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What are the different varieties of Cacao?

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

There are four key varieties known within the chocolate industry, but of course, being the highly intelligent tree, The Cacao Tree has thousands of varieties..

The three main varieties are:

Criollo - the rarest, finest and lightest in flavour. They are fragile to disease and have a pure white bean inside the pod.

Forastario - a more robust version. They have a dark purple bean that tastes more bitter. They are strong against disease.

Trinitario - a hybrid of the above two, developed in Trinadad to combine the flavours and the robustness. They are a soft purple, and the perfect blend of bitter and flavour..

Cacao Varieties

Amelonado is a fourth type and is meant to be an offspring of Forastario. It is predominantly planted in the Pacific, again a very dark purple bean, bitter to the taste and robust. This bean is predominately used in the bulk chocolate industry.

Amelonando Cacao Pod from the Solomon Islands
Amelonando Cacao Pod - Image taken in the Solomon Islands

I am often asked as to what variety grows in different countries. I am going to put myself out on an edge here and share that it is impossible to guarantee a variety of cacao, despite some brands declaring to be pure criollo for example.

I will explain this further through a story:

Before visiting my friends Cacao Plantation in Samoa a number of years ago, I had done significant research into the different varieties of Cacao, the colour of the pods and the shapes as I had read that all four varieties had been brought to Samoa in the late 1800s. This was unusual for the pacific and was exciting to read.

And so I spent days finding different shaped pods on my friend's farm, it appeared she had all four varieties, but when I spoke to a local expert who had worked with Cacao for many years, he gently laughed and said, "the shape of the pod tells you nothing as to the variety. The only way to know is to cut open the pod and check the colour of the seeds inside before they are fermented."

And so again I spent hours, picking what would look like a Criollo pod only to find very dark purple beans inside. And then picking what looked like Trinitario to find white beans inside.

I even found pods where there was a blend of all three colours. And this marked another turning point in my journey of respecting the cacao tree and her intelligence. She, the tree, basically decides what variety to have within the pod itself. She will even blend the varieties…

On other cacao farms around the world, where the variety is stated as Criollo or Trinitario, I have found dark purple beans inside, I have found light purple beans and even white beans inside pods on farms that have only ever planted the variety well known in the Pacifica as Solomon Koko or Amelonado.

Open Amelonado Cacao Pod

And another story:

When we first visited Grace in the Solomon Islands, on her Cacao farm, and checked her beans, they were dark purple, except on the tree that she shared was her favourite. Every farmer has a favourite tree. This tree was completely out of the box and would fruit when no other tree would fruit and the pods would be ripe even when not the correct colour.

Grace loved this tree for it kept her on her toes. Inside the pod were pale white seeds. I shared with Grace how the trees respond to her and her intentions. If she would like less bitter and more fine cacao, then just communicate with her farm of Cacao, through her favourite tree what she would like.

Grace loved this as all Cacao farmers know that their trees are alive and respond directly to their communication, the farmer just doesn't always trust it.

When I returned 6 months later, Grace and I randomly checked the seeds inside the pods. We found so many pods with pale purple seeds. Some pods were even a perfect blend from dark purple to white. Grace is a true inspiration of listening and following her intuition as to what is best for her trees and how best to ferment the seeds.

This video below is taken on Amazing Grace's Cacao farm. Being on a Cacao Farm is one of the most healing experiences! The vibration and language from the trees is as if swimming with Dolphins in the ocean. It is an experience that cannot be described fully by the mind, but everything rests, and something far greater is known!

There are no limits to the power of the Cacao Tree. She decides what variety she will grow!

And as we enjoy her, and communicate back to her where we are in our lives, and what we need as support, she actually adjusts her medicine. In growing our connection between NZ and The Solomon Islands Cacao, She, Cacao will deeply listen, and adjust her medicine accordingly in the seeds. One day very soon, I promise we will all be able to visit together a Cacao Farm and stand amongst the magical trees.

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