Cacao theobroma, the tree from which chocolate originates, is very different from other plants. One of these differences is that its seeds are not viable if they are stored for long periods of time. This means that the preservation of their genetic material is not as easy as simply storing the seeds for future use. But this preservation is invaluable, especially at a moment when natural spaces are disappearing at an alarming rate.
For this reason, the International Cocoa Gene Bank, Trinidad, is a “living collection”. I had the opportunity to visit this unique, living gene bank (located on the Saint Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies) and to learn about the future of chocolate, from Darin Sukha (Head of Food Technology) and Anelle Holder (Head of Agronomy).
Here, plots of trees of over 2000 varieties are grown, tended, studied and propagated. This collection was consolidated over 60 years ago and continues to grow. The preservation and study of this genetic material will allow, among other things, the development of new flavour notes in chocolate, as well as preparation for the inevitable emergence of new diseases and the dangers of climate change. Research is also conducted to better understand and optimize the drying, fermentation and roasting processes, for the development of fine flavours in chocolate.
Historically, Trinidad & Tobago was one of the greatest cocoa producing countries in the world (in 1903, it was 4th after Brazil, Ecuador, and the countries collectively referred to then as ‘West Africa’). Today it is celebrated not for quantity, but for the quality of their cocoa. It produces some of the best ‘fine flavour’ cocoa in the world from Trinitario trees, a hybrid originating in Trinidad.
This shift in focus can be attributed in large part to the creation of the International Cocoa Research Centre and the work of entrepreneurs, dedicated to the transformation of chocolate’s place in their national economy and international recognition of their terroir.
One of these family-owned, small businesses, Ortinola, has restored the great house and estate that once was a supplier to Cadbury. Their focus now is on the development of delicate flavours chocolate and cocoa products with a combination of traditional techniques with modern innovation.
Angela Roest, Chocolatier