| Sarah Lesslie

What Exactly Is Heirloom Chocolate?

There are a few different theories on the first strains of chocolate trees, what we now refer to as “heirloom chocolate.” (An heirloom plant is an older cultivar which has been growing since before industrialized agricultural.) The first being that the first type of cacao (chocolate) tree grew in the area that is now southern Mexico and Guatemala. It was named, “Criollo”, and was discovered and cultivated by the Aztecs. Many people believe that this is the original strain of cacao, and that, therefore, only Criollo cacao is heirloom.

Recently, however, a group of ethnobotanists discovered that Forastero cacao, which comes from the Amazon, is just as old. These scientists have reason to believe that there may very well have been two different types of cacao that grew wild in different areas at the same time.

While the Criollo strain of cacao does not fair well for cultivation (it generally doesn’t have a high pod/tree ratio, comparatively), the Forastero strain does. Therefore, over time, Forastero became the more desired tree to cultivate.

Many ethnobotanists will say that you won’t find original strains being grown, let alone cultivated, but some believe that they do exist deep in the Amazon jungles, although they are by no means capable of cultivation.

Forastero cacao has been cultivated for so long now that it has been hybridized with other types of trees from around the world.  I am fortunate to be able to source my cacao from an Ecuadorian company, Pacari, which grows Arriba Nacional cacao, a type of Forastero native to the area that dates back hundreds of years and is highly prized for its flavor qualities. It is considered an heirloom because of how long it has been growing in that region. It is highly prized for its fruity, floral notes and robust flavor. You can really taste this unique flavor profile in our Dark & Sweet 80% bar. The reason I created this bar was to provide you with the opportunity to tune in to the subtleties in the Arriba Nacional that set it apart as one of the finest types of cacao in the world.

I love supporting the preservation of indigenous species. You really get to take a journey to the heart of Ecuador with every bite you take.