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Chocolate Origins Part 1: The Cacao Tree

Theobroma cacao

The cacao tree, formally known as 'Theobroma cacao', is a large flowering tree that grows in tropical regions. In Greek 'Theos' means 'God' and 'Broma' means 'food'. Loosely translated the cacao tree is Food of the Gods.

Once pollinated, the cacao tree grows fruit that contains seeds. This fruit is usually known as the cacao pod. New cacao trees take about 5 years to produce their first pods. The average tree will live to 100 but produce fruit for only half of its lifetime.

Cacao pods on the tree
Caocao pods on the tree

Even the cacao pods take months to grow and weeks to ripen. Once ripe, the cacao pod will be an orange color, contain approximately 30-60 seeds encased in white pulp, and weigh around 500 grams.

The domestication of the cacao tree likely happened approximately 4000 years ago in the lands of the Maya. Cacao beans are processed through several steps and are then ready to be sold to chocolate makers.

Breaking open a ripe Cacao Pod
The Cacao Seeds encased in the sticky white pulp.