On a recent site visit, ADM Cocoa and Cargill both agreed that cocoa beans from Ecuadorian origin were the best tasting for chocolate.
Cocoa from Ecuador is classed as a 'fine flavor' bean, a category of unique beans that give a floral or fruity flavor.
Nations 20° North or South of the equator have climates that support cocoa growing.
Of the around 4 million metric tons (MT) produced globally, three quarters is grown in Africa, mostly in West Africa and mainly in two countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Rinus Heemskerk, global director of innovation at ADM Cocoa, said that origins were incredibly important to the manufacture of chocolate. “Every cocoa origin has its own flavor profile. Each gives its own capabilities to extract the value out that bean.”
Select countries produce what are known as flavor beans or fine flavors. Origins that can claim fine flavor status are regulated by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO). Countries include Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, and Venezuela. See here for a full list.
Henri Kamphuis, quality and technology director of Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate, said: “If you would compare a high cocoa containing chocolate made of 100% of flavour beans and you compare it to other origins, they have very specific floral flavor directions. There’s a very fruity direction that is not as pronounced in other cocoa beans.”
Heemskerk said, “If you look into the fine flavors, I would say today probably Ecuador, the arriba nacional, is the most common fine flavor.”
Flavor beans from arriba nacional have 3 quality types, of which SSS beans are rated the highest quality, according to Heemskerk.
Global Production: 4.3 million MT
Ivory Coast: 1.5 million MT
Ecuador: 161,000 MT
Flavor beans generally come from Criollo or Trinitario cocoa tree varieties rather than Forastero trees. But nacional trees in Ecuador are derived from Forastero trees.
Cargill’s quality director Kamphuis also said that high cocoa content chocolate, from Ecuadorian or Venezuelan cocoa beans were his personal favorite.
Former colonies influence tastes
However, preferences are entirely subjective and could be influenced by the cocoa source used in popular brands, such as Cadbury in the UK and Milka in France.
“The history of the dominant brands often has a strong impact on what people prefer. So English colonies were more likely to supply British chocolate makers and French colonies French chocolate makers.”
Premium on flavor beans
Cocoa from flavor beans often commands a significant premium compared to cocoa from ‘bulk’ origins “It’s always rather challenging to source them because of the size of the crop,” said Kamphuis.
Ecuador produces the largest volumes of the fine flavor bean countries, but crop total crop in 2010/11 was only 161,000 MT, just 4% of the total global production.
Heemskerk added that Java beans from Indonesia were extremely interesting from technological and a flavor perspective but the crop was extremely small.