This is pretty cool—my sister Leslie has been working with a group who discovered a thought-to-be-extinct variety of cacao beans growing in Peru. The NYT did a story on it:
DAN PEARSON was working in northern Peru two years ago with his stepson Brian Horsley, supplying gear and food to mining companies, when something caught his eye.
“We were in a hidden mountain valley of the Marañón River and saw some strange trees with football-size pods growing right out of their trunks,” Mr. Pearson said by telephone last week. “I knew nothing about cacao, but I learned that’s what it was.”
It was, he would learn after sending samples of seeds and leaves to the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, one of the rarest, most prized varieties of cacao.
“The DNA of this material is pure Nacional,” said Dr. Lyndel Meinhardt, a scientist with the service. “These are very rare.”
I love this kind of story—part Indiana Jones, part Tom Swift, part… Willy Wonka?
They’re now producing chocolate from these beans: Fortunato No. 4 – “preeminent chocolate during the 1800’s, destroyed by diseases in 1916, rediscovered in Peru and released to world in 2011 – Fortunato No.4 is 100% thought-to-be-extinct Pure Nacional. Even more facinating is that this newly discovered Pure Nacional has 40% white beans – never before discovered, never before tasted and absolutely delicious”
“The chocolate is intense, with a floral aroma and a persistent mellow richness. Its lack of bitterness is remarkable. “ New York Times, January 11, 2011:
Thought to be extinct since diseases struck Ecuador in 1916, Pure Nacional with 100% purple beans was esteemed for flavors of fruit and rare floral. It commanded a dominant share of the worldwide fine chocolate market before it suddenly vanished–until now.
We found Pure Nacional with 40% and 100% white beans growing in a remote canyon of the Marañón River Valley in Peru. “An unprecedented discovery”, said USDA genetics scientist, Dr. Meinhardt, head of the lab that tested the cacao DNA and confirmed the results.
We are there during every process pictured below: from planting cacao seeds in our nursery, harvesting, fermenting and drying and making chocolate in Switzerland on the 1879 Longitudinal Conche. From Pure Nacional seeds to Pure Nacional Chocolate, Traceability is Guaranteed.
What’s also cool is that some of the beans in the cacao pods are white, apparently something that doesn’t happen unless the plants are left undisturbed for decades.