Cocoa – Concept, origin, history and properties

We explain what cacao is, its origin and the history of this famous tree. In addition, its properties and its relationship with chocolate.

Cocoa is an evergreen tree that requires hot and humid climates.

What is cocoa?

Cocoa is an american tree from amazonian origin, also known as cocoa tree, since by cocoa it normally refers to the fruit that said tree bears, or even to the product of the drying and fermentation of the seeds of said fruit.

It is an evergreen tree, always in bloom, which requires hot and humid climates. It usually measures around 7 meters if it is cultivated and above 20 in nature.

The fruit of the cocoa tree, called “cob”, is a large, oval, fleshy berry, whose color ranges from yellow to purple, and is about 30 cm long. Inside each cocoa pod are between 30 and 40 seeds, embedded in a pulp. The fruit it can weigh about 450 grams when ripe, which begins to happen after four or five years of the tree’s life.

Generally, there are two cocoa harvests a year: one towards the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry season, and another at the beginning of the next rainy season. Note that we are referring to tropical climates without seasons. Each harvest takes between five to six months.

Cocoa is native to America and occurs commonly in the territories of Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Trinidad and Tobago, but also in the hot zones of Mexico and on the African continent, in Ivory Coast, Cameroon , Nigeria, Togo, Republic of Congo and Ghana, as well as in the Asian rainforest of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Currently, three main varieties of cocoa are known: Criollo (mainly Caribbean and Central American), Forastero (Amazonian, but mostly grown in Africa) and Trinitario (hybrid). At least ten modern cocoa families are grouped around these three names.

History and origin of cocoa

Europeans got to know cocoa after the conquest and colonization of America.

Cocoa is of jungle origin, probably Amazonian. It is thought that the ancient Mesoamerican settlers, 5000 years ago, would have found it and transported it to the current Mexican territory, since evidence of its ritual use by the Olmec culture was found, 3500 years ago.

In fact, many theories about its origin are derived from its name, which could come from the Mayan cacaoatl, derived from the classic Maya kakaw (a).

In fact, there is abundant documentation on the taste for cocoa-based beverages of the Mayan cultures, especially the elite. In fact cacao infusions were left in the tombs of the Mayan kings.

It is also known that the Aztec Empire valued cacao and in some pre-Columbian cultures it was used as currency.

Europeans learned about cocoa after the conquest and colonization of America, and for the first time they included sugar in cocoa drinks to adapt them to their palate, unaccustomed to the bitterness of the fruit.

Cocoa properties

cocoa pot
Cocoa butter is a common topical remedy for treating wounds.

A cocoa bean contains a huge amount of nutrients, such as proteins (11.5%), starches (7.5%), tannins (6%), water (5%), salts and trace elements (2.6%), organic acids (2%), theobromine (1 , 2%), caffeine (0.2%), among others.

It has a moderate stimulating effect (due to theobromine) and provides the amino acids for the composition of serotonin (troptophan). Cocoa can be toxic to cats and dogs.

Cocoa seeds and leaves are used in traditional medicine to cure various ailments, such as asthma, diarrhea, weakness, parasitism, pneumonia, colic, cough, etc.

The oil extracted from its seed, on the other hand, known as Cocoa butter, it’s a usual topical remedy for treating wounds, rashes, dry or chapped lips, skin conditions and even malaria and rheumatism.

At the same time, the consumption of cocoa can trigger gastrointestinal effects and is associated with the incidence of migraines.

Cocoa and chocolate

The most common product made from cocoa is chocolate.

The most common product made with cocoa is chocolate (from Nahuatl xocoltotl), made from a mixture of sugar, cocoa mass and cocoa butter, to which are added other ingredients to suit the confectioner (milk, nuts, etc.), since is preparation is traditionally sweet.

Chocolate is currently consumed in a huge variety of presentations: in bars, in powder, as drinks, etc.

Its preparation is culturally regarded as its own in various parts of Europe, where it arrived after the colonization of America and where it took advantage of the culinary tradition.