What Is Nacional Cacao, Why It’s in Danger, and How We Can Save It from Extinction
Nacional Cacao stands as the crown jewel of Ecuador's rich agricultural heritage. With a legacy that spans over five millennia, this unique cacao variety is deeply intertwined with the nation's cultural and economic fabric.
Ecuador's role as one of the top cacao producers in the world is not a recent accolade. The ancient members of the Mayo Chinchipe culture were pioneers in domesticating cacao, a testament to Ecuador’s deep-rooted cacao tradition.
What is Nacional Cacao?
Hailing from the proud lineage of the Criollo strain, Nacional Cacao is uniquely Ecuadorian. It's the same cacao found in ancient artifacts, ceramics, and pottery that dates back 5000 years. Often termed "Pepitas de Oro" or golden seeds, its pods are a vibrant shade of yellow, adorned with deep wrinkles indicative of its Criollo ancestry. While shapes may vary, they generally possess an elongated appearance.
The taste of Nacional Cacao is as distinct as its appearance. Depending on where it grows, from the banks of the Guayas River to the lushness of the Manabí rainforest, the flavor notes vary. But they often dance between floral and herbal, punctuated by the tang of tropical fruits.
These complex flavors make Nacional Cacao the prime ingredient for specialty chocolates. Unlike the contemporary hybrid varieties that are optimized for yield, Nacional Cacao is delicate and requires a dedicated cultivation approach, hearkening back to ancient, time-honored practices.
The Decline of Nacional Cacao
To understand the reason behind Nacional Cacao's endangered status, a journey back to the 1920s is essential. Ecuador, once the heart of pure Nacional Cacao cultivation, faced an unprecedented challenge. Two formidable diseases, frosty pod and witches' broom, took the industry by storm, slashing production by half in just a decade.
In an attempt to revive their livelihoods, Ecuadorian farmers turned to foreign cacao varieties. These foreign varieties, when crossbred, birthed disease-resistant hybrids like the acclaimed CCN-51. Being robust and high-yielding, they rapidly overshadowed the delicate Nacional Cacao. Over time, these new hybrids began to dominate Ecuador's cacao landscape, prioritizing quantity over the nuanced flavors of the Nacional variety.
Jonathan, the insightful General Manager of Martinetti Cocoa, captures the essence by saying:
The nuanced flavors of Nacional Cacao are unparalleled. No modern hybrid, even with refined fermentation techniques, can capture its symphony of floral, herbal, and fruity notes.
The Impact of Modern Agriculture
The ever-growing global demand for chocolate puts tremendous pressure on producers. Massive industrial chocolate manufacturers, accounting for a whopping 95% of the industry, prioritize volume. The subtle taste distinctions between Nacional and other hybrids often blur for these giants, making them less inclined to invest in Nacional Cacao.
Another significant blow to Nacional Cacao's survival was the introduction of chemical fertilizers around four decades ago. As Jonathan aptly puts it:
Years of chemical usage has left the once-fertile Ecuadorian soil barren, exacerbating the challenges faced by farmers.
These compromised soil conditions, coupled with global issues like climate change and loss of biodiversity, further tilt the scales in favor of hardier cacao varieties.
Saving Nacional Cacao from Extinction
Yet, all is not lost. Martinetti Cocoa offers a beacon of hope with their actionable solutions:
- Monetary Incentives: Recognizing and rewarding the value of Nacional Cacao by offering premium prices can entice farmers back to its cultivation.
- Enhancing Farmers' Skills: Education is empowerment. By teaching farmers optimal cultivation practices, from organic fertilization to disease prevention, Nacional Cacao's productivity can be bolstered.
- Targeting Discerning Buyers: The world is full of connoisseurs who crave authentic flavors. By marketing Nacional Cacao effectively, we can generate a demand that rewards its unique taste profile.
If we are proactive, Nacional Cacao can witness a resurgence, reinstating Ecuador's esteemed position as the world’s premier fine-flavor cacao producer.
Nacional Cacao, with its rich legacy and unparalleled flavor, is an irreplaceable treasure. By championing its value and ensuring its survival, we not only preserve a piece of Ecuador’s history but also gift the world with the unparalleled taste of true chocolate.
What makes Nacional Cacao different from other cacao varieties?
Nacional Cacao, indigenous to Ecuador, offers a unique flavor profile, combining floral, herbal, and tropical fruit notes.
Why did farmers switch from Nacional Cacao to hybrid varieties?
Diseases and the promise of higher yields prompted many farmers to adopt hardier hybrid varieties over the delicate Nacional Cacao.
How can consumers support the preservation of Nacional Cacao?
By purchasing chocolates made from Nacional Cacao and supporting brands that promote its preservation, consumers can make a difference.
What challenges do modern farmers face in cultivating Nacional Cacao?
From depleted soil quality due to chemical fertilizers to the threats of climate change and loss of biodiversity, modern farmers face numerous challenges.
Is there hope for Nacional Cacao’s resurgence?
Yes, with increased awareness, education, and the right incentives, Nacional Cacao can experience a revival.