You will find the Chocolate Tree only in tropical rainforest area surrounding the Equator, normally in the shade of larger trees, it can grow up to 12 metres (40ft), however when it is cultivated it is kept to a height of 6 metres (approximately) for the obvious reasoning – to be harvested easier.
The cocoa bark is silvery grey in colour and the reddish leaves when young develop into 30cm evergreen leaves, which provide shade for the harvesters.
The flowers/buds and fruits grow around the trunk and branch areas. This is a rare characteristic – in botanical terms it is known as a cauliflory. You can expect the cocoa flower to appear when the tree is approximately 3 years old. It then takes a further 3 years for the tree to become mature, only the flowers that have been fertilized either by insects or manually by the harvesters turn into fruit or pods.
The flowers when in bloom resemble a ‘cushion’ of thousands of scentless delicate and tiny buds.
Types of Cacao Trees
The various cacao trees grown in plantations for mass production to satisfy the global market consist of:
The Criollo is the original tree – this tree in order to survive is grown in high altitude regions for example Venezuela / Ecuador – the most expensive at its finest.
The Farastro originated in the Amazon region now grows principally in West African and Brazil. These beans are manufactured for mass production throughout the world.
The Trinitario is a cross between the other two, and along with many hybrids, was developed in Trinidad, grown in Venezuela and Sri Lanka.
Other principle plantations are cultivated in Indonesia, Malaysia, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria.
The producing Countries (usually part of the developing world) can all be susceptible to crop disease for example “Black Pod”. Any fall in production can alter the survival of small plantations, which rely on this indispensable source of income.
The Cacao tree can supply up to 80 pods a year however the average is 35. Each pod resembles the shape of a large cucumber however as it matures they become more of an oval shape and change from a greenish-yellow through to a reddish-brown in colour. (Average size 20cm long/15cm wide when they mature. Their approximate weight is 380g).
The inside layer of the pod has a sweet acidic pulp (musilage). This pulp protects up to 40 seeds. The pulp and the seed kernels are scraped out of the pod and are treated to a fermentation. The increase in temperature helps destroy the natural tendency to germinate. After this process the beans are sun dried to assist the removal of all moisture and transforms the seeds into beans. This is when their aroma develops. Approximately 25,000 pods are required to make 1kg of dried beans. These are then transported to the major producers all over the world.
Raw cocoa Beans are cleaned to eliminate all immaterial matter when they reach the Chocolate Factory. They are then roasted – as they lose more moisture their colour darkens and strengthens the aroma, like that of coffee. The husks of the bean are removed before they are crushed into Nibs. A hydraulic press then transforms these Nibs into a cocoa mass by heating and compressing. The cocoa butter from this mass is run off leaving “cakes” of cocoa, these cakes are then pulverized into raw cocoa powder. The cocoa butter that is run off leaves a residue, thick dark paste called cocoa liquor (non-alcoholic).
Couverture is the purest form of chocolate. Couverture consists of cocoa butter, sugar cocoa paste or liquor and is combined in a very strict manufacturing process. The grade of the coca bean and the sugar content and the cocoa butter determines the quality. The mixture is held together by the cocoa butter content and is the principal component of the melting procedure. It is necessary to temper couverture before it can be used as it is a very complex mixture of fats and all have different melting and setting points. Tempering is the process whereby all the fats in the cocoa butter are melted and distributed with the couverture.
Compound chocolate differs from Couverture in that all the cocoa butter has been removed and replaced with an alternative vegetable fat.
Made from a high proportion of cocoa liquor – the more cocoa the more intense the flavour.
Milk chocolate has less cocoa liquor than dark and contains more sugar and has added milk products
White chocolate contains no chocolate at all and consists of cocoa butter, milk and sugar. It is much sweeter than dark chocolate and the coca liquor is not present in white chocolate.
Carob chocolate is available in block form from most health stores and is low in fat, naturally sweet and contains little caffeine. It can be used as a substitute for people with allergies to chocolate.