by Annmarie Kostyk, The Chocolate Expert
Chocolate comes from the cocoa beans from the Theobroma cacao which can only be grown and produced fruit between 20º north and 20º south of the equator. This are is known as “the cocoa belt.” Theobroma cacao has been successful grown as a tree elsewhere, but will not bear fruit. It is very particular. Theobroma cacao is grown primarily in West Africa, Central America, South America and Asia. According to the International Cocoa Organization, the vast majority of cocoa comes from Cote d’Ivoire (38%), Ghana (21%), Indonesia (13%), Nigeria (5%), Brazil (4%), Cameroon (5%), Ecuador (3%), Malaysia (1%) and the last 10% are made up of cocoa coming from Sri Lanka, parts of India, Venezuela, Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, Hawaii, Mexico, Fiji and other countries near the equator.
There are three main varieties of chocolate, the Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario. There are some fantastic debates on the varieties of hybrids and original species from these three varieties, but we will keep that for another time. Keep in mind when tasting chocolate, most chocolate today is made up of a blend of cacao beans from different regions or different varieties. If you are dealing with a certain exclusive bean from a specific region, the chocolate maker will indeed tell you as this is an exceptional treat. In these cases, the chocolate maker will let you know if it is single-origin (made with the beans from one region or an entire country), single-plantation (estate grown), made up of only one variety of bean, a special blend, organic or fair trade.
The Forastero tree is the most widely grown of the three cacao trees as it is the most hardy of the species. It is, however, the cacao bean offering the least amount of flavor from its beans. The Forastero is the most commonly used of the cacao bean in all chocolates throughout the world. The Forastero is thought to have started growing in the Amazon. It now grows in other countries such as Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Ecuador. Forastero makes up approximately 70% of the world’s cacao supply.
The Criollo is a rare and fragile variety of Theobroma cacao. It gives little in way of crop and it is very susceptible to disease. Pure Criollo is usually found on the western side of Columbia. It is commonly cultivated in the regions of Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Madagascar, Columbia and the Comoros Islands. Pure Criollo is not often used in any chocolate production. A chocolate maker using pure Criollo in their chocolate bar is going to let you know that you have an exceptional experience waiting for you in your dark chocolate bar. If it says Criollo, it is most likely a hybrid version of the Criollo and Trinitario trees unless noted otherwise. Criollo makes up approximately 10% of the world’s cacao supply. The Criollo beans are known to have a fruity flavor and to be slightly acidic. The Criollo is known to be the most flavorful and aromatic of the three varieties.
The Trinitario is a hybrid of the Criollo and Forastero. The cocoa beans from the Trinitario are thought to be very aromatic and robust. The yield is high, but not a high as the Forastero. The Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture began to experiment with this variety in the 1920s in Trinidad. Varieties of the Trinitario are now growing successful all over the world, primarily in the same countries as that of the Criollo. The Trinitario variety of the Theobroma cacao makes up about 20% of the world’s cacao. It possesses notes such as oak, honey and balsamic.
Don’t forget to eat your daily chocolate! It’s good for you…
Annmarie Kostyk is the Chocolate Expert. She is a graduate of Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, British Columbia and the french Pastry School in Chicago. She has written four books on chocolate, writes a blog entitled Annmarie Kostyk, the Chocolate Expert, and has chocolate bars from all over the world stashed in very odd places.
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