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Exquisite chocolate source rediscovered through DNA testing

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 03:10

May 10 - After more than 100 years in the wilderness, one of the most highly valued varieties of cacao ever known is once again, producing exquisite chocolate prized by chefs around the world. Ecuador's Pure Nacional cacao bean was thought have become extinct after succumbing to disease in the early 20th century, but through a chance discovery in neighboring Peru and a sophisticated laboratory in the United States, the Pure Nacional is back in business. Rob Muir reports.

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Chef Michelle Tampakis makes some of the most exquisite chocolate truffles in New York. Apart from her own talent, she also has the benefit of a pure, unadultered and very rare chocolate from a cacao bean called Pure Nacional..until recently thought to be extinct. SOUNDBITE (English): CHEF MICHELLE TAMPAKIS, INSTITUTE OF CULINARY EDUCATION, SAYING: "It has a flavor that is intensely chocolatey without the bitter after-taste that is associated with most cocoa beans," The re-discovery of this unique and highly valued bean is the result of a chance encounter and the power of modern genetic research. The encounter took place in a remote valley in northern Peru. A few years ago Brian Horsley and his partner were running a mining supply company in the region when they came apon a canyon populated by a tree they had never seen before. The trees were producing unusually large pods which they discovered, contained large numbers of white coloured beans. Most cacao beans are purple, so a curious Brian Horsley sent leaf samples off to the Agricultural Research Service near Washington, for DNA analysis. Drs Lyndel Meinhardt and Dapeng Zhang were eager to get to work. SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): DR. LYNDEL MEINHARDT, LEAD RESEARCHER - USDA AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE, SAYING: "In the past, white-seeded material has been associated with fine flavour so I was very excited about it." So began the process of extracting DNA from Horsley's leaves, and comparing it with the DNA of a known sample of Pure Nacional, acquired from an archive in Ecuador. It didn't take long to produce the results. The two scientists were able to establish that Horsley's samples were indeed Pure Nacional. SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): DR. LYNDEL MEINHARDT, LEAD RESEARCHER - USDA AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE, SAYING: "I was completely blown away. It was one of those really shocking moments and say this is an unprecented find". SOUNDBITE (English): DR. DAPENG ZHANG, LEAD GENETICIST - USDA AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE, SAYING: "I was quite surprised because we thought it had been long-lost and we would never get to this original white bean fine flavour Nacional available but, we found it". And by finding it, the scientists have sparked a small industry in the remote Peruvian canyon. Brian Horsley and the local farmers are growing, processing and shipping their highly prized beans to chocolate-makers in Europe and North America. SOUNDBITE (English): MARANON CHOCOLATE FOUNDER, BRIAN HORSLEY, SAYING: "So, I had the dream of someday being here to present the chocolate and other products for you, already with a good position and reputation in the market -- here we are." For the farmers and community chocolate has never tasted so sweet., nor for professionals like Michelle Tampakis in New York who now get to use the Pure Nacional in their cooking.. SOUNDBITE (English): CHEF MICHELLE TAMPAKIS, INSTITUTE OF CULINARY EDUCATION, SAYING: " It's like finding a grape variety in France that they are making, grapes, wine from that nobody thought still existed. I think it's pretty big." They think its pretty big at the Agricultural Research Service too. Ten years ago, they say it wouldn't have been possible. Rob Muir, Reuters

Exquisite chocolate source rediscovered through DNA testing

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 03:10

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