In the U.S. effort on the war against drugs, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), introduced a high-yielding but acidic CCN-51 cocoa hybrid to Peruvian farmers in 2002 as an alternative to planting coca, the key ingredient in cocaine.
While the pure native cocoa is lower yield and more susceptible to disease than CCN-51, it’s market price is $4000 per ton compared to just $2400 per ton for the hybrid version.
“Peru is a country of fine, aromatic cocoa, and like all good things it comes in small quantities,”says Mariella Balbi, owner of a Guanni Chocolates.
According to Jeffrey G. Stern, a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine culinary school in Gaithersburg, Maryland, CCN-51 was developed in the 1970s by Homer U. Castro.
However, Stern claims Ecuador’s CCN-51 cacao variety did not become widely planted in Ecuador until the 1997-98 El Niño event which wiped out a great deal of Nacional crop, and the losses suffered by Nacional growers during this period prompted many to switch to CCN-51.
Based in Quito, Ecuador for the past 5 years, Stern owns and operates an artisan chocolate business with both local and international clients.
Stern, who has over a decade of experience in the culinary field, and over six years in the chocolate industry, claims CCN-51 is also sometimes referred to as Don Homero, after its inventor Homero U. Castro who worked independently in Naranjal, Ecuador.
“Castro describes CCN 51 as a cross of F1 of IMC-67 x ICS-95 by O-1, where O-1 was a cacao ascension collected by himself in a trip to Ecuador’s Valle de los Canelos in the Eastern part of Ecuador (Castro 1981). CCN stands for Coleccion Castro Naranjal, where 51 is for the cross number of this variety. CCN-51 was invented sometime in the 1960s.”
But now chocolate connoisseurs are encouraging Peruvian farmers to cultivate the rarer native cocoa that commands much higher prices from buyers who are seeking a more complex, higher quality chocolate with sophisticated flavors.
Chocolate gourmets claim nothing makes better chocolate than native cocoa.
Writing for Reuters, Caroline Stauffer claims the market for native cocoa has been discussed in the world’s elite chocolate circles as a way to craft richer, more diverse treats while protecting rare cocoa varieties in danger of extinction.
“We want to come up with a system in which we actually link the chocolate bar directly with the origin for commercial purposes,” said Moises Gomez-Miranda, a project manager at ICCO. The London-based organization says the demand for fine flavor cocoa has increased very rapidly.
“I don’t understand why USAID is here, in a country so rich in diversity, where everything is virgin. What need is there to introduce new varieties?” said Mariella Balbi, owner of the tiny firm Guanni Chocolates, which sells in California and in Lima.
Mariella sells boxes of 12 dark chocolate truffles made from Peru’s native white cocoa and filled with local ingredients like pisco brandy and Amazonian fruits for $40.
Astrid Gutsche, pastry chef and wife of Peruvian food icon Gaston Acurio, believes the idea of native cocoa is quite new and the future for Peru. “We have something that no one else has.”
“The Peruvian Amazon is the cradle of cocoa and it’s home to very important genetic clusters,” said Maricel Presilla, a U.S.-based food historian and author of “The New Taste of Chocolate.”