Cacao 101

We already know about many of the benefits of eating cacao/raw chocolate, but what about where it all starts? Here is some basic information on the “food of the gods” before it becomes chocolate.

If you’ve never seen a cacao tree or its fruit, you may be surprised by their appearance. Check it out here!

  • Theobroma cacao, the cacao tree, is found in the hot, rainy tropical climates between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the equator.
  • Cacao trees don’t begin produce the seed-bearing pods until they are around 5 years old.
  • Each tree will produce an average of around 30 pods, each containing around 40 seeds (cacao beans), per year.
  • Pods may be 6-12 inches long and 3-4 inches wide, and weigh up to a pound when ripe.

Harvesting cacao might look something like this.

The pods, which require at least four months to ripen, are taken from the tree and cut open. The white inner flesh, or pulp, of the fruit is removed; this is the part that contains the seeds (beans). Everything is done by hand, making it a labor-intensive process.

After the cacao is harvested and the beans separated from the pod, they still need to be fermented and dried before they can be made into chocolate. Fermentation occurs over several days while the beans remain in the pulp after being taken from the pod. Traditionally, the cacao beans are dried in the sun after fermentation. By the time they have finished drying, the cacao beans have darkened in color to resemble coffee beans. A summary of the whole process can be found here.

Want to learn more? Check out Miles Mascis entryWhat I Know About Cacaothen leave a comment to let him know what interests you most about cacao!

Post written by: Rebecca Dobrzynski 2/22/2012