It's interesting to note that flavor appears to be of little concern to larger manufacturers. Their eyes are fixated on one thing, quantity. And aiding them in their pursuit is a remarkable variant of cacao known as CCN-51.

CCN-51, first bred in the 1970s by Homer U. Castro, didn't gain widespread acceptance in Ecuador until the El Niño event of 1997-98. This climatic phenomenon led to a significant loss of the Nacional crop, forcing many growers to switch to the more resilient CCN-51.

The reason behind CCN-51's popularity among high-volume manufacturers is its exceptional yield. This cacao variety, capable of thriving in full sun and exhibiting high resistance to fungal diseases, can produce quadruple the output of its fine-flavored counterparts. However, there's a catch. CCN-51 is often criticized for its lackluster flavor, described by chocolate expert Ed Seguine as resembling "acidic dirt."

A Palette Divided: The Taste of CCN-51

The discussion surrounding the flavor of CCN-51 is one of the industry's most hotly debated topics.

Opinions on CCN-51's taste can be divided into three camps. Some professionals advocate for its potential, stating that with optimal post-harvesting processes, the variety can deliver a satisfying flavor.

Others are vehemently opposed to the idea, perceiving CCN-51 as an inferior variety, serving only large chocolate manufacturers and unable to compete with the superior taste of fine flavor cacaos.

Potential for Flavor Enhancement

Interestingly, a third group holds a more neutral stance. They believe CCN-51, when blended with fine cacao, can excel in applications where cacao flavor isn't the primary focus.

CCN-51: A Matter of Price

CCN-51 offers an economically appealing option for farmers. However, is it worth the potential sacrifice in quality?

Despite its lower market price compared to fine flavor cacao, farmers appreciate CCN-51 for its high yield and disease resistance. The cost-effectiveness and minimal hassle make it an attractive choice.

Risks of a Single-Flavor Market

However, the risk is that countries like Ecuador and Peru, currently known for their premium quality cacao, could inadvertently instigate a price war with West African countries if they switch to CCN-51 en masse.

This controversy isn't merely about the chocolate on our shelves but also about the lives of those who cultivate cacao.

After the introduction of CCN-51 post-El Niño, many farmers discontinued cultivating fine cacao, opting for the more productive CCN-51 instead.

However, industry experts fear this trend could eventually strip farmers of their choice to grow fine flavor cacao. The more CCN-51 is adopted, the greater the risk of fine flavor cacao disappearing from fields.

Diversified Approach: Growing Both CCN-51 and Fine Cacao

A subset of industry insiders suggests a balance, encouraging farmers to grow both types. But the final say, ironically, doesn't lie with them.

Ultimately, consumers have the power to tip the scales. Their preferences will define the future of the cacao industry, shaping everything from the end product to supply chain sustainability. It boils down to how much they value fine cacao and what they're willing to pay for their beloved chocolate.

Where Do We Stand?

For small companies like ErndSnacks, which pride themselves on delivering fine chocolate, the rise of CCN-51 cocoa variety presents a significant challenge. Below are some potential risks this scenario poses to these manufacturers.

  1. Flavor Deterioration: CCN-51 is notoriously known for its mediocre flavor profile, which stands in stark contrast to the rich, nuanced flavors fine chocolate manufacturers aim for. Emphasizing volume over taste, the use of CCN-51 cocoa could compromise the unique taste and quality that brands like ErndSnacks have cultivated.

  2. Market Positioning: For brands like ErndSnacks that have built their reputation on delivering high-quality chocolate, the potential mainstream adoption of CCN-51 might undermine their market position. The unique selling point of these brands is the superior flavor of their chocolate, something that CCN-51 cannot provide.

  3. Competitive Landscape: If CCN-51 becomes the standard due to its high yield and resilience, it could level the playing field for many chocolate manufacturers, including those who previously couldn't compete with high-quality brands. This could lead to an increased competition and potential market saturation.

  4. Supply Chain Risks: As farmers might opt for CCN-51 due to its higher yield and disease resistance, the supply of premium cocoa beans could diminish over time. This would mean a scarcity of high-quality cocoa, making it harder and more expensive for companies like ErndSnacks to source the quality beans they need.

Your Thoughts on CCN-51?

Now, we'd love to hear from you. What's your stand on the CCN-51 controversy?


  1. What is CCN-51? CCN-51 is a variety of cacao known for its high yield and disease resistance but criticized for its lackluster flavor.
  2. Why did farmers switch to CCN-51? The El Niño event of 1997-98 wiped out much of the Nacional crop, leading many farmers to adopt the more resilient CCN-51.
  3. Why is CCN-51 controversial? While its high yield makes it attractive to farmers and large manufacturers, its inferior flavor compared to fine cacao varieties makes it less appealing to chocolate connoisseurs.
  4. Can CCN-51's flavor be improved? Some believe that with optimal post-harvesting processes, CCN-51 can deliver a satisfying flavor. However, this is a contentious point.
  5. Who has the final say in the CCN-51 debate? Ultimately, the consumer holds the power. Their preferences will shape the future of the cacao industry.
July 28, 2023 — Ryan Dunn

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.