The cocoa bean, also called cacao bean, cocoa, and cacao, is the dried and fully fermented seed of Theobroma cacao.
It originate in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, in Colombia and Venezuela. Wild cacao still grows there.
While cocoa can now be enjoyed in an endless array of products around the world, this delicacy has history that’s equally rich and compelling.
The cacao tree was domesticated by the Olmecs and Mocayas (Mexico and Central America).
More than 4,000 years ago, it was consumed by pre-Columbian cultures along the Yucatán, including the Mayans, and as far back as Olmeca civilization in spiritual ceremonies.
The Olmecs first discovered that the cocoa fruit was edible by observing rats eating it with gluttonous vigour. They soon realized the tree produced a fruit with a thousand flavours and nearly as many uses.
Over time, the Mayansand Aztecs developed successful methods for cultivating cocoa. The cocoa bean was used as a monetary unit and as a measuring unit, 400 beans equalling a Zontli and 8000 equalling a Xiquipilli.
During their wars with the Aztecs and the Mayans, the Chimimeken people’s preferred method of levying taxes in conquered regions was in the form of cocoa beans.
In its earliest forms, the Mayans used cocoa to create a ritual beverage that was shared during betrothal and marriage ceremonies, providing one of the first known links between chocolate and romance.
Christopher Columbus is said to have brought the first cocoa beans back to Europe from his fourth visit to the New World between 1502 and 1504.
Today, cacao trees grow in a limited geographical zone, of about 20° to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop today is grown in West Africa.
Cocoa tree is a small about 4 to 8 meters (13 to 26 feet) tall evergreen tree. It generally begin to bear fruit after three years and can live up to 100 years after maturity.
Leaves are alternate, entire, unlobed, 10 to 40 centimeters (4 to 16 in) long and 5 to 20 centimeters (2 to 8 in) broad.
The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; this is known as cauliflory. The flowers are small, 1 to 2 centimeters (0.4 to 0.8 in) diameter, with pink calyx. While many of the world’s flowers are pollinated by bees or butterflies/moths, cacao flowers are pollinated by tiny flies, Forcipomyia midges.
The fruit, called a cacao pod, is ovoid, 15 to 30 centimeters (6 to 12 in) long and 8 to 10 centimeter (3 to 4 in) wide, ripening yellow to orange, and weighs about 500 g (1.1 lb) when ripe. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called “beans”, embedded in a white pulp.
There are 228 calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cocoa beans.
The cacao bean is full of antioxidants, fat, carbohydrates, protein, polyphenols like flavanoids cacao nutritionthat are antioxidants, minerals like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, iron, zinc and potassium, oleic acid which is a heart-healthy essential monounsaturated fat, fiber and vitamins E, B2, B1, B5, B3 and B9.
Health benefits of cocoa include relief from high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, constipation, diabetes, bronchial asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and various neurodegenerative diseases. It is beneficial for quick wound healing, skin care, and it helps to improve cardiovascular and brain health. It also helps in treating copper deficiency. It possesses mood-enhancing properties and exerts protective effects against neurotoxicity.
In a health hierarchy, raw cacao beans before processing rank first, followed by organic, cocoa powder (un-roasted) and organic dark chocolate which greater concentrations of cocoa powder and lower levels of processed sugar.
Chocolate, which is made from the fermented, roasted, and toasted beans, is the solid and the fat combination, sweetened with sugar and other ingredients, and it is that combination that is made into chocolate bars and is commonly referred to as chocolate by the public.
To make 1 kg (2.2 lb) of chocolate, about 300 to 600 beans are processed, depending on the desired cocoa content.
The word “cacao” comes from the Olmec people from what is now Mexico and is believed to be the closest pronunciation to the original name of the plant.
Cocoa beans’ most noted active constituent is theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine.
Cocoa butter, also called theobroma oil, is a pale-yellow, edible vegetable fat extracted from the cocoa bean. It is used to make chocolate, as well as some ointments, toiletries, and pharmaceuticals. Cocoa butter has a cocoa flavor and aroma. Its best-known attribute is its melting point, which is just below human body temperature.