Cacao Nacional, an ancestral variety for premium chocolates
For many years, people used to think that there were only three types of cacaos: Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero. However, cacao diversity has been classified into ten genetic groups: varieties: Marañón, Curaray, Criollo, Iquitos, Nanay, Contamana, Amelonado, Purús, Guiana, and Nacional. (The Ecuadorian variety).
Cacao Nacional traces its genetic lineage back at least 5,300 years, to the first known cacao trees domesticated by humanity. Nowadays, Scientists recognized that cacao had its center of origin in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Recent researches made in Palanda, a town in Zamora Chinchipe (south of Ecuador) have shown that at least a variety of Theobroma cacao has its origin in the upper Amazon thanks to the archaeological evidence found in the culture called Mayo-Chinchipe.
Genetic tests of domestication of the ancestral variety of the Cacao Nacional in Zamora Chinchipe found in the archaeological record additional support when the cultural use of this fruit in that region since considerable antiquity.
Cacao Nacional is widely considered the best of the best for its superior taste. Ecuador, with its unique geographic conditions and its wealth of its biological resources, is the best producer of the fine flavor cacao [FFC], which has been recognized for centuries on the international market for its unique floral flavor.
Cacao is a symbol product of Ecuador since it has been part of our history since the 1800s and, it combines history, culture, conservation, and financial purposes for farmers on the coast and amazon of Ecuador.
Ecuador was the first exporter of the world in the 18th and part of the 19th century and currently, it is one of the top exporters of FFC because it produces around 50% of the world’s fine flavor cacao production, which is just the 5% in the planet.
Cacao Nacional, the FFC variety has very particular characteristics of aromas and flavors, which the chocolate manufacturers are looking for.
Fine flavor cacao, naturally the best.
A cacao bean contains hundreds of chemical compounds, several of which are flavor pre-cursors transformed thru. Flavor development hinges on a combination of factors fusing together: Origen (genetic), the terroir (climate, soil, surrounding flora growing in the same root system), post-harvest processing, and quality protocols.
However, many chocolate makers consider that cacao Nacional is very special because of its floral aroma and complex flavor profile.
Cacao has various colors depending on genetics: green, yellow, orange, red, purple, or maroon. Different colors, different flavors, different profiles. Ripen cacao Nacional pod is beautifully yellow, like gold for that reason Ecuadorian called it the golden bean. It takes five or six months for the cacao pods to ripen from the pollinated flowers.
It varies depending on the country of cultivation, the climatic conditions, and the cacao variety. It is only when the cacao pods are fully ripe that the pulp surrounding the cacao seeds provides enough sugar for optimal fermentation.
Fermentation is an essential part of turning raw cacao into delicious chocolate. Yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes ferment the juicy white pulp that surrounds the cacao beans. The beans endure the heat, acid, and enzyme effects from the fermentation of the pulp and are transformed, both internally and externally, as a result.
Fermentation is an essential process to create the chemical compounds we associate with that desirable chocolate flavor and the methods vary depending on the objectives and availability of resources.
When people say “chocolate is healthy” it is necessary to consider the fact that “chocolate” comes in a very wide array of ingredients. A milk chocolate candy bar loaded with milk, sugar, and very little highly processed cacao paste and cacao butter are very different from eating a bar with a higher percentage of cacao or cacao nibs.
One of the greatest health benefits of cacao is that it has one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any food out there. These antioxidants include polyphenols, flavonols, catechins, and epicatechins.
A chocolate bar full of cacao is an excellent and delicious alternative for a daily diet but if it is fine flavor cacao, there is a gift: a complex sensory experience.
A good chocolate maker, like any winemaker or coffee maker, pays attention to all the facts of the production of cacao beans, because the higher quality of the cacao beans, the better profiles there will be.
Unbelievably, premium cacao beans are full of natural flavors that consumers cannot imagine: flower, fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, herbs, wood, and so on.
For this reason, a chocolate premium bar is able to have a high percentage of cacao with only one more ingredient: a sweetener. A premium chocolate bar made with cacao Nacional is going to have naturally diverse tastes, aromas, and textures.
From delicate floral notes to a creamy mouthfeel, like classical music in the mouth, pure art for the senses.
By Cristina Chóez Ortega
National Tour Guide
Rural Development Consulting and Training