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Raw Cacao Pods, South America     

 

   
 

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Cocoa is fascinating as to its origins, health benefits, and where it is produced.

Food of the Gods

Cacao’s scientific name is Theobroma Cacao.  The genus name Theobroma translates to “Food of the Gods”.  The word Cacao itself derives from the Olmec/Mayan word kakaw.  The plant originated in the Amazon and was distributed by man through Central and Mesoamerica.

The first outsider to drink chocolate was Christopher Columbus, who reached Nicaragua in 1502.  It was Hernan Cortés who returned to Spain in 1528 where the drink once mixed with sugar became popular in the Spanish Courts.  Cacao beans constituted both a ritual beverage and a major currency system in pre-Columbian civilizations. The buying power of quality beans were such that 80-100 beans could buy a new cloth mantle.

 

Health Benefits 

 

“Chocolate does cause, primarily through the action of anandamide, anti-oxidants, magnesium, phenylethylamine, serotonin, theobromine, tryptophan and neurotransmitter modulating agents the following:

-                      An increase of general health

-                      A lessening of depression

-                      A lessening of stress

-                      Enhancements of pleasure, including sex


In India, homeopathic preparations of cacao are used to combat hypotension (low blood pressure).(from Naked Chocolate, by David Wolfe and Shazzie)

 

Where is Cocoa Produced?

 

Cocoa is produced in countries within 600 miles (10º degrees) north and south of the equator where the climate is warm, humid, and with ample rainfall and shade, perfect for growing cocoa trees. The largest producing countries are Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia. 90% of the world’s cocoa is grown on small family farms of 12 acres or less and produce an average of about 350 lbs. of cocoa per acre. The 2004 annual production of cacao was 3.4 million metric tons. The world population of cacao trees is estimated at 5 to 6 billion.

 

West Africa - Although chocolate originated in the Americas, West Africa now produces the largest amount of cacao in the world. Each year, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon produce as much as 70% of the world’s supply.

Indonesia - There are approximately 400,000 smallholder farmers in Sulawesi producing bulk, unfermented cocoa beans. Farmers sell to local collectors at farm-gate or directly to local traders. There are few examples of cooperative-type horizontal linkages or group marketing among smallholder farmers in Sulawesi; most smallholder farmers prefer to deal independently with private collectors and traders.

 

The Americas - The cacao bean is native to South America's Amazon rainforests, where it grew for millions of years before Meso-America's Mayans, and later, the Aztecs, popularized cocoa as the "food of the gods." (Chocolate bars, as we know Venezuela, Honduras and the Caribbean are current suppliers of cacao today. As for growing cocoa beans in the United States, Hawaii has the only climate suitable. In 1850 cacao was brought to Honolulu.  The Big Island of Hawaii's them, didn't arrive until centuries later in Europe.)  Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, warm, tropical climate makes it an ideal location to grow.
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