The cocoa tree (Theobroma Cacao), is a native of the dense tropical
Amazon forests. First cultivated by the Mayas of Yucatan and the
Aztecs of Mexico, the crop has increased in commercial value since
Montezuma began consuming a cocoa bean preparation called "chocolatl"
Although Columbus initially brought the cocoa
bean to Europe, it was his fellow countryman, Don Cortes, who
recognized its commercial value as a drink and sent back to Spain
cocoa beans and recipes for the preparation of chocolate. However,
it was the Swedish botanist, Linnaeus, who, probably drawing on
the Aztec belief that the cocoa tree had divine origins, gave
the genus the name "Theobroma" or Food of the Gods.
The Spaniards jealously guarded this increasingly
popular drink, to which they added sugar as a sweetener. Cultivation
of the cocoa tree by the Spaniards in their isolated colony in
Trinidad was part of the effort to keep secret the cultivation
and preparation of the cocoa bean. Eventually, the Spaniards sought
to grow cocoa elsewhere including other West Indian Islands and
The popularity of the chocolate drink spread to
Italy, Holland and France and finally in the middle 1600s to England,
but it remained a drink for the wealthy because of its high cost.
By the early eighteenth century, however, prices began to drop
and the commercial manufacture of chocolate began in Bristol,
England, where the firm of J.S. Fry founded the first chocolate
factory in 1728.
The term cacao, essentially a botanical name, refers to the tree,
the pods and the unfermented beans found in the pods. The word
cocoa, by contrast, refers to the fermented cocoa beans in bulk,
and also to the manufactured powdered product used for drinks
and in food manufacturing.
The cocoa beans are the seeds of the cacao tree
species Theobroma cacao L., and the genus Theobroma. Theobroma
cacao is the only species of commercial value and is divided into
four distinct varieties: Hawaiian, Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero.
Except for in Hawaii, the growing conditions required
by the cacao tree are fairly precise with the usual areas of cultivation
lying within 20 degrees latitude of the equator. Within these
latitudes a temperature range of 21 to 32 degrees Centigrade (70
to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) is required. Soil conditions can vary
considerably, but a firm roothold and moisture retention are necessary.
Traditionally, cacao trees are grown under shade
trees to resemble their natural habitat, however, high yields
have been obtained from trees growing in non-shaded areas when
sufficient moisture and nutrients are made available to the trees.
Cocoa trees, which begin bearing fruits after the age of five,
generally live up to 100 years and are in their prime 30 to 40
years after maturity.
From the time the seedlings reach a height of
3 to 5 feet, they throw out 3 to 5 branches, and later, vertical
“chupons” or suckers from points below “jorquettes”
where branches fork. This pattern of growth is repeated until
the height of maturity is reached.
Flowers, less than a half inch in diameter, are
formed in small groups on the trunk and lower main branches of
the trees. They are bisexual and produce pollen that is too sticky
to be dispersed by the wind. In its natural habitat, pollination
occurs primarily through small midge: a tiny fly. Mature trees
produce approximately 10,000 flowers per year of which 1000 become
pollinated, and of which 100 develop into mature pods. These pods
mature in 5 to 7 months during which time many wilt and drop off
in a natural thinning process. The pod attains a length of 6 to
10 inches and a diameter of 3 to 4 inches. A pod normally contains
20 to 40 seeds surrounded by a muscilaginous pulp when the pod
The pods are harvested regularly, for the trees
bear mature fruit, flowers, and growing pods all at the same time.
After removal from the branches by hand-cutting, the pods are
taken to a central location for opening and removal of the beans
and adhering pulp. The beans with pulp are then taken to the fermentary
for fermenting and drying.
Bean to Chocolate
The development of good chocolate flavors depends on genetics,
environment, good fermentation, and the drying and storage of
the beans, together with controlled processes of manufacturing.
It is critical to good flavor in the final cocoa
or chocolate that correct bean fermentation and drying occur.
After the pods are cut from the trees, the beans and their adhering
pulp are transferred to heaps, boxes or baskets where fermentation
is to take place. The beans must be maintained at a temperature
close to 50 degrees Centigrade. Too low a temperature (less than
5 to 46 degrees Centigrade or 113 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit) doesn’t
allow sufficient flavor precursor development.
Complete fermentation usually takes from 5 to
6 days. During the first day fo fermentation the adhering pulp
becomes liquid an drains away causing the fermentation temperature
to rise steadily. By the third day the mass of beans will have
heated fairly evenly to about 45 degrees Centigrade (113 degrees
Fahrenheit) and will remain between 45 and 50 degrees Centigrade
until fermentation is complete. Periodic turning of the beans
ensures that the beans are exposed to temperature conditions prevailing
in both the interior an the exterior. The changes that occur in
the combined processes of fermentation and drying are commonly
referred to as “curing.” When cut, a properly fermented
bean exhibits a brown or partly purple appearance with segmented
cotyledons. A slatey color and dense structure with the shell
adhering firmly indicates bad or no fermentation.
After fermentation, the beans are placed in shallow
trays to dry. Usually sun-drying is sufficient although in rainy
areas artificial drying techniques utilizing various available
dryers are used. Adequate drying is essential to preserve the
good flavor of the beans; otherwise, molds will develop giving
the beans bad flavors that no purifying process can remove. The
essential feature of all dryers is that the products of combustion
do not come in contact with the beans, otherwise the taints will
appear in the final product. Smoky flavors are most objectionable
in delicately flavored chocolate and can result from cocoa butter
expressed from contaminated beans.
When first manufactured commercially, the chocolate
prepared from the roasted whole bean, commonly referred to as
“nubs,” and sugar was an extremely rich drink because
of its high fat (cocoa butter) content. Some manufacturers sought
to dilute this high fat content by adding starchy substances,
but in 1828, Van Houten of Holland invented a press which removed
some of the better fat. Van Houten’s press ultimately led
to the manufacture of cocoa powder as we know it today, which
was then called “cocoa essence.” In addition, use
of the press resulted in the production of cocoa butter, which
manufacturers found had natural fat properties lending itself
to be molded into tablets of chocolate. The later invention of
fondant crème, a type of creamed sugar mass, allowed the
coating of fondant centers with chocolate, and an entirely new
line of confections was born.
Milk chocolate as we know it today was a much
later invention with our chocolate confections being more likely
developed by the Swiss due to the work in 1876 of Daniel Peters
of Vevey, Geneva. The “milk crumb” process was instrumental
in producing the popular rich caramelized milk flavor used in
much of today’s milk chocolate confections.
Present world production of cocoa beans is around 2,200,000 metric
tons. Chocolate made from this cocoa is over 5,000,000 metric
tons. The public taste for chocolate varies from country to country
and even indifferent parts of the same country. The preference
for milk or dark chocolate also varies and has changed over the
years with the preference now leaning toward the dark chocolates.
- Coe, Sophie
D., and Michael D. 1996 The
True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
- 1995 The Book of Chocolate. Flammarion, Paris