Chocolate and Cocoa
Nature Bulletin No. 664 January 27, 1962
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
CHOCOLATE AND COCOA
Spanish chroniclers of the conquest of Mexico by Cortes relate that
when Montezuma, emperor of the Aztecs, dined he took no other
beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet and eaten with a
golden spoon. Made of chocolate and flavored with vanilla and spices,
it was whipped into a froth that dissolved in the mouth. No less than 50
pitchers of it were prepared for the emperor each day, and 2000 more
for nobles of his court.
Chocolate and cocoa are made from the beans of the cacao tree which
apparently originated in the highlands of the Amazon and Orinoco
basins of South America, was introduced into Central America by the
ancient Mayas, and was cultivated in Mexico by the Toltecs conquered
later by the Aztecs.
The cacao is an evergreen and ever-blooming tropical tree that becomes
from 20 to 30 feet high. Linnaeus gave it the scientific name
Theobroma, meaning "Fruit of the gods. " It requires shade, protection
from winds, and a rich porous soil but does not thrive in hot steamy
lowlands. Its small pink flowers and their fruits grow in a queer way:
directly from the trunk and older branches. The fruit is a pod, shaped
like an elongated acorn squash, that becomes reddish or purplish yellow
and weighs about a pound when ripe. A tree begins to bear when 4 or 5
years old. In one year, when mature, it may have 6000 flowers but only
about 20 pods.
A pod has a rough leathery rind about l/2 inch thick. It is filled with
slimy pinkish pulp, sweet but inedible, enclosing from 30 to 50 large
almond-like seeds or "beans " that are fairly soft and pinkish or purplish
in color. As fast as they ripen the pods are removed with a curved knife
on a long pole, opened with a machete, and left to dry until taken to
There the beans are removed and piled in heaps, bins, or on gratings
where, during several days of "sweating, " the thick pulp ferments until
it thins and trickles off. The quality of the beans, which originally have
a strong bitter taste, depends upon this sweating. If it is overdone they
may be ruined; if underdone they have a flavor like raw potatoes and
are liable to mildew.
Then the beans are spread out and, constantly raked over, dried. On
large plantations this is done on huge trays, either outdoors by sunshine
or in sheds by artificial heat. However, thousands of tons are dried on
small trays or on cowhides, with poultry, pigs, dogs and other animals
wandering over them at will. Finally, bare-footed natives tread and
shuffle the beans about and sometimes, during the "dancing, " red clay
mixed with water is sprinkled over the beans to obtain a finer color,
polish, and protection against molds during shipment to factories in the
United States, England, and other countries.
Chocolate, introduced by the Spaniards, had become a popular
beverage throughout Europe by 1700. They also introduced the cacao
tree into the West Indies and the Philippines. Today, about half of the
world's crop of beans is grown in Africa, especially in the Gold Coast,
and one-third in South America, chiefly Brazil. The use of chocolate,
cocoa and other products is world-wide but the United States is by far
the greatest consumer.
In a factory the beans, after being washed and roasted, are de-hulled by
a "nibber" machine that also removes the germ. The nibs are ground
between three sets of stones until they emerge as a thick creamy paste.
Cocoa is made from this "liquor" by pressing out part of its fatty oils --
the "cocoa butter" used in confectionery, soaps, and cosmetics. With
starch and sugar added, the liquor is churned and beaten in a "Conges "
machine to produce sweet chocolate.
Chocolate -- rich in fat and protein, with a small amount of an alkaloid
similar to caffeine -- is a stimulating, enjoyable concentrated food.
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Update: June 2012