COCOA,[1] more properly Cacao, a valuable dietary substance yielded by the seeds of several small trees belonging to the genus Theobroma, of the natural order Sterculiaceae. The whole genus, which comprises twelve species, belongs to the tropical parts of the American continent; and although the cocoa of commerce is probably the produce of more than one species, by far the greatest and most valuable portion is obtained from Theobroma Cacao. The generic name is derived from θεός (god) and βρῶμα (food), and was bestowed by Linnaeus as an indication of the high appreciation in which he held the beverage prepared from the seeds, which he considered to be a food fit for the gods.

The common cacao tree is of low stature, seldom exceeding 25 ft. in height, but it is taller in its native forests than it is in cultivated plantations. The leaves are large, smooth, and glossy, elliptic-oblong and tapering in form, growing principally at the ends of branches, but sometimes springing directly from the main trunk. The flowers are small, and occur in numerous clusters on the main branches and the trunk, a very marked peculiarity which gives the matured fruit the appearance of being artificially attached to the tree. Generally only a single fruit is matured from each cluster of flowers. When ripe the fruit or “pod” is elliptical-ovoid in form, from 7 to 10 in. in length and from 3 to 4½ in. in diameter. It has a hard, thick, leathery rind of a rich purplish-yellow colour, externally rough and marked with ten very distinct longitudinal ribs or elevations. The interior of the fruit has five cells, in each of which is a row of from 5 to 12 seeds embedded in a soft delicately pink acid pulp. Each fruit thus contains from 20 to 50 or more seeds, which constitute the raw cacao or “cacao beans” of commerce.

Branch of Cocoa Tree, with Fruit in
section, much reduced.

The tree appears to have been originally a native of the coast lands of the Gulf of Mexico and tropical South America as far south as the basin of the Amazon; but it can be cultivated in suitable situations within the 25th parallels of latitude. It flourishes best within the 15th parallels, at elevations ranging from near the sea-level up to about 2000 ft. in height. It is now cultivated in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, New Granada, Venezuela, Surinam, Guiana, and in many of the West Indian islands, particularly in Trinidad, San Domingo, Grenada, Cuba, Porto Rico and Jamaica. Away from America it has been introduced, and is cultivated on a large scale in West Africa, Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies.

History.—The value of cacao was appreciated in its native country before the discovery of America by Europeans. The Spaniards found in use in Mexico a beverage known by the Aztec name of chocolath, from choco (cacao) and lath (water). W. H. Prescott records that the emperor Montezuma of Mexico was “exceedingly fond of it ... no less than 50 jars or pitchers being prepared for his own daily consumption; 2000 more were allowed for that of his household.” Bags of cacao containing a specified number of beans were also a recognized form of currency in the country. The product was early introduced into Spain, and thence to other parts of Europe. The Public Advertiser (London) of June 16, 1657, contains an announcement that “In Bishopgate St., in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West India drink, called chocolate, to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates.” Chocolate was a very fashionable beverage in the early part of the 18th century.

Cultivated Varieties.—Numerous varieties of the cacao, i.e. of Theobroma Cacao, are recognized in cultivation. According to Dr P. Preuss, who has travelled extensively in the cacao producing countries of the world studying this crop, it is impossible to embody in a single table the characteristics of the world’s varieties. A separate classification is needed for almost each country. In 1882 the Trinidad forms were classified by Sir D. Morris. This table was later revised by Mr J. H. Hart, and more recently Mr R. H. Lock studied the Ceylon varieties. As the Ceylon cacaos were obtained mainly from Trinidad, and as Mr Lock’s results agree substantially with those of Sir D. Morris, they serve to illustrate the distinguishing characteristics of the West Indian and Ceylon forms. The main divisions are as follows:—

1. Criollo.—Pods relatively thin-walled and soft, rough, pointed at apex. The seeds or beans are plump and of pale colour. The ripe pods may be either red (colorado) or yellow (amarillo).

2. Forastero.—Pods relatively thick-walled and hard. The seeds vary in colour from pale to deep purple. Various varieties are recognized, such as cundeamor, amelonado, liso, calabacillo, differing in shape, colour and character of beans, &c., and of each of these again there may be a colorado and amarillo sub-variety. Of special interest is calabacillo, a variety with a smooth, small pod, and deep purple beans. It is considered by some to be sufficiently distinct to form a third type equivalent to criollo or forastero. Others again would raise amelonado to the rank of a distinct type. Of the above calabacillo is the hardiest and yields the least valuable beans; criollo is the most delicate and yields beans of the highest value, whilst forastero is intermediate in both respects. In general pale coloured beans are less bitter and more valuable than purple beans. Both, however, may occur in the same pod.

Alligator, or lagarto cacao, is the common name of a variety cultivated in Nicaragua, Guatemala, &c. Its pods are distinctly five-angled and beset with irregular, warty protuberances. Some regard it as a distinct species, T. pentagona, but others only as a variety of T. Cacao. Its produce is of high value.

T. bicolor, indigenous to Central America, is another species of some interest. It bears small, hard woody pods about 6 in. long and 3 in. in diameter, with curious surface markings. The beans possess a fetid odour and a bitter flavour and are known as “tiger cacao.” It is not likely to become of great commercial importance, although consumed locally where found. “Cacao bianco” and “pataste” are other names for this species.

Cultivation and Preparation.—Cacao requires for its successful cultivation a deep, well-watered and yet well-drained soil, shelter from strong winds, and a thoroughly tropical climate, with a mean annual temperature of about 80° F., a rainfall of from 50 to 100 or more in., and freedom from long droughts. Young plants are grown from seed, which may either be sown directly in the positions the future trees are to occupy, varying according to local circumstances from 6 to 25 ft. apart in all directions, or raised in nurseries and transplanted later. The latter course is desirable when it is necessary to water and otherwise tend the seedlings. However raised, the young plants require to be shaded, and this is usually done by planting bananas, cassava or other useful crops between the rows of cacao. In some countries, but not in all, permanent shade trees are planted amongst the cacao. Various leguminous trees are commonly used, e.g. the coral tree (Erythrina spp.) sometimes known as bois immortel and madre del cacao or mother of cocoa, Albizzia Lebbek, Pithecolobium Saman, &c. The various rubber trees have been employed with success. Wind belts are also necessary in exposed situations.

Cacao comes into bearing when about five years old, the small pink flowers and the succeeding large pods being borne directly on the trunk and main branches. The pods are carefully picked when ripe, broken open, and the slimy mass of contained seeds and their enveloping mucilaginous pulp extracted. The “beans” are next fermented or “sweated,” often in special houses constructed for the purpose, or by placing them in heaps and covering with leaves or earth, or in baskets, barrels, &c., lined with banana leaves. During fermentation the beans should be stirred once daily or oftener. The time of fermentation varies from one to twelve or even more days. Pale-coloured beans usually require less time than the deep purple and bitter kinds. The method adopted also considerably modifies the time required. The process of fermenting destroys the mucilage; the seeds lose to some degree their bitter flavour and their colour also changes: the pale criollo seeds, for example, developing a cinnamon-brown colour. The “fracture” of the beans also characteristically alters. Fermentation is not universally practised; the purple colour and bitter taste of unfermented cacao being wanted in some markets.

After the fermentation is completed the beans may or may not be washed, opinion as to the desirability of this process varying in different countries. In any case, however, they have to be dried and cured. When climatic conditions are favourable this is commonly done by spreading the beans in thin layers on barbecues, or stone drying floors, or otherwise exposing them to the sun. Sliding roofs or other means of rapidly affording shelter are desirable in case of showers, excessive heat, and also for protection at night. Artificial drying is now often resorted to and various patterns of drying houses are in use.

The appearance of the beans may often be improved by “claying,” a very slight coating of red earth or clay being added. Polishing the beans also gives them a brighter appearance, removes mildew, and remnants of dried mucilage, &c. This may be done by “dancing the cacao,” i.e. treading a heap with the bare feet, or by the use of special polishing machines. The cacao is now ready for shipment, and is usually packed in bags. Hamburg is the chief port in the world for cacao. Until quite recently, however, this position was held by Havre, which is now second in Europe. New York imports about the same amount as Havre. London follows next in importance.

Cacao-producing Countries.—In the following table the production in tons (of 1000 kilos = 2205 ℔) of the principal producing countries, arranged under continents, is given for 1905 and 1901. During this period the total world’s production has increased by about 40%, as indicated in the summary below. Study of the table will show where the increase has taken place, but attention is directed especially to the rapid development in West Africa.

  1905 (tons). 1901 (tons).
Ecuador 21,128 22,896
Brazil 21,091 18,324
Trinidad 20,018 11,943
San Domingo 12,785 6,850
Venezuela 11,700 7,860
Grenada 5,456 4,865
Cuba and Porto Rico 3,000 1,750
Haiti 2,343 1,950
Surinam 1,612 3,163
Jamaica 1,484 1,350
French West Indies 1,200 825
St. Lucia 700 765
Dominica 597 .. 
  ————  ———
Total, America 103,114 82,541
  1905 (tons). 1901 (tons).
San Thomé 25,379 16,983
Gold Coast and Lagos 5,666 997
Cameroons 1,185 528
Congo Free State 195 .. 
  ——— ———
Total, Africa 32,425 18,508
  1905 (tons). 1901 (tons).
Ceylon 3543 2697
Dutch East Indies 1492 1277
  —— ——
Total, Asia 5035 3974
Other countries 800 700
World’s Production.
  1905 (tons). 1901 (tons).
Tropical America and West Indies 103,114 82,541
West Africa 32,425 18,508
Asia 5,035 3,974
Other countries 800 700
–——— –———
Total 141,374 105,723

Composition.—The relative weights of the various parts of a whole cacao pod are given thus by Prof. J. B. Harrison for British Guiana specimens:—

  Calabacillo. Forastero.
Husk 80.59 89.87
Pulp 7.61 4.23
Cuticles of the beans 1.77 0.50
Kernels of the beans 10.03 5.40
  ——— ———
  100.00 100.00

The husk is composed mainly of water and cellulose woody tissue, with their usual mineral constituents, and has a low manurial value. The pulp contains sugars which become converted into alcohol during fermentation. Fibrous elements and water compose about six-tenths of the cuticles, which also contain approximately: albuminoids (6%), alkaloids (2%), fat (2%), sugars (6%), starch (7%), colouring matter (4%), tartaric acid (3%) and small quantities of various mineral constituents. The average composition of the kernels, according to Payen, is:—

  Per cent.
Fat (cacao butter) 50 
Starch 10 
Albuminoids 20 
Water 12 
Cellulose 2 
Mineral matter 4 
Theobromine 2 
Colouring matter (cacao-red) trace

Manufacture of Cocoa and Chocolate.—The beans are cleaned and sorted to remove foreign bodies of all kinds and also graded into sizes to secure uniformity in roasting. The latter process is carried out in rotating iron drums in which the beans are heated to a temperature of about 260° to 280° F., and results in developing the aroma, partially converting the starch into dextrin, and eliminating bitter constituents. The beans also dry and their shells become crisp. In the next process the beans are gently crushed and winnowed, whereby the light shells are removed, and after removal by sifting of the “germs” the beans are left in the form of the irregular cocoa-nibs occasionally seen in shops. Cocoa-nibs may be infused with water and drunk, but for most people the beverage is too rich, containing the whole of the cacao-fat or cacao-butter. This fat is extracted from the carefully ground nibs by employing great hydraulic pressure in heated presses. The fat exudes and solidifies. When fresh it is yellowish-white, but becomes quite white on keeping. It is very valuable for pharmaceutical purposes and is a constituent of many pomades. With care it can be kept for a long time without going rancid.

After the extraction of the fat the resulting mass is ground to a fine powder when it is ready for use in the ordinary way. Many preparations on the market are of course not pure cocoa but contain admixtures of various starchy and other bodies.

The shells of the beans separated by the winnowing process contain theobromine, and their infusion with water is sometimes used as a substitute for coffee, under the name “miserabile.” More recently they have been put to good account as a cattle food.

In the preparation of chocolate the preliminary processes of cleaning, sorting, roasting and removing the shells, and grinding the nibs, are followed as for cocoa. The fat, however, is not extracted, but sugar, and sometimes other materials also, are added to the ground pasty mass, together with suitable flavouring materials, as for example vanilla. The greatest care is taken in the process and elaborate grinding and mixing machinery employed. The final result is a semi-liquid mass which is moulded into the familiar tablets or other forms in which chocolate comes on the market.

Cocoa as a beverage has a similar action to tea and coffee, inasmuch as the physiological properties of all three are due to the alkaloids and volatile oils they contain. Tea and coffee both contain the alkaloid caffeine, whilst cocoa contains theobromine. In tea and coffee, however, we only drink an infusion of the leaves or seeds, whilst in cocoa the whole material is taken in a state of very fine suspension, and as the preceding analysis indicates, the cocoa bean, even with the fat extracted, is of high nutritive value.

Cacao-consuming Countries.—The principal cacao-consuming countries are indicated below, which gives the imports into the countries named for 1905. These figures, as also those on production, are taken from Der Gordian.

  Tons (1000 kilos).
United States of America 34,958
Germany 29,663
France 21,748
United Kingdom 21,106
Holland 19,295
Spain 6,102
Switzerland 5,218
Belgium 3,019
Austria Hungary 2,668
Russia 2,230
Denmark 1,125
Italy 971
Sweden 900
Canada 700
Australia 600
Norway, Portugal and Finland    692
Total  150,995
During recent years the use of cocoa has increased rapidly in some countries. The following table gives the increase per cent in consumption in 1905 over that in 1901 for the five chief consumers:—
  Per cent.
United States 70 
Germany 61 
France 21 
United Kingdom 11 
Holland 34 

 (A. B. R.; W. G. F.) 

  1. As a matter of nomenclature it is unfortunate that the corrupt form “cocoa,” from a confusion with the coco-nut (q.v.), has become stereotyped. When introduced early in the 18th century it was as a trisyllable co-co-a, a mispronunciation of cacao or cocoa, the Spanish adaptation from the Mexican cacauatl.