The Pure Nacional tree once at the heart of South America’s chocolate industry was believed to have been lost forever – until it was recently rediscovered by accident.By Lavinia Wanjau, BBC
17 September 2019
Travelling to the Marañón Canyon in northern Peru is like stepping back in time. Mud-brick houses dot the hilly landscape. Electricity, which arrived in this area just three years ago, is only available in a few homes, and supply can be inconsistent. It only works about five days a week and you never know which five days these will be. And with few paved roads, residents of this remote region rely on mules and bicycles for transportation.
That the Marañón Canyon has remained relatively untouched by modernity has been a blessing, as it is here that the Pure Nacional tree, which produces some of the world’s rarest cacao, has flourished.
This ancient cacao tree originated in the Amazon jungle and holds the distinction of being the oldest and rarest variety, its existence dating back at least 5,300 years. Between the 17th and 19th Centuries, the Pure Nacional was widely cultivated in Ecuador, where its coveted pods helped fuel what was then the world’s largest supply of cacao. But then disaster struck: disease spread through Ecuador’s cacao forests, decimating the highly susceptible Pure Nacional. Through cross-breeding with hardier cacao varieties, farmers were able to eventually stop the spread of the disease, but the new, cross-bred trees no longer produced the high-quality cacao of the Pure Nacional.