Chocolatier Timothy Moley is taking part in a United States Department of Agriculture project for the identification, acquisition, characterization and preservation of important cacao genetic resources.
It is hoped that the Cacao Germplasm Evaluation and Characterization Project will also create an opportunity to reintroduce unique heirloom varieties of cacao to the market that may otherwise have been lost, according to Moley.
A ‘cocoa bank’ has been assembled of cacao plant materials, called accessions, that were acquired over the past 70 years and come from wild selections and breeding programs around the world.
The cacao beans are harvested from each individual plant and made into small batches of single-accession chocolate.
The panel of experts will taste the chocolate made from the different types of cacao that are being evaluated at the USDA ARS Tropical Agricultural Research Station in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
They will be looking for unique flavor nuances that differentiate the cacao accessions from each other to provide a flavor and aroma profile for them.
Moley said: “I think that a major disease epidemic somewhere in the world cacao crop is inevitable.
“A genetically diverse collection of cacao plants will be invaluable to re-establishing a hardy, flavorful cacao crop and will prevent great hardship for cacao farmers in the affected region.”
The USDA project will focus on the identification and acquisition of accessions with promising traits, such as disease resistance, productivity, and unique chocolate flavors.
DNA fingerprinting is also taking place on all of the current accessions, so that the true identity of each plant can be determined.
By identifying and cataloguing each cacao plant's DNA fingerprint, researchers can estimate how genetically diverse the current collection is, then identify and add unique cacao types that might not already be present.
According to Mintel, sales of chocolate confectionery in the US amounted to $16.3bn in 2007, a very small increase from the $16bn recorded in 2006, and a 22 per cent increase since 2002.
It said the market is predicted to increase at a rate of about four per cent per year during the next six years.
Chocolove Premium Chocolate is located in Boulder, Colorado, and produces chocolate bars made from French and Belgian chocolate.