What is cocoa?

We explain what cocoa is, its origin and the history of this famous tree. In addition, its properties and its relationship with chocolate.

  1. What is cocoa?

Cocoas is an American tree of Amazonian origin , also known as  cocoas , since cocoa usually refers to the fruit that the tree gives, or even to the product of drying and fermentation of the seeds of said fruit.

It is an evergreen tree, always in bloom, which requires hot and humid climates . It usually measures about 7 meters if it is cultivated and above 20 in nature .

The fruit of the cocoa, called “cob”, is a large, oval, fleshy berry, whose color tends from yellow to purple, and about 30 cm long. Within each cocoas ear there are between 30 and 40 seeds, embedded in a pulp. The fruit can weigh about 450 grams when ripe , which begins to occur four or five years after the tree’s life.

In general, there are two cocoas crops per year: one towards the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry season, and another at the beginning of the next rainy period. Note that we refer to tropical climates without seasons. Each harvest takes between five to six months .

Cocoas is native to America and is commonly found in the territories of Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Trinidad and Tobago, but also in the hot areas of Mexico and the African continent, in Ivory Coast, Cameroon , Nigeria, Togo, Republic of Congo and Ghana, as well as in the Asian jungle of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Currently, three main varieties of cocoas are known: Creole (mainly Caribbean and Central American), Forastero (Amazonian, but mostly cultivated in Africa) and Trinitario (hybrid). At least three modern families of cocoa are grouped around these three names.

  1. History and origin of cocoa

Europeans met cocoa after the conquest and colonization of America.

Cocoa is of jungle origin , probably Amazonian. It is thought that the ancient Mesoamerican settlers, 5000 years ago, would have found and transported it to the current Mexican territory, since evidence was found of its ritual use by Olmec culture , 3,500 years ago.

In fact, many theories about its origin derive from its name, which could come from the Mayan  cacaoatl , derived from the classic Maya kakaw (a).

In fact, there is abundant documentation on the taste for cocoas-based drinks from Mayan cultures , especially the elite. In fact , cocoa infusions were left in the tombs of the Mayan kings .

It is also known that the Aztec Empire valued cocoas and in some pre – Columbian cultures it was used as currency .

The Europeans knew cocoas after the conquest and colonization of America, and for the first time they included sugar in cocoa drinks to adapt them to their palate, unusual for the bitterness of the fruit.

  1. Cocoa Properties

cocoa pot
Cocoa butter is a usual topical remedy to treat wounds.

A cocoas bean contains a huge amount of nutrients , such as proteins (11.5%), starches (7.5%), tannins (6%), water (5%), salts and trace elements (2.6%) , organic acids (2%), theobromine (1.2%), caffeine (0.2%), among others.

It has a moderate stimulating effect (due to theobromine) and provides the amino acids for the composition of serotonin (troptophan). Cocoa can be toxic to dogs and cats .

Cocoas seeds and leaves are used in traditional medicine to cure various ailments, such as asthma, diarrhea, weakness, parasitism, pneumonia, colic, cough, etc.

The oil extracted from its seed, on the other hand, known as  Cocoa Butter , is a usual topical remedy to treat wounds , rashes, dry or brittle lips, dermal conditions and even malaria and rheumatism.

At the same time, cocoa consumption can trigger gastrointestinal effects and is associated with the incidence of migraines.

  1. Cocoa and chocolate

The most common product that is made with cocoa is chocolate.

The most common product that is made with cocoa is chocolate (from Nahuatl  xocol ä tl ), made in a mixture of sugar, cocoa mass and cocoa butter, to which other ingredients are attached to the pastry’s taste (milk , nuts, etc.), since this preparation is traditionally sweet .

Chocolate is currently consumed in a huge variety of presentations: bars, powders, drinks, etc.

Its preparation is culturally taken as its own in various parts of Europe, which it reached after the colonization of America and in which it took advantage of the culinary tradition.

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