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,