Most Prized Cacao in the World on Brink of Extinction; To’ak Chocolate Raises Funds to Save the Only 15 Trees Left

To’ak Chocolate, young small-batch company known for their fair-trade luxury chocolate bars, launches a crowdfunding campaign to rescue ancient Ecuadorian cacao and thousands of years of flavor from extinction.

Quito, Ecuador, June 04, 2016 --( The revered and elusive cacao variety known as “Nacional” now needs rescuing. Tracing its genetic lineage back 5,300 years to the earliest known cacao trees domesticated by humanity, it was considered by the European chocolatiers as the most prized cacao in the world.

Out of an estimated 25 million cacao trees in Ecuador, only fifteen are DNA-verified to be pure Nacional. That’s 0.0006% of cacao in Ecuador, the native birthplace of cacao.

To’ak Chocolate plans on planting and managing 1000 pure Nacional trees and save this variety from extinction.

In 1916 the variety was decimated by an outbreak of Witches’ Broom disease throughout the country, and a century of hybridization followed. By the beginning of the 21st century it was believed that genetically pure Nacional no longer existed. Through the help of genetic testing provided by the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative, To’ak has identified nine trees in Piedra de Plata (Ecuador, in the area where the earthquake just took place) that are genetically pure Nacional.

Each of these trees is estimated to be over one hundred years old, which is considered the end of a cacao tree’s lifespan. Several of them are visibly ailing due to old age. These last survivors represent a living museum of what is most likely the most ancient cacao variety on earth.

In partnership with the rainforest conservation foundation Third Millennium Alliance and the local farmers of Piedra de Plata, To’ak will reproduce, plant, and manage 1,000 pure Nacional cacao trees in fourteen different local farms and one forest preserve throughout the region. To’ak will provide ongoing management of the trees for the first five years of their lives, until they safely reach maturity. Once fruit production begins in 4-5 years, the seeds will be harvested and another round of propagation will begin.

To’ak Chocolate is appealing to all conservationists and chocolate lovers of the world to help save this ancient relic and culinary treasure via a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo. Anyone can help and taste the result of their actions.Link to campaign:

The Company
To’ak is a small-batch Ecuadorian chocolate company whose mission is to transform the way the world experiences dark chocolate, elevating its making and tasting onto the level of vintage wine and aged whisky. To’ak’s co-founder Jerry Toth moved to Ecuador in 2006 and started a rainforest conservation foundation with two other people the following year. The forest preserve that Jerry helped create is located in the Ecuadorian province of Manabí, which is to cacao what the French province of Burgundy is to wine. Secluded in the middle of the forest, he began making chocolate by hand in a thatched bamboo house without electricity. After years of honing his passion, Jerry linked up with co-founder Carl Schweizer and fourth-generation Ecuadorian cacao grower Servio Pachard. They formed a partnership with fourteen cacao growers in the remote valley of Piedra de Plata, where some of the last-known pure Nacional trees still survive. Sourced from cacao trees in this valley, To’ak produced an extremely limited edition of terroir-driven dark chocolate. To’ak was awarded Heirloom designation for its cacao by the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative (HCP) in January of 2016. Now To’ak is working with local farmers to protect this historically-cherished variety of cacao and nurse it back from the brink of extinction.

Eddie Pezzopane

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To'ak Chocolate
Eddie Pezzopnae