From Tree to Bar – What is Cacao
Cocoa is ranked as the third most valued commodity in the world after sugar and coffee. Because of that, there is huge pressure to provide enough bulk chocolate. Where they are grown and how they are processed can have a big impact on the different cocoa flavors.
All cocoa is grown within 20 degrees of the equator and requires rainforest-like conditions to keep the harvest plentiful.
Although there are many “new” areas where cocoa beans are being grown, the associated graphic shows these regions and the following parts of the world are considered the primary places where cocoa beans can be grown and harvested: West Africa (including Ghana, Nigeria, and Cote D’Ivoire), South America (Brazil and Ecuador), and Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia).
Cocoa beans are classified as either bulk beans or fine beans. Fine beans come from the two best quality varieties, Criollo, which are grown primarily in Indonesia, and Central and South America. The next common variety is called Trinitario. These beans are grown primarily in the Carribbean, Cameroon, and New Guinea. Bulk beans are mainly harvested from the Forastero variety, which are grown primarily in Brazil and in West Africa.
The cacao trees take about 3-4 years from seed to being able to produce fruit and typically grow up to 25 feet high. In many parts of the world, cocoa trees are grown alongside bananas and coconut trees because of their similar moisture and shade needs. Each tree can expect to yield approximately 20-30 pods.
The fruit of the cacao tree is an oval shaped pod about the size of a football. Each pod can grow as long as 14 inches and can weigh over 2 pounds. When ripe, the pods can be a variety of colors, red, green, orange, or purple. Each pod, depending on the variety, can expect to yield 20-30 beans.
The word “cacao” (pronounced kakow) is derived from the name of the cacao tree, Theobramo cacao. This is the word used before the beans have been fermented and dried. Once dried and ready for shipping, the term cocoa is then used.
Next Up – The Harvest