Theobroma cacao, the food of the gods
Criollo - the rare
The Criollo tree is native to Central and South America as well as the Caribbean islands and Sri Lanka. Only 5% of the world’s production is Criollo.
Criollos are particularly difficult to grow, as they are extremely vulnerable to a variety of environmental threats. The beans have a white to pale pink colour and their taste is described as delicate yet complex, low in classic chocolate flavor, but rich in secondary notes of long duration. Considered to be the “prince of cocoas,” Criollo is prized as an ingredient in the very finest of chocolates.
Forastero - the versatile
The most commonly grown cocoa is Forastero. It is most likely native to the Amazon basin. Today, Forastero is mainly grown in Africa, Ecuador and Brazil and accounts for 80% of the world’s cocoa supply. What makes it so popular is that it is much hardier and less susceptible to diseases. It has a much higher yield than the Criollo variety. Forastero cocoa has purple-coloured beans and is mainly used to give chocolate its full-bodied flavor. Its bitter taste has a short duration and is unsupported by secondary flavors, which is why it is often blended with superior cocoas. There are many Forastero subspecies: Amelonado, Cundeamor and Calabacillo, to name but a few. Amelonado cocoa is the most extensively planted cocoa of all.
Forastero got its name from the Spanish who at first imported Criollo cocoa exclusively from Venezuela. They regarded Criollo as the original variety of cocoa, as opposed to the ‘foreign’ Forastero variety from the Amazonas region.
Trinitario - the hybrid
Trinitario is a natural hybrid biological class resulting from cross-pollination. Legend recounts that it first came into existence on the Island of Trinidad, after a hurricane nearly completely destroyed the local Criollo crops in 1727. Assuming all the trees were dead, the plantations were replanted with Forastero, but spontaneous hybrids appeared. Trinitario combines the best of the two other main varieties: the hardiness and high yield of Forastero and the refined taste of Criollo. The quality of the cocoa varies between average and superior. It is the predominant fine flavor cocoa. Trinitario populations are usually variable in pod and bean characteristics because the parents have highly contrasting characters. They can now be found in all the countries where Criollo cocoa was once grown: Mexico, the Caribbean islands, Colombia, Venezuela, and in parts of Southeast Asia.