, Ecuador, Cameroon, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Java, and Papua New Guinea. They are the predominant fine flavor cocoa bean used in high-quality dark chocolate. Thought to combine the best of flavor and hardiness, its flavors range from spicy to earthy to fruity. The varieties Carenero and Rio Caribe are highly regarded.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor