As with so many beans, nuts and fruit, we often don’t know where they come from and how they are grown. Chocolate, made from cacao beans, comes from a tree called, Theobroma Cacao.
In 1975, Carl von Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, was inspired by the indigenous Mesoamerican name for the cacao tree, ‘Food of the Gods’, to call it Theobroma Cacao. The cultivated tree grows anywhere between three to ten metres in height. It begins branching out fairly close to the earth and from its branches spring the dark green leaves – about 10 to 25 cm in length and 5 to 8 cm wide. The small cacao tree flowers produce fruit all year round and are pale, lightly scented, have five petals and grow straight out of the trunk.
They are pollinated by midges and then grow into a pod-fruit, which starts off green, then develops into beautiful red, yellow, blue and purple colours, depending on the variety. It takes five to six months for each fruit pod to ripen and they grow 18 – 20 cm in length. Each fruit contains anywhere from 20 to 50 beans, surrounded by a sweet white pulp. A mature tree will produce about 50 fruits, harvested twice a year.
Theobroma Cacao are indigenous to Central and South America, originating in the Orinoco river basin in Venezuela and have now spread to most tropical climates within 20 degrees of the equator all over the world. Bioko, a small island near the equator off the coast of West Africa was the first site of cacao cultivation outside of the Americas in 1590 and became the launch point of Cacao into Africa.
There are three major species variations of Theobroma Cacao cultivated around the world. Criollo, the first variety to be cultivated, originates from Central America. It has an exquisite, rich, intense flavour with a full aroma and is used in all of MOCOCU’s chocolates. Criollo represents about 5% of the world crop and is grown mainly in Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Columbia and Indonesia.
The Forastero variety was domesticated later than Criollo and is a vigorous, more robust plant that matures quickly and produces a rough chocolate. It accounts for 80% of the world’s production and is grown mainly in Africa and Asia. Forestero beans have over 50% fat content are used to produce cocoa butter.
Trinitario, is a hybrid of Criollo and Forestero and dates back to the late eighteenth century. It possesses the delicate flavour and aromatic properties of the Criollo and the hardiness of the Forestero plant. Today it grows in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South America and the West Indies and accounts for 10 – 15% of the world’s cacao production.
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