Theobroma Cacao, which roughly translates to “food of the gods,” is the tree that produces cocoa beans.
It takes approximately 400 cocoa beans, which grow in pods, to make one pound of chocolate.
Each tree produces an average of 2,500 cacao beans per year.
Where and how is it grown?
Cacao typically grows from 10ºN to 10ºS of the Equator, known as the “Cacao Belt,” but it can grow as far north as Puerto Rico and as far south as Fiji. The largest producing countries are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia.
Most cacao – roughly 70 percent – comes from West Africa, produced by an estimated 1.5 million cacao farms.
Cacao is typically raised by hand on small, family-owned farms.
Cacao trees grow about 15-25 feet tall, but uncultivated trees can grow much taller. They are “understory” trees, which means they that need larger trees to protect them.
A farmer must wait four to five years for a cacao tree to produce its first beans. Although some cacao trees may live to be more than 200 years old, most only give marketable beans for about 25 years.
Cacao leaves can move 90 degrees horizontal or vertical to protect younger leaves and get sun.
Who depends on cacao?
Worldwide, 40 to 50 million people depend upon cacao for their livelihood.
The price of cacao can fluctuate daily, which impacts the farmers’ incomes.
Cacao trees are so delicate that farmers can lose an average of 30 percent of their crop each year; family farmers may supplement their income by harvesting bananas or other fruit crops.
The good news is that farmers are now earning between 70 and 75 percent more from their crops through some programs supported by industry and by partners that include foundations and governments.
It’s all about savoring it
A single-serving chocolate bar takes two to four days to make!
Chocolate contains cocoa butter found naturally in the beans, plus an extra dollop to enhance its creaminess.
The cacao percentage is determined by the amount of cocoa solids in a chocolate.
The French celebrate April Fool’s Day with chocolate-shaped fish, or “Poisson d’Avril.”
Chocolate and your health
Chocolate can be enjoyed as part of a balanced, heart-healthy diet and lifestyle, according to current research.
Studies have shown that one of the major saturated fats in chocolate does not raise cholesterol like other hard fats.
The average serving of milk chocolate has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of decaf coffee.
Savor your chocolate, but don’t share it with your furry friends (chocolate can make dogs and cats ill). They won’t miss it, and you can enjoy it all!
Cacao historical tidbits
Cacao beans were so valued that they were used as currency by early Mesoamericans.
Benjamin Franklin sold chocolate in his print shop in Philadelphia.
An Indonesian farming community honored cacao by building a giant statue of hands holding a cacao pod.
Rudolph Lindt designed the first “conching” machine, its bed curved like a conch shell. A conche machine mixes and agitates to evenly distribute cocoa butter within chocolate, and frictional heat releases its volatiles.
Cacao v. Cocoa – What’s the difference?
Cacao is the name of the beans made to create chocolate, and the name of the trees that grow cacao bean pods.
Cacao powder is raw, made from cacao beans. Cacao nibs are made by chopping the raw beans into small pieces.
Cocoa is a processed product, made by exposing cacao to high heat.
Although cocoa maintains some beneficial nutritional properties, cacao provides much richer nutritional and health benefits.