I love what Mike Adams, “The Health Ranger”, of NaturalNews.com stands for and does in the world. Mike recently posted an article about heirloom cacao varieties "Original cacao is ancient treasure of chocolate from the Ecuadorian rainforest" (INSERT LINK: http://www.naturalnews.com/029628_cacao_chocolate.html) [updated since this discussion] which inspired Sacred Steve to write to mike regarding the definition of heirloom.
Excerpt from Original: Most people have never eaten real chocolate. Sure, we've all wolfed down plenty of "chocolate" candies, bars and cakes. But as you'll see here, very little of that is actually made from real chocolate. Virtually all the chocolate used in modern foods is derived from a genetically divergent cacao plant that lacks the true phytochemical potency that gives real chocolate its many beneficial properties...
Sacred Steve: If you study the genetics and natural propagation methods of Theobroma Cacao, you will learn that there really is no such thing as “heirloom” cacao, at least in regards to the common understanding of the definition of “heirloom”. You may want to research this further, because I believe what you say below is misleading. It sounds like marketing hype to me. When cacao is left to grow naturally in the wild, genetic permutations occur in each and every new naturally sprouting seedling based on the naturally occurring genetic diversity in the wild grove. The closest thing you can call something in this category is “wild” cacao. In other words, it the wild state, it is impossible to claim a natural “heirloom”. The natural wild state of theobroma cacao is actually radical hybridization. The only way to “hold” a particular strain in place is through grafting. In other words, there is no such thing as “heirloom” Nacional for example that is grown from seed. It is impossible to control the cross pollination.
Mike: I'm not sure I agree with your definition of "heirloom." Even heirloom strains of plants still experience natural genetic drift. If I plant heirloom tomatoes generation after generation from seed, they are still "heirloom tomatoes" even though there is genetic variability. I don't think the term "heirloom" implies genetic stasis.
Steve: I think where we are differing is on the definition of “heirloom”. In your article, you are calling “Nacional” “heirloom”. I beg to differ. I am under the assumption that when the common person thinks of “heirloom”, they are thinking of some sort of “original” seed variety or cultivar that can remain relatively “original” even with some sort of genetic variation just due to the natural cross-pollination that occurs in nature or even on the small farm, but reverts always to a natural original cultivar. In other words, if you take the seed from an “heirloom” tomato and plant it, you will in turn get an “heirloom” tomato variety, whether it be green, yellow, orange, or red. It turns out that is not the case with cacao. If you take the seed from CCN51 and plant it, you will not get CCN51, but some sort of variety even if pollinated with other CCN51’s. If you take the seed from “Nacional” which is a loose genetic definition anyway, you will not get “Nacional”. And, these won’t revert to some sort of original cultivar if left to naturally cross pollinate over many generations. The only way to duplicate the genetic is through grafting. So, if you talk of “heirloom” cacao as something that is “wild” (in other words, equating the two terms) and can have variety, then I agree with you in that what you are promoting is “heirloom”, but it isn’t some sort of original cultivar. Also, if it is truly heirloom, it can’t be rightfully called “National” or “CCN51”. The only way to obtain these particular strains is through grafting (cloning), and can we really call a grafted tree “heirloom”? I am sure you can see how this can become confusing.
Read this interesting article Cacao: It's Diversity and Place in Modern Marketing by Frederick Schilling, founder of Dagoba Chocolate.