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Scientists Crack Genetic Code for World's Best Cacao

An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome for criollo, a cacao variety that reportedly produces some of the best chocolate in the world. The results, published in the latest issue of Nature Genetics, could eventually lead to new and improved varieties of high-end chocolates.

Criollo, first domesticated about 3,000 years ago by the Mayans, is a variety of Theobroma cacao L. Although theobrama was prized for the intense flavor of the cocoa it yielded, its low productivity and susceptibility to disease made it difficult to cultivate. Hardier hybrids, namely trinitario, were eventually developed and are used in most of the world's cocoa production.

Today, "fine-cocoa" comprises less than 5% of world cocoa production, and Criollo is now one of the two cocoa varieties used to make high-end chocolate.

The sequencing of this Belizean Criollo genotype (B97-61/B2) could eventually lead chocolatiers like Patricia Tsai of Chocovivo to create even richer and more powerful concoctions.

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