A team of researchers at the US Department of Agriculture working in partnership with the Heritage Cacao Project (HCP) has developed a technique to identify the genetic make-up of any cocoa sample using DNA testing. Lyndel Meinhardt, Research Leader at the USDA/ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab, said the discovery will help scientists and industry to trace the genetic identity of a cocoa tree and provide strong evidence for the authentication of a variety of cocoa.
“The HCP and the USDA recognize that fine flavoured cacao varieties are being lost due to the introduction of other cacao types into the growing region and to diseases. As a result, this genetic evaluation of samples helps to identify the types that are at most risk and screen for the existence of any remaining heirloom types,” Dr Meinhardt said. “Our team at the USDA found a new way to more accurately and easily determine DNA profiles of cacao beans, using the shell. The ability to understand the genetic makeup of a single cacao bean is important to cacao research and to the fine chocolate industry in general. We now have the ability to open a bag of cacao beans and identify the genetic makeup of those beans. That information can be used to profile the cacao types that are represented in that bag of cacao; to authenticate them to a particular type, or identify adulterations and this ability could improve the sourcing and quality of cacao.”
Thanks to the work of the HCP and the USDA, species have been found in places like Ecuador that were thought to be on the verge of extinction. “HCP samples have shown that there are still trees out there that can be found and brought back into production,” said Dr Meinhardt. “This also gives us hope that more rare cacaos – that in the 19th century were considered fine flavour cacao – could still exist in places such as Java and Sri Lanka.”
A paper describing the USDA’s discovery can be found in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry entitled ‘Accurate Determination of Genetic Identity for a Single Cacao Bean, Using Molecular Markers with a Nanofluidic System, Ensures Cocoa Authentication.’
More details about the HCP can be found at: http://hcpcacao.org/