Cacao is the name given by the Maya after the name of one of their gods, Ek Chuah, to the evergreen tree growing in the tropical humid areas and known for its many uses. The Latin name for this plant, “Theobroma cacao” means “the food of the gods”. Maya had a real cult for this plant as the archaeological evidences reveal: annual festivals in April, sacrifices, exchange of gifts, all in honor of their Cacao god. After many disputes scientists have established that the cocoa tree is originated in the Amazon and it was distributed by man in America. Today it grows in tropical, humid climate areas such as: Orinoco, Amazon, small heights of Andes. It has a very particular image that makes the plant easily recognizable: long, unlobed leaves (10-40 cm), with small (1-2 cm), pink flowers produced in clusters directly on the trunk.
What is unusual about these flowers is that they are not pollinated by bees, like other plants do, but by midgets, some tine flies in the order of Diptera. The fruit, called pod, is ovoid and long, reaching 10 cm and weighting approximately 500 grams. When ripe it’s color is yellow to orange and it contains 20 to 60 seeds – the cacao beans. The beans, but especially the cocoa delicious products, were so rare and appreciated that in the Aztec empire took the place of the coins, and continued so until the 1840 in Yucatan.
There are over 70 000 square kilometers worldwide cultivated with cocoa. There are three big cacao producers: Hershey (over 40% of the world production), Nestle and Mars (10% each). The most expensive cacao cultivar is Criollo (the most flavored and aromatic and less bitter than any other bean), followed by Forastero and Trinitario.
Why consume cocoa?
- eating cocoa releases endorphins in the brain, which act as pain-relievers
- eating cocoa boosts one’s appetite
- eating cocoa reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer
- cocoa has a positive effect on blood pressure and glucose metabolism