Many naturally-occurring varieties of cacao trees exist in addition to having been hybridized into many more. Most beans are of three types. Bulk beans come from disease-resistant trees that grow primarily on the west coast of Africa, a growing region that got its start from trees that originated in the Amazon. Latin America is known for its flavor bean varieties that generate a less predictable, lower-yield crop of beans that are disease-prone. Cultivated trinitario trees are hybrids, a mixture of forastero and criollo species that were named for Trinidad where the first such trees originated. Most chocolate bars are a blend, with a base of bulk beans to which flavor beans are added, giving the chocolate its own unique flavor.
Ecuador is considered the flavor capital of cacao and is most famous for its Arriba (also called Nacional) cacao. Flavor bean varieties make up just five percent of the world’s cacao beans and over half of these come from Ecuador. The less expensive bulk beans add to the profitability of chocolate bars which is why most contain more bulk beans than flavor beans. Thanks to the increasing sophistication of the modern palate and what chocolate lovers are willing to pay for this gastronomic experience, the bean ratio has begun to go the other direction in a growing segment of the chocolate bar market.
Chocolate companies have begun displaying the percentage of cacao in some of their bars. Labels are less likely to tell you if your bar is made up of pure Arriba beans or if they have been mixed with the Arriba knock-off, the CCN-51 hybrid, but during your travel to Ecuador, you can always ask. Some labels name the country and province of origin, as well as the harvest year. Single origin chocolate tells you where the beans are from but not whether, as in wine, it was a good year or a bad year. Blending makes for consistent-tasting chocolate year to year.
Now that dark chocolate has gained a reputation as an anti-oxidant-rich health food, many chocolate lovers prefer their bars to contain raw cacao, a term that means the beans have undergone minimal processing and have been heated to lower temperatures than standard methods. Purists prefer their chocolate dark without the addition of milk, the better for tasting the divine floral qualities of Ecuador’s contribution to chocolate.
Visitors will find Ecuadorian chocolate to sample various places during their travel to Ecuador, especially on Quito tours. If you decide to travel to Ecuador, Southern Explorations offers many destinations from which to choose, including Galapagos Islands tours and the mainland from the Andes to the Ecuador Amazon.