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The word cacao is used to refer to both the tree and the unprocessed beans. Chocolate is made from cacao beans. This word originates from the Olmec civilization in the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico. The more common synonym “cocoa” is really a misspelling of the word “cacao.” This bean was used as a currency before the Spanish conquest all through Mesoamerica.
Columbus came upon cacao beans in the Americas and sent some to King Ferdinand. Yet, the cacao beans did not gain popularity in Europe at that time. It wasn’t until Cortes came into contact with the Mexican Aztecs and enjoyed their bitter chocolate drink made from ground cacao beans, water, maize and spices. Cortes sent samples of cacao beans, along with recipes, to King Charles V. The Spanish enhanced the recipes by adding sugar, along with heating all of the ingredients which improved the texture and flavor.
Theobroma cacao trees are native to South American and grow in the Amazon forests naturally and other tropical regions. Approximately, seventy percent of the world’s cacao crop is cultivated in West Africa. The cacao tree grows from ten to thirty feet in height and typically bears fruit when the tree is four years old. There are three different varieties of beans which are the Criollo, Trinitario and Forastero. All three varieties are used to make chocolate.
The fruit of the tree is a called cacao pod. When they are ripe, the pods are orange or yellow, and usually weigh about one pound. Each pod has many seeds which are often called cacao beans. The seeds or beans can be extracted to make cocoa butter. This pale-yellow butter is a type of vegetable fat which is used make chocolate, ointments, pharmaceuticals and toiletries.
At the bean’s center is a part called the nib. The nibs are used to produce chocolate. Nibs are very rich in antioxidants, vitamin C and also contain good fats. The beans contain minerals such as magnesium, chromium, potassium, zinc, iron and calcium. The cacao bean also contains phenethylamines, tryptophan, serotonin and anandamide. Nibs produce a substance that is similar to caffeine, as well as a MAO inhibitor which can help control overactive appetites.
Criollo beans are the rarest and are the most expensive. Only about ten percent of chocolate is produced from this type of bean. The taste is not as bitter as the other beans, and the bean has a very aromatic fragrance. These beans are farmed primarily in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.
Seventy-five to ninety percent of the world’s chocolate is made with Forastero beans. They are generally called bulk beans due to their main usage for chocolate production. The Trinitario beans are actually a hybrid of the Forastero and Criollo beans and about ten percent of the crop is used to make chocolate.
Fermentation of the cacao beans can take anywhere from three to seven days. The process is needed to develop the flavors of the beans and to get them ready for roasting. During this process, the sugar content in the beans is converted to alcohol which kills any germs.
For many people, the appeal of chocolate is often overwhelming. Chocolate is certainly not a food that is physically addictive. But, because of its wonderful taste, many people do find it to be a delicious habit.
What is organic Cacao?
Cacao was given the name of Theobroma by Linnaeus. The word literally means food of the gods because of delicious tastes of its seeds that left anyone who ate it at a loss for words. The Mexicans named these pounded seeds Chocolate. Its tree towers up to sixteen feet with a trunk that is approximately five feet long. The wood is predominantly white in color and is light, as opposed to its tall and huge size. The bark is brown and the small flowers are reddish.
With such diversity in its structure, Cacao is often perceived as having a strong odor. On the contrary, however, Cacao is almost odorless. The fruit is smooth and yellowish red with a white pulp. When its seeds finally become ripe, they rattle in their capsules whenever the fruit is shaken. Each capsule has approximately twenty-five seeds. Once the seeds are taken away from their capsules, they immediately become infertile. On the other hand, if they are kept inside the capsule, they remain fertile for a very long time. Cacao blooms all year round, but the usual season for gathering its fruit is June and December.
The preparation of Cacao is actually pretty simple. First, the beans must be grinded into a form of a paste with the use of hot rollers. With the hot rollers, mix in some sugar and a little bit of starch, removing some of the Cacao’s fat. Preparing Chocolate is quite similar except that the fat is kept instead of removed.
What are its medicinal uses?
Cacao is famously used as an ingredient in cosmetic ointments and also in various pharmacies as coating for pills and suppositories. Aside from its coating purposes, Cacao also has emollient properties that make it effective in softening and protecting chapped extremities and lips.
Theobromine, which is an alkaloid component of the beans, resembles the effect and action of caffeine. But as compared to caffeine, it has less powerful effects on the central nervous system. However, there are other body parts where the Cacao’s effects are quite pronounced, such as the kidneys, heart and the muscular system.
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