History of Cocoa

Discovery and Development
The cocoa tree (Theobroma Cacao), is a native of the dense tropical Amazon forests. First cultivated by the Mayas of Yucatan and the Aztecs of Mexico, the crop has increased in commercial value since Montezuma began consuming a cocoa bean preparation called "chocolatl" regularly.

Although Columbus initially brought the cocoa bean to Europe, it was his fellow countryman, Don Cortes, who recognized its commercial value as a drink and sent back to Spain cocoa beans and recipes for the preparation of chocolate. However, it was the Swedish botanist, Linnaeus, who, probably drawing on the Aztec belief that the cocoa tree had divine origins, gave the genus the name "Theobroma" or Food of the Gods.

The Spaniards jealously guarded this increasingly popular drink, to which they added sugar as a sweetener. Cultivation of the cocoa tree by the Spaniards in their isolated colony in Trinidad was part of the effort to keep secret the cultivation and preparation of the cocoa bean. Eventually, the Spaniards sought to grow cocoa elsewhere including other West Indian Islands and the Philippines.

The popularity of the chocolate drink spread to Italy, Holland and France and finally in the middle 1600s to England, but it remained a drink for the wealthy because of its high cost. By the early eighteenth century, however, prices began to drop and the commercial manufacture of chocolate began in Bristol, England, where the firm of J.S. Fry founded the first chocolate factory in 1728.

Botany and Propagation
The term cacao, essentially a botanical name, refers to the tree, the pods and the unfermented beans found in the pods. The word cocoa, by contrast, refers to the fermented cocoa beans in bulk, and also to the manufactured powdered product used for drinks and in food manufacturing.

The cocoa beans are the seeds of the cacao tree species Theobroma cacao L., and the genus Theobroma. Theobroma cacao is the only species of commercial value and is divided into four distinct varieties: Hawaiian, Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero.

Except for in Hawaii, the growing conditions required by the cacao tree are fairly precise with the usual areas of cultivation lying within 20 degrees latitude of the equator. Within these latitudes a temperature range of 21 to 32 degrees Centigrade (70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) is required. Soil conditions can vary considerably, but a firm roothold and moisture retention are necessary.

Traditionally, cacao trees are grown under shade trees to resemble their natural habitat, however, high yields have been obtained from trees growing in non-shaded areas when sufficient moisture and nutrients are made available to the trees. Cocoa trees, which begin bearing fruits after the age of five, generally live up to 100 years and are in their prime 30 to 40 years after maturity.

From the time the seedlings reach a height of 3 to 5 feet, they throw out 3 to 5 branches, and later, vertical “chupons” or suckers from points below “jorquettes” where branches fork. This pattern of growth is repeated until the height of maturity is reached.

Flowers, less than a half inch in diameter, are formed in small groups on the trunk and lower main branches of the trees. They are bisexual and produce pollen that is too sticky to be dispersed by the wind. In its natural habitat, pollination occurs primarily through small midge: a tiny fly. Mature trees produce approximately 10,000 flowers per year of which 1000 become pollinated, and of which 100 develop into mature pods. These pods mature in 5 to 7 months during which time many wilt and drop off in a natural thinning process. The pod attains a length of 6 to 10 inches and a diameter of 3 to 4 inches. A pod normally contains 20 to 40 seeds surrounded by a muscilaginous pulp when the pod is ripe.

The pods are harvested regularly, for the trees bear mature fruit, flowers, and growing pods all at the same time. After removal from the branches by hand-cutting, the pods are taken to a central location for opening and removal of the beans and adhering pulp. The beans with pulp are then taken to the fermentary for fermenting and drying.

From Bean to Chocolate
The development of good chocolate flavors depends on genetics, environment, good fermentation, and the drying and storage of the beans, together with controlled processes of manufacturing.

It is critical to good flavor in the final cocoa or chocolate that correct bean fermentation and drying occur. After the pods are cut from the trees, the beans and their adhering pulp are transferred to heaps, boxes or baskets where fermentation is to take place. The beans must be maintained at a temperature close to 50 degrees Centigrade. Too low a temperature (less than 5 to 46 degrees Centigrade or 113 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit) doesn’t allow sufficient flavor precursor development.

Complete fermentation usually takes from 5 to 6 days. During the first day fo fermentation the adhering pulp becomes liquid an drains away causing the fermentation temperature to rise steadily. By the third day the mass of beans will have heated fairly evenly to about 45 degrees Centigrade (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and will remain between 45 and 50 degrees Centigrade until fermentation is complete. Periodic turning of the beans ensures that the beans are exposed to temperature conditions prevailing in both the interior an the exterior. The changes that occur in the combined processes of fermentation and drying are commonly referred to as “curing.” When cut, a properly fermented bean exhibits a brown or partly purple appearance with segmented cotyledons. A slatey color and dense structure with the shell adhering firmly indicates bad or no fermentation.

After fermentation, the beans are placed in shallow trays to dry. Usually sun-drying is sufficient although in rainy areas artificial drying techniques utilizing various available dryers are used. Adequate drying is essential to preserve the good flavor of the beans; otherwise, molds will develop giving the beans bad flavors that no purifying process can remove. The essential feature of all dryers is that the products of combustion do not come in contact with the beans, otherwise the taints will appear in the final product. Smoky flavors are most objectionable in delicately flavored chocolate and can result from cocoa butter expressed from contaminated beans.

When first manufactured commercially, the chocolate prepared from the roasted whole bean, commonly referred to as “nubs,” and sugar was an extremely rich drink because of its high fat (cocoa butter) content. Some manufacturers sought to dilute this high fat content by adding starchy substances, but in 1828, Van Houten of Holland invented a press which removed some of the better fat. Van Houten’s press ultimately led to the manufacture of cocoa powder as we know it today, which was then called “cocoa essence.” In addition, use of the press resulted in the production of cocoa butter, which manufacturers found had natural fat properties lending itself to be molded into tablets of chocolate. The later invention of fondant crème, a type of creamed sugar mass, allowed the coating of fondant centers with chocolate, and an entirely new line of confections was born.

Milk chocolate as we know it today was a much later invention with our chocolate confections being more likely developed by the Swiss due to the work in 1876 of Daniel Peters of Vevey, Geneva. The “milk crumb” process was instrumental in producing the popular rich caramelized milk flavor used in much of today’s milk chocolate confections.

Production and Consumption
Present world production of cocoa beans is around 2,200,000 metric tons. Chocolate made from this cocoa is over 5,000,000 metric tons. The public taste for chocolate varies from country to country and even indifferent parts of the same country. The preference for milk or dark chocolate also varies and has changed over the years with the preference now leaning toward the dark chocolates.

- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. 1996 The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
- 1995 The Book of Chocolate. Flammarion, Paris


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