Cocoa Tree Seeds: Tips On Growing Cacao Trees

In my world, chocolate will make everything better. A spat with my significant other, an unexpected repair bill, a bad hair day – you name it, chocolate soothes me in a way that nothing else can. Many of us not only love our chocolate but even crave it. So, it comes as no surprise that some people would like to grow their own cacao tree. The question is how to grow cocoa beans from cocoa tree seeds? Keep reading to find out about growing cacao trees and other cocoa tree info.

Cacao Plant Info

Cocoa beans come from cacao trees, which reside in the genus Theobroma and originated millions of years ago in South America, east of the Andes. There are 22 species of Theobroma amongst which T. cacao is the most common. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Mayan people drank cacao as early as 400 B.C. The Aztecs prized the bean as well.

Christopher Columbus was the first foreigner to drink chocolate when he sailed to Nicaragua in 1502 but it wasn’t until Hernan Cortes, the leader of a 1519 expedition to the Aztec empire, that chocolate made its way back to Spain. Aztec xocoatl (chocolate drink) was not initially received favorably until the addition of sugar some time later whereupon the drink became popular in the Spanish courts.

The popularity of the new drink incited attempts to grow cacao in the Spanish territories of the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Haiti with little success. Some measure of success was eventually found in Ecuador in 1635 when Spanish Capuchin friars managed to cultivate cacao.

By the seventeenth century, all of Europe was mad about cocoa and rushed to lay claim to lands suited to cacao production. As more and more cacao plantations came into being, the cost of the bean became more affordable and, thus, there was an increased demand. The Dutch and Swiss began establishing cocoa plantations established in Africa during this time.

Today, cocoa is produced in countries between 10 degrees North and 10 degrees South of the Equator. The largest producers are Cote-d’voire, Ghana and Indonesia.

Cacao trees can live for up to 100 years but are considered productive for only around 60. When the tree grows naturally from cocoa tree seeds, it has a long, deep taproot. For commercial cultivation, vegetative reproduction via cuttings is more commonly utilized and results in a tree lacking a taproot.

In the wild, the tree may reach over 50 feet (15.24 m.) in height but they are generally pruned to half that under cultivation. The leaves emerge a reddish hue and turn to glossy green as they grow up to two feet long. Small pink or white flowers cluster on the tree’s trunk or lower branches during the spring and summer. Once pollinated, the flowers become ridged pods up to 14 inches (35.5 cm.) long, filled with beans.

How to Grow Cocoa Beans

Cacao trees are quite finicky. They need protection from sun and wind, which is why they thrive in the understory of warm rainforests. Growing cacao trees requires mimicking these conditions. In the United States, that means the tree can only be grown in USDA zones 11-13 – Hawaii, parts of southern Florida and southern California as well as tropical Puerto Rico. If you don’t live in these tropical climes, it may be grown under warm and humid conditions in a greenhouse but may require more vigilant cocoa tree care.

To start a tree, you will need seeds that are still in the pod or have been kept moist since their removal from the pod. If they dry out, they lose their viability. It isn’t unusual for the seeds to begin sprouting from the pod. If your seeds have no roots yet, place them between damp paper towels in a warm (80 degrees F. plus or over 26 C.) area until they begin to root.

Pot the rooted beans in individual 4-inch (10 cm.) pots filled with damp seed starter. Place the seed vertically with the root end down and cover with soil just to the top of the seed. Cover the pots with plastic wrap and place them on a germination mat to maintain their temperature in the 80’s (27 C.).

In 5-10 days, the seed should sprout. At this point, remove the wrap and put the seedlings on a partially shaded windowsill or under the end of a grow light.

Cocoa Tree Care

As the seedling grows, transplant into successively larger pots, keep the plant damp and at temps between 65-85 degrees F. (18-29 C.) – warmer is better. Fertilize every two weeks from spring through fall with fish emulsion like 2-4-1; mix 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) per gallon (3.8 l.) of water.

If you live in a tropical region, transplant your tree when it is two feet (61 cm.) tall. Choose a humus rich, well-draining area with a pH near 6.5. Situate the cacao 10 feet or so from a taller evergreen that can provide partial shade and wind protection.

Dig a hole three times the depth and width of the tree’s root ball. Return two thirds of the loose soil back into the hole and set the tree atop the mound at the same level it grew in its pot. Fill in the soil around the tree and water it well. Cover the surrounding ground with a 2- to 6-inch (5 to 15 cm.) layer of mulch, but keep it at least eight inches (20.3 cm.) away from the trunk.

Depending upon rainfall, the cacao will need between 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) of water per week. Don’t let it get soggy, though. Feed it with 1/8 pound (57 gr.) of 6-6-6 every two weeks and then increase to 1 pound (454 gr.) of fertilizer every two months until the tree is a year old.

The tree should flower when 3-4 years old and about five feet (1.5 m.) tall. Hand pollinate the flower in the early morning. Don’t panic if some of the resulting pods drop. It is natural for the some pods to shrivel, leaving no more than two on each cushion.

When the beans are ripe and ready for harvest, your work isn’t done yet. They require extensive fermenting, roasting and grinding before you, too, can make a cup of cocoa from your own cacao beans.

How to Grow a Cacao Tree in Texas

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Cacao trees are the source of the cocoa bean. The beans grow in pods on the tree and after roasting become a source of chocolate. Cacao trees grow in rain forests shaded by upper story trees. They are not sturdy trees and need protection from strong winds. The trees are also not hardy and will succumb to freezing temperatures. Texas has winds, occasional freezes and a general arid climate, which makes growing the cacao tree a bit of a challenge. It can be done and is probably easiest when the tree is grown in a pot so it can be moved to shelter when conditions become dangerous.

Place the pot on the dolly so it can be moved easily. Fill the pot with 2 parts potting soil, 1 part peat and 1 part compost. The peat will help hold moisture in the soil, and the compost gives it the nutritional kick the plant needs to start off right.

Scoop out a hole 1 to 2 inches wider than the roots of the seedling. Gently spread the roots out on the plant and place it in the hole. Fill the hole with the soil mix and press it in around the roots to firm the earth.

Place the pot in a semi-shady location with afternoon shelter. Put one of the stakes within 2 inches of the trunk and use the plant ties to secure it. This will help the tree grow straight and strong. Place the other stake on the other side of the trunk. The tree should be out of direct hard wind.

Water the cacao plant every day when temperatures are hot. Ideal growing temperatures are from 65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures are hotter, the tree may need watering twice a day. It should not dry out and the water should pour from the drainage holes at each watering, ensuring the roots are getting moisture.

Move the plant to shade in the middle of the day. In summer you should provide the plant with continuous shade. Drape the shade fabric over the two stakes to provide it some protection from the sun. Remove in the evenings.

Fertilize the tree when it is 1 year old. It should receive 1 lb. of balanced fertilizer every other month. From November through February, the tree should only be fertilized once.

Hand pollinate the flowers with a small paint brush when they appear. The cacao tree is pollinated by an insect that does not live in Texas, so this is the only way to encourage the formation of pods.

Harvest the pods when they are ripe. They will be golden red with yellow at the edges. The seeds can be removed by slicing open the pod and scooping out the gooey seeds.


  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 History
  • 3 Varieties
  • 4 Cultivation
    • 4.1 Harvesting
    • 4.2 Harvest processing
    • 4.3 Child slavery
      • 4.3.1 Attempt at reform
  • 5 Production
  • 6 Cocoa trading
  • 7 Sustainability
    • 7.1 Voluntary sustainability standards
    • 7.2 Environmental impact
    • 7.3 Agroforestry
    • 7.4 Consumption
  • 8 Chocolate production
  • 9 Phytochemicals and research
  • 10 See also
  • 11 Sources
  • 12 References

The word "cocoa" comes from the Spanish word cacao, which is derived from the Nahuatl word cacahuatl. [2] [3] The Nahuatl word, in turn, ultimately derives from the reconstructed Proto Mije-Sokean word kakawa. [4]

The term cocoa also means

  • the drink that also is commonly called hot cocoa or hot chocolate[5]
  • cocoa powder, which is the dry powder made by grinding cocoa seeds and removing the cocoa butter from the cocoa solids, which are dark and bitter
  • a mixture of cocoa powder and cocoa butter – a primitive form of chocolate. [6][7]

The cacao tree is native from Mexico. It was first domesticated 5,300 years ago, in equatorial South America, before being domesticated in Central America by the Olmecs (Mexico). More than 4,000 years ago, it was consumed by pre-Hispanic cultures along the Yucatán, including the Maya, and as far back as Olmeca civilization in spiritual ceremonies. It also grows in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, in Colombia and Venezuela. Wild cacao still grows there. Its range may have been larger in the past evidence of its wild range may be obscured by cultivation of the tree in these areas since long before the Spanish arrived.

As of November 2018, evidence suggests that cacao was first domesticated in equatorial South America, before being domesticated in Central America roughly 1,500 years later. [8] Artifacts found at Santa-Ana-La Florida, in Ecuador, indicate that the Mayo-Chinchipe people were cultivating cacao as long as 5,300 years ago. [8] Chemical analysis of residue extracted from pottery excavated at an archaeological site at Puerto Escondido, in Honduras, indicates that cocoa products were first consumed there sometime between 1500 and 1400 BC. Evidence also indicates that, long before the flavor of the cacao seed (or bean) became popular, the sweet pulp of the chocolate fruit, used in making a fermented (5.34% alcohol) beverage, first drew attention to the plant in the Americas. [9] The cocoa bean was a common currency throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish conquest. [10] : 2

Cacao trees grow in a limited geographical zone, of about 20° to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop today is grown in West Africa. The cacao plant was first given its botanical name by Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus in his original classification of the plant kingdom, where he called it Theobroma ("food of the gods") cacao.

Cocoa was an important commodity in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. A Spanish soldier who was part of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés tells that when Moctezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, dined, he took no other beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet. Flavored with vanilla or other spices, his chocolate was whipped into a froth that dissolved in the mouth. No fewer than 60 portions each day reportedly may have been consumed by Moctezuma II, and 2,000 more by the nobles of his court. [11]

Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards, and became a popular beverage by the mid-17th century. [12] Spaniards also introduced the cacao tree into the West Indies and the Philippines. [13] It was also introduced into the rest of Asia, South Asia and into West Africa by Europeans. In the Gold Coast, modern Ghana, cacao was introduced by a Ghanaian, Tetteh Quarshie.

The three main varieties of cocoa plant are Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario. The first is the most widely used, comprising 80–90% of the world production of cocoa. Cocoa beans of the Criollo variety are rarer and considered a delicacy. [14] [15] Criollo also tend to be less resistant to several diseases that attack the cocoa plant, hence very few countries still produce it. One of the largest producers of Criollo beans is Venezuela (Chuao and Porcelana). Trinitario (from Trinidad) is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero varieties. It is considered to be of much higher quality than Forastero, has higher yields, and is more resistant to disease than Criollo. [15]

A cocoa pod (fruit) is about 7 to 8 inches long and has a rough, leathery rind about 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.18 in) thick (this varies with the origin and variety of pod) filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp (called baba de cacao in South America) with a lemonade-like taste enclosing 30 to 50 large seeds that are fairly soft and a pale lavender to dark brownish purple color.

During harvest, the pods are opened, the seeds are kept, and the empty pods are discarded and the pulp made into juice. The seeds are placed where they can ferment. Due to heat buildup in the fermentation process, cacao beans lose most of the purplish hue and become mostly brown in color, with an adhered skin which includes the dried remains of the fruity pulp. This skin is released easily by winnowing after roasting. White seeds are found in some rare varieties, usually mixed with purples, and are considered of higher value. [16] [17]

Harvesting Edit

Cocoa trees grow in hot, rainy tropical areas within 20° of latitude from the Equator. Cocoa harvest is not restricted to one period per year and a harvest typically occurs over several months. In fact, in many countries, cocoa can be harvested at any time of the year. [10] Pesticides are often applied to the trees to combat capsid bugs, and fungicides to fight black pod disease. [18]

Immature cocoa pods have a variety of colours, but most often are green, red, or purple, and as they mature, their colour tends towards yellow or orange, particularly in the creases. [10] [19] Unlike most fruiting trees, the cacao pod grows directly from the trunk or large branch of a tree rather than from the end of a branch, similar to jackfruit. This makes harvesting by hand easier as most of the pods will not be up in the higher branches. The pods on a tree do not ripen together harvesting needs to be done periodically through the year. [10] Harvesting occurs between three and four times weekly during the harvest season. [10] The ripe and near-ripe pods, as judged by their colour, are harvested from the trunk and branches of the cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole. Care must be used when cutting the stem of the pod to avoid damaging the junction of the stem with the tree, as this is where future flowers and pods will emerge. [10] [20] One person can harvest an estimated 650 pods per day. [18] [21]

Harvest processing Edit

The harvested pods are opened, typically with a machete, to expose the beans. [10] [18] The pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are then piled in heaps, placed in bins, or laid out on grates for several days. During this time, the seeds and pulp undergo "sweating", where the thick pulp liquefies as it ferments. The fermented pulp trickles away, leaving cocoa seeds behind to be collected. Sweating is important for the quality of the beans, [22] which originally have a strong, bitter taste. If sweating is interrupted, the resulting cocoa may be ruined if underdone, the cocoa seed maintains a flavor similar to raw potatoes and becomes susceptible to mildew. Some cocoa-producing countries distill alcoholic spirits using the liquefied pulp. [23]

A typical pod contains 30 to 40 beans and about 400 dried beans are required to make one pound (454 grams) of chocolate. Cocoa pods weigh an average of 400 g (14 oz) and each one yields 35 to 40 g (1.2 to 1.4 oz) dried beans this yield is 9–10% of the total weight in the pod. [18] One person can separate the beans from about 2000 pods per day. [18] [21]

The wet beans are then transported to a facility so they can be fermented and dried. [18] [21] The farmer removes the beans from the pods, packs them into boxes or heaps them into piles, then covers them with mats or banana leaves for three to seven days. [24] Finally, the beans are trodden and shuffled about (often using bare human feet) and sometimes, during this process, 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 other countries. Drying in the sun is preferable to drying by artificial means, as no extraneous flavors such as smoke or oil are introduced which might otherwise taint the flavor.

The beans should be dry for shipment, which is usually by sea. Traditionally exported in jute bags, over the last decade, beans are increasingly shipped in "mega-bulk" parcels of several thousand tonnes at a time on ships, or standardized to 62.5 kg per bag and 200 (12.5mt) or 240 (15mt) bags per 20-ft container. Shipping in bulk significantly reduces handling costs shipment in bags, however, either in a ship's hold or in containers, is still common.

Throughout Mesoamerica where they are native, cocoa beans are used for a variety of foods. The harvested and fermented beans may be ground to-order at tiendas de chocolate, or chocolate mills. At these mills, the cocoa can be mixed with a variety of ingredients such as cinnamon, chili peppers, almonds, vanilla, and other spices to create drinking chocolate. [25] The ground cocoa is also an important ingredient in tejate.

Child slavery Edit

The first allegations that child slavery is used in cocoa production appeared in 1998. [26] In late 2000, a BBC documentary reported the use of enslaved children in the production of cocoa in West Africa. [26] [27] [28] Other media followed by reporting widespread child slavery and child trafficking in the production of cocoa. [29] [30]

Child labour was growing in some West African countries in 2008–09 when it was estimated that 819,921 children worked on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast alone by the year 2013–14, the number went up to 1,303,009. During the same period in Ghana, the estimated number of children working on cocoa farms was 957,398 children. [31]

Attempt at reform Edit

The cocoa industry was accused of profiting from child slavery and trafficking. [32] The Harkin–Engel Protocol is an effort to end these practices. [33] It was signed and witnessed by the heads of eight major chocolate companies, US senators Tom Harkin and Herb Kohl, US Representative Eliot Engel, the ambassador of the Ivory Coast, the director of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor, and others. [33] It has, however, been criticized by some groups including the International Labor Rights Forum as an industry initiative which falls short. [34] [35] [36]

As of 2017, approximately 2.1 million children in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire were involved in harvesting cocoa, carrying heavy loads, clearing forests, and being exposed to pesticides. [37] According to Sona Ebai, the former secretary general of the Alliance of Cocoa Producing Countries: "I think child labor cannot be just the responsibility of industry to solve. I think it's the proverbial all-hands-on-deck: government, civil society, the private sector. And there, you really need leadership." [38] Reported in 2018, a 3-year pilot program, conducted by Nestlé with 26,000 farmers mostly located in Côte d'Ivoire, observed a 51% decrease in the number of children doing hazardous jobs in cocoa farming. [39] The US Department of Labor formed the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group as a public-private partnership with the governments of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire to address child labor practices in the cocoa industry. [40]

Cocoa bean production, 2017 [41]
Country Weight (tonnes)
Ivory Coast 2,034,000
Ghana 883,652
Indonesia 659,776
Nigeria 328,263
Cameroon 295,028
Brazil 235,809
Ecuador 205,955
World 5,201,108

In 2017, world production of cocoa beans was 5.2 million tonnes, led by Ivory Coast with 38% of the total. Other major producers were Ghana (17%) and Indonesia (13%).

As of 2019, over 75% of cocoa produced worldwide comes from West Africa, specifically Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria. Côte d'Ivoire alone produces more than 40% of cocoa beans grown throughout the world. [42] Production in Ghana might be undercounted as producers can get a better price for cocoa beans by smuggling them to Côte d'Ivoire, where the minimum price per kilo is $1.55, as set by the Conseil du Café-Cacao. [43]

Only about 20% of global cocoa bean grindings take place in West Africa the majority are sent to Europe, Asia and North America for grinding. [42]

Cocoa beans from Ghana are traditionally shipped and stored in burlap sacks, in which the beans are susceptible to pest attacks. [44] Fumigation with methyl bromide was to be phased out globally by 2015. Additional cocoa protection techniques for shipping and storage include the application of pyrenoids as well as hermetic storage in sealed bags or containers with lowered oxygen concentrations. [45] Safe long-term storage facilitates the trading of cocoa products at commodity exchanges.

Cocoa beans, cocoa butter and cocoa powder are traded on futures markets. The London market is based on West African cocoa and New York on cocoa predominantly from Southeast Asia. Cocoa is the world's smallest soft commodity market. The futures price of cocoa butter and cocoa powder is determined by multiplying the bean price by a ratio. The combined butter and powder ratio has tended to be around 3.5. If the combined ratio falls below 3.2 or so, production ceases to be economically viable and some factories cease extraction of butter and powder and trade exclusively in cocoa liquor.

The global surplus and deficit of cocoa varies year by year, while the overall production and grindings steadily increase. [42] These fluctuations affect the price of cocoa and every participant in the global cocoa supply chain. [42]

Multiple international and national initiatives collaborate to support sustainable cocoa production. These include the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa (SWISSCO), the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO), and Beyond Chocolate, Belgium. A memorandum between these three initiatives was signed in 2020 to measure and address issues including child labor, living income, deforestation and supply chain transparency. [46] Similar partnerships between cocoa producing and consuming countries are being developed, such as the cooperation between the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) and the Ghanaian Cocoa Authority, who aim to increase the proportion of sustainable cocoa being imported from Ghana to Switzerland to 80% by 2025. [47] The ICCO is engaged in projects around the world to support sustainable cocoa production and provide current information on the world cocoa market. [48]

Voluntary sustainability standards Edit

There are numerous voluntary certifications including Fairtrade and UTZ (now part of Rainforest Alliance) for cocoa which aim to differentiate between conventional cocoa production and that which is more sustainable in terms of social, economic and environmental concerns. As of 2016, at least 29% of global cocoa production was compliant with voluntary sustainability standards. [49] However, among the different certifications there are significant differences in their goals and approaches, and a lack of data to show and compare the results on the farm level. While certifications can lead to increased farm income, the premium price paid for certified cocoa by consumers is not always reflected proportionally in the income for farmers. In 2012 the ICCO found that farm size mattered significantly when determining the benefits of certifications, and that farms an area less than 1ha were less likely to benefit from such programs, while those with slightly larger farms as well as access to member co-ops and the ability to improve productivity were most likely to benefit from certification. [50] Certification often requires high up front costs, which are a barrier to small farmers, and particularly, female farmers. The primary benefits to certification include improving conservation practices and reducing the use of agrochemicals, business support through cooperatives and resource sharing, and a higher price for cocoa beans which can improve the standard of living for farmers. [51]

Fair trade cocoa producer groups are established in Belize, Bolivia, Cameroon, the Congo, [52] Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, [53] Ecuador, Ghana, Haiti, India, Ivory Coast, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Sierra Leone, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

In 2018, the Beyond Chocolate partnership was created between multiple stakeholders in the global cocoa industry to decrease deforestation and provide a living income for cocoa farmers. The many international companies are currently participating in this agreement and the following voluntary certification programs are also partners in the Beyond Chocolate initiative: Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, ISEAL, BioForum Vlaanderen. [54]

Many major chocolate production companies around the world have started to prioritize buying fair trade cocoa by investing in fair trade cocoa production, improving fair trade cocoa supply chains and setting purchasing goals to increase the proportion of fair trade chocolate available in the global market. [55] [56] [57] [58] [59]

The Rainforest Alliance lists the following goals as part of their certification program:

  • Forest protection and sustainable land management
  • Improve rural livelihoods to reduce poverty
  • Address human rights issues such as child labor, gender inequality and indigenous land rights

The UTZ Certified-program (now part of Rainforest Alliance) included counteracting against child labor and exploitation of cocoa workers, requiring a code of conduct in relation to social and environmentally friendly factors, and improvement of farming methods to increase profits and salaries of farmers and distributors. [60]

Environmental impact Edit

The relative poverty of many cocoa farmers means that environmental consequences such as deforestation are given little significance. For decades, cocoa farmers have encroached on virgin forest, mostly after the felling of trees by logging companies. This trend has decreased as many governments and communities are beginning to protect their remaining forested zones. [61] However, deforestation due to cocoa production is still a major concern in parts of West Africa. In Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, barriers to land ownership have led migrant workers and farmers without financial resources to buy land to illegally expand their cocoa farming in protected forests. Many cocoa farmers in this region continue to prioritize expansion of their cocoa production, which often leads to deforestation. [62]

Sustainable agricultural practices such as utilizing cover crops to prepare the soil before planting and intercropping cocoa seedlings with companion plants can support cocoa production and benefit the farm ecosystem. Prior to planting cocoa, leguminous cover crops can improve the soil nutrients and structure, which are important in areas where cocoa is produced due to high heat and rainfall which can diminish soil quality. Plantains are often intercropped with cocoa to provide shade to young seedlings and improve drought resilience of the soil. If the soil lacks essential nutrients, compost or animal manure can improve soil fertility and help with water retention. [63]

In general, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides by cocoa farmers is limited. When cocoa bean prices are high, farmers may invest in their crops, leading to higher yields which, in turn tends to result in lower market prices and a renewed period of lower investment.

While governments and NGOs have made efforts to help cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire sustainably improve crop yields, many of the educational and financial resources provided are more readily available to male farmers versus female farmers. Access to credit is important for cocoa farmers, as it allows them to implement sustainable practices, such as agroforestry, and provide a financial buffer in case disasters like pest or weather patterns decrease crop yield. [62]

Cocoa production is likely to be affected in various ways by the expected effects of global warming. Specific concerns have been raised concerning its future as a cash crop in West Africa, the current centre of global cocoa production. If temperatures continue to rise, West Africa could simply become unfit to grow the beans. [64] [65]

Cocoa beans also have a potential to be used as a bedding material in farms for cows. Using cocoa bean husks in bedding material for cows may contribute to udder health (less bacterial growth) and ammonia levels (lower ammonia levels on bedding). [66]

Agroforestry Edit

Cocoa beans may be cultivated under shade, as done in agroforestry. Agroforestry can reduce the pressure on existing protected forests for resources, such as firewood, and conserve biodiversity. [67] Integrating shade trees with cocoa plants reduces risk of soil erosion and evaporation, and protects young cocoa plants from extreme heat. [63] Agroforests act as buffers to formally protected forests and biodiversity island refuges in an open, human-dominated landscape. Research of their shade-grown coffee counterparts has shown that greater canopy cover in plots is significantly associated with greater mammal species diversity. [68] The amount of diversity in tree species is fairly comparable between shade-grown cocoa plots and primary forests. [69]

Farmers can grow a variety of fruit-bearing shade trees to supplement their income to help cope with the volatile cocoa prices. [70] Although cocoa has been adapted to grow under a dense rainforest canopy, agroforestry does not significantly further enhance cocoa productivity. [71] However, while growing cocoa in full sun without incorporating shade plants can temporarily increase cocoa yields, it will eventually decrease the quality of the soil due to nutrient loss, desertification and erosion, leading to unsustainable yields and dependency on inorganic fertilizers. Agroforestry practices stabilize and improve soil quality, which can sustain cocoa production in the long term. [62]

Over time, cocoa agroforestry systems become more similar to forest, although they never fully recover the original forest community within the life cycle of a productive cocoa plantation (approximately 25 years). [72] Thus, although cocoa agroforests cannot replace natural forests, they are a valuable tool for conserving and protecting biodiversity while maintaining high levels of productivity in agricultural landscapes. [72]

In West Africa, where about 70% of global cocoa supply originates from smallholder farmers, recent public–private initiatives such as the Cocoa Forest Initiatives in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire (World Cocoa Foundation, 2017) and the Green Cocoa Landscape Programme in Cameroon (IDH, 2019) aim to support the sustainable intensification and climate resilience of cocoa production, the prevention of further deforestation and the restoration of degraded forests. [72] They often align with national REDD+ policies and plans. [72]

Consumption Edit

People around the world enjoy cocoa in many different forms, consuming more than 3 million tons of cocoa beans yearly. Once the cocoa beans have been harvested, fermented, dried and transported they are processed in several components. Processor grindings serve as the main metric for market analysis. Processing is the last phase in which consumption of the cocoa bean can be equitably compared to supply. After this step all the different components are sold across industries to many manufacturers of different types of products.

Global market share for processing has remained stable, even as grindings increase to meet demand. One of the largest processing country by volume is the Netherlands, handling around 13% of global grindings. Europe and Russia as a whole handle about 38% of the processing market. Average year after year demand growth has been just over 3% since 2008. While Europe and North America are relatively stable markets, increasing household income in developing countries is the main reason of the stable demand growth. As demand is awaited to keep growing, supply growth may slow down due to changing weather conditions in the largest cocoa production areas. [73]

To make 1 kg (2.2 lb) of chocolate, about 300 to 600 beans are processed, depending on the desired cocoa content. In a factory, the beans are roasted. Next, they are cracked and then deshelled by a "winnower". The resulting pieces of beans are called nibs. They are sometimes sold in small packages at specialty stores and markets to be used in cooking, snacking, and chocolate dishes. Since nibs are directly from the cocoa tree, they contain high amounts of theobromine. Most nibs are ground, using various methods, into a thick, creamy paste, known as chocolate liquor or cocoa paste. This "liquor" is then further processed into chocolate by mixing in (more) cocoa butter and sugar (and sometimes vanilla and lecithin as an emulsifier), and then refined, conched and tempered. Alternatively, it can be separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter using a hydraulic press or the Broma process. This process produces around 50% cocoa butter and 50% cocoa powder. Cocoa powder may have a fat content of about 12%, [74] but this varies significantly. [75] Cocoa butter is used in chocolate bar manufacture, other confectionery, soaps, and cosmetics.

Treating with an alkali produces Dutch process cocoa, which is less acidic, darker, and more mellow in flavor than untreated cocoa. Regular (nonalkalized) cocoa is acidic, so when cocoa is treated with an alkaline ingredient, generally potassium carbonate, the pH increases. [76] This process can be done at various stages during manufacturing, including during nib treatment, liquor treatment, or press cake treatment.

Another process that helps develop the flavor is roasting, which can be done on the whole bean before shelling or on the nib after shelling. The time and temperature of the roast affect the result: A "low roast" produces a more acid, aromatic flavor, while a high roast gives a more intense, bitter flavor lacking complex flavor notes. [77]

Cocoa Bean Facts for Kids

  • Chocolate is the number one use for cocoa beans, but it isn’t the only thing they are good for. Cocoa beans can also be used for…
  • The oil taken from cocoa beans before they are roasted is called cocoa butter. It is used to make chocolate and many other food items.
  • Some animals like to eat cocoa bean hulls.
  • The hulls from the cocoa beans are used as mulch. Mulch is what people put around trees and in flower beds to keep the weeds from growing.
  • Cocoa is not used to make white chocolate.

Cocoa challenge

Taste plain cocoa powder, dark chocolate, semi-dark chocolate, and milk chocolate.

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Hardiness Zone 10
Bloom Season Intermittent
Sun Requirement Full Sun, Partial Sun
Grows to 5-6'
Minimum Temperature Indoors 60

Top few inches were dangling, almost broken from packaging, but I created a splint with toothpicks and tape, and after about a week I took the splint off and it was healed and sticking straight up again. A few of the bottom leaves will wither and die but that’s natural. The remaining leaves are full and bright with life. Can’t wait for it to start flowering! (Posted on 9/5/2019)

The tree I received was very robust and is doing very well. I bought this tree for the obvious reason to harvest cocoa pods when the tree reaches maturity. Last year I bought a different tree without knowing it's habits and needs (ok with a grow light and sunny window), also I now water with recaptured rain water as I have fairly hard water, 7.2 which helps with nutrient uptake. The tree will tell you if it's happy, I've already gotten 4 giant leaves with another couple starting and a couple of inches in height from May to the end of July. I don't think my previous tree benefited going outside for the summer last year and wound up infested with mealy bugs (I had no experience with that kind of infestation), which will kill your juvenile cocoa, mine never recovered as the mealybugs decimated the entire crown. (Posted on 7/31/2019)

Every tree I’ve ever bought from Logees (and I’ve bought a lot of trees from them) has been shipped amazingly well. This tree was of course no exception. My cacao tree came around a foot and a half tall, and the leaves were all perfect! Logees was recommended to me a few years ago by my horticulture professor, and it has been my go to ever since. So yes, you should buy one right now! No more thinking about it. No, there’s not space in the yard for another tree. You have the chance to own a chocolate tree! YOLO. (Posted on 7/13/2019)

I've had a cocoa plant before and it was nothing compared to this one. It arrived larger than expected in great condition. In about 2 months the plant is now producing leaves bigger than my hand and shows no signs of stopping with a few more smaller ones already showing. I will order another one if I could only get more room. (Posted on 7/9/2016)

Arrived in great shape, left it on my porch for a few days to adjust to the light. Then transplanted it to a clay pot and put it in my greenhouse. It's doing great and can't wait to harvest some coco beans. (Posted on 5/4/2016)

This is truly a marvelous plant! I was dubious at first of this company, but I'm completely satisfied with my purchase! They arrived in great condition, shipping was spot on, they included some good informative directions and even a coupon! Sadly I won't be able to use the coupon since I don't order many plants online. I am VERY excited to grow this beauty and get some flowers in a few years! I will definitely recommend this to anyone I see that asks me about theobroma cacao! (Posted on 3/4/2016)

What Makes Cacao and Cocoa Different (Usage)?

Anyone who tells you that “cocoa often contains sugar or hydrogenated oils is very ill-informed. It’s like saying that peanuts contains salt and sugar just because some peanut butter does. Just as not all products labelled “cacao” should be prized, not should all those labelled “cocoa” be rebuked. The difference between cacao and cocoa is purely linguistic & stylistic.

Because of the British, French, and American origins of most chocolate products throughout the 20th century, most people think of cocoa as the base material for chocolate. Some may even think it’s interchangeable with chocolate. It’s even in the name of that sweet, warm beverage you slurp on cold winter nights, and on the ingredients list of every brownie recipe. But hot cocoa and cocoa powder are not the only products we consume made from Theobroma cacao they’re just some of the most common.

In fact, the most commonly consumed form of cacao is probably in the form of chocolate (another industry in which the cocoa vs. cacao debate lives on). In my experience, chocolate makers who refer to the beans as cacao often bought their beans from a Latin American country, where most of the world’s organic and high-quality cacao comes from. This has changed over the last few years, however, as more & more craft chocolate makers have started their businesses.

On the other hand, makers who call the beans “cocoa” are often buying beans from Africa or Asia, or possibly grew up in a country where the tree was called “cocoa,” and “cacao” was its scientific name.

People tend to think of cocoa and cacao as being different products of the cacao bean, when really they’re just different names and implications for the same product.

Smaller chocolate makers tend to call their ingredient “cacao” and source from smaller cacao plantations with more careful processing and attention to detail. They then turn said cacao into less-processed chocolate products, and maybe even a variety of products featuring bit of cacao beans, called nibs. On the other hand, bigger chocolate manufacturers tend to call their ingredient cocoa and source from massive cocoa traders in West Africa or Indonesia. They are more focused on quantity over quality, and continue to use the English word “cocoa” throughout their processing.

Therefore, products calling themselves “cacao” something or other tend to be less-processed and use less sugar, though many natural food companies are using this as marketing leverage. “Cocoa” is not necessarily an over-processed version of the cacao fruit, but it often is. What the consumer needs to know is that cacao and cocoa have different implications, yes, but it’s still their job to look at labels and see whether that product fits in with the implications of its word choice.

A buzzword like “cacao” doesn’t tell you everything. In fact, cocoa powder and cacao powder are the same food, even if Googling this questions tells you different. The people who write that they’re different are basically riffing off of their observations, and probably some advice from a well-intentioned biohacking friend.

Your Chocolate Adventure

You can incorporate a Peruvian chocolate experience, such as a bean-to-bar workshop, chocolate tasting or cacao plantation visit into any of our fully-customizable travel packages . Just talk to your travel advisor, and they will be sure to book you on the best chocolate experience of your life, right in the birthplace of cacao.

Peruvian chocolate truffles. Photo by Julia Androshchuk on Unsplash.

Contact us today to book your Peru trip and be sure to let us know you are a chocolate lover!

Gina loves the hidden turquoise rivers of the Andes, the magical pink dolphins of the Amazon, and the lush ocean-view parks of Lima. She finds Peru to be the most inspiring country in the world, and has been exploring and writing about this sacred place since 2014.

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