Sunday, February 3, 2013

For an intense chocolate experience, try Peru's Pure Nacional cacao

Simple Ingredients; complicated history

Well, I did it. I finally tasted chocolate made from Peru's pure Nacional cacao. After reading much about this once-thought-to-be-extinct cacao bean, I thought it was high time that I experienced it first-hand. After all, how can a person who is on a quest to become a chocolate connoisseur not taste chocolate made from a rare and highly acclaimed bean?

According to an article in the New York Times, the Peruvian pure Nacional cacao bean is a very rare bean indeed. In fact, it was thought to be extinct until two men, Don Pearson and Brian Horsely, who were providing supplies to mining companies in a hidden mountain valley of the Marañón River, came across a cacao tree. They sent the beans to the U.S. government's Agricultural Service to be tested and discovered they had essentially found a cacao 'treasure chest'.

At one time, pure Nacional cacao was widely grown in Peru, being part of the usually resilient Forastero-tree family (as opposed to Criollo or Trinitario type of trees). Eventually it was nearly wiped out by disease, with some still growing there but not pure. But thanks to Pearson and Horsely and a Swiss chocolate expert, 15 tons of 68% dark chocolate were made from the beans and processed in Switzerland by a chocolate company (ref).

Also according to the article, another unique aspect of the pure Nacional bean is that some of the beans are apparently white, a result of the trees being left undisturbed for hundreds of years.  They still turn brown when roasted, but this differs greatly from most other cacao beans, in that they start brown, reddish or purplish.

Canadian chocolatier, Christophe Morel, must have gotten his hands on some of this precious chocolate because I received an expensive 80 gram 2011 pure Nacional Pérou chocolate bar for Christmas (it cost $20 for one bar). I savoured the chocolate for the entire month of January, eating one small piece at a time. And what an enjoyable experience it was. The chocolate was very rich in flavour, and intense, just the way I like. Also, it had an excellent colour and snap, indicating expert tempering on the part of Christophe Morel.

Clay Gordon, a chocolate expert and founder of the The Chocolate Life, had the same experience with the pure Nacional chocolate as me when he tasted a bar made of the same chocolate, but marketed by another chocolatier.  He wrote "...Nacional is known for fruity/floral aroma...yet the chocolate did not deliver on that expectation." (ref)  I felt the same, that it was not fruity or floral.  It was more intense with deep flavours that I could not really categorize. However, I did enjoy the chocolate and its rich flavour immensely.

Some key points on the pure Nacional Peru cacao bean:
  • It is related to the nacional (Arriba) of Ecuador, but it grows at higher altitudes
  • Also called Fortunato No.4 chocolate and produced by Marañon Chocolate, a company founded by Dan Pearson and Brian Horsely after their discovery of the beans
  • Marañon Chocolate pays premium pricing and a percentage of the profits to farmers, ensuring a fair trade for the farmers who cultivate the pure Nacional (ref)
  • The company that makes the chocolate from the beans for Marañon is kept very hush hush, although Clay Gordon believes it is crafted by Felchlin (ref).
  • About 40% of the beans are white - there is a gorgeous picture with a great example of the white bean on Marañon's main home page:
So where else can you buy this chocolate?
Besides Quebec chocolatier Christophe Morel, who sells the bar online as well as in stores in the Montreal area, it is also available in the Gatineau/Ottawa area by chocolatier rochef, in Alberta by Sweet Lollapalooza Confections and in the Vancouver and B.C. regions by thierry, gem chocolates and Cocoa West Chocolatier. Two Canadian wholesalers also carry the product Point Carré and Quizna.

In the U.S. it is widely available by at least one chocolatier in most major cities.  You can check the list here to see where it is available near you:  The same list outlines chocolatiers in Europe and other regions of the world.

Here are the package details from the chocolate that I tasted this month:

CM Chocolatier Pure Nacional Pérou, 68% cacao, 80g (2.8 oz)
Christphe Morel Chocolatier (Montreal, QC, CANADA)
Ingredients: Dark chocolate (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter). Allergies Allert: All our products may contain nuts, peanuts, milk protein, soybeans, gluten and sorbitol.


  1. The Fortunato #4 bars are indeed made by Felchlin, although some other makers have also made test bars (that ween't sold). Moonstruck makes the bar most available in the U.S.

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  2. Nice article, thanks for sharing. I tried a few different Nacional bars, and found that quality can be highly different depending on the maker. Also I suspect the term Nacional is probably applied wrongly in some occasions. I did some research online on the topic.

    The peruvian version of the Nacional cacao is not genetically identical to the original pure Nacional cacao that grew in Ecuador. DNA test have confirmed there are less floral notes in the peruvian version of Nacional cacao. Although probably still a very good quality cacao, we can not say it is really the same thing. So while the discovery they talked about is still very valuable and great news, be aware that we are talking about a naturally divergent DNA variety of Cacao that somehow found it's way into Peru. I also suspect that growing cacao trees at these high altitudes would affect flavor profile of the fruit, and therefore the bean.

    Meanwhile the real Nacional cacao (100% DNA confirmed match) does still exist in Ecuador, however there are only a handful of tree's left that are 100% pure Nacional, and thus this species is highly endangered, at the brink of extinction. This was the variety that is known to be linked directly to the origin of Cacao more than 5000 years ago. Because of it's significance, and 1000's of years of cacao cultivation history attached to this variety, it has a superior flavor pattern according to most specialists and industry experts. The rich floral tones are one of it's unique traits (most commercially grown cacao strands lack the floral notes).

    A high end chocolate is being made from several of these ancient 100+ year old cacao tree's, but because of the small volumes, low yield, the quantities are extremely low and production costs high. So as you could expect this is an expensive piece of chocolate. This is made by a company called To'ak Chocolate, just google them.

    I have tried the 73% bar from the 2015 release, and have to say that it was something truly unique. Extremely floral, earthy, and with a rich complex flavour that lasted over an hour after I tasted it. After eating it pure I decided to pair with a very rare rum, and that might have been just as amazing. Anyways, how i came accross it, I read about them here:


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