First, a chocolate primer. There are three main types of cocoa: criollo, trinitario and forastero, and each is different from the others in significant ways. Forastero is the workhorse; it grows consistently and tends to be hardy and disease-resistant, but it doesn't have much nuance in terms of flavor profile.
About 90 percent of the world's chocolate is made from the beans from this type of cacao fruit. Criollo has a complex and fruity flavor, but has much lower yields and is less disease-resistant; the pure version of the plant was thought to have been lost, since over the years it was crossbred with forastero to product the trinitario type (named for Trinidad, where it was first grown). Trinitario is what much of the better quality chocolates we enjoy are made from, and account for about 10 percent of the global chocolate market.
But according to some new research in Madagascar, the high-quality chocolate obsessives (and fair-trade champions) at Madecasse Chocolate Company have found some of those original criollo plants.
According to a news release from the company: "Pure Ancient Criollo, a once-thought extinct species of cacao, as well as other pure and extremely rare varieties of cacao, have been “rediscovered” by Madécasse Chocolate Company in remote northwest Madagascar along the region’s original forest cover.
The findings, confirmed by genetic testing by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in collaboration with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA), ensure that these cacao trees — widely considered to produce legendary, fine flavor beans that are sought after worldwide — can now be preserved and grown for future generations, benefiting farmers, the environment, and chocolate lovers alike." (The once-common Amelonado strain, a rare and disappearing variety and several trees in the Trinitario cluster, were also found.)