What are the different varieties of cacao?
There are actually over ten varieties of cacao but most people consider there to be three main types: Forastero, the robust and most widely grown; Criollo, the higher quality but more expensive and finally Trinitario, the hybrid of the other two. Then there are a few sub-varieties.
There is a great article by thechocolatejournalist that explains “The biggest misconceptions on cacao varieties.”1
Forastero is the most widely grown variety making up around 80% of the world’s cocoa production. It means ‘stranger’ in Spanish. This is because the Spanish colonisers first encountered the Criollo variety in Mexico, calling it ‘native’ and so named cacao from other places as ‘foreign’.2
It originated in the Bahia region of Brazil but is now also grown in Africa and South East Asia. It is favoured because of its robustness, resistance to disease and high yields.
It is not as highly regarded as Criollo and is sometimes called a ‘bulk cocoa’ as some manufacturers combine it with other cocoa beans to enhance the flavour. It can be quite bitter and acidic but gives people a full-bodied chocolate.
There are a few sub-varieties such as Amelonado, Cundeamor and Calabacillo and each will offer slightly different cocoa tastes.3 Amelonado is the most widely cultivated.
According to fao.org, “Forastero (Amelonado) pods are short, yellow, smooth without warts, and with shallow furrows.”4
Criollo is generally deemed to be the highest quality out of all the varieties of cocoa but also the most expensive. Criollo is often described as the ‘grand cru’ of chocolates as it provides a fine flavour with rich aromas, leaves many secondary notes and is only mildly bitter.
It is rarer and grown far less commonly around the world because it produces lower yields than the other varieties and is prone to fungi diseases and pests. It now makes up less than 1% of the world’s cocoa production.5
It can be traced back to the ancient Mayan civilisation and was discovered by Christopher Columbus on the island of Guanaja in 1502.6 However, although many say that it is indigenous to Venezuela or Central America, it more likely had its origins in the Amazon-basin like all the other cocoa forms.7
It is now still grown in Central and South America, but also in the Caribbean, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
Just like Forastero, it also has many sub-varieties; “in Venezuela well-known varieties are “Chuao”, “Porcelana”, “Puerto Cabello” and “Carupano”.”8
Fao.org describes Criollo pods, when ripe as: “long, yellow or red, with deep furrows and big warts.”9
Trinitario is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero cocoa and takes some of the best traits from both. It has the aromas and fine flavours from Criollo and the hardiness, high yields and resistance to disease from Forastero.
It actually came about by accident. The island of Trinidad originally grew Crillio cocoa, but after a hurricane in 1727 destroyed all the crops, they decided to replant the plantations with Forastero. But cross-pollination must have occurred and the new variety of Trinitario appeared.10
Trinitario cocoa is nowadays cultivated throughout the world but still only makes up about 5% of the total world production. It is still grown in Trinidad but now also in Venezuela, Ecuador, Columbia, Cameroon, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and parts of South East Asia.
The pods of Trinitario cacao, as it is a cross breed, can be “long or short, red and yellow.”11