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Where Does Healthy Chocolate Come From?

December 14, 2011

Cacao Flower

Sometimes something that tastes good really is good for you, too. And that’s the amazing fact about chocolate. In our article “A Healthy Chocolate Drink” we discussed the health benefits of chocolate. But exactly where does “chocolate” come from?

What we know as “chocolate” comes from the cacao tree, indigenous to the rainforests of South America. It originated in clumps along riverbanks in the Amazon basin on the eastern tropical slopes of the Andes. Today the cacao tree is cultivated all across the equatorial regions of the globe, in as far-flung places as Madagascar, the Congo, and Western Samoa.

The cacao tree requires some shade to grow, and thus is not damaging to rainforests, needing the rainforest canopy to protect it from the severe tropical sun. Large business cacao plantations, however, often clear areas for easier access to the trees and thus more profitable harvesting.

But many organic cacao farmers work with nature in assuring optimal growing conditions, creating smaller and “wilder” plantations. Utilizing the natural forest canopy not only protects the tree, but supports the habitat of the insects that pollinate the blossoms, as these insects also require humid shade.

Cacao seeds grow in pods that can range from 5 to 18 inches, and contain 30-50 white seeds. The seeds become reddish brown during the drying process. (There actually is a rare species of cacao in which the seeds remain white, most notably cultivated in Nicaragua.)

Interestingly, inside the pod the seeds are encased in a yellow, slippery pulp that is sweet and edible but tastes nothing like chocolate. In nature the pulp as an incentive for fruit-eating animals to break open the pod. The animals, especially monkeys, eat the pulp and spit out the seeds, thus dispersing the seeds and ensuring propagation of the tree species.

Cacao Seeds Inside Pod

The cacao plant was first given its botanical name, Theobroma cacao, by Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus in his original classification of the plant kingdom. Linnaeus most appropriately used the Mayan word “cacao” which means “food of the gods.”

Which is exactly how we think of Mayesa – any drink that is rich chocolate and so chocked full of antioxidants and omegas that it’s really good for you – can only be a “food of the gods!”

Photo Credit Top: xocoatl.org

Photo Credit Bottom: Wikepedia.org


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