Where Does Chocolate Come From?
Have you ever wondered this when you were just a child? Chocolate is one of the most popular desserts in the whole world and you can find it in so many forms and tastes that it’s easy to lose count. But still, do you know where it comes from? Well, the answer is simple: chocolate is produced from cocoa beans.
Cocoa beans grow in trees (cocoa trees or the Theobroma cacao – the scientific name). This tree only grows and bears fruits in the tropical region. This means that you will only find cocoa beans in the band of 20 degrees North and South of the equator line. Even more, it won’t develop properly if the temperature drops under 16 degrees Celsius. This means that only certain countries have the honor of being host to this amazing tree.
Cocoa was first discovered in the region between Central and South America but right now, 70% of the world production is sustained by Africa.
The road from cocoa trees to chocolate
Now that we know chocolate grows in trees (so to speak), let’s discuss a bit about the cocoa pod. First, you should know that one tree can produce up to 2000 pods per year if the conditions are right. The pod looks like a football (American football) and grows directly on the trunk or the thicker branches. It takes several months for the pods to mature and they contain a white pulp and the cocoa seeds which later will become chocolate.
However, the process doesn’t stop with the harvesting as the seeds or the beans are extremely bitter. To remove some of the bitterness and give them a flavor that somehow resembles chocolate, workers put the seeds in wooden bins which are placed in earthen pits. They cover everything with banana leaves and leave the beans to ferment. Through this process the beans become dark brown.
After the fermentation process ends, workers will dry the beans in the sun for a few days which helps the flavor grow. Once this process is completed, cocoa beans are shipped to chocolate factories all over the world where they are transformed into the delicious dessert we all know and love.
How did we invent chocolate?
We already mentioned that the cocoa seeds are bitter and animals that eat the fruit spit them away. So how did humans think to use them as food?
Well, the idea of fermenting the beans was first tested by the Aztecs who considered the drink obtained from fermented cocoa beans a gift from the gods. They also mixed the drink with various spices and considered it to have aphrodisiac qualities. When the Spanish arrived in the area we now call Mexico and conquered the native population, they took the cocoa beans with them in Europe. While it took a while for chocolate to become what we know today, this was the moment when we were hooked.