After drinking my hot cocoa, I found myself wondering about cocoa, or cacao, so I looked it up on the internet and found some info on it. So I'm posting it here, for anyone who might be also interested. :o) This is only a shred of the info available on cocoa; I haven't looked deeper into yet. I found it interesting that Montezuma had his cocoa made in a similar way to what I tasted yesterday - with vanilla and spices.
There are other words that sound similar to cocoa. Coca and coco are two of them. Coca is the plant that is harvested to produce cocaine. People here use the leaves to make tea from or to chew, to remedy headaches or altitude sickness. Coco is a palm tree and its fruit is the coconut.
Cocoa is the dried and partially fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree from which chocolate is made. "Cocoa" can often also refer to cocoa powder, the dry powder made by grinding cocoa seeds and removing the cocoa butter from the dark, bitter cocoa solids.
The cacao tree may have originated in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America where today, examples of wild cacao still can be found. However, it may have had a larger range in the past, evidence for which may be obscured because of its cultivation in these areas long before, as well as after, the Spanish arrived. It may have been introduced into Central America by the ancient Mayas, and cultivated in Mexico by the Toltecs and later by the Aztecs. It was a common currency throughout MesoAmerica and the Caribbean before the Spanish conquests.
Cacao bushes will grow in a very limited geographical zone, of approximately 10 degrees to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop is grown in West Africa.
Cocoa was an important commodity in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Spanish chroniclers of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés relate that when Montezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, dined he took no other beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet and eaten with a golden spoon. Flavored with vanilla and spices, his chocolate was whipped into a froth that dissolved in the mouth. No fewer than 50 pitchers of it were prepared for the emperor each day, and 2000 more for nobles of his court.
Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards and became a popular beverage by the mid 1500s. They also introduced the cacao bush into the West Indies and the Philippines.
The cacao plant was first given its botanical name by Swedish natural scientist Carl von Linné (1707-1778), who called it "Theobroma ("food of the gods") cacao".
There are three main varieties of the Theobroma cacao: Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario. The first comprises 95% of the world production of cacao, and is the most widely used. Overall, the highest quality of cacao comes from the Criollo variety and is considered a delicacy; however, Criollo is harder to produce, hence very few countries produce it, with the majority of production coming from Venezuela (Chuao and Porcelana). The Trinitario is a mix between Criollo and Forastero.
The Netherlands is the leading cocoa processing country, followed by the U.S..
Cocoa and its products (including chocolate) are used world-wide. Belgium had the highest per-capita consumption at 5.5 kg in 1995/96, 10 times the world average .
When the pods ripen, they are harvested from the trunks and branches of the Cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole. The pod itself is green when ready to harvest, rather than red or orange. Normally, red or orange pods are considered of a lesser quality because their flavors and aromas are poorer; these are used for industrial chocolate. The pods are either opened on the field and the seeds extracted and carried to the fermentation area on the plantation, or the whole pods are taken to the fermentation area.
The harvested pods are opened with a machete, the pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are then piled in heaps, placed in bins, or laid out on grates for several days. During this time, the seeds and pulp undergo "sweating", where the thick pulp liquifies as it ferments. The fermented pulp trickles away, leaving cocoa seeds behind to be collected. Sweating is important for the quality of the beans, which originally have a strong bitter taste. If sweating is interrupted, the resulting cocoa may be ruined; if underdone the cocoa seed maintains a flavor similar to raw potatoes and becomes susceptible to mildew.
The liquified pulp is used by some cocoa producing countries to distill alcoholic spirits.
This information and more can be found at the following website: