Cocoa, a reddish-brown, chocolate-flavored powder made from the seeds of the cacao tree. A beverage made by cooking this powder with water or milk is also called cocoa. The cacao seeds, or beans, also yield a brown liquid called chocolate liquor and a fat called cocoa butter. Cocoa differs from chocolate mainly in containing less fat and in being powdered.
The cacao tree is native to the American tropics but is widely grown in other warm parts of the world. Despite the similarity of names, the cacao is not related to the coconut palm or to the coca shrub (source of the drug cocaine). The cacao tree is an evergreen that is pruned at a height of 15 to 25 feet (4.5 to 7.5 m). It comes into full bearing when about seven years old, and continues to bear for 30 to 40 years. It produces two annual crops of melon-shaped pods with thick, warty rinds. The pods, which are 6 to 14 inches (15 to 35 cm) long and 2 to 5 inches (5 to 13 cm) in diameter, grow directly from the trunk and main branches. Inside the pod is a mass of sweetish pulp and five rows of almond-shaped seeds, or beans. There are 5 to 10 beans in each row.
Cacao trees are usually raised on small farms, although there are some large plantations. The pods are cut from the trees, then split open with a knife to remove the beans. The beans are fermented for a few days to make them easier to clean. Then they are washed and dried. Shipped to a factory for further processing, the beans are roasted and broken into particles called nibs. The shell fragments are removed by a fanning, or winnowing, process.
Cocoa butter, which is a white or yellowish fat, constitutes more than 50 per cent of the nibs. In the manufacture of cocoa, the nibs are ground, and 20 to 30 per cent of the cocoa butter is removed by pressure. The solid residue, called a press cake, is then reground and sifted.
When added to milk, cocoa makes a mildly stimulating and highly nutritious drink, containing about 21 per cent proteins, 29 per cent fats, and nearly 40 per cent carbohydrates. It also contains small amounts of caffeine and theobromine (a stimulant resembling caffeine). Cocoa butter recovered from the nibs is used in the manufacture of soap, cosmetics, ointments, foods, and drugs.
Although the cacao tree is native to tropical America, much of the world supply of cacao beans is produced in West Africa, notably in Cōte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria. Brazil is the leading producer in tropical America.
Mexican Indians used cocoa before the discovery of America. Bags of cocoa were used for money. The Indians of Mexico called the beverage made from cocoa chocólatl. Cocoa was introduced into Europe in the 16th century, almost 100 years before coffee or tea. Chocolate houses, serving a hot chocolate drink, became popular in many European cities by the early 1700's. The cacao tree was brought to West Africa in the late 19th century.
The cacao tree is Theobroma cacao of the family Sterculiaceae.