Back in the beginning of 2010 an international team of 18 universities led by CIRAD in France, who had been working together to sequence the cacao tree DNA in an effort to understand the crop susceptibility to disease as well as the essence of cacao, announced they had cracked the plant DNA. Then in September the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that they had successfully sequenced the genome of the cacao tree.
The cacao crop is one in which demand consistently exceeds supply and so for the farmers who harvest cacao and for chocolate lovers alike, the developments mentioned are an amazing breakthrough which open the door to increased productivity in some of the most impoverished areas of the world. 70% of cacao production occurs in West Africa and it is the financial lifeblood of cacao farming communities.
Thanks to this research farmers will be able to modify crops to be better breeders and more resistant to the diseases, droughts and pests that plague this plant in particular. That could translate into as much as $700 million dollars worth of saved crops annually. Now that the genome has been successfully sequenced the benefits should enable breeders to begin producing superior new lines of trees using traditional techniques almost immediately.
Cocoa trees also have the added benefit of helping the environment. Not just because they are a natural, renewable resource but also because they grow best under a forest canopy and as such they provide a degree of protection from forestation. For farmers and folks in the chocolate industry the benefits are obvious but what does this mean for the consumer?
One answer may be healthier chocolate. Although chocolate already possesses inherent health benefits this research will enable some modification of percentages of cocoa butter, flavonoids and antioxidants present in the cocoa produced from cacao crops. So not only can chocolate be made to be even healthier than it is, it will also probably taste even better (if that’s possible) smell more delicious and have a smoother, creamier texture in the future.