Information about: Cacao, or Cocoa

Index | Cacao, or Cocoa

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Cacao, or Cocoa. The seeds of a plant known as Theobroma cacao (or "Food of the Gods," as Linnaeus named the tree), a native of the West Indies and of tropical America, and cultivated in Asia and Africa. It is a small tree, seldom more than sixteen or eighteen feet high, with large oblong leaves, and clusters of flowers which have rose-colored sepals and yellowish petals. Its fruits vary from six to ten inches in length, and are shaped like a banana or cucumber. Each fruit contains numerous seeds which are the cocoa beans of commerce. The seeds are oval, and about as large as an olive. When gathered, the fruit is first fermented to remove the pulp. To prepare them for use they are roasted, and then bruised to loosen their skins which are removed by fanning. A part of the fat is removed and sold as cocoa butter. The seed lobes, commonly called "cocoa nibs," are next crushed and ground between rollers, which reduces them to a uniform pasty consistence. This paste, when sweetened, flavored with vanilla or cinnamon, and dried, constitutes chocolate. Cocoa contains an active principle called theobromine, resembling caffeine, the alkaloid in tea and coffee. Cocoa must not be confounded with cuca, or coca, a plant chewed by the Indians of South America.