The origin of the cacao tree is still a mystery. Some say it originated in Brazil, others insist it was Venezuela and still others are sure it was native to Central America. But one thing we do know is that the cacao tree is definitely a tropical plant and thrives only in hot rainy climates. So this means that the cultivation of the tree is confined to lands that are no more than 20 degree north or south of the equator. The cacao tree grows in many countries in Central and South America and is especially prolific along the West Coast of Africa. The cacao tree is unique in that its flowers and fruit (the pods) cluster on both the trunk and the branches. The tree is very sensitive to wind and hot sun especailly during the first two to four years. Therefore, it must be grown in valleys where it can be sheltered from the wind and the sun by larger shade trees. The trees bloom and bear fruit in five years, though some will produce fruit in three or four years. The tiny pink, white or yellow blossoms are odorless, and the ripened pods resemble little footballs. Each pod contains 20-40 cacao beans. The job of harvesting the ripe cacao pods is not easy. The trees are so fragile that harvesters can't climb the tree to reach the higher branches, so they use a "cacao hook," which is a knife attached to the end of a long pole. Cutlasses are used to whack the pods on the lower branches. Next, the harvesters break open the pods with a machete. A good worker can open 500 pods in an hour. Then the ivory colored beans are scooped out of the pod. The beans change color from ivory to purple after they are exposed to the air. Then they are placed in boxes to ferment. This takes from two to nine days, depending on the humidity. The fermenting of the pulp and the curing action that takes place inside the bean are what produce the first whiff of the chocolate aroma. Now the beans have turned a rich brown. The beans are dried on trays or bamboo matting, in the sun or indoors by hot air pipes. The dried beans are pouring into large sacks stamped with the plantation owner's name. Each sack holds about 200 pounds of beans. They are ready to be sent to shipping centers where they will be transported to cocoa and chocolate factories all over the world.
Origin: Farm Journal's Choice Chocolate Recipes Shared by: Sharon Stevens Submitted By SHARON STEVENS On 09-28-95
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