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Native Beans Yield Regionally Flavored Chocolate

Taste bud- trained chocolati know that not all chocolate tastes the same.  A bar produced with beans grown in South America tastes different than one from beans grown in West Africa, for example.  Variations in climate and soil characteristics explain a lot of the difference.  Happily, the diversity is so savored that manufacturers are cultivating various types of beans so the flavors can continue to distinguish regional chocolates.

Most consumers don’t know how much cacao is used in making chocolate candy.  For example, Hershey’s classic bar, the all-time favorite, only has a little over 10% cacao.  But increasingly gourmet chocolate candy makers are launching lines with higher cacao content to lure the discerning customer.  Some of these are 75-90% cacao!  And though very little is generally used in the average bar you might find in your candy store, cacao growers around the world cultivate millions of tons of beans annually. 

Cacao is farmed along the equator and experts generally classify the beans into 3 types: Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario.   You might be surprised to know how much variation exists even among the 3 classic types.  From the fruity flavors of the Jamaican, Indonesian and Brazilian beans to the lighter chocolate flavors of beans grown near the Pacific Rim the variety reflects the different characteristics of each region.  Also, hybrids of all 3 types have been developed to stay consistent with candy makers’ products taste standards and consumer palates. 

Manufacturers know that beans from Ghana have a strong, nutty almost roasted coffee taste.  Another part of Africa, the Cote d’Ivoire grows more Forastero cacao than any other place in the world, nearly 1.5 tons!  These beans are frequently blended with other beans because of their rich cocoa flavor and consistency.  Venezuela produces spicy complex chocolate flavored Criollo beans, but Forastero can now also be found in this area.

Chocolate industry analysts understand that too much variation may kill customer confidence in a brand, so the most appealing beans are increasingly being blended to form new and pleasing combinations of flavors.  But unexpected climate changes may also cause variation from one season to the next.  Certain varieties like the Criollo, need more water to thrive than the Trinitario for instance.  More and more the issue of sustainability is being raised because the area where much of the cacao is farmed is endangered.  Another controversial problem is fair trade.

Fair trade advocates argue that so little money made from the hard work of the farmers who grow the cacao is actually paid them by conventional chocolate manufacturers.  That is why smart brands promote their efforts to pay farmers fair wages on each package of their chocolate.  Sales are supporting the cause.  So, whether it is the mildly bitter essence of the Peruvian cacao or the smooth and simple flavor of beans from the Lower Amazon, it seems shoppers like knowing about the origins of their beans even as they enjoy the regional flavors.

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