(Editor's Note: The cacao bean (also known as cocoa bean) is where cocoa solids and cocoa butter come from. As Gayle explained in posts on What Is White Chocolate? and Real Chocolate: How Can You Tell?, cocoa solids and cocoa butter are what make chocolate, well... chocolate. We asked Gayle more about these remarkable beans.)
Question: Where do cacao beans come from?
Gayle: All beans are grown within 20 miles of the equator. There's actually a new cacao chocolate trend that focuses on making chocolate derived from a single region.
Question: What type of beans are used to make chocolate?
Gayle: There are two main categories of cacao beans that are derived from four different types of cacao trees.
Question: What are the trees called and where are they from?
Gayle: First is the Forastero tree, which was discovered in the Amazon jungle but is primarily refined in Africa.
Question: It's in Central America too, right?
Gayle: Yes! Then there's the Criollo tree, found in Central America and some parts of the Caribbean. Finally there's the Nacional, a fragile tree found in South America and the Andes. And the Trinitario, which came into existence in 1730 after an accidental cross-fertilization of criollo and forastero cacao trees in Trinidad.
Question: What are the two types of cacao beans?
Gayle: Well, 90% of commercial cacao beans are referred to as Bulk Beans. They are produced mainly in the West African country of Côte d'Ivoire.
Question: The Ivory Coast. I didn't know that.
Gayle: That's why we're talking! The other 5-10% of commercial cacao comes from Flavor Beans. Flavor Beans are found in Ecuador, Colombia, Indonesia, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Grenada and some Caribbean and Latin American countries.
Question: Flavor Beans. Why that name?
Gayle: Well, their taste depends on lots of factors. They're fueling the cacao chocolate trend.
Question: What are the factors?
Gayle: Things like the soil, the temperature, sunshine, the amount of rain. Things like that. Also how the beans are dried and fermented.
Question: So, climate influences the taste of the chocolate?
Gayle: Absolutely! And there's a new chocolate trend that's starting to gain some steam called single source origin.
Question: Single source?
Gayle: Right. The cacao chocolate trend is like wine tasting. Specialty chocolate made with cacao beans from just one single region creates a different chocolate experience. As I mentioned, different regions and climates create different aromas and flavors. I'm heading to San Francisco to buy some single source chocolate at the end of August.
Question: What will you make with it?
Gayle: Some new types of truffles.
Cacao Chocolate Trend - Going Further
(Editor's postscript: After chatting with Gayle, we found more info on comparing the single-source cacao chocolate trend to wine tasting. Check out this recent article from Candy Industry to learn more.