Deep Dive: Genetics of Ecuadorian Nacional

“The world is starting to talk about cacao varieties somewhat in the way it talks about wine varieties. In a general sense, there are many comparisons to be drawn between the two. Upon closer examination, the genetics of cacao are much more complicated.

“This issue of genetics is particularly charged in the realm of Ecuadorian cacao, where everyone wishes to claim that the cacao he or she works with (as a cacao grower or chocolate maker) is the famed Nacional variety. There are a few problems with this. The first problem is that Nacional cacao, as it was once known, is on the brink of extinction. That process was initiated over 100 years ago by the arrival of two diseases, and has since been compounded by the pressures of agro-economic bulk production. The second problem is that most cacao which is now called “Nacional” is, in fact, a genetically and organoleptically heterogeneous medley of many varieties mixed in with the original National genetics. The third problem is that this fact is greatly misunderstood by cacao growers and chocolate makers alike.” —Jerry Toth, co-founder To'Ak Chocolate and the Nacional Cacao Preservation project
If you are interested at all in the genetic and historic heritage of cacao (and you should be to some extent if you are a chocolate geek), then this very-well written and informative article should be on your must-read list. One great service the article does is place Ecuadorian Nacional in a much broader context, illuminating subtle points that are very important to a nuanced understanding of the topic.
Geek Score: 11 on a scale of 1-10 (but in a good way).
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Story Header Image Credit: Courtesy of the Jerry Toth/Nacional Cacao Preservation project

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Geographic and Genetic Population Differentiation of the Amazonian Chocolate Tree (Theobroma cacao L)

Geographic and Genetic Population Differentiation of the Amazonian Chocolate Tree (Theobroma cacao L)

Numerous collecting expeditions of Theobroma cacao L. germplasm have been undertaken in Latin-America. However, most of this germplasm has not contributed to cacao improvement because its relationship to cultivated selections was poorly understood. Germplasm labeling errors have impeded breeding and confounded the interpretation of diversity analyses. To improve the understanding of the origin, classification, and population differentiation within the species, 1241 accessions covering a large geographic sampling were genotyped with 106 microsatellite markers. After discarding mislabeled samples, 10 genetic clusters, as opposed to the two genetic groups traditionally recognized within T. cacao, were found by applying Bayesian statistics. This leads us to propose a new classification of the cacao germplasm that will enhance its management. The results also provide new insights into the diversification of Amazon species in general, with the pattern of differentiation of the populations studied supporting the palaeoarches hypothesis of species diversification. The origin of the traditional cacao cultivars is also enlightened in this study.
David Briceñogreekfreak