Cacao culture

Introduction To The Cacao Culture

Сacao vs. cocoa

Cacao? What is that? Don’t you mean cocoa? And how do you say it anyway? Chocolate linguistics can be confusing. It comes down to this:

The official name of the chocolate tree is Theobroma cacao but, some experts say, over the years the word “cacao” became Anglicized, and probably through error, people started replacing it with the word “cocoa”. (Most of us grew up saying cocoa bean, not cacao bean.)

Now, with the rebirth of old-style, artisanal chocolate there is a movement to reclaim the bean’s rightful name: cacao (pronounced Ka-Kow).It is generally agreed among chocolate experts that the correct term for referring to the beans is "cacao" while the right word for the powder made from them is "cocoa."

Cacao: pronounced Ka-Kow. Refers to the tree, its pods and the beans inside.Cocoa: pronounced Koh-Koh. Refers to two by-products of the cacao bean – cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Both are extracted from the bean when it is processed in the factory.


About this species

The edible properties of Theobroma cacao were discovered over 2,000 years ago by the local people of Central America living deep in the tropical rainforests. In the year 2008-2009 the world cocoa production was 3,515,000 tonnes. This is equivalent to the weight of a line of double-decker buses stretching more than three times the length of Britain!

The scientific name Theobroma cacao was given to the species by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753, when he published it in his famous book Species Plantarum. Theobroma means "food of the gods" in Latin, and cacao is derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word xocolatl, from xococ (bitter) and atl (water).

Cocoa is native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana). It has also been introduced as a crop plant into many tropical African and Asian countries.

In its natural habitat, cocoa grows in the under storey of evergreen tropical rainforest. It often grows in clumps along river banks, where the roots may be flooded for long periods of the year. Cocoa grows at low elevations, usually below 300 meters above sea level, in areas with 1,000 to 3,000 mm rainfall per year.


The history of chocolate

The edible properties of Theobroma cacao were discovered over 2,000 years ago by the indigenous people of Central America living deep in the tropical rainforests.

The Olmecs living in Mexico and Guatemala established their first cacao plantations around 400 BC, and by 250 AD the Mayans depicted cocoa in their elaborate hieroglyphic writings and on carvings and paintings.

Historical accounts about also point to widespread use of chocolate in Maya and Aztec engagement and marriage ceremonies and religious rituals. In this respect chocolate occupied the same niche that expensive French wines and champagne do in European culture today.

The Aztecs and Maya peoples had many ways of making food and drink from cocoa beans. They also used the beans as money, for example exchanging one turkey for 200 beans, or one slave for 100 beans.

Cocoa beans were so precious that only the royals, warriors and the wealthy could afford to eat and drink chocolate. The hieroglyphs tell us that the Aztecs and Maya peoples drank cocoa powder suspended in water, and used flavourings such as chillies (Capsicum annuum), vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), achiote (Bixa orellana), aromatic herbs and honey.

Chocolate was seen in Mexico by Christopher Colombus in August 1502. It is said that he came across a large canoe loaded with some small beans that looked to him like goat droppings, and that he paid them little attention! However, once Spanish explorers discovered its decadent delights in the 1520s, they brought cocoa beans home, sweetened the water-based recipe and spread this delicacy throughout Europe. By the middle of the 17th century sweetened hot chocolate was very popular throughout Europe, especially among the elite.

Cocoa has been grown in Ghana at least since the 1870s. The first documented evidence is that of the Basel Missionaries from Switzerland who began experimenting with the crop. There is also evidence that Ghanaians began experimenting with the crop at the same time.


Kinds of Trees: Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario

There are three main kinds of cacao trees grown throughout the world, each with their own flavor profiles and growth characteristics. There also are hundreds and hundreds of different hybrids.

Forastero: Forastero, the main bulk bean, accounts for about 90 percent of all beans. It has a clean chocolate flavor with low acidity and is prized for its disease resistance and consistent performance. While Forastero beans do not have fruity or aromatic flavors found in other beans, the bean’s dependability makes it a favorite for large chocolate producers.

Criollo: Treasured for its complex, fruity flavor, Criollo is a flavor bean grown mainly in Latin America. Its susceptibility to disease and low productivity, however, means many cacao farmers have traded its rich flavor for hardier plants.

Trinitario: A fusion of the two strains, Trinitario is believed to combine the best of both- good flavor and hardiness. Also considered a flavor bean, it gets its name from the island of Trinidad where it was first grown. Its flavor notes range from spicy to earthy to fruity to highly acidic.