CHOCOLATE :: the plant

history : the plant : tempering : chocolate truffles

Cacao (Theobroma cacao) is a small (4–8 m tall) evergreen tree in the family Sterculiaceae (alternatively Malvaceae), native to tropical Mexico, but now cultivated throughout the tropics. Its seeds are used to make cocoa and chocolate.

  cacao flowers cacao flowers
cacao pods cacao pods  

The bush grows naturally in tropical regions such as in the low foothills of the Andes at elevations of around 200–400 m in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins. It requires a humid climate with regular rainfall and good soil. It is an understory tree, growing best with some overhead shade. The leaves are alternate, entire, unlobed, 10–40 cm long and 5–20 cm broad.

The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; they are small, 1–2 cm diameter, with pink calyx. The fruit, called a cacao pod, is ovoid, 15–30 cm long and 8–10 cm wide, ripening yellow to orange, and weighs about 500 g when ripe. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called "beans", embedded in a white pulp. Each seed contains a significant amount of fat (40–50% as cocoa butter). Their most important active constituent is theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine.

  cacao halved cocoa seeds in cacao pod


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