Do you love the taste of chocolate?
The cacao bean is the source of all chocolate. It starts with the cocoa pod, which is harvested and opened to reveal the beans inside. These beans are then fermented, dried, and roasted to bring out their unique flavor.
Cacao beans are now being used as a superfood because they are high in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. Consuming cacao beans can improve your cardiovascular health, help you lose weight, and make you look younger.
It takes about 400 beans to make just one pound of chocolate. That means every time you eat some chocolate, you are eating something that took over 4 years to grow!
What is Cacao Bean?
Cacao beans, which are seeds inside of the Cacao fruit, are a type of tree that can grow in tropical and subtropical areas and is native to Central and South America.
The fruit that the seeds grow in is considered berries and looks like large, rough-skinned yellow or red cherries. When ripe, cacao pods are cut from the tree and split open to reveal up to 30 white beans surrounded by a sweet sticky pulp.
The sticky pulp is removed from the beans and they are sun-dried for several days. This turns the beans a reddish color, which then darkens to brown or black during fermentation.
What is Cacao Pod?
Cacao pods are a type of fruit that grows on the cacao tree, a large evergreen tree with glossy green leaves. Each pod is about 12-24 inches long and contains around 50-150 seeds/beans inside.
The pod looks like a large yellow or red cherry. When ripe, it splits open to reveal the beans inside which can then be harvested by hand.
Cacao Pods to Cacao Beans
Cacao Pods can be harvested from the Cacao tree, which is a large evergreen tree with glossy green leaves. The pod looks like a large yellow or red cherry.
When ripe, it splits open to reveal the beans inside which can then be harvested by hand. Once the cacao pods are harvested, they must be carefully split open and the beans removed.
The sticky pulp surrounding each bean is removed by hand or by machine and can either be discarded or used to produce juice.
Fermentation of Cacao Beans
The beans first go through a process known as fermentation, during which they are placed into heaps and covered with banana leaves.
After fermenting, the beans are then sun-dried for several days. This turns the cacao beans a reddish color, which then darkens to brown or black during this process.
This is when they may lose up to half their weight in water content. The drying stage also leads to an increase in sugar content from around 8% to 40%.
During the fermentation process, enzymes in the beans break down vegetative material and cause a series of chemical changes to take place.
Once dried, they are clean and ready for transport where they will be roasted to bring out their unique flavor.
Roasting of the beans
Once the beans are dry, they are roasted to bring out their unique flavor. The heat changes the color of the beans while liquefying some of the fats to bring out their rich chocolaty taste.
The roasted, shelled cacao beans are then cleaned and broken into pieces. They can be sold as
- Cocoa Bean (as a product itself )
- Cocoa powder (finely ground) or
- Cocoa butter (the fat part).
The roasted Cocoa beans are used to make chocolate by mixing it with milk and sugar, creating a delicious sweet treat.
The roasted cocoa beans are broken into cacao nibs. And the fine cocoa nibs are separated from cocoa bean husks.
Cocoa Nibs are then grounded for more than 72 hours along with other ingredients to make them into delicious chocolates.
The amount of cacao content and sugar content in the final chocolate depends on the type of chocolate, e.g., milk chocolate has a higher amount of sugar and dark chocolate has a higher amount of cacao.
Cocoa powder is simply cocoa beans that have been roasted and ground into a fine powder.
Cocoa Powder is delicious in hot chocolate, baking, and cooking.
The cacao content on cocoa powder is around 50-70%.
Cocoa powder contains fat that is extracted during the process of making cocoa butter, and this further reduces its cacao content.
The longer the cocoa beans are roasted, the darker the powder will be, and the less sweet it tastes.
Cocoa butter is a natural fat extracted from roasted cocoa beans.
Cocoa Butter has no added flavor and is solid at room temperature (about 20° C).
It gives chocolates their smooth and creamy texture and helps to maintain their shape.
This also makes for a delicious spread that melts in the mouth when eaten.
Cocoa butter contains emollient properties that are good for softening, smoothing, conditioning the skin. This makes it great for creams, lotions, lipsticks, etc.
Geographical spread of Cacao Beans
Cacao beans are grown widely across the tropical zones of the world. The plant grows best between 20° N and S latitude (so the tropics) with frequent rainfall throughout the year (about 2000-4000 mm per year). This makes for perfect conditions along river valleys where it likes to spread out rather than climb up trees.
Cacao is a shade-tolerant crop that can be planted under other trees such as Banana, Avocado, and Mango among many others to encourage healthy growth and reduce weeds and pests.
Cacao trees cannot survive very cold weather or frosty conditions.
Cacao beans are native to South America, but they can be found in countries like Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Nigeria, and Uganda.
The two main Cocoa beans-producing regions are Latin America and West Africa.
West African countries include Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, and Togo.
Latin American Countries which produce chocolates include Ecuador, Venezuela Colombia, and Mexico.
Major producer of Cocoa Beans
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana were the world's leading producers in 2020. The following are the cocoa beans production for the year 2020 as per FAO,
- Côte d'Ivoire produces 2200000 tonnes of Cocoa Beans
- Ghana produces 800000 tonnes of Cocoa Beans
- Indonesia produces 739483 tonnes of Cocoa Beans
- Brazil produces 269731 tonnes of Cocoa Beans
They account for nearly 80% of worldwide production. Ghana and Ivory Coast lead the way in terms of production with over 50% of global cocoa production coming from these two countries.
Cocoa Bean is also present in many countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, etc., where it contributes quite a significant amount to the economy.
Major producer of Cocoa Beans in India
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, India produces 26000 tonnes of cacao beans in 2020. It contributes around 1-2% to the world's total cocoa beans production.
The production of cacao beans is mainly done in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. These four Indian states account for 86% of the total cocoa beans produced in India.
Cocoa Bean is also present in other states like Telangana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, etc. where the total production is less than 1000 tonnes.
Health benefits of Cacao beans
Minerals found in cacao beans offer multiple benefits for the body. Cocoa beans are rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, sodium, manganese, iron, potassium, copper, zinc, and phosphorus. They also contain Vitamin C which provides additional health benefits.
Calcium is an essential element for strong bones and teeth while iron helps with the formation of blood cells. These two minerals make cacao beans beneficial for the formation of healthy bones and teeth.
Cacao beans are rich in magnesium, which is an important cofactor required for energy production in cells. This makes it perfect to treat fatigue and lethargy. Magnesium also helps relax the muscles, strengthens bones, improves heart health, etc.
Another essential mineral present in cocoa beans is phosphorus, which is great for strengthening bones and teeth while providing other benefits like an increased metabolism rate.
Cocoa beans contain copper that aids with the proper functioning of red blood cells by transporting oxygen around the body. Copper also boosts collagen production leading to better skin due to its antioxidant properties.
Potassium is an important component in maintaining the electrolyte balance while also aiding muscle contraction. It helps maintain fluid and mineral balance inside cells by controlling cellular hydration while helping with nerve impulses. Potassium also regulates blood pressure, reduces the risk of stroke, prevents muscle spasms, etc.
Cacao beans are packed with zinc which boosts overall immunity due to their antioxidant property. Zinc works closely with vitamin A that increases skin health and strength. It further aids in reducing stress levels by influencing neurotransmitters like serotonin that help induce calmness and happiness in the body.
Another important essential mineral present in cacao beans is sodium. Sodium consists of anti-stress properties that help improve the nervous system. It helps regulate the blood pressure level while also providing relief from muscle spasms.
Cacao beans are rich in iron boost the formation of red blood cells and supply oxygen around the body to promote energy production. Iron is also required for brain development, healthy hair, a stronger immune system, etc.
Cacao beans are also rich in antioxidants like polyphenols, catechins, anthocyanin, and procyanidin that help prevent free radicals. These free radicals cause damage to enzymes, proteins, and DNA leading to various health problems.
Cocoa Beans to Chocolate
Chocolate is made up of cocoa beans, sugar, and cocoa butter.
The cocoa bean is roasted and ground into chocolate. The roasted cacao beans and broken into cacao nibs. The cacao nibs are grounded for more than 72 hours with cocoa butter and sugar.
Cocoa butter is often added to the product to help give it its unique texture.
The process of converting cocoa beans into chocolate also helps increase the overall flavor of the final product.