Cacao - Interesting facts you probably didn't know

Cacao is growing in popularity. Rightly so. This ancient tree has so much to offer the world!


  • The cacao tree, a small evergreen, is commonly called Theobroma cacao, a name that derives from the Greek 'theos', gods, and 'broma', food: the food of the gods.
  • The fruit of the Cacao tree grow directly from the trunk. They look like small melons, and the pulp inside contains 20 to 50 seeds or beans.
  • The ancient tribes, of the Maya Indians, are believed to be the first to discover the potent enchanting properties of the cacao bean around the year 600 AD.
  • Cacao Beans were so prized by the Maya and the Aztecs that they were used as a currency, even when paying taxes. For example, one hundred beans were worth a turkey, or a rabbit, according to a 16th century Aztec document.
  • In its earliest forms, the Mayans used cacao to create a ritual beverage that was shared during betrothal and marriage ceremonies, providing one of the first known links between chocolate and romance
  • Cacao trees need to be planted next to tall trees in order to protect them from direct sunlight. This is why you often see cacao trees planted amongst mango and papaya trees. The soil influences the flavours of the cacao beans.
  • Christopher Columbus, in 1502, was thought to have brought cacao beans to King Ferdinand, during his fourth trip from the New World.
  • Cacao was exported to Europe in 1585, but the first chocolate bar was not made until 1848.
  • Fermentation of the cacao beans is the process that occurs before drying, and varies depending on the type of cacao desired.
  • Every stage of cacao production is done by hand: planting, irrigating, harvesting, fermenting and drying. Investing in ethically sourced cacao is every conscious consumer's responsibility. 
  • Cacao is categorised into three main varieties: Criollo, very valuable, fragrant, and delicate (Mamamuti Cacao); Forastero, the most common and most bitter; and Trinitario, a hybrid of the first two, with a lightly fruity aroma.
  • Cacao is the purest form of chocolate that can be consumed: it is raw and largely unprocessed, and different from the powdered cocoa and chocolate.
  • It has the highest antioxidant concentration of any major food in the world. Cacao is thirty times higher in antioxidants than red wine, twenty times more potent in antioxidants than blueberries, three times higher than acai, and twice as much as chaga mushrooms. These antioxidants protect our cells from free radical damage and therefore contribute to our longevity and state of well-being.
  • In a health hierarchy, raw cacao beans before processing rank first, followed by organic, cocoa powder (un-roasted) and organic dark chocolate which greater concentrations of cocoa powder and lower levels of processed sugar.
  • Watching your caffeine intake? All cacao contains theobromine. It is a stimulant, but does not affect your central nervous system like caffeine. It does not affect smooth muscle tissue either. It is a diuretic, but breaks down twice as slow as caffeine, so it is non-addictive. The cacao varieties that has caffeine naturally occurring is typically 1/50th the caffeine of a cup of coffee. It would take approximately 50 cups of cacao to equal the same amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee.


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