Yesterday’s focus on chocolate, left me craving more… information that is, so I did a little digging, and wanted to share what I found. The posting below is thanks to http://www.extremechocolate.com
Food of the gods
Theobroma cacao has been cultivated for thousands of years now, originally by the Aztecs, Mayans, and related groups. “Theobroma” means “food of the gods,” since they thought that’s who gave it to them (and who can argue?), while “cacao” derives from the Aztec cacahuatl, the name of the bean itself.
Speaking of cacao beans, they come in large, ridged pods up to a foot long that start out as clusters of little pink and white flowers, and grow directly on the trunk and larger branches of the cacao tree. They can weigh as much as a pound when they’re ripe, which is when they turn yellow to orange in color.
What a bean!
A typical Theobroma cacao tree takes three to five years to mature, and every year thereafter yields about 20 cacao pods, or pochas, annually. Inside each pocha are 20-60 seeds embedded in a white pulp. Those are the beans themselves, and every one is comprised of up to 50% cocoa butter fat.
It takes 10 pods to produce a kilogram of cocoa paste (kind of a pre-chocolate), so one tree can only provide about two kilograms a year. Fortunately, there are more than 70,000 square kilometers of cacao trees under cultivation in Africa and the Americas. That’s about 17,300,000 acres, which is… well, a whole lot of trees.
A bean of many uses
Back before they invented sugar, the Aztecs mixed the extract of the Theobroma cacaobean with hot chile peppers to make a bracing drink called xocolatl. Don’t knock it — King Moctezuma thought it made him studly, and drank dozens of pitchers a day.
When the natives weren’t making it into xocolatl, they were using the cacao bean for money. It was an important part of the yearly Aztec tribute at one point; and even in modern times, individual beans were used in place of small coins until the 1840s in some areas, including Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula.