recent study on the origin of the cacao cultivated by the Mayas.
Criollo cacao (Theobroma
cacao ssp. cacao) was cultivated by the Mayas over 2500
It has been suggested that Criollo cacao originated in
Central America and that it evolved independently from
the cacao populations in the Amazon basin.
Cacao populations from the Amazon basin are included in
the second morpho-geographic group : Forastero and are
assigned to Theobroma cacao ssp sphaerocarpum.
To gain insight
into the origin and genetic basis of the Criollo from
Central America analysis were performed on a sample that
avoided mixing pure Criollo with Criollo which might
have been introgressed with Forastero genes.
These two types were distinguished as Ancient and Modern
In contrast to
previous studies, Ancient Criollo formerly classified as
"wild", was found to form a closely related group
together with Ancient Criollo from South America.
Criollo trees were also closer to Columbian, Ecuadorian
Forastero types than these Colombian - Ecuadorian trees
were to other South American Forastero types.
There was low
genetic diversity within the Ancient Criollo Group.
suggest that the Ancient Criollo types represent the
original Criollo group.
The results also
imply that this group does not represent a separate
subspecies and that it probably originated from a few
types in South America that may have spread by men (or
animal) within Central America.
Cacao from the
Lacandona rainforest was found to be identical at a
molecular level to types cultivated by the Mayas (those
found in the sinkholes or "cenotes" of Yucatan, the
Pacific Coast of Mexico and Belize) and to individuals
from the regions of south-western Venezuela and
population consisting of trees found at the Lacandona
rainforest should neither be considered wild nor as
originating from this region.
that must be considered is the absence of evidence of
the presence of Theobroma in the forests of Chiapas
before the human colonization.
In addition, in
the Lacandona rainforest, vestiges of the Mayan
civilisation were frequently found. Thus, the presence
of Criollo cacao trees in the Lacandona rainforest may
be a remnant of cacao cultivation by the Mayas.
As Ancient Criollo
individuals are more related to Forastero from Colombia
and Ecuador, than the latter are to other Forastero
individuals from French Guiana, the Orinoco, the Lower
Amazon or some from Peru, the Criollo group does not
form a separate subspecies (ssp cacao) from the one
comprising individuals from South America (ssp
In fact, all indicates a recent origin for the name
distances between some Forastero individuals are
equivalent to those observed between some Forastero and
Ancient Criollo, a classification of cacao based on
Criollo and Forastero has no genetic base.
classification first proposed by Morris (1882) was
simply based on the terms used by the Venezuelan cacao
At that time the
term Criollo was employed to distinguish the local
cultivated tree, with a specific pod type from the
introduced foreign type.