Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

For the production of the drink "cocoa" or chocolate, special trees are grown – chocolate trees or cocoa. This is a type of evergreen tree from the genus Theobroma.

The plant originates from the subequatorial regions of South America, cultivated throughout the world in the tropics of both hemispheres for the production of seeds used in the confectionery industry (mainly as the main ingredient in chocolate) and medicine. The word "cocoa" also refers to the seeds of the cocoa tree and the powder obtained from them; the drink itself bears the same name.


Description of chocolate tree

The chocolate tree is a large tree, reaching a height of up to 12 meters. Branches and leaves are located on the periphery of the crown, where there is more light.

In the wild, the chocolate tree grows on the coast of Mexico, in the tropical forests of Central and South America.

Cocoa is characterized by caulifloria – the fruits are not attached to the branches, but directly to the tree trunk. The fruit is large, berry-like, similar in shape to a lemon, but equipped with longitudinal grooves, between which ridges pass. The cocoa fruit contains from 20 to 60 large seeds (cocoa beans) arranged in several rows and surrounded by whitish pulp. The nutritional tissue in them is poorly developed, and the cotyledons are folded. The fruit resembles a large cucumber or an elongated melon, fully ripens in 4 months.

Below we present several photos of different varieties of the chocolate tree, where the fruits are at different stages of ripening.

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Dr. Boli on

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production


Cocoa cultivation

The homeland of cocoa is the Amazon rainforest, but after the great geographical discoveries, cocoa and coffee, as it were, exchanged habitats: cocoa is most intensively cultivated in subequatorial Africa, where 69% of the world's cocoa bean crop is harvested. The largest producer is Côte d'Ivoire (a state in West Africa), which accounts for about 30% of the annual harvest worldwide. Other major producers are (in descending order): Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Cameroon, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Malaysia and Colombia. The lowest average yield is observed in Central America.

The chocolate tree is grown in almost all subequatorial countries lying between 20º north and south latitude. Only in these latitudes the climate is quite warm and humid. Cocoa trees cannot stand the direct action of sunlight, this feature is taken into account on plantations, the necessary shading is achieved by mixed plantings of coconut palms, banana, rubber, mango trees and avocados. Partially used and local trees. Thus, a certain protection from the wind is created, and the height of the trees is limited to 6 meters, which makes it easier to harvest. Without this measure, the cocoa tree could reach 15 meters in height.

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Under favorable conditions, the evergreen cacao tree blooms year-round and bears fruit all year round. The first flowers appear on the tree at the age of 5-6 years. Fruits are formed within 30–80 years. When ripe, yellow-green or red, depending on the variety, the fruits reach 30 cm in length and weigh up to 500 grams. The pulp of the fruit contains up to 50 cocoa beans. The tree gives high yields starting from the 12th year of life. Harvested twice a year, the first time at the end of the rainy season before the onset of droughts, and the second time before the start of the rainy season. The first harvest is considered to be of better quality.

Cultivation of cocoa trees is a very hard and low-paid work. Only a few dozen fruits are formed on each tree annually (despite the fact that there can be up to 6000 flowers). To obtain 1 kg of grated cocoa, about 40 fruits (about 1200 cocoa beans) are needed. The way cocoa is grown differs from continent to continent. In America, these are predominantly large plantations, while in Africa they are small small enterprises. Plantations still use child labor, which is why multinational corporations that buy cocoa beans are regularly criticized by human rights activists.

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production


Harvesting and processing

Growing directly from the trunk of the tree, the fruits are cut with machetes by experienced pickers. Harvesting should be done without damaging the bark of the tree to avoid infections.

The collected fruits are cut with a machete into several parts and laid out on banana leaves or stacked in barrels. The white, sugary flesh of the fruit begins to ferment and reaches a temperature of 50 °C. Seed germination is inhibited by alcohol released during fermentation, while the beans lose some of their bitterness. During this 10 day long fermentation, the beans get their typical aroma, flavor and color.

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Drying is traditionally carried out under the sun, and in some areas, due to climatic conditions, in drying ovens. Drying in traditional drying ovens, however, can render the resulting beans unsuitable for chocolate production due to the smoke taste. This problem was solved only with the advent of modern heat exchangers.

After drying, the beans lose about 50% of their original size, and then they are packed in bags and sent to chocolate-producing countries in Europe and North America: 18% of the world harvest is purchased by the Netherlands, 9% by the UK. In importing countries, beans are processed into cocoa mass, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cocoa shell, etc.

Cocoa liquor is an intermediate product of the processing of cocoa beans into cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter (cocoa butter, cocoa butter) – fat squeezed out of grated cocoa – ground grains of the fruit of the chocolate tree. The basis for the production of chocolate.

Cocoa butter has a whitish-yellow color, a hard and brittle texture at room temperature, and a characteristic pleasant smell.

Cocoa powder – dried and crushed cocoa cake, which remains from grated cocoa after squeezing cocoa butter, which goes to the production of solid chocolate. The powder serves as the base for various drinks, including cocoa milk and hot chocolate.

Kakaovella (kakavella, cocoa-well) – the shell of the husk of cocoa beans; is a by-product of the production of cocoa mass.

These wastes are very useful, their practical application is very diverse. Cocoa shell is used as a new additive in animal feed, for soil mulching, it is made into powder, additionally subjected to finer grinding. When burning cocoa shells, you can get a large amount of thermal energy, and in medicine, cocoa shells are valued for their high content of theobromine, a causative agent of the heart muscle and central nervous system, used in the manufacture of many drugs.

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production


Cocoa beans

Cocoa beans, or cocoa beans, are almond-shaped seeds found in the fruit (pod) of the chocolate tree. Source of cocoa powder and cocoa butter from which chocolate is made.

Cocoa beans consist of 40-50% fat, called cocoa butter, and solids from which cocoa powder is obtained. Easily separated from the beans, the shell is crushed into a meal called cocoa shell.

Until the 19th century, cocoa beans replaced small change money for the Indians of Central America, and therefore they were even counterfeited. In 1841, the Russian chemist A.A. Voskresensky obtained the active substance theobromine from cocoa beans, which resembles caffeine in many respects.

After being extracted from the fruit, cocoa seeds are fermented for about a week in ventilated boxes, dried in the sun (less often with specially heated air) and roasted, while they harden and darken. The dried bean weighs approximately 1 gram.

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

After drying, the beans are collected in bags in which the beans can be stored from six months (simple jute bags) to two years (a plastic bag is inserted into a jute bag), and exported for further processing to confectionery enterprises in developed countries, where they are first fried and then quickly cool. When pressed (on special devices), the roasted beans easily break up into cocoa shells (18%) and cocoa nibs (82%).

During crushing, each bean is split into 4–8 particles about 8 mm in size, which are then processed with alkali, which is necessary to destroy fungi and microorganisms. The resulting grains are crushed on rollers or mills to grated cocoa, from which cocoa butter is squeezed out under high pressure in hydraulic presses.

At the end of the extraction of the oil from the press at a temperature of about 90 °, fat-free cocoa cake is unloaded, which is ground into cocoa powder.

Not all cocoa beans are further processed. Roasted, shelled and crushed cocoa beans are gaining popularity in Western countries as an independent food product – cocoa nibs (in English – cacao nibs). They are used for "snacking" in the same way as regular nuts. Food companies add this product to some brands of chocolate to give it a more natural texture.

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

Cocoa beans contain about 300 different substances, of which every sixth is responsible for the specific flavor of cocoa. The most important of these are anandamide, arginine, dopamine (a neurotransmitter), epicatecin (an antioxidant), histamine, magnesium, tryptophan, phenethylamine, polyphenol (an antioxidant), tyramine, and salsolinol. Calorie content is 565 kcal.

There are two basic groups of cocoa beans – "noble" (criollo) and "consumer" (forastero). The fruits of the first group are red and soft, the second – yellow and hard. Criollos have a nutty flavor, while forasteros smell noticeably weaker and slightly bitter.

Since the taste of cocoa depends not only on genetic characteristics, but also on soil and climatic conditions, along with cocoa varieties, confectioners also pay attention to the areas of their cultivation. During processing, cocoa beans of different varieties and origins are often mixed to obtain the optimal aroma (bouquet) and taste.


Basic cocoa products

A valuable product obtained by pressing ground beans – cocoa butter – serves as the basis for chocolate, and is also widely used in perfumery for the preparation of cosmetic ointments and in pharmacology. The dry residue after pressing is ground and in the form of cocoa powder is used to make a cocoa drink, as well as in food production. The bean husks are crushed for later use as livestock feed (cocoa shell).

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

The inhabitants of the Mexican state of Oaxaca have been mixing fermented cocoa with maize flour since time immemorial to produce a drink called tejate.

Tejate is a soft drink made from hot cocoa, corn, cinnamon and fragrant fruit seeds.


Medical aspects

In the old days, cocoa was used to treat the upper respiratory tract, diseases of the throat and larynx. The effect on the body of a large amount of cocoa is the subject of annually published studies. The conclusions that scientists come to do not always coincide:

  • At the annual convention of American cardiologists in November 2006, a report was presented that the bioactive compounds in dark chocolate with cocoa content reduced platelet aggregation by more than 70%.
  • Harvard University professor Norman Gollenberg in the course of comparative studies concluded that the epicatechin contained in cocoa can reduce the incidence of four of the five most common diseases in Europe (stroke, myocardial infarction, cancer and diabetes) by almost 10%. The scientific community treated this publication with caution; further studies will be needed to confirm the Gollenberg hypothesis.
  • In 2010, there were reports in the media about the benefits of dark chocolate for people suffering from liver disease due to its high content of antioxidants. At the same time, patients with cirrhosis are traditionally advised to avoid cocoa products.

Keep in mind that commercial cocoa products, including chocolate, often contain unhealthy impurities. As a rule, they are high in sugar, and cocoa butter substitutes (for example, hydrogenated palm or coconut oil) are added to inexpensive varieties of chocolate.

Chocolate tree cultivation and cocoa production

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