To’ak creates a ‘Noah’s Ark’ to save an ancient chocolate variety

Sweet history

A recent headline that caused alarm among those with a sweet tooth – that is to say, much of the world – was that at current rates of climate change, the cacao tree was on course to go ‘extinct by 2050’. That could be the end of chocolate as we know it. Perhaps alarmist and sensationalist, there is a grain of truth in that. Other crops have seen similar catastrophies in the past; the world’s favourite banana Gros Michel was singled handedly wiped out by the Panama Disease in the 1950s. While Cadbury and Nestle are working to ensure the continued survival of chocolate, the makers of the world’s most expensive chocolate, To’ak, are aiming for another, more specific, goal.

Up until ten years ago, the Nacional variety of cacao from Ecuador was believed to be extinct. Dating back 5,300 years, Nacional was the most coveted variety of cacao in the 18th and 19th centuries, fuelling the chocolate boom in Europe. However, in 1916, the Witches Broom disease swept through the country and took Nacional with it. Or so it was believed. However, in its quest to source the world’s best cacao trees for the world’s most expensive chocolate, To’ak discovered ancient trees pre-dating Witches Broom in Ecuador’s pristine Piedra de Plata valley. DNA analysis by the USDA and Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund confirmed that these trees had a 100% genetic match with Nacional, given the new name Ancient Nacional.

To preserve the rare pure Nacional genotype, To’ak has established a ‘Noah’s Ark’ secluded rainforest preserve in Ecuador as a genetic bank. With hopes that it will eventually lead to a repopulation of the world’s (former) favourite chocolate, cuttings from 30 Piedra de Plata trees were grafted onto seedlings that were then planted in a protected part of the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve. In three years, the trees will be mature enough to provide more cuttings that will be distributed to any Ecuadorian cacao growers that wish to participate in the quest to save Nacional.

Though not as high-yielding as commercial varieties, To’ak plans to pay the highest price in all of Ecuador by a good margin for Ancient Nacional cacao. Eventually, this will be turned into To’ak’s flagship edition chocolate, each series of which bears hallmarks of the spirits industry, such as being labeled as vintage and aged in a variety of casks that include ex-cognac and ex-Islay whisky. Couple this with the extreme rarity of Ancient Nacional, and this goes as long way to justifying the price for To’ak, which start from US$335 (RM1,305) for a 50 gram bar. That’s a pretty penny, certainly, but can you put a price on saving a species?



Sign up for our Newsletters

Stay up to date with our latest series