Cacao – Theobroma cacao
The Cacao tree, theobroma cacao, is a small up to 10 meters high, evergreen, wide-branching, handsome member of the Malvaceae family. It is a native to tropical Mexico but now cultivated throughout the tropics. In its natural environment it is an understory tree. In cultivation it requires a humid climate regular rainfall overhead shade and rich soil. Its scientific name theobroma means ‘food of the gods’.
The part of the cacao plant used is the “beans” to make cocoa and chocolate and is believed to have been in use since early 1000BC. The best cacao seeds are large, heavy, and smooth, with a light brown color. Cocoa is one of the most powerful antioxidants with ability to help many health problems.
The cacao tree has 10 to 40 cm long and 5 to 20 cm wide leaves smooth on both sides and dark green. It produces clusters of small, reddish, 1 to 2 cm in diameter flowers directly on older branches and the trunk.
The fruit (a pod) is of oval flattened shape 15 to 30 cm long and 6-10 cm wide with a yellowish to orange color when ripe. The fruit contains 20 to 50 seeds covered in white pulp. They are high in fat, 50%, known as cocoa butter, a bland substance with agreeable taste. It is used in preparations of various cosmetics and soaps.
The tree is generally cultivated on large farms under the shade of trees, such as the banana. When pods are ripe they are cut open and the beans are allowed to ferment so that they easily separated from the shell. Cacao seeds are prepared for commercial use by simply drying in the sun in which case they maintain their bitterness or by a sweating process to remove bitterness. The pulp is eaten fresh or made into juice and sherbets.
Cacao Propagation Methods
Cacao trees are propagated by seeds that must be planted very soon after separation from the capsules as they soon become infertile. From all the cultivars of cacao the most prized, rare, and expensive is the Criollo Group. Beans from this cultivar are less bitter and more aromatic than any other beans. Trees bear fruits all year round with the main production season from June to December. A tiny fly, is the primary pollinator of the complex cacao flowers. The fly is called a midge and without its work, there would be no chocolate.
Various plant pests and diseases can cause serious problems for cacao production including, Insects:“Cocoa pod borer”. Fun: “Frosty Pod”.
Cacao, theobroma cacao
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