The Ultimate Chocolate Glossary: Cr


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According to some botanists, one of the three chief varietals of cacao tree (others disagree). Although it was once the predominant type of cacao grown, today, Criollo accounts for no more than 5% of the world’s cacao crop (and considerably less than that in some estimates). Criollo trees are susceptible to multiple diseases, tend to be fragile, and have low yields; their pods also have soft, thin skins. Because of these issues, some Criollo subspecies are endangered or close to extinction.

Classically, Criollo cacao is used to refer to cocoa with a genetic history that traces back to Venezuela. However, there is a significant amount of confusion as “criollo” means “native” and “forestero” means “foreign”. So if you are in Venezuela, all the cocoa from Venezuela is “criollo” and everything else is “forastero”, such as the cocoa from Columbia. On the other hand, if you live in Columbia, then the Columbian cocoa is “criollo” and the Venezuelan cocoa is “forestero”.

Further, it should be pointed out that not all criollo (or native varieties) of cocoa produce good quality chocolate. Some varieties produce outstanding chocolate, while others produce exceptionally bad chocolate.

It is important to remember, as well, that the current classification system for beans was developed over a century ago. Most cacao is grown as a cash crop in regions where the growers are not wealthy, so the fine distinctions made between cacao varieties in the developed world are not foremost in the minds of the growers. If a cacao tree dies, the replacement is not from “pure” stock of any kind, but a new tree is planted based on what’s available nearby, perhaps from a neighboring plantation. Over time, it’s become the case that the trees on most plantations are a mix of varietals. See Classification System.


A term borrowed from the wine realm. In wine, it is indicative of the physical environment in which the vine is grown, what the French refer to as terroir. In chocolate, cru indicates single varietals and/or areas that have specific trees. Typically, crus are named after countries and regions where the cacao is grown, such as Amano’s Ocumare, Cuyagua, and Chuao. It is important to remember that many variables contribute to the character of finished chocolate, so bars of the same “cru” and of the same cacao content, made by different producers, will likely be very different.


The mixture of chocolate liquor, milk, and sugar used in the manufacture of milk chocolate. Contrary to typical definitions involving the word, this “crumb” is a paste and can be quite crumbly, much like cookie dough. Only after additional cocoa butter is added will it “relax” and transform into smooth and flowing chocolate.


After roasting, cacao beans are crushed just enough so that their hulls (also called shells) can be removed. This crushing also breaks up the inner nibs. Once the shells are gone, the nibs are crushed again to form chocolate liquor.


A blend of different types of cacao beans.

This glossary would not have been possible without the kind assistance of my good friend Karen Hochman who runs the website: The Nibble. Karen gave us permission to base our chocolate glossary on hers. TheNibble is one of the Internet’s greatest resources for food articles, reviews, history, and just about anything when it comes to quality food. Please, if you have a few moments, visit my friend Karen’s website and you’ll be amazed at what a valuable resource it is. Thanks for all your help Karen!

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