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Types of cocoa. Grains: Criollo, Trinitario and Forastero

Reading time: 6 minutes

Most people who enjoy the benefits of cocoa do not realize that there are types of cocoa. Lovers of ground cocoa beans know that traditional and raw ceremonial cocoa is available for sale and this is usually the end of the knowledge. Meanwhile, there are three main species that differ in taste and many varieties.

The taste of ceremonial cocoa and other cocoa-containing products largely depends on the type of beans used. According to "The World of Chocolate", the differences can be felt even in the case of cocoa trees from different growing regions. The nobler and better selected the crop, the higher the price is, of course [1]. A skilled connoisseur is able to recognize the type and origin of grains by taste. Although the above statement does not have to be entirely true, because the process of grain processing, i.e. fermentation, drying and possible roasting is of great importance for the final taste of cocoa. Nevertheless, it is traditionally recognized that Criollo is the noblest variety, and Forastero the least.

Let's start with cocoa

It is a small tree from the Malvaceae family, the most famous representative of which is the cocoa proper (Theobroma cacao L.) and it is he who dominated the cultivation of cocoa. Although it is worth mentioning the related Herrana, from whose fruits cocoa can also be produced. Both trees are also divided into many varieties, such as: Theobroma bicolor or Herrania umbratica, which grows only in Colombia.
However, let's return to the cocoa proper, which bears fruit up to three times a year. Cocoa flower

Its flowers resemble orchids a little and grow directly from the trunk. Cocoa does not like strong sun, so it feels best in the shadows of, for example, banana trees or other trees that provide protection from the sun. Nevertheless, artificial varieties have been created, which also do well in places with strong sunlight. An example of this is the Ecuadorian cocoa CCN-51 (Colección Castro Naranjal 51), which was invented by independent researcher Homero Castro in the 60s of the last century.

What do cocoa fruits look like?

The ripe fruits of the cocoa (Theobroma Cacao L.) are yellow, greenish, yellow-red, red to red-brown. In shape, they resemble American football balls. They reach an average length of 25 cm and have a thick shell. In the middle there is a white, sweet pulp and in it from 25 to 50 seeds arranged in five rows. Each of them has approx. 2-3 cm long. They are covered with white mucus. Fruits of criollo cocoa.

The three main types of cocoa, that is, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario

Traditionally, cocoa was divided into three species, and this classification was formed in the 40s of the last century [5]. These species are Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. The names were given by the Spaniards. When I asked a friend from Mexico what the word Criollo meant to him, he replied without hesitation that "a mixture or a hybrid." Nevertheless, the word criollo originally meant people born in South America, whose parents came from America and Europe, or Creole. Apparently, criollo cocoa was the first variety that the Spaniards encountered, and therefore you can find a translation of this word as: "native". All the rest were called Forastero, or alien. Fortunately, the case with Trinitario is simple, because it is a cross between Criollo and Forastero, which was bred in Trinidad.
Cocoa, however, has nothing to do with our classification and happily intersects with each other, but this is what we will find out at the end of this article.

Video showing the types of cocoa

In this short video you will see the basic varieties of cocoa.

https://youtu.be/EM6hFTp1Uew
Video showing the types of cocoa

Cocoa Criollo

Criollo is a noble and very rare group consisting of many varieties. It has only a 1% share of global production, although it dominated 200 years ago. It is native to Venezuela and Colombia and is also grown m.in in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean region. By the Maya it was considered the food of the Gods. [3] Obtaining good yields is difficult because trees are sensitive to adverse external factors. The yield of crops is lower than that of forastero.

Types of Cocoa Criollo example from Venezuela

COCOA CRIOLLO GUASARE

It is grown south of Lake Maracaibo. Currently, its plantations are quite small. It is characterized by a green fruit with a thin and slightly rough shell. This is cocoa of excellent quality.

COCOA CRIOLLO CHUAO

Perhaps the most famous in the world, grown in the Chuao region of the state of Aragua. It is classified as fine cocoa.

COCOA CRIOLLO PORCELAIN

It is grown in the south of Lake Maracaibo. It has a very special taste and is classified by experts as extremely fine cocoa. It is believed to have the best genetic quality of all cocoa trees grown in Venezuela.

What does the cocoa criollo fruit look like?

Criollo has elongated fruits, a rough and kostropaty skin of yellow color with ten grooves clearly marked.

What do fresh criollo grains look like?

The grains are round and white or pink inside. Criollo beans subjected to fermentation and drying have a complex and delicate taste somewhat associated with caramel, nuts and vanilla. Criollo cocoa is an ingredient in luxury chocolates. For example, Criollo originating in Venezuela can be divided into 3 subspecies Fruit and fresh Criollo grains

Cocoa Forastero

Forastero comes from the Amazon basin, which is why it is also called Cacao Amazonico. Due to the high yield of this cocoa, it is also called Cacao Corriente or ordinary cocoa. Currently, it is grown in many regions, mainly in Africa (Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire). The Spaniards originally imported this cocoa from Venezuela. Currently, Forastero dominates the market. According to various sources, it accounts for 85-95% of production on a global scale. Such a large share is due to the relatively low requirements and ease of cultivation (if such phrases can be used to refer to cocoa trees). It is relatively little susceptible to diseases and pests. It grows faster and gives a higher yield than other groups. [4]
Individual varieties belonging to Forastero differ in appearance. There are many subspecies, e.g.: Amelonado, Cundeamor and Calabacillo.

What does the cocoa forastero fruit look like?

Forastero has bulky melon-like fruits, smoothly peeled in yellow color. The grooves are poorly visible.

What do forastero grains look like?

The grains are elliptical and purple inside. Cocoa fruit Forastero AmelonadoThe fruit of Cocoa Forastero

Cocoa Trinitario

Trinitario is cocoa with a delicate taste. It is a hybrid of the two above varieties. It was selected in the seventeenth century. The trees were brought from Venezuela to Trinidad. It was a hit. For several decades, Trinidad produced the best cocoa beans. Currently, the share of trinitario in the global market is below 10%. Trinitario has a forastero aroma and a delicate criollo flavor.

What does the fruit of cocoa trinitario look like?

Trinitario has elongated fruits, more bulky than criollo, slightly rough and peeled in yellow or red with five double grooves marked.

What do trinitario grains look like?

The grains are elliptical and pink or slightly purple inside. Cocoa fruit Trinitario

We go into the cocoa forest, which is 1000 varieties of cocoa.

The above traditional division into Criollo, Forastero or Trinitario turns out to be not very true, because according to the research shown in the article "Geographic and Genetic Population Differentiation of the Amazonian Chocolate Tree (Theobroma cacao L)" [7] in the Amazon alone, 10 varieties of cocoa were distinguished. Cocoa trees

And here they are:

Marañon, Curaray, Criollo, Iquitos, Nanay, Contamana, Amelonado, Purús, Nacional and Guiana.

If we add cocoa growing in Africa, Indonesia, Kerala in India or Madagascar, it is probably possible to distinguish the next dozen or so varieties. What about artificial hybrids such as: CCN-51?

Cocoa (and not just one because we distinguish at least two: Theobroma Cacao L. and Herrania) loves to interbreed with itself and practically all the time some new varieties are being created. On the other hand, taste, i.e. what we are most interested in, also depends to a large extent on the processing process, i.e. fermentation, drying or roasting. Much also depends on the quality of the machines in which cocoa is ground and many other factors. Therefore, the common opinion that Criollo is a king, and Forastero or Trinitario barely a stable is wrong, because we can find a very weak Criollo and an outstanding Forastero or vice versa.

Reaching for various products in which cocoa is used, it is worth experimenting and getting to know new flavors. In addition to the most popular type, you also have to try others.

[1] P. Lavrovsky; How to distinguish cocoa beans?; The world of chocolate; 5/2018; s:60-64
[2] J. C. Motamayor; A. M. Risterucci; P. A. Lopez; C. F. Ortiz; A. Moreno &
C. Lanaud; Cacao domestication I: the origin of the cacao cultivated by the Mayas; Heredity 89, 380–386(2002)
[3] https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/08/is-criollo-chocolate-really-king-the-myth-of-the-3-cacao-varieties/
[4] http://www.cacaoweb.net/cacao-tree.html
[5] http://sweetmatterphysicist.com/beyond-criollo-trinitario-forastero/
[6] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0003311
[7] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0003311
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herrania

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