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 showing
* 1 Description
* 2 Taxonomy and nomenclature
* 3 Distribution and domestication
* 4 History of cultivation
* 5 Mythology
* 6 Modern history
* 7 Cultivation
* 8 Pests
* 9 Conservation
* 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
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 , and
Peru , is now being distilled there into a popular alcoholic beverage
sold in the
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
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.
TAXONOMY AND NOMENCLATURE
Theobroma cacao) belongs to the genus
under the subfamily Sterculioidea of the mallow family
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
The specific name cacao is derived from the native name of the plant
Mesoamerican languages . The cacao was known as kakaw in
Tzeltal , K\'iche\' and Classic Maya ; kagaw in
Sayula Popoluca ; and
Nahuatl . Cacao flowers.
Theobroma grandiflorum, is a closely related species found
Bolivia . Like cacao, it is also the
source for a kind of chocolate known as cupulate or cupuaçu
Cupuaçu is considered as having high potential by the
food and cosmetics industries.
DISTRIBUTION AND DOMESTICATION
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 area of
Mexico and another in lowland
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
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.
HISTORY OF CULTIVATION
Toasted cacao beans grown at the
La Chonita Hacienda in Tabasco
Cultivation, use, and cultural elaboration of cacao were early and
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
Mexico dates cacao's preparation by pre-Olmec
peoples as early as 1750 BC. On the Pacific coast of
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
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
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
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
Kakaw (cacao) written in the
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
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
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 and
his crew in 1502 , when they captured a canoe at
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
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
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 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
Linnaeus published his taxonomic binomial system and coined
the genus and species
Traditional pre-Hispanic beverages made with cacao are still consumed
Mesoamerica . These include the Oaxacan beverage known as tejate .
Cocoa bean Cacao seed in the fruit or pocha
Young cacao plantation Macrophotography of
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:
(Int'l $1,000*) Production
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo
*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
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
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
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.
Chocolate 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
List of cacao diseases
Various plant pests and diseases can cause serious problems for cacao
* Cocoa mirids or capsids worldwide (but especially Sahlbergella
singularis and Distantiella theobroma in
West Africa and Helopeltis
Southeast Asia )
Conopomorpha cramerella (cocoa pod borer – in
Southeast Asia )
Moniliophthora roreri (frosty pod rot)
Moniliophthora perniciosa (witches' broom)
Ceratocystis cacaofunesta (mal de machete) or (Ceratocystis wilt)
Oncobasidium theobromae (vascular streak dieback)
* Phytophthora spp. (black pod) especially
Phytophthora megakarya in
* 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
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
Map showing genetic clusters of
NCBI GENOME ID
NUMBER OF CHROMOSOMES
YEAR OF COMPLETION
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.
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