What exactly is cocoa? In our country, this term is connected with a hot drink, or with the powder from which it is made. But what is the powder made of? It’s made of cocoa beans. So by cocoa now we mean cocoa beans. And where did they come from?

Let’s start with the tree. The cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao) is a tree occurring in the equatorial zone about twenty degrees wide, ie. ten degrees from the equator to the north and south. This limits its cultivation to South America, Central Africa and Equatorial Asia. The Latin name “Theobroma” refers to the substance theobromine, which is an alkaloid and antioxidant with stimulating effects – just like coffee has caffeine, cocoa has theobromine. Its effects are probably more similar to tea – it has a slower onset and a longer duration of action. More about this in this article.

The cacao tree grows fifteen meters, but for practical reasons the height is maintained within five meters, which is evident from the photo of an Ecuadorian plantation.

Photo: Jiri Fridrich

Tens of thousands of flowers will appear on the cacao tree during the year! Of course, only a small fraction is converted into a fetus. Pollination is provided by insects or humans. Somewhere I read that only one species of fly can pollinate a cacao tree, elsewhere that a spider, elsewhere that ants … I will not investigate further, but given the caption photo, I would not reject the spider variant.

Another peculiarity of the cacao tree is that its fruits grow both from the branches and directly from the trunk of the tree. The fruits are large and brightly colored cocoa pods. It is often these pods that manufacturers depict on the packaging of chocolates and cocoa products. Probably because of the whole cacao tree, the fruit is the most beautiful and the most photogenic. Unlike the bean itself.

Photo: Jiri Fridrich

And also for growing at home – cacao can be grown from seed or cuttings in our conditions. It will be a bit of a dwarf, but even a huge lot of white flowers will grow on it. Reportedly, however, no fruits will grow on it here. Maybe it’s the lack of the mentioned spiders…

So let’s go to the fruit – the pod. It contains a lot of sweet white flesh and about 40 seeds, which are settled in it like in cotton. The flesh is full of sugar so that when the pod falls to the ground, it begins to rot and release the seeds into the soil, providing the seeds with essential nutrients.

Photo: David Greenwood-Haigh, Pixabay

As is well known, whenever sugar is present, it can be fermented or distilled. So is the cocoa pulp. Cocoa brandy is great and it is an eternal pity that it is not normally sold.

So we have a tree, fruits, seeds, but where’s the bean? The difference between a seed and a bean is that the bean can no longer germinate, it will never be a tree again. The fermentation process destroyed its ability to reproduce.

Thus, cocoa bean is a fermented cacao seed. I mention fermentation more similarly elsewhere on the blog, but now it is enough to know that the seeds peeled from the pods are left to ferment and in about three days they become cocoa beans. The whole seed structure fermented and during this transformation the taste and aromatic components were created, due to which the whole process was actually invented.

Returning to the question of photogenicity, it is clear that cocoa beans are not very handsome and its depiction on chocolate would probably not look too sexy. I would like to address the chocolate covers in one of the other articles, as it is a broad topic with a relatively large overlap in art. So that would be to the basic characteristics of cocoa beans and next time we look at its varieties.

Cover photo: Jiri Fridrich

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