Looking (for) fine
Fine Chocolate Industry Association, USDA partner for fine-flavor cacao research, preservation
It turns out pineapples, soybeans and cows are among chocolates biggest enemies, but a new project by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) is hoping to change that.
The association has created the new Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative (HCPI) in partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Agricultural Research Service.
The initiative aims to identify and preserve cacao trees that produce fine-flavor beans — many of which are endangered because farmers are replacing them with more profitable crops and/or livestock, such as pineapple, soy and cattle.
By identifying fine-flavor, or heirloom, cacao, FCIA hopes to save it, and by extension, save fine chocolate.
“It’s preserving for posterity those beans that carry a lot of flavor,” says Pam Williams, founding member of the FCIA and the Ecole Chocolat. “As a chocolate-arts school owner, teacher and recipe developer, I don’t want to lose the flavors of fine chocolate.”
To identify heirloom cacao, researchers will analyze cacao samples to create a “genotype map,” or a catalog of genetic qualities specific to trees producing fine-flavor beans. Additionally, an international taste-testing panel will try the samples to aid researchers in selecting beans with good flavor.
The researchers and the FCIA will not be the only groups involved in the project, however. HCPI will also collect samples from cacao growers, cacao processors, chocolate makers or other companies that would like to have their cocoa tested for heirloom status starting this fall.
Nothing is going to happen overnight though. The FCIA says it will take time to come to any specific conclusions between tree DNA, tree location and flavor. But until then, both the USDA and the FCIA will continue with their main goal in mind.
“Preservation is necessary now more than ever,” says USDA research leader Lyndel Meinhardt. “If we can’t identify, preserve and protect these flavors, they’ll be lost forever.”