There are three main cocoa varieties that are used in the production of your favorite chocolate, and the easiest way to understand the difference between them is through an analogy to various members of the band NSYNC. Let me explain.
The first thing you'll learn in the geeky chocolate world is that this type of cacao called Criollo really rocks your body. You can't stop the feeling because it's a sexyback, smooth ride of chocolate deliciousness.
Criollo is to cacao as Justin Timberlake is to NSYNC: He's awesome, and everyone thinks he's the best so they often forget about the other guys in the group (or, er, genome).
But there are others that are pretty good singers, too. Take Joey Fatone, who isn't exactly a great singer and is probably crying a river somewhere in Los Angeles right now. He's akin to Forastero, a hearty plant that's often thought to be lacking in flavor, aka talent, and is often found featured in the Hershey bars/Dancing With the Stars of the world, not SNL dick-in-a-box fame.
Then there's Lance Bass, who is kind of a hybrid of Justin and Joey: He's been somewhat successful and even wrote a New York Times bestselling book. He's like Trinitario, a genetic blend of Criollo and Forastero that's also pretty highly regarded as fine-flavor cacao and can make a chocolate bar that will tear up your heart.
(I shouldn't even mention the other guys in the band at all, since everyone has already forgotten about them, but seriously, how could I not reminisce about Chris Kirpatrick's epic hair?)
Now, going back to Forastero Joey for a minute, I don't want to blow your mind, but there are actually lots of Joeys. In fact, Forastero Joey is just an umbrella term for all sorts of forgotten singers of hit bands, of varying levels of talent and successful production. There are actually nine genetic families once thought to all be Forastero.
Think Posh Spice from the Spice Girls, Tom Dumont from No Doubt, Sonny from Sonny and Cher, Flava Flav from Public Enemy, Ringo from the Beatles, Michelle Williams from Destiny's Child, Krist Novoselic from Nirvana, Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers, and pretty much all of Nickelback. You might like the solo albums from some of them, and others you want to say bye bye bye to.
The point is that not all of them are good or bad; it depends on the particular singer, and probably also who produced their album (aka how the cacao was grown and processed as well as the skill level of the chocolate maker). In other words, Forastero can be awesome, or it can be terrible.
So, to recap, there's Criollo, plus nine other genetic families of cacao, as well as hybrids between Criollo and those genetic families. (There are also man-made hybrids, most along the quality level of One Direction, but that's another story.)
This I promise you, though: Researchers are still finding new genetic strains of cacao. Will the next one sing "It's Gonna Be Me" with as much gusto as Justin, or will Criollo always have that sunshine in his pocket?
A version of this article first ran on Megan Giller's site Chocolate Noise.