Cacao Tree – Chocolate Tree
Cacao tree is the source of all cocoa powder and chocolate. These trees grow only in warm areas that get a lot of rain. Their long fruit called “pods” which range in color from bright yellow to deep purple. Inside the pods are cocoa beans. Each is about the size and shape of a big fingernail. After the cocoa beans are taken out of the pods, they are left in a damp place for a few days. The beans turn a rich brown color and begin to smell like chocolate. Then they are dried and cleaned. Then they are roasted and ground into a paste that contains cocoa butter. To make chocolate, you have to add extra cocoa butter to the paste. To make dry cocoa powder, you have to remove all the cocoa butter. The paste is very bitter so a lot of sugar must be added.
Cacao, called kakaw in the language of the ancient Maya, was widely produced across large parts of lowland Mesoamerica and Central America. Cacao beans were often used as a form of currency. Cultivated since at least 600 b.c.e., cacao was one of the chief items of trade and export among some Maya polities. Cacao was mixed with foods and spices such as chili, maize flour, and cinnamon to make various chocolate drinks.
The conquest of America transformed the production and consumption of cacao in important ways. Spaniards changed the traditional recipe, often dispensing with maize flour and sweetening it with sugar and vanilla. Cacao became an important element in Spain’s economy. Cacao, along with maize, manioc, potatoes, and other staple crops, represented yet another of the Americas’ gifts to the world.
Cocoa contains a lot of useful microelements: vegetable protein, carbohydrates, fats, organic acids, saturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, starch, sugars. The vitamin-mineral composition of cocoa includes: vitamins (beta-carotene, group B, A, PP, E); folic acid; minerals (fluorine, manganese, molybdenum, copper, zinc, iron, sulfur, chlorine, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium).
In ancient times, cocoa was used to treat upper respiratory tract, throat and larynx.