The Three (or Four, or Two) Types of Cacao Beans, Part II

Meet the four types of cacao beans in the chocolate family: Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario, and Nacional.

In Part I of this article, we introduced you to the most widely-recognized types of cacao beans: Criollo, the bean that flavored the original Aztec xocolatl, and Forastero, which provides most of the chocolate we imbibe today. Both types are currently grown just about anywhere that can support the Theobroma cacao tree.

Taken together, Criollo and Forastero account for 81% of the chocolate on the world market. But what about that other 19%? Well, that's what Part II of this article's all about. Here's where we tell you about the other two members of the family, Trinitario and Nacional.

Trinitario cacao

Most accounts of the various types of cacao beans make room for the Trinitario variety, which (as its name suggests) originated in Trinidad. Genetically, Trinitario is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, which explains why some observers are unwilling to recognize it as a separate formal type.

Trinitario beans require a medium-length fermentation process for the best flavor, though a short fermentation produces acceptable beans; similarly, the roasting time can be either short or medium. The flavor is considered nearly as complex as that of Criollo beans, making them ideal for improving the flavor of blends.

The Trinitario is the second most commonly exploited of all four types of cacao beans. It provides almost all of the 19% of the world's chocolate that isn't Forastero (80%) or Criollo (1%). There's just one type that's rarer, and not everyone believes that it's a viable variety. But don't tell the Ecuadorans that.

Nacional cacao

Nacional cacao is a rare variety that's grown primarily in western South America, almost exclusively in Ecuador. Supposedly, it's descends from trees grown by the Mayans. Genetically, Nacional is considered a Forastero, which is why some don't consider it a distinct variety.

At one time, Nacional cacao provided a large proportion of the world's chocolate; however, in the 1920s, the Nacional plantations were devastated by disease.
Because Nacional is slow to grow and prone to disease, the plantations were largely replanted with trees producing other types of cacao beans.

Today Nacional cacao is quite rare. Like Forastero, Nacional requires short fermentation and roasting periods. However, the flavor is considered nearly as complex and enticing as that of the Criollo bean, and where it's available, Nacional is used to flavor high-end chocolates.

And there you have it!

As you can see, we chocolate fans have it easy, compared to coffee or wine connoisseurs. They have dozens of different varieties to worry about. When it comes to X-Choc, we just have to worry about four types of cacao beans -- or maybe three, if you squint just right!