Cocoa is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree from which chocolate is made. "Cocoa" can often also refer to the drink commonly known as hot chocolate; cocoa powder, the dry powder made by grinding cocoa seeds and removing the cocoa butter from the dark, bitter cocoa solids; or it may refer to the combination of both cocoa powder and cocoa butter together.
A cacao pod has a rough leathery rind about 3 cm thick (this varies with the origin and variety of pod). It is filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp called 'baba de cacao' in South America, enclosing 30 to 50 large almond-like seeds (beans) that are fairly soft and pinkish or purplish in color.
Cacao trees will grow in a limited geographical zone, of approximately 20 degrees to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop is grown in West Africa.
Cocoa was an important commodity in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Spanish chroniclers of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés relate that when Montezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, dined he took no other beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet and eaten with a golden spoon. Flavored with vanilla and spices, his chocolate was whipped into a froth that dissolved in the mouth. It is reported that Montezuma II may have consumed no fewer than 50 portions each day, and 200 more by the nobles of his court.
The cacao plant was first given its botanical name by Swedish natural scientist Carolus Linnaeus in his original classification of the plant kingdom, who called it Theobroma ("food of the gods") cacao.
About of cocoa is produced each year. The global production was
This is an increase of 131.7% in 30 years, representing a cumulative average growth rate (CAGR) of 2.8%.
There are three main varieties of cacao: Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario. The first comprises 95% of the world production of cacao, and is the most widely used. Overall, the highest quality cocoa beans come from the Criollo variety, which is considered a delicacy Criollo plantations have lower yields than those of Forastero, and also tend to be less resistant to several diseases that attack the cocoa plant, hence very few countries still produce it. One of the largest producer of Criollo beans is Venezuela (Chuao and Porcelana).Hacienda San José, located in Paria/Venezuela, cultivates Criollo beans. The total area is of this hacienda is 320 hectares, of which 185 hectares are devoted to cacao with a density of 1.000 plants per hectare. Trinitario is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero varieties. It is considered of much higher quality than the latter, but has higher yields and is more resistant to disease than the former
Cocoa and its products (including chocolate) are used world-wide. Per Capita consumption is poorly understood with numerous countries claiming the highest: various reports state that Switzerland, Belgium, and the UK have the highest consumption, but because there is no clear mechanism to determine how much of a country's production is consumed by residents and how much by visitors, this is all speculative.
The world's largest cocoa bean producing countries are as follows. The figure gives the production estimates for the 2006/7 season from the International Cocoa Organization. The percentage is the proportion of the world's total of 3.5 million tonnes for the relevant period.
|Country||Amount produced||Percentage of world production|
|Côte d’Ivoire||1.3 million tonnes||37.4%|
|Ghana||720 thousand tonnes||20.7%|
|Indonesia||440 thousand tonnes||12.7%|
|Cameroon||175 thousand tonnes||5.0%|
|Nigeria||160 thousand tonnes||4.6%|
|Brazil||155 thousand tonnes||4.5%|
|Ecuador||118 thousand tonnes||3.4%|
|Dominican Republic||47 thousand tonnes||1.4%|
|Malaysia||30 thousand tonnes||0.9%|
When the pods ripen, they are harvested from the trunks and branches of the Cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole. The pod itself is green when ready to harvest, rather than red or orange. Normally, red or orange pods are considered of a lesser quality because their flavors and aromas are poorer; these are used for industrial chocolate. The pods are either opened on the field and the seeds extracted and carried to the fermentation area on the plantation, or the whole pods are taken to the fermentation area.
Some cocoa producing countries distill alcoholic spirits using the liquefied pulp.
The fermented beans are dried by spreading them out over a large surface and constantly raking them. In large plantations, this is done on huge trays under the sun or by using artificial heat. Small plantations may dry their harvest on little trays or on cowhides. Finally, the beans are trodden and shuffled about (often using bare human feet) and sometimes, during this process, red clay mixed with water is sprinkled over the beans to obtain a finer color, polish, and protection against molds during shipment to factories in the United States, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and other countries. Drying in the sun is preferable to drying by artificial means, as no extraneous flavors such as smoke or oil are introduced which might otherwise taint the flavor.
To make 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of chocolate, about 300 to 600 beans are processed, depending on the desired cocoa content. In a factory, the beans are washed and roasted. Next they are cracked and then de-hulled by a "winnower". The resulting pieces of beans are called nibs, and are ground using various methods into a thick creamy paste, known as chocolate liquor or cocoa paste. This "liquor" is then further processed into chocolate by mixing in (more) cocoa butter and sugar (and sometimes lecithin as an emulsifier and vanilla), and then refining, conching and tempering. Or it can be separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter using a hydraulic press or the Broma process. This process produces around 50% cocoa butter and 50% cocoa powder. Standard cocoa powder has a fat content of approximately 10-12 percent. Cocoa butter is used in chocolate bar manufacture, other confectionery, soaps, and cosmetics.
Adding an alkali produces Dutch process cocoa powder, which is less acidic, darker and more mellow in flavor than what is generally available in most of the world. Regular (nonalkalized) cocoa is acidic, so when cocoa is treated with an alkaline ingredient, generally potassium carbonate, the pH increases. This process can be done at various stages during manufacturing, including during nib treatment, liquor treatment or press cake treatment.
Another process that helps develop the flavor is roasting. Roasting can be done on the whole bean before shelling or on the nib after shelling. The time and temperature of the roast affect the result: A "low roast" produces a more-acid, aromatic flavor, while a high roast gives a more-intense, bitter flavor lacking complex flavor notes.
Prolonged intake of flavonol-rich cocoa has been linked to cardiovascular health benefits, though it should be noted that this refers to raw cocoa and to a lesser extent, dark chocolate, since flavanoids degrade during cooking and alkalizing processes. Milk chocolate's addition of whole milk reduces the overall cocoa content per ounce while increasing saturated fat levels, possibly negating some of cocoa's heart-healthy potential benefits. Nevertheless, studies have still found short term benefits in LDL cholesterol levels from dark chocolate consumption.
Hollenberg and colleagues of Harvard Medical School studied the effects of cocoa and flavanols on Panama's Kuna Indian population, who are heavy consumers of cocoa. The researchers found that the Kuna Indians living on the islands had significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer compared to those on the mainland who do not drink cocoa as on the islands. It is believed that the improved blood flow after consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa may help to achieve health benefits in hearts and other organs. In particular, the benefits may extend to the brain and have important implications for learning and memory.
Cacao also contains large amounts of antioxidants such as epicatechins and polyphenols. According to research at Cornell University, cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidants found in green tea. Cacao also contains magnesium, iron, chromium, vitamin C, zinc and others.
Foods rich in cocoa appear to reduce blood pressure but drinking green and black tea may not, according to an analysis of previously published research in the April 9, 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
A 15-year study of elderly men published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2006 found a 50 percent reduction in cardiovascular mortality and a 47 percent reduction in all-cause mortality for the men regularly consuming the most cocoa, compared to those consuming the least cocoa from all sources.
In the industrialized world, changing attitudes to cocoa products may cause a reduced demand for them in future. Obesity, particularly among children, has become a major health problem and chocolate – a food product with a high calorie content – is considered to be part of the problem. Additionally, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the environmental impact of the production of cocoa, as well as what they perceive as the negative social impact of its production.
Price instability and a declining trend in real cocoa prices are likely to cause a contraction in cocoa production in future.
This initiative, called the Roundtable for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy (RSCE), has developed from the growing requirement to face the challenges posed by sustainability. It was launched in 2007 by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) and is steered by an independent working group with representation of major stakeholders. The mission of the Roundtable is to establish a participatory and transparent process towards economic, environmental and social sustainability in the global cocoa economy. The 1st Roundtable in 2007 brought together more than 200 stakeholders representing 25 countries, including cocoa farmers, government officials from cocoa producing and consuming countries, traders, chocolate manufacturers, donor organizations and national and international NGOs.
The poverty of many cocoa farmers means that they can't afford to take the best care of the environment in their activities.
For decades, these farmers have encroached on forest, most of the time after the best trees had been cut down by logging companies. This has happened less in recent times, as there is less forest left and because many governments and communities take better care of the remaining forests.
Usually, use of current inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, by cocoa farmers is limited. For this reason most have only limited knowledge of the most appropriate ways of using such inputs.