Fine chocolate could soon be even healthier and tastier, thanks to the work of a team of international scientists who have cracked the DNA sequence of one of the finest varieties of cacao tree (Theobroma cacao).
A team of scientists led by Claire Lanaud of France’s CIRAD (agricultural research centre), and Mark Guiltinan, of Penn State University in the U.S., sequenced the DNA of Criollo, a variety of Theobroma cacao first domesticated by the Maya in Central America around 3,000 years ago.
Most of today’s cacao farmers grow lower-quality hybrid trees that are more resistant to disease. In fact, fine-flavour cocoa production currently represents less than five per cent of world cocoa production due to disease susceptibility and other issues — one of the reasons for the high retail price of fine chocolate.
The DNA sequencing will allow scientists and farmers to make progress in breeding and cultivation of superior quality cacao — good news for both farmers and consumers, who “have shown an increased interest for high-quality chocolate and for dark chocolate,” according to the scientists.
The full report is available in this month’s issue of Nature Genetics.