Cacao Bean

In partnership with the USDA, the HCP enables cacao bean submission to undergo genetic testing and analysis. Both the HCP and the USDA recognize that fine flavored cacao varieties are being lost due to the introduction of other cacao types into the growing region and to diseases. As a result, this genetic evaluation of samples helps to identify the types that are at most risk and screen for the existence of any remaining heirloom types.
Recently, our team at the USDA found a new way to more accurately and easily determine DNA profiles of cacao beans- by using the shell! This new discovery will help to better trace the genetic identity of a tree and provide strong evidence for the authentication of a cacao variety. In discussing the significance of this finding, Research Leader at the USDA/ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab, Lyndel Meinhardt says:

“The ability to understand the genetic makeup of a single cacao bean is important to cacao research and to the fine chocolate industry in general.  We now have the ability to open a bag of cacao beans and identify the genetic makeup of those beans.  That information can be used to profile the cacao types that are represented in that bag of cacao; to authenticate them to a particular type, or identify adulterations and this ability could improve the sourcing and quality of cacao”.

Because of the work of the HCP and the USDA, pure Nacional species have been found in places like Ecuador that were thought to be on the verge of extinction. HCP samples have shown that there are still trees out there that can be found and brought back into production. This also gives ARS and the HCP hope that more rare cacaos, that in the 19th century were considered fine flavor cacao, could still exist in places such as Java, and Sri Lanka.

An article describing the USDA’s discovery regarding cacao DNA can be found in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry entitled “Accurate Determination of Genetic Identity for a Single Cacao Bean, Using Molecular Markers with a Nanofluidic System, Ensures Cocoa Authentication”