Cacao bean (also Anglicized as cocoa bean, often simply cocoa and cacao is the dried and fully fermented fatty bean of Theobroma cacao, from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted. They are the basis of chocolate, as well as many Mesoamerican foods such as mole sauce and tejate.
A cocoa pod (fruit) has a rough and leathery rind about 3 cm thick (this varies with the origin and variety of pod). It is filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp (called ‘baba de cacao’ in South America) enclosing 30 to 50 large seeds that are fairly soft and white to a pale lavender colour. While seeds are usually white, they become violet or reddish brown during the drying process. The exception is rare varieties of white cacao, in which the seeds remain white.
Historically, white cacao was cultivated by the Rama people of Nicaragua.
Cocoa is the Anglicized spelling of the Spanish word cacao, derived from the Nahuatl word cacahuatl. Cocoa can often also refer to the drink commonly known as hot chocolate; to cocoa powder, the dry powder made by grinding cocoa seeds and removing the cocoa butter from the dark, bitter cocoa solids; or to a mixture of cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
The cacao tree is native to the Americas. It may have originated in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, current day Colombia and Venezuela, where today, examples of wild cacao still can be found. However, it may have had a larger range in the past, evidence for which may be obscured because of its cultivation in these areas long before, as well as after, the Spanish arrived. It was first cultivated by the Olmecs at least 1500 BC in Mexico.
The cocoa bean was a common currency throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish conquest. Cacao trees will grow in a limited geographical zone, of approximately 20 degrees to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop is grown in West Africa.
Cocoa was an important commodity in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. A Spanish soldier who was part of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés tells that when Moctezuma II, emperor of theAztecs, dined, he took no other beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet. Flavored with vanilla or other spices, his chocolate was whipped into a froth that dissolved in the mouth. It is reported that no fewer than 60 portions each day may have been consumed by Moctezuma II, and 2000 more by the nobles of his court.
Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards, and became a popular beverage by the mid 17th century.They also introduced the cacao tree into the West Indies and the Philippines. It was also introduced into the rest of Asia and into West Africa by Europeans. In the Gold Coast, modern Ghana, cacao was introduced by an African, Tetteh Quarshie.
The cacao plant was first given its botanical name by Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus in his original classification of the plant kingdom, who called it Theobroma (“food of the gods”) cacao.
|Top Cocoa Beans Producers
|(million metric tons)|
UN Food & Agriculture Organisation
Cocoa bean output in 2005
More than 3,000,000 tonnes (3,000,000 long tons; 3,300,000 short tons) of cocoa are produced each year.
The global production was
1974: 1,556,484 tons,
1984: 1,810,611 tons,
1994: 2,672,173 tons,
2004: 3,607,052 tons.
The production increased by 131.7% in 30 years, representing a compound annual growth rate of 2.9%.
There are three main varieties of cocoa plant: Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario.
Forastero is the most widely used, comprising 95% of the world production of cocoa. Overall, the highest quality cocoa beans come from the Criollo variety, which is considered a delicacy.
Criollo plantations have lower yields than those of Forastero, and also tend to be less resistant to several diseases that attack the cocoa plant, hence very few countries still produce it. One of the largest producers of Criollo beans is Venezuela (Chuao and Porcelana).
Trinitario is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero varieties. It is considered to be of much higher quality than the latter, but has higher yields and is more resistant to disease than the former.
There are different metrics used for chocolate consumption. The Netherlands has the highest monetary amount of cocoa bean imports (US$2.1 billion); it is also one of the main ports into Europe.
The United States has highest amount of cocoa powder imports ($220 million); the US has a large amount of cocoa complementary products. The United Kingdom has the highest amount of retail chocolate ($1.3 billion) and is one of the biggest chocolate consumption per capita markets.
Cocoa and its products (including chocolate) are used worldwide. Per capita consumption is poorly understood, with numerous countries claiming the highest: various reports state Switzerland, Belgium, and the UK have the highest consumption, but it can be claimed that because there is no clear mechanism to determine how much of a country’s production is consumed by residents and how much by visitors, this is all speculative.
There were 3.54 million tonnes of cocoa beans produced in the 2008–2009 growing year, which runs from October to September. Of this total, African nations produced 2.45 million tonnes (69%), Asia and Oceania produced 0.61 million tonnes (17%) and the Americas produced 0.48 million tonnes (14%). Two African nations, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, produce more than half of the world’s cocoa, with 1.23 and 0.73 million tonnes respectively (35% and 21%, respectively). The largest cocoa bean-producing countries in the world are as follows.
|COUNRTY||Amount Produced||% of Production|
|Côte d’Ivoire||1.23 million tons||34.7%|
|Ghana||746 thousand tons||20.6%|
|Indonesia||489 thousand tons||13.8%|
|Cameroon||220 thousand tons||5.9%|
|Nigeria||210 thousand tons||5.9%|
|Brazil||165 thousand tons||4.7%|
|Ecuador||130 thousand tons||3.7%|
Cocoa trees grow in hot, rainy tropical areas within 20° of latitude from the equator. Cocoa harvest is not restricted to one period per year. Usually it occurs over several months and in many countries cocoa can be harvested at any time of the year. Pesticides are often applied to the trees to combat capsid bugs and fungicides to fight black pod disease. Immature cocoa pods have a variety of colors but most often are green, red, or purple, and as they mature their color tends towards yellow or orange, particularly in their creases. Unlike most fruiting trees, the cacao pod grows directly from the trunk or large branch of a tree rather than from the end of a branch. This makes harvesting by hand easier as most of the pods will not be up in the higher branches. The pods on a tree do not ripen together; harvesting needs to be done periodically through the year. Harvesting occurs between 3–4 times to weekly during the harvest season.The ripe and near-ripe pods, as judged by their color, are harvested from the trunk and branches of the cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole. Care must be used when cutting the stem of the pod to avoid injuring the junction of the stem with the tree, as this is where future flowers and pods will emerge. It is estimated one person can harvest 650 pods per day.
The harvested pods are opened —typically with a machete— to expose the beans.The pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are then piled in heaps, placed in bins, or laid out on grates for several days. During this time, the seeds and pulp undergo “sweating”, where the thick pulp liquefies as it ferments. The fermented pulp trickles away, leaving cocoa seeds behind to be collected. Sweating is important for the quality of the beans, which originally have a strong bitter taste. If sweating is interrupted, the resulting cocoa may be ruined; if underdone, the cocoa seed maintains a flavor similar to raw potatoes and becomes susceptible to mildew. Some cocoa producing countries distil alcoholicspirits using the liquefied pulp.
A typical pod contains 20 to 50 beans and about 400 dried beans are required to make one pound (880 per kilogram) of chocolate. Cocoa pods weigh an average of 400 grams (0.88 lb) and each one yields 35 to 40 grams (1.2 to 1.4 oz) dried beans (this yield is 40–44% of the total weight in the pod).It is estimated one person can separate the beans from 2000 pods per day.
The wet beans are transported then to a facility so they can be fermented and dried. They are fermented for four to seven days and must be mixed every two days. They are dried for five to fourteen days, depending on the climate conditions. The fermented beans are dried by spreading them out over a large surface and constantly raking them. In large plantations, this is done on huge trays under the sun or by using artificial heat. Small plantations may dry their harvest on little trays or on cowhides.
Finally, the beans are trodden and shuffled about (often using bare human feet) and sometimes, during this process, red claymixed with water is sprinkled over the beans to obtain a finer color, polish, and protection against molds during shipment to factories in the United States, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and other countries.
Drying in the sun is preferable to drying by artificial means, as no extraneous flavors such as smoke or oil are introduced which might otherwise taint the flavor.
The beans should be dry for shipment (usually by sea). Traditionally exported in jute bags, over the last decade the beans are increasingly shipped in ‘Mega-Bulk’ bulk parcels of several thousand tonnes at a time on ships, or in smaller lots of around 25 tonnes in 20 foot containers. Shipping in bulk significantly reduces handling costs; shipment in bags, however, either in a ship’s hold or in containers, is still commonly found.
A tiendas de chocolate mill in Oaxaca, where customers can have roasted cocoa beans and spices ground for chocolate, or roasted chili peppers ground for mole.
Throughout Mesoamerica where they are native, cocoa beans are used for a variety of foods. The harvested and fermented beans may be ground to-order at tiendas de chocolate, or chocolate mills. At these mills, the cocoa can be mixed with a variety of ingredients such as cinnamon, chili peppers, almonds, vanilla and other spices to create drinking chocolate. The ground cocoa is also an important ingredient in tejate and a number of savory foods, such as mole.
Cocoa beans possess 45-53.2% fat in the form of cocoa butter (also known as theobroma oil) which is made up of a variety of fatty acids. Cocoa beans contain up to10% of phenols and flavenoids which are antioxidants potentially inhibiting cancer or cardiovascular diseases, as well as potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. Additionally, they contain 1-3% theobromine and caffeine, alkaloids that stimulate the central nervous system. Caffeine has a positive effect on mental alertness, for instance when taken in caffeinated drinks.
The ingredients for chocolate – cocoa powder and cocoa butter (solids) – are prepared from fermented and roasted cocoa seeds. A typical bar of milk chocolate contains around 15% cocoa liquor and 20% cocoa powder. The distinctive flavour of chocolate develops during the fermentation process.