Just like wine is made with different types of grapes, chocolate gets its flavor from the type of bean used. Here are the three main strains of cacao and everything you need to know about them:
Originating in Central America, Criollo cacao is highly sought after due to its delicate flavor notes and lack of bitterness. First cultivated by the Mayans over 2,000 years ago, Criollo cacao trees are now extremely scarce due to their low yields and susceptibility to disease. While some pure Criollo trees still exist in Central and South America, most are now hybrid strains designed to be hardier against disease.
Native to South America, Forastero cacao is now grown across the world. More than 85% of chocolate produced in the world today is made using Forastero beans, also known as “bulk beans." This is due to the Forastero strain being hardier and less susceptible to disease. Unlike the fine flavor of Criollo cacao, Forastero beans are characterized by their bitter and rich chocolate taste. These beans are commonly blended with other strains to produce a more complex flavor.
Trinitario cacao is a hybrid that combines the fine flavor of Criollo with the high-yield of Forastero. As the name suggests, Trinitario cacao originated on the island of Trinidad. In the late 1600s, Criollo trees were taken from Venezuela and planted in Trinidad. The cacao trees thrived there until a hurricane hit the island in 1727 and destroyed almost all of the crops. Forastero trees were replanted on the island and spontaneously cross-pollinated with the remaining Criollo to form this new strain of cacao. Trinitario now makes up 10% to 15% of the world’s cocoa supply, and the beans are highly sought after for their quality and flavor.