Ecuador is one of the top five producers of cacao worldwide and the biggest of the continents in Latin America after Brazil. In addition, the first official cacao domestication was tracked all the way in Ecuador over five thousand years back and was attributed to people belonging to the Mayo Chinchipe culture.
When chocolate makers and consumers think of Ecuador as a cacao-producing country of origin, they are able to have high expectations of flavor and quality. But, this reputation of the millennials is in jeopardy as the most delicious cacao variety found in Ecuador, known as Nacional (or Arriba, also known as Arriba Nacional), is quickly disappearing.
Martinetti Cocoa is an established family business of the third generation that distributes Arriba Nacional chocolate from small-scale producers located in Los Rios to specialty chocolate makers across the globe. It is among the Ecuadorian businesses fighting to preserve Nacional cacao and is worried at the prospect of losing this distinctive fine-flavor variety. Director Jonathan Martinetti will help us know what’s happening currently on the ground in Ecuador and what we can do to preserve and promote this vanishing cacao variety. First, let’s get started by examining the fundamentals.
What’s Nacional cacao?
Nacional cacao is regarded to be a Criollo cultivar native to Ecuador, which is a part of that identical genetic lineage that is present in potteries, artifacts, and ceramics dating back to 5500 years ago. It is known as “Pepitas de Oro”; the pods are generally bright yellow with deep wrinkles indicating the Criollo descent. They are available in various sizes and shapes, but they tend to be extremely extended.
Like all cacao varieties, Nacional cacao has distinct flavors based on the region in which it is grown, starting from the Guayas River all the way to the Manabi rainforest. The predominant scents that are characteristic of Nacional cacao are floral and herbal, with some tropical fruit hints, which makes it a great source of chocolate for specialty with a rich aromatic profile.
As a traditional cacao variety, Nacional cacao wasn’t engineered to achieve maximum productivity and powerful growth as the most recent cacao hybrids that are available. It demonstrates the qualities of a traditional cacao variety, which is fragile, rare, and prone to deterioration. It, therefore, requires a lot of expertise, knowledge, and a sense of humor to allow it to grow to its maximum potential.
Although Nacional cacao once was a source of admiration for Ecuadorians, today, it is less than 1% of the cacao production in the country.
Why is Cacao Nacional Disappearing?
To comprehend why there is such a small amount of Nacional cacao in Ecuador, it is necessary to look back to the 1920s.
In the time that Ecuador reached its highest in terms of popularity, all cacao grown within the nation was pure Nacional, and the two most destructive diseases of cacao trees appeared suddenly in the country with frosty pods and witches’ Broom. Within less than a decade, Ecuadorian production was reduced to half.
To replace the trees that were lost To make up for the loss, exotic varieties were introduced into the country. Through crossbreeding, resistant-to-disease hybrids (like CCN-51) that were renowned CCN-51) were created to address the cacao crisis that hit the country. These hybrids were sturdy and grew quickly, easily, and needed less work. They also produced larger quantities. Within a short time, cacao farmers replaced almost all Nacional cacao trees with CCN-51 as well as other hybrids of the present.
The new cacao varieties are being produced within Ecuador, which is why their acceptance by cacao farmers is increasing. , These hybrids are excellent for productivity; however, they’re not as great for flavor.
“While still showcasing the flavor precursors of chocolate, they are far from the flavor complexity of the Nacional variety.” Jonathan explains Jonathan. “Even with carefully crafted fermentation methods and a variety of drying techniques hybrids like CCN51 cacao do not come near to the aroma of the floral, herbal or fruity notes Nacional cacao can provide. But their taste is good enough for big cocoa processors as well as chocolate producers across the globe.”
A third reason Nacional cacao is falling prey to hybrids that are high-producing is that buyers from abroad do not make a distinction between them.
What’s the point of do we need to increase Nacional cacao if chocolate makers do not want to bear it?
Industrial chocolate producers, who comprise 85 percent of the industry, do not require high-quality cacao with a fine flavor and are not willing to pay a premium than what is currently being offered. This is why Ecuadorian cacao growers are much more likely to plant the new hybrids (strong, robust, productive, disease-resistant, and easy to care for) rather than the fragile and less effective Nacional cacao.
It is important to note it is important to note that chemicals were brought into Ecuador in the past 40 years.
“The continuous use of these chemicals depleted the Ecuadorian soil overtime, leaving farmers struggling to squeeze as many nutrients from the soil as possible.” Jonathan says. Jonathan. “This poor soil condition together with climate change, loss of biodiversity, plant diseases and other farming challenges, only reinforced the preference for the strongest cacao varieties.”
What can we do to keep Nacional cacao from going extinct?
Suppose no concrete steps are implemented to safeguard Nacional cacao in the future. In that case, this distinctive variation will soon disappear completely from the planet, denying chocolatiers their remarkable flavor and aroma forever. There is, however, some hope for the future.
Marinetti Cacao intends to increase awareness about the importance of respecting and promoting Nacional cacao as a source of pride for Ecuadorians, which will never be lost. These are the suggestions they offer:
Paying a premium price for Nacional cacao. “Only by creating a clear distinction in monetary terms in between Nacional cacao and high-performing hybrids, we can encourage farmers to continue cultivating our pepitas de oro, our national fruit. All of our chocolate is made using the direct trading of Nacional cacao which is sold at much more than the market price in order to reward farmers for their courage and acknowledge their hard work.”
Improving farmers knowledge and skills. “Nacional cacao is able to reach new levels of efficiency when cacao farmers are educated on the ideal conditions for development: how to make organic fertilizers as well as how to keep animals and insects away from cacao trees, and how to give adequate shade and sunshine as well as how to avoid the spread of diseases and etc. If these methods are available to cacao farmers, they will increase the yield of all cacao varieties, Nacional included.”
Finding appreciative buyers. “No chocolate enthusiast will be able to resist the exquisite flavor and aroma that are the hallmarks of Nacional cacao. Should Nacional cacao can be further propagated, promoted and offered to the international market (in forms of cacao beans and chocolate couverture, and final products) professionals will definitely will be prepared to shell out for this unique raw product. This will lead to more demands for Nacional cacao, which will sustain all of the supply chains right back to cacao farmers who chose to grow it.”
Nacional cacao is able to be preserved and enjoy an exciting revival that will bring Ecuador right back to its glory days as the finest premium cacao maker in the entire world. The decision is entirely ours.