Preserving the Flavors of Heirloom Cacao

Conexion Chocolate at the GDC Shop

One of the things I enjoy most at Grocer's Daughter Chocolate is sharing the story of cacao and chocolate with our customers. Even though many of us have enjoyed chocolate in some form or another since childhood, many don't know that it is derived from cacao, a pod-shaped tropical fruit bursting with sweet, tart flavor.  

Just like most agricultural products, the flavors we experience in cacao and the resulting chocolate can vary widely depending on genetics of the cacao, the microbiome of the fermentation area, and the amount of sunlight and rainfall each tree receives.

These days we're experiencing an exciting renaissance in cacao and chocolate that conjures the days of the Mayans and other Mesoamericans who had very sophisticated preferences and preparations of cacao, mostly in the form of foamed beverages. Like these ancient gourmands, chocolate lovers are once again beginning to appreciate (and seek out) cacao and chocolate that celebrates the nuanced flavors of this incredibly complex food.

Chocolate Made from Heirloom Cacao

If you've visited our shop, you likely know that we have chocolate sourced from four different regions of Ecuador, in partnership with our dear friend Jenny Samaniego of Conexion Chocolate. Some of our chocolates boast bright, fruity and floral notes that aren’t found in more common varieties of cacao.

All of the chocolate in our shop is from the Nacional variety, a prized rare cacao. Research tells us that Nacional cacao (also known as Arriba Nacional) originated in the Amazon basin near what is now Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela and some of the oldest, most rare varieties of cacao still exist in this region.

Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund

There isa growing interest within the fine chocolate industry to better understand the genetics of cacao, specifically rare varieties, and how genetics might impact flavor. The Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP) is a relatively new organization undertaking this important work. Working in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, HCP's mission is to discover, identify and preserve fine flavor heirloom cacao for the preservation of biological diversity and empowerment of farming communities.

To date, HCP has designated 16 cacaos from around the world as 'heirloom' through a rigorous tasting/application process involving an international tasting panel with centuries of chocolate experience and many of the foremost scientists working in genetics and cacao. At Grocer's Daughter Chocolate, our 100% Virgin Gran Cacao, 85% Virgin Dark and 70% Virgin Los Rios are all made from an HCP designated cocoa from the APOVINCES cooperative. 

Identifying and Cataloguing Rare Cacao Species

This month HCP has launched a new project to delve deeper into the genetics of cacao with the goal of identifying some of the most rare, and possibly endangered, species of cacao in the world. It is likely that these cacaos are not currently being farmed or commercialized and may be found in deep areas of jungle in the Amazon and other remote forests around the planet.

At this point, HCP is conducting an extensive international literature review to ascertain what research on rare cacao is currently available or underway. Once we've identified the cacao varieties to be catalogued - or a region where a compelling cacao variety may exist - we'll lead scientific expeditions to these very specific geographic areas in order to collect cacao samples and map the trees, in a manner respectful to local communities.

Ultimately, the work of HCP will become part of the greater body of knowledge of chocolate, helping us all to better understand one of our world's favorite foods and elevating the entire industry as a result.

GDC Chocolate production

How can you get involved?

1. Adopt a Cacao Tree - Get chocolate DELIVERED to your door and support an HCP designee by adopting a cacao tree. This is a great family project because you'll receive a dispatch from the farm with fun educational information about your tree. 
2. Learn about the important work of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund by visiting Please consider making a donation.
3. If you haven't already done so, try our 70% Los Rios chocolate bar! It comes from an Heirloom Cacao Designee and it has delicious green fruit and bright floral notes.
Note: Jody Hayden (GDC owner) serves on the Board of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund.