New Cacao Flavors Found

Scientists from the USDA and Peruvian collaborators collected new cacao plants during a 2008/2009 trip to Peru that promise great new flavors for the chocolate industry.

| September 30, 2011

  • Fortunato No. 4 chocolate, a fine-flavor product made from the Pure Nacional type of cacao identified in nothern Peru.
    Fortunato No. 4 chocolate, a fine-flavor product made from the Pure Nacional type of cacao identified in nothern Peru.
    courtesy Peggy Greb/ARS
  • Using a sterile technique, ARS scientist Gary Samuels extracts a sample of living plant tissue from a wild cacao tree on the bank of Rio Maranon in Peru.
    Using a sterile technique, ARS scientist Gary Samuels extracts a sample of living plant tissue from a wild cacao tree on the bank of Rio Maranon in Peru. Fungi in the sample could prove useful as a biological control agent of important cacao pathogens.
    courtesy ARS
  • During the 2008 collection trip, ARS researchers Gary Samuels, left, and Lyndel Meinhardt, center, and Peruvian plant pathologist Enrique Arevalo examine cacao leaves infected with witches' broom.
    During the 2008 collection trip, ARS researchers Gary Samuels, left, and Lyndel Meinhardt, center, and Peruvian plant pathologist Enrique Arevalo, of the Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales in Peru, examine cacao leaves infected with witches' broom.
    courtesy ARS
  • A village on the bank of Rio Pastaza in Peru. Two wild cacao populations were found and sampled near the upstream portion of the river.
    A village on the bank of Rio Pastaza in Peru. Two wild cacao populations were found and sampled near the upstream portion of the river.
    courtesy ARS
  • In Belstville, Maryland, Gary Samuels examines microscopic structures of fungi collected in Peru.
    In Beltsville, Maryland, Gary Samuels examines microscopic structures of fungi collected in Peru.
    courtesy Peggy Greb/ARS
  • At the Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, technician Stephen Pinney and visiting scientist Kun Ji prepare cacao leaf samples for DNA fingerprinting.
    At the Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, technician Stephen Pinney and visiting scientist Kun Ji prepare cacao leaf samples for DNA fingerprinting.
    courtesy Peggy Greb/ARS
  • A maturing cacao pod on a tree in Peru.
    A maturing cacao pod on a tree in Peru.
    courtesy Peggy Greb/ARS

  • Fortunato No. 4 chocolate, a fine-flavor product made from the Pure Nacional type of cacao identified in nothern Peru.
  • Using a sterile technique, ARS scientist Gary Samuels extracts a sample of living plant tissue from a wild cacao tree on the bank of Rio Maranon in Peru.
  • During the 2008 collection trip, ARS researchers Gary Samuels, left, and Lyndel Meinhardt, center, and Peruvian plant pathologist Enrique Arevalo examine cacao leaves infected with witches' broom.
  • A village on the bank of Rio Pastaza in Peru. Two wild cacao populations were found and sampled near the upstream portion of the river.
  • In Belstville, Maryland, Gary Samuels examines microscopic structures of fungi collected in Peru.
  • At the Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, technician Stephen Pinney and visiting scientist Kun Ji prepare cacao leaf samples for DNA fingerprinting.
  • A maturing cacao pod on a tree in Peru.

New cacao types with unique flavors that are distinctly Peruvian have been identified by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists. These new flavors could one day be marketed like wine, by geographical provenance.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the agency's Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory (SPCL) and Systematic Mycology and Microbiology Laboratory (SMML),  both in Beltsville, Maryland, and Peruvian collaborators found these new cacao plants during collection expeditions in 2008 and 2009 in the Amazon Basin of Peru.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

The researchers found hundreds of new cacao tree samples during the trips. One of these, discovered by collaborators from Maranon Chocolate, was Pure Nacional, an old, very rare, and highly coveted variety that has garnered a great deal of interest from makers of fine-flavored chocolates. Chocolate is produced from cacao.



This industry covets new and unique flavor sources. Usually, cacao trees are found along rivers, but these gems were found at a higher altitude than normal, and in Peru instead of Ecuador or Venezuela.

SPCL research leader Lyndel Meinhardt and geneticist Dapeng Zhang collaborated with the Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales (ICT), a research center in San Martin, Peru, to identify the new varieties of cacao. The researchers are studying 342 cacao specimens collected from 12 watersheds and categorizing the DNA of the specimens.






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