Chocolate is an amazing food, isn’t it? It
comes from the Cacao tree, which is native to
South America, but is mostly grown in Africa
The fruit of the tree is interesting because
it grows off the trunk instead of at the ends of
branches. It is about 15 cm (6 inches) long and
is sort of football-shaped. We don’t eat the
fruit itself, we eat the beans (also known as
seeds) inside. About 2,000 years ago, the Aztec
people may have been eating the fruit of the
cacao tree. They didn’t try eating the seeds
until much later, but it’s hard to know exactly
when. The first chocolate was probably made in
the 1500s in South America. Cacao seeds were so
valuable that they were used as money and only
the very rich actually ate them.
Farmers grow cacao trees in forests instead
of orchards. The tiny fly-like animal (a midge)
that pollinates the cacao likes the cool, moist
forest floor. Without pollinators, the cacao
flowers would not grow into cacao fruit.
When growers harvest the fruit twice a year,
they cut it open and let the seeds ferment in
the sun, along with the fruit. The seeds have a
soft, slimy covering and the fermentation by
wild bacteria removes the coating. The bacteria
also cause chemical changes in the seeds, which
will improve the flavor and aroma. Farmers dry
the bean in the sun or in drying ovens, then
ship the beans to factories all over the
The factories clean and roast the beans, then
crack off the hulls, leaving the inner bean.
They grind this inner part to make a paste. It
can be dried into blocks or dried and then
ground into baking cocoa. Better yet, it can be
mixed with sugar to make dark chocolate for
candy. You can probably guess what else they
add to make milk chocolate.
As you can see, this is a very complicated
process that relies on a forest community to
successfully grow trees and a bacterial
community to ferment the seeds. No one has ever
been able to make chocolate in a lab without the
seeds and the bacteria.
chocolate because it allows them to make a
living while protecting rainforest species. Why
would those species do better in a forest than
in an open orchard?
Thanks for asking. I have to go eat some
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