Theobroma cacao

the cacao tree

"Real chocolate is a cocoa paste made from cacao seeds. Cacao seeds are the fruit of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao.

        The cacao tree produces flowers and fruit year-round. The cacao tree is small and comes from the forests of Central and South America. It needs a warm and humid climate, regular rainfall as well as a fertile and well-irrigated soil. It grows in the shade, preferably at an altitude of 1,300 to 2,300 feet, in the tropics 20° above and below the equator. The cacao tree yields its first crop at 3-4 years old. It is an adult plant at 10. It produces from 300 to 1,000 pounds of cocoa per acre for about 50 years.

        The cacao tree fruit is a huge berry called cacao pod, usually egg or melon-shaped, 5 to 12 inches long and 3 to 5 inches wide. The cacao pod contains 30 to 40 seeds. It takes 20 to 25 pods to get 2 pounds of cocoa. Once the tree reaches maturity, fruit pods will sprout from its trunk and branches. The golden-red to purple fruit pods turn brown at maturity, at which time they are split open and the insides scooped out. Each pod generally produces 20 to 40 almond-shaped cacao beans.

        After the cacao beans are removed from the fruit, they undergo fermentation, a process that reduces their bitterness and helps develop their heady aroma. After they are dried the beans are ready to be cleaned, graded, packed, and shipped for processing into chocolate products.

        Once the beans are selected, they are roasted and shelled to obtain the center cacao kernel, or nib. To transform the cacao kernels into the thick, dark-brown paste called chocolate liquor, the nibs are ground between large heated rollers in high-speed mills.

        Chocolate liquor is the base from which all chocolate products are made. Pure chocolate liquor, which contains 53 to 55 percent cocoa butter, is unsweetened and too bitter to eat. It is compressed into blocks or squares and is used for cooking and baking."

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