Cacao: A History of Chocolate

Chocolate. It is rich and sweet and satisfying.

Chocolate – As the winter settles in and the temperature makes us shiver, wrap your hands around a warm mug of cocoa and ask yourself, “Who discovered this stuff?” CACAO is the seed from which the journey begins.

The History

Deep in the Amazon basin lies a treasure: the Theobroma cacao tree. This wonderful tree was given its name by the Greeks. Theobroma means “food from the gods.”

The Botany

The Theobroma tree is a cauliflora because its fruit grows from flowers that bloom directly on its trunk and branches. A healthy full-grown cacao tree will produce approximately 20 seed pods. Forty seed pods will produce enough beans to make about 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of cocoa butter. Chocolate makers like Hershey®, Lindt®, and Cadbury® use this cocoa butter to create their products.

The Geography

The Theobroma tree is typically found within a 20 km radius of the Equator in various countries. The Ivory Coast in Africa boasts the largest production of cacao in the world, with over 1.4 million tons per year. The world’s cacao crops produce approximately 4.5 million tons per year.

The Math

Cacao beans were once used as currency in the same way we use money or gold. How many beans would a jacket set you back? A young Aztec shopping for the latest fabric in his village would have needed over 8,000 cacao beans. Only the high society of Mesoamerican civilizations enjoyed a cup of hot cocoa. It wasn’t affordable for the average people.

The Benefits of Cacao

It is delicious. Period. There have been reports that dark chocolate produced from cacao contains disease-fighting flavonoids but these reports are misleading. Flavonoids have no proven effect on improving health for humans. In fact, the sugars and fats in chocolate present a bigger problem when too much is eaten on a regular basis. But there is no need to worry if you enjoy a rich, creamy chocolate treat on occasion.

From the CACAO article from the Brainspace Fall 2018 issue and enjoy making the world’s best hot chocolate recipe:

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