Cocoa seeds are harvested from cocoa trees and are processed to acquire the cocoa butter. The trees that produce cocoa beans have been planted and harvested since the early days of the Mayan Civilization in Central America. Cocoa seeds can be processed and used for a number of thigns, but the most common uses are as ingredients in chocolates, medicines, drinks, cosmetics as well as cocoa butter.
The botanical name for the Cacao tree is “food of the gods” and it was Swedish Botanist, Carl Linnaeus who gave the Cocoa Tree it’s Greek Name, Theobroma Cacao in his original classification of the plant kingdom.
Cocoa trees grow in tropical areas, they grow up to about 25 feet tall and have very dark green leaves that need to be shaded from direct sunlight. In a well shaded environment cocoa trees will produce a good harvest, and are quite often planted next to faster growing tall trees like coconuts trees and banana trees, giving permanent shade to the cocoa trees. Cacao trees grow in a relatively small geographical zone approximately between 20° above and below the equator. Almost 75% of the worlds cocoa beans are grown in west Africa.
Before the rainy season each year cocoa trees bear brightly colored pink and white flowers. Eventually some of these flowers will develop into fruits named cacao pods. It takes about five months to go from flower bud to cacao pod. Uniquely the cacao pods will be seen growing out of the trunks and branches of the cacao tree, unlike other trees please found in tropical regions. It takes at least four years before A cocoa tree bears fruit.
And unripe cacao pod is bright green in color, then as a ripens it turns to a yellow–red color all becomes golden orange colored. A cacao pod can be as long has 20 cm, and can weigh up to about 500 grams. There are about 25 to 35 cocoa beans measuring about 2 cm each inside each cocoa pod. You can harvest a cocoa tree severl times a year. The biggest producers of cacao pods are tropical countries like Malaysia, Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines and the regions of Central America and South America.
The right pods are harvested from the tree by a long pole with a curved knife at the top. Harvesters must take care when cutting the stem of the pod, as future flowers and pods will grow from these stems. The beans are transported to a factory where they can be dried and fermented. Fermentation takes about 4 to 7 days and the beans must be thoroughly next every couple of days.The Cocoa beans are dried for between 5 to 14 days depending on the local climate.
There are three main varieties of cacao, Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario. Forastero is the most widely used comprising about 95% of the world’s production of cocoa. The highest quality cocoa beans come from the Criollo variety, which is usually considered to be a delicacy because plantations of these beans have much lower yields.
Forastero are growing in huge plantations mainly in Brazil and West Africa who fill most of the world’s demand. The Forastero bean has the strongest flavor of the three varieties.
Criollo has a much more mild flavor and are not as hard as the Forastero variety. One of the largest producers of this bean is Venezuela.
Trinitario is a hybrid created from the mixing of both Forastero and Criollo together. It is much higher quality than Forastero and has higher yields and is more disease resistant than Criollo. Plantations of this variety of cocoa bean can be found in countries like Cameroon, the Caribbean and Papua New Guinea.
To produce cocoa butter the whole cacao beans are fermented, roasted and then separated from their hulls. The remainder of the residue from this process is cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is one of the major ingredients in producing both white chocolate and milk chocolate. This accounts for most of the consumption of cocoa butter. It is also used by pharmaceutical companies as it is a non-toxic solid at room temperature that then melts at body temperature.