Cacao, also known as cocoa, refers to the plant species Theobroma cacao, from which chocolate is derived. The cacao tree has various varieties or cultivars, each with its own distinct characteristics and flavor profiles. Here are some commonly known cacao varieties:
1. Criollo: Criollo is often considered the highest quality and most sought-after cacao variety. It is known for its delicate flavors, aromatic profile, and low bitterness. Criollo beans are usually more expensive and are valued for their complex taste, which can include notes of fruits, nuts, and spices. Criollo trees are susceptible to diseases and environmental conditions, making them relatively rare.
2. Forastero: Forastero is the most widely grown cacao variety and accounts for the majority of global cacao production. It is known for its robust and straightforward flavor, with stronger bitter notes compared to Criollo. Forastero trees are hardier and more resistant to diseases, making them easier to cultivate on a large scale. Within the Forastero variety, there are also sub-varieties with different flavor profiles.
3. Trinitario: Trinitario is a hybrid variety resulting from the crossbreeding of Criollo and Forastero trees. It combines the disease resistance of Forastero with some of the flavor complexity of Criollo. Trinitario beans can exhibit a wide range of flavors, depending on the specific crossbreeding and growing conditions. They may possess fruity, floral, or earthy notes.
4. Nacional: Nacional cacao is primarily associated with Ecuador. It was historically recognized as a distinct variety but is now considered a subtype of the Criollo variety. Nacional beans are known for their floral aroma, mild flavor, and slight nuttiness. They contribute to the unique characteristics of Ecuadorian chocolates.
5. Amazonian Varieties: In the Amazon rainforest region, wild or non-traditional cacao varieties can be found. These varieties, often referred to as "Amazonian cacao," can have diverse flavors and characteristics. They may have larger beans and exhibit a wide range of flavors, including fruity, earthy, and nutty notes.
It's important to note that flavor profiles can vary within each variety depending on factors such as genetics, growing conditions, post-harvest processing, and chocolate-making techniques. The blending of different cacao varieties is common in chocolate production to achieve desired flavor profiles and balance.
Please bear in mind that this is a general overview, and there may be additional cacao varieties or regional variations beyond what has been mentioned. The world of cacao is rich and diverse, offering a wide range of flavors and possibilities for chocolate enthusiasts.