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Cacao Trees, Pods, and Beans

Cacao, pronounced 'ka-KOW', is the raw, agricultural ingredient used to make chocolate. It is grown in various parts of the world along the Equator, where humid temperatures and jungle-like surroundings provide ideal conditions for growing this colorful fruit. In shades of red, orange, yellow and green, cacao pods sprout from the trunks of cacao trees, and cacao beans (seeds actually) are found inside the pods where a delicate, sweet, fruity pulp surrounds the cacao bean cotyledons (which later become nibs). Cacao pods are harvested throughout the year as they reach optimal ripeness, mainly from October through May.

Most of the world's cacao is still grown on small farms that provide many families who are located in remote areas of the world with their economic livelihood. Once cacao is harvested, fermented and dried, farmers have as many as 2-3 weeks (as opposed to one day for limes and such) to get their dried cacao beans to market, via donkey for instance. This means that even a farmer located in a remote village, with few roads or other infrastructure between his family and the nearest town, can make a living by farming cacao.

The cacao plant is a spindly tree that grows in an under-story environment.  Mentioning of cacao plant first appears in Mayan writings from Mesoamerica.   The plant was so important at that time, that the quantity of literature about cacao is unrivaled by that of any plant brought back to Europe by Spanish conquistadors

The tree is particularly difficult to grow.  It only bears fruit inside the band of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the equator.  Nor is it happy within this band of the tropics if the altitude is so high that the resulting temperature falls below 60 degrees Fahrenheit it will not grow.  Cacao also needs year round moisture.  Poor growing conditions make it even more susceptible to a multitude of diseases.  On the other hand, when conditions are perfect for the tree, the seeds will sprout in a few days and the tree will bear fruit in four years.


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1 Responses to "Cacao Trees, Pods, and Beans"

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said on 11/22/11 at 8:38 PM

Such an interesting industry. Amazing history.

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