Nacional is a variety of cacao that is native to Ecuador and is highly prized for its unique flavor profile and aroma. It is also known as Arriba, which refers to the region where it is grown, north/up (arriba) of the Guayas River in the western part of the country. It is called Nacional because in the late 1800s, and early 1900s, this type of cacao was decimated by plagues (Witches broom and frosty pod), and other varieties were introduced but cacao traders from different parts of the world would always ask for the the National (Nacional) Cacao not the foreign varieties.
Nacional cacao trees have a distinctive criollo-like morphology, with large, yellow/orange pods and white pulp-covered seeds. The beans themselves are relatively small, but they are packed with flavor, with a floral aroma and a complex, fruity, nutty taste that is often described as having notes of citrus, berries, and honey.
One of the reasons that Nacional cacao is so highly regarded is that it is difficult to cultivate and is susceptible to disease. In the 20th century, many farmers in Ecuador replaced Nacional with other, more disease-resistant varieties and hybrids, such as CCN-51. However, in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Nacional, particularly among artisanal chocolate makers who are seeking high-quality, unique-tasting beans.
In fact, the Nacional variety is so highly regarded that it has been granted a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the European Union, which means that only cacao beans grown in the designated area of origin (near the Guayas River in Ecuador) can be marketed as "Nacional" or "Arriba" cacao. This recognition has helped to raise the profile of Ecuadorian cacao and has contributed to the growing popularity of fine chocolate made with Nacional beans.