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Will chocolate go the way of the tasteless tomato?



February 16, 2015

Chocolate Swirl

Will chocolate go the way of the tasteless tomato? Climate change is pushing chocolate growers to embrace newer clones, many of which are less flavoursome than the older, more disease-prone varieties.

Our continuing love of all things chocolate and the growing taste for chocolate among Chinese and Indians threatens world supply, with predictions that supply will be outstripped by demand within 5 years. But it may be that only the bland, less interesting and less tasty varieties will survive as well. Just like those plastic, strangely red but entirely tasteless tomatoes in our supermarkets, chocolates could become more about guaranteed supply and looks, than taste.

praline-182861_640Mass-produced chocolate mostly uses cacao beans from a hybrid called CCN-51. It’s been around for 50 years or more and the plants are still highly productive, even in warming climates. But producers or fine chocolates like members of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association don’t use beans from these mass-production hybrids, preferring the delicate flavour differences created by a variety of growing areas, older hybrids, and specific cultural practises.

The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) is not native to India but thrives in the Kerala climate. Its flowers and the chocolatey beans grow directly from the trunk

The chocolatey beans of Theobroma cacao grow directly from the trunk

If you were a cacao grower and could swap your older, less-productive and more disease-prone trees, often only returning 65% of usable beans, for a more reliable hybrid, what would you do?

The Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative hopes to stem the substitution tide and reward growers who retain their old trees by recognising their heirloom status. There’s also the Cacao Genetic Improvement Program in Costa Rica, which has been introducing older heirloom plants into the breeding of modern clones to improve flavour.

More at Smithsonian.com

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