Criollo cacao: It ain't what you might think


Cacao pods. Naomi Ibuki/Flickr

The Feb. 16 issue of Time has a short article featuring the Venezuelan criollo cacao bean.

The article details a resurgence of attention by a group of Venezuelan businesses on resurrecting the basically extinct criollo strain of cacao.

According to local chocolatiers, the Venezuelans may have their work cut out for them. "In recent years it [criollo] has become a really popular marketing term, but genetically it doesn't exist," says Rogue Chocolatier proprietor Colin Gasko.

Gasko, one of those rare bean-to-bar breeds of businessmen, is in a position to know. Most of the chocolate we eat, he says, even the finest kinds, are a hybrid blend, which may include some criollo but usually also contains others, such as trinitario and forastero (or if you're really lucky, porcelana).

While "criollo" literally means someone of mixed ancestry, in the cacao world (and it's quite a complicated world, let me tell you) it translates a little differently, basically meaning "common" says Gasko.

Chocolatier Mike Roberts of Legacy Chocolates, backs that up. "There are very very very few pure criollo genes," he says. When anyone refers to criollo, Roberts says, they're really just referring to what would be a percentage of the strain in any given bean.

Gasko says he uses some criollo cacao for his products but it is a hybrid criollo trinitario breed. Roberts says he likes the blends offered by Guittard Chocolate Company. He especially likes their 91 percent bar, which is a blend of about seven different beans according to the company's website.