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The Mother Tree's Children

The Mother Tree's Children

Pure Nacional cacao has been growing wild in Northern Peru for thousands upon thousands of years, at the very least. It may be millions of years. 

But over the last several decades, a lot of the naturally occurring pure Nacional cacao trees have been pulled up and replaced with a hybrid that is bred for higher production and disease resistance called CCN-51.

CCN-51 has higher yields, requires less maintenance, and is more disease resistant.

It is also essentially flavorless. only fetches the world commodity price when it comes time to sell.

In other words, it is a perfect cacao for mass produced, industrial chocolate.

You can easily spot CCN-51 trees in the canyon where we buy cacao.

The have deep red, elongated, pods.

Whereas pure Nacional has nice, round, yellow pods.

One of our big goals over the last decade has been to help cacao farmers replant pure Nacional cacao on their farms.

We pay twice the world market commodity price for this cacao and this more than makes up for the slightly lower yields.

More on yields below, because we have found a way to vastly improve yields from pure Nacional trees.

The most important thing we have done to encourage the replanting of pure Nacional cacao, aside from paying premiums, is set up a clone nursery.

In the clone nursery, we have hundreds of pure Nacional cacao tree starts at any given time.

Farmers can come in and pick up baby cacao trees for planting on their farms.

This is a long term commitment on their part, because cacao trees take 2 years before they start putting off fruit.

One of the questions that we had to consider was how we wanted to go about creating starts.

There are essentially 2 methods to choose from.

Grow baby cacao trees from seeds or clone existing trees.

There was one tree growing in the canyon that we refer to as the mother tree.

The USDA tested hundreds of trees in the canyon and found the mother tree to be the purest genetic expression of pure Nacional cacao that they had on record.

In the end, we decided that it would be best to populate mother tree clones.

Seeds are children. And children obviously don't have the same genetics as their parents.

Whereas a clone is an exact replica. And in this way, we can ensure genetic purity.

As stated above, we've also added an innovation to the process that significantly increases yields.

Our partner Noe, a cacao tree savant, has found cacao trees that have very efficient root systems and we have bred them in the nursery.

These root systems are much better at providing water and nutrients to the fruit than typical trees.

We take branches off existing mother tree plants and shave one end down to flat point, similar to a flat head screw driver.

We cut a slit in the top of the root stock trunk and we fit the shaved end of the mother tree branch into the slit.

This is call grafting. We wrap the graft with tape and then wait for the two trees to merge.

Cacao trees do something fascinating. When you graft in this way, the two trees maintain separate genetics for the rest of their lives.

The root stock keeps it genetics, and everything above the graft will be genetically pure Nacional cacao. It is quite fascinating that it works this way.

This gives the farmers a genetically pure cacao tree that produces at higher yields than normal because the tree is much more efficient at absorbing water and nutrients.

And the whole system creates a solid economic incentive to repopulate pure Nacional cacao so that we can keep producing Fortunato No. 4 chocolate.

Pretty cool!