The Info List - Theobroma Cacao

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THEOBROMA CACAO is the taxonomic classification for the plant also called the CACAO TREE and the COCOA TREE, which is a small (4–8 m (13–26 ft) tall) evergreen tree in the family Malvaceae
, native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America. Its seeds, cocoa beans , are used to make cocoa mass , cocoa powder , confectionery , ganache and chocolate . Floral diagram
Floral diagram
showing partial inflorescence


* 1 Description * 2 Taxonomy and nomenclature * 3 Distribution and domestication

* 4 History of cultivation

* 4.1 Currency

* 5 Mythology * 6 Modern history * 7 Cultivation * 8 Pests * 9 Conservation * 10 Genome
* 11 See also * 12 Notes * 13 References * 14 External links


Leaves are alternate, entire, unlobed, 10–40 cm (3.9–15.7 in) long and 5–20 cm (2.0–7.9 in) broad.

The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; this is known as cauliflory . The flowers are small, 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) diameter, with pink calyx. The floral formula is ✶ K5 C5 A(5°+5²) G(5). While many of the world's flowers are pollinated by bees ( Hymenoptera
) or butterflies /moths (Lepidoptera ), cacao flowers are pollinated by tiny flies, Forcipomyia midges in the subfamily Forcipomyiinae . Having the natural pollinator Forcipomyia midges for Theobroma
cacao was shown to have more fruit production than using artificial pollinators. The fruit , called a cacao pod, is ovoid, 15–30 cm (5.9–11.8 in) long and 8–10 cm (3.1–3.9 in) wide, ripening yellow to orange, and weighs about 500 g (1.1 lb) when ripe. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds , usually called "beans", embedded in a white pulp. The seeds are the main ingredient of chocolate , while the pulp is used in some countries to prepare refreshing juice , smoothies, jelly, and nata. The fermented pulp, until recently discarded in Ecuador
, the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic
, and Peru
, is now being distilled there into a popular alcoholic beverage sold in the United States
United States
. Each seed contains a significant amount of fat (40–50%) as cocoa butter . Their most noted active constituent is theobromine , a compound similar to caffeine .

Small amounts of cocoa flavanol , a natural nutrient found in cocoa, has been found to increase oxygen flow to the cerebral area, potentially leading to improved cognitive function.

Compounds found in Theobroma
cacao have also been found to have other substances that are beneficial for health such as proanthocyanidins and pectin . Proanthocyanidin is an organic compound made by the plant that is not needed directly for growth, but it has been found to promote antiviral, antibacterial, and antioxidant effects. Pectin from Theobroma
cacao has antimicrobial effects and has the potential to be used in the pharmaceutical, nutritional, and antibacterial industries (especially as a preservation agent). Most ways to extract pectin involve subjecting the plant to high temperatures and two specific ways to extract pectin from Theobroma
cacao are using aqueous nitric acid or boiling water.


Cacao ( Theobroma
cacao) belongs to the genus Theobroma
classified under the subfamily Sterculioidea of the mallow family Malvaceae
. Cacao is one of 22 species of Theobroma.

The generic name is derived from the Greek for "food of the gods"; from θεός (theos), meaning "god", and βρῶμα (broma), meaning "food".

The specific name cacao is derived from the native name of the plant in indigenous Mesoamerican languages . The cacao was known as kakaw in Tzeltal , K\'iche\' and Classic Maya ; kagaw in Sayula Popoluca ; and cacahuatl in Nahuatl . Cacao flowers.

, Theobroma
grandiflorum, is a closely related species found in Brazil
, Colombia
, Peru
and Bolivia
. Like cacao, it is also the source for a kind of chocolate known as cupulate or cupuaçu chocolate. Cupuaçu
is considered as having high potential by the food and cosmetics industries.


T. cacao is widely distributed from southeastern Mexico
to the Amazon basin . There were originally two hypotheses about its domestication; one said that there were two foci for domestication, one in the Lacandon Jungle
Lacandon Jungle
area of Mexico
and another in lowland South America
South America
. More recent studies of patterns of DNA diversity, however, suggest that this is not the case. Motomayor et al. sampled 1241 trees and classified them into 10 distinct genetic clusters. This study also identified areas, for example around Iquitos in modern Peru
, where representatives of several genetic clusters originated. This result suggests that this is where T. cacao was originally domesticated, probably for the pulp that surrounds the beans, which is eaten as a snack and fermented into a mildly alcoholic beverage. Using the DNA sequences obtained by Motomayor et al. and comparing them with data derived from climate models and the known conditions suitable for cacao, Thomas et al. have further refined the view of domestication, linking the area of greatest cacao genetic diversity to a bean-shaped area that encompasses the border between Brazil
and Peru
and the southern part of the Colombian-Brazilian border. Climate models indicate that at the peak of the last ice age 21,000 years ago, when habitat suitable for cacao was at its most reduced, this area was still suitable, and so provided a refugium for the species. Thomas et al. speculate that from there people took cacao to Mexico, where selection for the beans took place.

Cacao trees grow well as understory plants in humid forest ecosystems. This is equally true of abandoned cultivated trees, making it difficult to distinguish truly wild trees from those whose parents may originally have been cultivated.


Toasted cacao beans grown at the La Chonita Hacienda in Tabasco , Mexico

Cultivation, use, and cultural elaboration of cacao were early and extensive in Mesoamerica . Ceramic vessels with residues from the preparation of cacao beverages have been found at archaeological sites dating back to the Early Formative (1900–900 BC) period. For example, one such vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz
, Mexico
dates cacao's preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. On the Pacific coast of Chiapas
, Mexico, a Mokaya archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BC. The initial domestication was probably related to the making of a fermented, thus alcoholic beverage.

Several mixtures of cacao are described in ancient texts, for ceremonial or medicinal, as well as culinary, purposes. Some mixtures included maize , chili , vanilla ( Vanilla
planifolia), and honey. Archaeological evidence for use of cacao, while relatively sparse, has come from the recovery of whole cacao beans at Uaxactun
, Guatemala
and from the preservation of wood fragments of the cacao tree at Belize
sites including Cuello
and Pulltrouser Swamp . In addition, analysis of residues from ceramic vessels has found traces of theobromine and caffeine in early formative vessels from Puerto Escondido, Honduras (1100–900 BC) and in middle formative vessels from Colha, Belize
(600–400 BC) using similar techniques to those used to extract chocolate residues from four classic period (around 400 AD) vessels from a tomb at the Maya archaeological site of Rio Azul . As cacao is the only known commodity from Mesoamerica containing both of these alkaloid compounds, it seems likely these vessels were used as containers for cacao drinks. In addition, cacao is named in a hieroglyphic text on one of the Rio Azul vessels. Cacao was also believed to be ground by the Aztecs and mixed with tobacco for smoking purposes.


Cacao beans constituted both a ritual beverage and a major currency system in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations. At one point, the Aztec
empire received a yearly tribute of 980 loads (xiquipil in Nahuatl) of cacao, in addition to other goods. Each load represented exactly 8,000 beans. The buying power of quality beans was such that 80–100 beans could buy a new cloth mantle. The use of cacao beans as currency is also known to have spawned counterfeiters during the Aztec empire.


Kakaw (cacao) written in the Maya script
Maya script
: The word was also written in several other ways in old Maya texts.

The Maya believed the kakaw (cacao) was discovered by the gods in a mountain that also contained other delectable foods to be used by them. According to Maya mythology , the Plumed Serpent gave cacao to the Maya after humans were created from maize by divine grandmother goddess Xmucane . The Maya celebrated an annual festival in April to honor their cacao god, Ek Chuah , an event that included the sacrifice of a dog with cacao-colored markings, additional animal sacrifices, offerings of cacao, feathers and incense, and an exchange of gifts. In a similar creation story, the Mexica
( Aztec
) god Quetzalcoatl discovered cacao (cacahuatl: "bitter water"), in a mountain filled with other plant foods. Cacao was offered regularly to a pantheon of Mexica
deities and the Madrid Codex depicts priests lancing their ear lobes (autosacrifice) and covering the cacao with blood as a suitable sacrifice to the gods. The cacao beverage as ritual was used only by men, as it was believed to be toxic for women and children.


Immigrant workers from India relaxing on a cacao estate in Trinidad
, 1903.

The first Europeans to encounter cacao were Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus
and his crew in 1502 , when they captured a canoe at Guanaja that contained a quantity of mysterious-looking "almonds". The first real European knowledge about chocolate came in the form of a beverage which was first introduced to the Spanish at their meeting with Moctezuma in the Aztec
capital of Tenochtitlan
in 1519. Cortés and others noted the vast quantities of this beverage the Aztec
emperor consumed, and how it was carefully whipped by his attendants beforehand. Examples of cacao beans, along with other agricultural products, were brought back to Spain at that time, but it seems the beverage made from cacao was introduced to the Spanish court in 1544 by Kekchi Maya nobles brought from the New World to Spain by Dominican friars to meet Prince Philip . Within a century, the culinary and medical uses of chocolate had spread to France, England and elsewhere in Western Europe . Demand for this beverage led the French to establish cacao plantations in the Caribbean
, while Spain subsequently developed their cacao plantations in their Venezuelan and Philippine colonies (Bloom 1998, Coe 1996). A painting by Dutch Golden Age artist Albert Eckhout
Albert Eckhout
shows a wild cacao tree in mid-seventeenth century Dutch Brazil. The Nahuatl-derived Spanish word cacao entered scientific nomenclature in 1753 after the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus
published his taxonomic binomial system and coined the genus and species Theobroma

Traditional pre-Hispanic beverages made with cacao are still consumed in Mesoamerica . These include the Oaxacan beverage known as tejate .


See also: Cocoa bean
Cocoa bean
Cacao seed in the fruit or pocha Young cacao plantation Macrophotography of Theobroma
cacao flower (closed) ( University of Vienna
University of Vienna
) Macrophotography of T. cacao flower (open) ( University of Vienna
University of Vienna
) T. cacao fruit T. cacao, leaves, fruits and seed. A. Bernecker, 1864.

Cacao is cultivated on roughly 17,000,000 acres (27,000 sq mi; 69,000 km2) worldwide. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the top 20 cacao-producing countries in 2005 were as follows:

RANK, COUNTRY Value (Int'l $1,000*) Production (Metric tons)

1 Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast
1,024,339 1,330,000

2 Ghana
566,852 736,000

3 Indonesia
469,810 610,000

4 Nigeria
281,886 366,000

5 Brazil
164,644 213,774

6 Cameroon
138,632 180,000

7 Ecuador
105,652 137,178

8 Colombia
42,589 55,298

9 Argentina
37,281 48,405

10 Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
32,733 42,500

11 Malaysia
25,742 33,423

12 Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic
24,646 32,000

13 Peru
21,950 28,500

14 Venezuela
13,093 17,000

15 Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
8,472 11,000

16 Togo
6,547 8,500

17 Mexico
6,161 8,000

18 Philippines
4,352 5,650

19 Republic of the Congo 4,336 5,630

20 Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
3,851 5,000

*Based on 1999–2001 international prices

Cacao production has increased from 1.5 million tons in 1983–1984 to 3.5 million tons in 2003–2004, almost entirely due to the expansion of the production area rather than to yield increases. Cacao is grown both by large agroindustrial plantations and small producers, the bulk of production coming from millions of farmers who have a few trees each.

A tree begins to bear when it is four or five years old. A mature tree may have 6,000 flowers in a year, yet only about 20 pods. About 1,200 seeds (40 pods) are required to produce 1 kg (2.2 lb) of cocoa paste .

Historically, chocolate makers have recognized three main cultivar groups of cacao beans used to make cocoa and chocolate. The most prized, rare, and expensive is the Criollo group, the cocoa bean used by the Maya . Only 10% of chocolate is made from Criollo, which is arguably less bitter and more aromatic than any other bean. Actually the criollo cacao beans from Chuao in Aragua
, Venezuela
, are widely regarded as some of the finest in the world. In November 2000, the cacao beans coming from said region were awarded an appellation of origin under the title "Cacao de Chuao" (from Spanish-cacao of Chuao) effectively making this one of the most expensive and sought-after types of cacao. The cacao bean in 80% of chocolate is made using beans of the Forastero group, the main and most ubiquitous variety being the Amenolado variety, while the arriba variety (such as the Nacional variety that was recently discovered) are less commonly found in Forastero produce. Forastero trees are significantly hardier and more disease-resistant than Criollo trees, resulting in cheaper cacao beans. Trinitario, a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, is used in about 10% of chocolate.

A new, genetically based classification of 10 groups may well help breeders to create new varieties that are both pest- and disease-resistant and contain valued flavours.

Major cocoa bean processors include Hershey\'s , Nestlé
and Mars , all of which purchase cocoa beans via various sources.

In June 2009, Mars Botanicals, a division of Mars, launched Cirku, a cocoa extract product that provides cocoa flavanols made with a patented process that contains a high level of phytonutrients.

can be made from T. cacao through a process of steps that involve harvesting, fermenting of T. cacao pulp, drying, harvesting, and then extraction. Roasting T. cacao by using superheated steam was found to be better than conventional roasting (use of ovens) because it resulted in same quality of cocoa beans in a shorter amount of time.


See also: List of cacao diseases

Various plant pests and diseases can cause serious problems for cacao production.

* Insects

* Cocoa mirids or capsids worldwide (but especially Sahlbergella singularis and Distantiella theobroma in West Africa
West Africa
and Helopeltis spp. in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
) * Conopomorpha cramerella (cocoa pod borer – in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia

* Fungi

* Moniliophthora roreri (frosty pod rot) * Moniliophthora perniciosa (witches' broom) * Ceratocystis cacaofunesta (mal de machete) or (Ceratocystis wilt) * Verticillium dahliae
Verticillium dahliae
* Oncobasidium theobromae (vascular streak dieback)

* Oomycetes

* Phytophthora spp. (black pod) especially Phytophthora megakarya in West Africa

* Viruses


* Mistletoe
* Rats and other vertebrate pests (squirrels , woodpeckers , etc.)


The pests and diseases to which cacao is subject, along with climate change, mean that new varieties will be needed to respond to these challenges. Breeders rely on the genetic diversity conserved in field genebanks to create new varieties, because cacao has recalcitrant seeds that cannot be stored in a conventional genebank. In an effort to improve the diversity available to breeders, and ensure the future of the field genebanks, experts have drawn up A Global Strategy for the Conservation and Use of Cacao Genetic Resources, as the Foundation for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy. The strategy has been adopted by the cacao producers and their clients, and seeks to improve the characterization of cacao diversity, the sustainability and diversity of the cacao collections, the usefulness of the collections, and to ease access to better information about the conserved material. Some natural areas of cacao diversity are protected by various forms of conservation, for example national parks. However, a recent study of genetic diversity and predicted climates suggests that many of those protected areas will no longer be suitable for cacao by 2050. It also identifies an area around Iquitos in Peru
that will remain suitable for cacao and that is home to considerable genetic diversity, and recommends that this area be considered for protection.

Phytopathogens (parasitic organisms) cause much damage to Theobroma cacao plantations around the world. Many of those phytopathogens, which include many of the pests named above, were analyzed using mass spectrometry and allow for guiding on the correct approaches to get rid of the specific phytopathogens. This method was found to be quick, reproducible, and accurate showing promising results in the future to prevent damage to Theobroma
cacao by various phytopathogens.

A specific type of bacteria Streptomyces camerooniansis was found to be beneficial for T. cacao by helping plant growth by accelerating seed germination of T. cacao, inhibiting growth of various types of microorganisms (such as different oomycetes, fungi, and bacteria), and preventing rotting by Phytophthora megakarya.


The genome of T. cacao is diploid, its size is 430 Mbp , and it comprises 10 chromosome pairs (2n=2x=20). In September 2010, a team of scientists announced a draft sequence of the cacao genome (Matina1-6 genotype). In a second, unrelated project, the International Cocoa Genome
Sequencing Consortium-ICGS, co-ordinated by CIRAD, first published in December 2010 (online, paper publication in January 2011), the sequence of the cacao genome, of the Criollo cacao (of a landrace from Belize, B97-61/B2). In their publication, they reported a detailed analysis of the genomic and genetic data.

The sequence of the cacao genome identified 28,798 protein-coding genes, compared to the roughly 23,000 protein-coding genes of the human genome . About 20% of the cacao genome consists of transposable elements , a low proportion compared to other plant species. Many genes were identified as coding for flavonoids , aromatic terpenes , theobromine and many other metabolites involved in cocoa flavor and quality traits, among which a relatively high proportion code for polyphenols , which constitute up to 8% of cacao pods dry weight. The cacao genome appears close to the hypothetical hexaploid ancestor of all dicotyledonous plants, and it is proposed as an evolutionary mechanism by which the 21 chromosomes of the dicots' hypothetical hexaploid ancestor underwent major fusions leading to cacao's 10 chromosome pairs.

Genomic information Map showing genetic clusters of Theobroma


PLOIDY diploid




The genome sequence will help accelerate research on cacao molecular biology and breeding for elite varieties through marker-assisted selection, in particular for genetic resistance to fungal , oomycete and viral diseases responsible for huge yield losses each year.


* Cocoa butter * Chocolate


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