October 04, 2012; New York, NY (Virtual Press Office) – Pure Ancient Criollo, a once-thought extinct species of cacao, as well as other pure and extremely rare varieties of cacao, have been "rediscovered" by Madécasse Chocolate Company in remote northwest Madagascar along the region's original forest cover. The findings, confirmed by genetic testing by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in collaboration with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA), ensure that these cacao trees—widely considered to produce legendary, fine flavor beans that are sought after worldwide—can now be preserved and grown for future generations, benefitting farmers, the environment, and chocolate lovers alike.
USDA-ARS researchers and FCIA representatives worked with Madécasse co-founder Brett Beach to obtain samples of trees according to strict USDA-ARS guidelines during a recent visit to farms on the island. The results of those samples included the first pure Ancient Criollo (cree-yo-yo) the USDA-ARS had ever put in its database as well as genetically pure Amelonado, a rare and disappearing variety and several trees in the Trinitario cluster. These cacao trees, once common a century ago, are known for producing beans rich in flavor compounds and command premium prices from the world's fine chocolate makers. But they have been disappearing worldwide for decades, replaced with high-yield, low-flavor, disease-resistant varieties.
"These cacao trees have maintained their original genetic identities as ancient Criollo, Amelonado and traditional Trinitario," said Dr. Dapeng Zhang, the lead research geneticist at the USDA-ARS. "This is unprecedented in today's cacao production systems."
Madécasse (pronounced mah-day-cas), which works side-by-side with farming cooperatives in Madagascar to source their cocoa—is set to make the most from the discovery. "This discovery means a lot of things," says Madécasse co-founder Tim McCollum. "It means we can plant more rare cacao and preserve more of the environment in the process. It means farmers will make even higher wages that get reinvested into their local communities. And it means we'll continue to make even more flavorful chocolate."
The discovery couldn't come at a better time for Madagascar—an environmental hotspot where 80% of the plants and animals are found nowhere else in the world and considered by conservation experts to be one of the most threatened habitats today. A coup in 2008 and general lack of rule-of-law has caused significant drawback in foreign-aid and investment, leaving the economy stagnant and national parks, once the highlight of the conservation world, relatively open for logging and massive deforestation.
To this end, Madécasse, in partnership with Conservation International and local communities, are supporting cocoa regrowth and preservation efforts around targeted national parks in Madagascar, which have been in serious decline due to illegal logging and "slash-and-burn" farming. According to Conservation International, "Cocoa growing regions are critical buffer zones and corridors for protected areas under significant threat of deforestation. Cocoa cultivation requires a shade canopy, which in turn provides a natural habitat for flora and fauna."
The findings by Madécasse also became an impetus for the founding of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative, a partnership between the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) to create the first-ever genotype map with a focus on flavor cacao trees. The Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative (HCP) will connect everyone with a stake in the future of fine flavor chocolate to a very specific set of goals: to know where the world's finest flavor beans are; to tie their flavor to the genetics; and ultimately to help ensure cacao quality and diversity, and preserve and propagate fine flavor beans for future generations. Madécasse plans on being one of the first to submit beans for evaluation by the HCP in fall 2012.
"We need tasty cacao beans with genes we can identify so they can be around for future generations to enjoy," says Dan Pearson, an FCIA board member who helped develop the HCP and who at his company, Marañón Chocolate, rediscovered ancient Pure Nacional cacao in Peru. "The best tasting chocolates in the world are poised for extinction. As growers continue to remove or replace fine flavor cacao trees with less flavorful, high-yield, disease-resistant cacao hybrids and clones, a world of ordinary flavor dominates the chocolate universe. The Madécasse discovery is another exciting step in the possibilities of connecting genetics to flavor and an important new way to protect and preserve the finest flavors for future generations."
That's exactly what Madécasse hopes for the future for fine flavor chocolate, especially for the people of Madagascar. "As one of the only companies in the world producing high-quality, finished products in Africa," says Tim McCollum, "we've got to set an example for the world that quality and conservation is just good business."
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About Madécasse Chocolate Company:
Started in 2008 by Brett Beach and Tim McCollum, Madécasse produces bean-to-bar, hand-wrapped chocolate all in Africa, close to the cocoa source. One of the only global companies to work directly with the entire production process from farm to wrapper, each product is created using social & environmental friendly methods to nurture the highest-quality cocoa beans.
Selected in 2011 as one of Fast Company Magazine's "World's 50 Most Innovative Companies" and a "2012 Leader of Change" by the UN Office of Partnerships and the Foundation for Social Change. Madécasse chocolate and vanilla products are available in over 1400 stores nationwide, 12 countries and online at http://store.madecasse.com
To learn more, visit: http://www.madecasse.com/explore-madecasse-story.php
About Fine Chocolate Industry Association:
Founded in 2007, the FCIA (http://finechocolateindustry.org/) is a global, non-profit organization focused on providing support to Fine Chocolate professionals via educational programs and networking opportunities. Over 200 professional members worldwide, including chocolatiers, chocolate makers, equipment manufacturers, packaging companies and other suppliers, plus hundreds of chocolate aficionados actively support and follow FCIA's programs and initiatives.