What Are The Different Types Of Cacao Beans?

Imagine standing in the coffee aisle at your local grocery store. You’ll see many different coffee bean options at a wide range of prices. The cacao industry is like the coffee industry, and the factors effecting cost are very similar. Factors effecting cost include, but not limited to: purity, smell, color, flavor, farming practices (organic, fair-trade, etc.), production process (fermenting and roasting procedures), reputation, demand. Even the “best” cacao is often subjective, depending on who you talk to.

The 3 Varieties of Cacao Beans Grown Today:

Criollo Beans

  • The most rare and expensive of the three varieties.
  • Only 10 to 15% of cacao trees are Criollo, and they are small and difficult to grow.
  • First discovered in Mexico and used by the Mayans.
  • The history of cacao in Bali, Indonesia is linked to the cacao orchards in Mexico. (the Indonesian Criollo beans are linked to the Philippines, which is directly linked to the cacao the Spanish brought there from the cacao orchards in Mexico).
  • Chocolate made from the Criollo bean has a delicate and complex array of flavors.
  • Often referred to as the “King of Cacao,” Criollo is highly prized and is used by many of the new “micro chocolate makers.”

Forastero Beans

  • Originally came from the Amazon region.
  • Makes up about 70% of the cacao grown today (Hershey’s, Cadbury, Lindt).
  • Forastero trees are easier to grow and significantly hardier than Criollo, resulting in more affordable beans.
  • Forastero is what most of us are used to eating in chocolate.

Trinitario Beans

  • A hybrid between Criollo and Forastero.
  • Originated in Trinidad. A common variety grown in Peru now.
  • Makes up about 20% of the cacao beans produced today.
  • Considered the leading fine/flavor cacao and is the most prevalent cacao variety found in high-quality dark chocolate today.  
  • Trinitario cacao is known for its aromatic and fruity properties. 

The Fourth Cacao Bean Variety

Nacional (from Ecuador & Peru) Beans

  • A prized breed of cacao thought to have been wiped out by a disease called witches broom in 1919, but re-discovered growing in 2007.
  • The cacao pods contained 60% purple and 40% white beans, and in some cases the pods contained only white beans, which are prized.
  • From nacional cacao beans, CCN-51 and a variety of hybrids were created to make them more resilient to disease.



The Live Superfoods Peruvian Cacao Powder is made from 60% Criollo beans and 40% Trinitario beans. The cacao beans come specifically from the Atalaya and Saposoa areas in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.   

The powder is fermented, roasted and dried, and it contains 10-12% fat. Great efforts are made to ensure only grade 1 & 2 beans are used.


Around the mid-2000’s, Peruvian cacao’s quality started receiving growing recognition by leading world chocolate manufacturers, and the high prices of Venezuelan and Ecuadorian competitors have caused the world’s chocolate manufacturing industry to turn its eyes to Peruvian cacao. This has earned Peruvian growers higher prices.



The Live Superfoods Ecuadorian Cacao Powder is made from beans harvested from the native-born heirloom Ecuadorian species, “Arriba” Nacional-Fino de Aroma.

Ecuador's native cocoa beans are known as "Nacional" or "Arriba", a name believed to derive from the location of its discovery. Arriba means "up river" and many cacao plantations were located along the Guayas river, which flows towards the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.

Of Ecuador’s total cacao export, it’s estimated 80% constitutes fine aroma cacao (Fino de Aroma), while the remaining 20% is composed of other varieties such as CCN51.


Ecuador has superior, high-quality cacao, particularly its nacional variety. The aroma of Ecuador's cacao is more complex because Arriba beans vary hugely in taste and size according to the area in which they are grown. Flavors can range from floraly to fruity to nutty.



As the chocolate industry became more industrialized in the mid 1900’s, and production output replaced quality of flavor, the plantations started to replace the Criollo bean with hybrids that increased the volume of cacao per hectare. Fortunately, the island of Bali was mostly ignored during the hybridization period.


The Live Superfoods Balinese cacao powder is grown and processed by cooperatives in Indonesia. It’s produced from raw, organic cacao beans, fermented and cold-pressed.

Proper fermentation brings out the very best flavors of cacao, but there is no tradition of fermenting in Indonesia. They tend to dry it over fire and this adds the taste of smoke to the cacao. Finding fermented cacao beans from Bali is less common and likely influences the cost.

This powder has an exotic flavor and pleasant aroma.


Bali cacao is one of the last remaining under-commercialized, under-manipulated origins of cacao on earth. There have been very few clones, hybrids and other varieties introduced into the Bali cacao industry. 

In health and happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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