Do you love chocolate? If the answer is yes, then this article is for you.
Cocoa trees are high maintenance and sensitive to climate change, but their fruit yields a delicious treat that we all enjoy! From how long it takes for them to bear fruit, to where they grow best – here are 12 facts about cocoa trees that will make you love chocolate even more.
12 Cocoa Tree Fun Facts
The fruit of the Cocoa tree grow directly from the trunk. They look like small melons, and the delicious, sweet white pulp inside contains 20 to 50 beans.
- It takes 3-5 years for a cocoa tree to produce its first seed pods.
- The cocoa pod is made up of the pulp, or massa di frutto and the shell. The beans inside are called “cacao beans” and are the source of all chocolate products.
- The cocoa pod is harvested by cutting it from the tree using a machete, and then split open to remove the beans which are fermented in order for them to dry out under sunlight. The pods can also be dried inside by laying them on racks made from bamboo or wood slats
- A cacao tree can produce about 50 kg (110 lbs) of pods per year. Each pod contains around 30-50 beans.
- Cocoa trees prefer a lot of heat and humidity to grow properly
- Chocolate has properties that combat Heart disease; thanks to flavanoids from the cocoa plant.
- The ancient tribes, of the Maya Indians, were the first to discover the wonderful enchanting properties of the cocoa bean around the year 600 AD.
- Christopher Columbus, in 1502, was thought to have brought cocoa beans to King Ferdinand, during his fourth trip from the New World.
- Cocoa was exported to Europe in 1585 but the first chocolate bar was not made until 1848. Up until them, chocolate was consumed as a beverage.
- Throughout the world the annual cocoa production is 3 million tons
- Watching your caffeine intake? An ounce of semi-sweet dark chocolate has only 20 milligrams on average, about the same amount as three ounces of brewed regular tea.
- December 13th is National Cocoa Day.
And there’s more…
Cocoa trees require high rainfall and temperatures to grow, as well as rainforest trees to offer shade and protection from too much direct sunlight and wind. It’s why cocoa farms can only flourish in a narrow band of countries between 20 degrees north and south of the equator. Thailand falls within this band and is ideal for growing cocoa.
In 2016, the global cocoa supply fell by two million tons as drought in West Africa stunted plant growth.
Cocoa trees flourish with a lot of water but do not like to have wet feet for prolonged lengths of time.
Cocoa trees need pollination with the help of insects, and farmers sometimes supplement this by hand to ensure a successful crop.
For every dollar consumers spend on chocolate, only seven cents goes back into cocoa farming communities.
It takes around 250 pounds of raw materials for each pound of finished chocolate bars or other products made with cocoa.
The majority of the cocoa beans are exported as a raw material for chocolate manufacturing factories abroad in Europe and the US. If you’re lucky enough to find some in stores, about 20% of that price will end up going back into farming communities through fair trade practices and other programs.
How do you know what pods are ready to harvest from cocoa trees?
There’s a simple and effective way to find out if a pod is ready to harvest. A light thumb scratch of the outer skin is all it takes. If the open scratch mark is green, the pod isn’t ripe. If the open scratch mark is roughly the same as the skin, it’s ready to pick.
What colour are cocoa pods?
Cocoa pods come in many colours, but they’re usually red, orange, yellow or green. Often a tree can be cross pollinated an display fruits of many colours.
Cocoa – it’s the taste!
Cocoa beans from different countries and regions taste noticeably different, even once they have been processed and in a chocolate bar. The reason for this is that the cocoa bean’s flavour depends on where it’s grown – the terroir. Some are sweeter or have different fruit notes than others because of the climate, soil conditions or neighbouring trees.
The fermentation process, and roasting all have a high impact on the taste of the final product too.
What does cacao butter do?
Cocoa butter is the fat from the bean. It’s the second-most abundant thing in chocolate after natural sugars. The higher the quality of bean, the higher the fat content.
The cocoa plant is both a word and an acronym: Theobroma cacao, meaning “food of gods” or “the food that makes you godlike.” It was so named by explorer Hernán Cortés to bring honour to its Aztec finders who called it “cacahuatl.”
Let’s wrap this up
Now that you’ve read this blog post, we hope you have a new appreciation for the long journey of cocoa beans from their origins to your favourite chocolate bar.
We also hope you’ll take time on December 13th to celebrate National Cocoa Day and enjoy some delicious treats in honour of all the hard work it takes to grow cacao trees.
For more information about growing cocoa trees from fresh beans, visit our sister site Thinglish Lifestyle where we documented the process.
We have a growing selection of artisan milk and dark chocolate produced exclusively at our permaculture fruit farm in Trat province, Thailand. We also offer delicious cocoa nibs and chocolate tea amongst other quality home-grown products… all made with love from the tree to the bar.
12 Fun Facts About Cocoa Trees That Will Make You Love Chocolate Even More