37+ Facts About Cacao Plants: Learn All About These Useful Plants | Kidadl


37+ Facts About Cacao Plants: Learn All About These Useful Plants

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Do you know what the main ingredient of chocolate is?

It is cocoa which is derived from cacao seeds from a cacao tree. Cacao trees are grown commercially to grow raw material, which, in turn, goes towards the production of various goods.

The meaning of the scientific name of the cacao tree is quite interesting in Greek. It means 'food of the gods' which is quite apt when you focus on chocolate, the product of the seed born from a cacao tree. Chocolate is considered to be very decadent by many people, both in the past as well as in the present. An interesting fact about cocoa beans which are found in the pod or fruit of the cacao tree is that in the past, it was used as a currency. Cocoa beans used to be quite expensive and the chocolate made out of them even more so. Even today, some high-quality chocolate, including luxury dark chocolate, is quite expensive.

The cacao tree is native to Central America and South America. It can also be found in tropical Asia and western Africa today. This tree is also grown in several other countries all over the world, which can provide the required tropical rainforest atmosphere. Although the cacao crop originates from the continent of America, it is not the major producer. However, country is a major consumer of chocolate and other cocoa products.

More than 50% of cocoa is produced in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. While cocoa, in the beginning, was used to create food products such as chocolate, soon other useful purposes of cocoa were also discovered, which led to more demand for the cacao crop. This has further led to an increase in the production of cacao plants.

Types Of Cacao Plants

The cacao tree has many varieties, which include natural as well as cultivated ones. Facts about the varieties of the cacao trees are given below.

  • There are three main varieties of cacao, Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario.
  • These are considered to be primary cultivator groups of cacao.
  • The Forastero division consists of cacao varieties which are used for the majority of cacao production. This is because the varieties of cacao in the Forastero group produce a high yield.
  • The varieties of the Forastero group have high resistance against diseases.
  • The Criollo group of cacao is not as widely grown as the Forastero group. This group of cacao is considered to be the most expensive as well as rare out of all three groups.
  • The cocoa processed from cacao beans from this group have a deliciously rich flavor that doesn't contain any bitter notes.
  • The varieties of cacao in the Criollo division are quite susceptible to various plant diseases, and so their production is low.
  • The last group, Trinitario, is actually a hybrid created from the other two groups of Forastero and Criollo. The yield, taste, and hardiness of a tree belonging to the Trinitario group fall somewhere in between these two parent groups.
  • Cocoa beans processed from the cacao of this group are very flavorful and used to make high quality dark chocolate.

Characteristics Of Cacao Plants

Characteristics or features are aspects of a thing, whether living or non-living, that distinguish it from other things and gives it a unique identity. The different characteristics of the cacao tree are mentioned below.

  • The cacao tree is actually a crop plant that grows very tall.
  • The cacao tree, also known as the cocoa tree, is a tropical evergreen tree that maintains its foliage throughout the year.
  • The cacao tree can live for several years, which makes it highly profitable as a commercial crop.
  • It is, however, susceptible to many crop diseases, which can lower its profit and commercial value.
  • Cacao plantations are smaller in size in comparison to the plantations of other common commercial crop varieties.
  • The leaves of a cacao tree are oblong-shaped with a glossy or leathery light green colored texture.
  • The flowers of the cacao tree flourish all year round, however, their abundance increases twice a year.
  • Cacao tree flowers are small in size and appear directly on the trunks and branches of these trees.
  • These flowers come in several varying colors, such as pink, rosy, white, bright red, and yellow. The color depends on the variety of the cacao plants.
  • The pollination of these flowers is carried out by midges which are tiny flies found in many areas.
  • The cacao tree starts producing fruits after it has matured for about four years.
  • These fruits appear as cacao pods with an elongated shape.
  • Each tree may yield around 70 of these pods every year.
  • Cacao pods are also known as Cherelles and appear green in color when they are unripe.
  • These pods take a few months, no more than six, to ripen and turn to a yellow shade.
  • The color of ripened pods may range from a bright yellow to a deep purple.
  • Several ridges run along the length of each pod which contains around 20-60 seeds inside.
  • Cacao seeds, which are also known as cocoa beans, are found with white pulp inside cacao pods.
  • The pulp covers the seeds, which are arranged inside along the long axis of each pod.
  • Animals, like monkeys, enjoy eating cacao pulp. They do not, however, like the seeds inside, which taste bitter to them.
  • The cacao tree needs high humidity and a warm climate to develop well.
  • These trees can also thrive in greenhouses under adequate conditions.
  • The optimal time to plant a cacao crop is in spring or during the fall season.
  • Cacao trees can be planted through seeds or through transplantation.
  • A cacao tree requires partial or full Sun exposure.
  • An interesting fact about cacao leaves is that the adult leaves are able to move in a horizontal or vertical direction in order to catch the light from the sun.
  • The leaves also do this in order to protect the young leaves from the other elements.
  • Too much sun can also damage the cacao crop, so, the sun should be just perfect.
  • The soil in which the cacao tree will be planted should be loamy, well-drained, and moist.
  • Mulch can be added in order to increase the moisture levels of the soil.
  • Cacao can grow in any type of soil pH, be it neutral, acidic, or alkaline.
  • Growing cacao trees must be provided with protection against harsh winds as their root system is shallow.
  • Other tree crops like palm, rubber, and banana are planted along with cacao crops to provide protection from the wind and also offer shade.
Several scientific classifications of cacao trees

Classification Of Cacao Plants

Every species on Earth has been classified scientifically to better understand unique and similar characteristics possessed by any species. Several scientific classifications of cacao trees are listed below.

  • The scientific name of the amazing cacao tree that gives us cocoa is Theobroma cacao.
  • The name is partly derived from the genus the cacao tree belongs to, which is the genus Theobroma.
  • Theobroma cacao is part of the kingdom Plantae.
  • The scientific family that Theobroma cacao is a part of is known as Malvaceae, which is a large family and also consists of other plants that have an economic utility.

Products of Cacao Plant

The species of Theobroma cacao have many uses, such as medicinal, cosmetic, and food. Yet, the most popular use of the Theobroma cacao is the famous cocoa processed from its seeds, which is, in turn, used to create yummy chocolate and other popular cocoa products.

  • When cacao pods ripen, the seeds inside them also mature.
  • For commercial purposes, cocoa seeds are removed from these pods along with the pulp.
  • Cocoa seeds are also known as cocoa beans.
  • The terms cacao and cocoa are commonly used interchangeably, however, when it comes to the seed or the bean of the crop, there is a difference between the two terms.
  • The cacao bean or seed is a natural product that has not been processed, and it is known as a raw cacao bean.
  • Cacao beans are packaged as minimally processed vegan chocolate with no additives.
  • Cocoa beans or seeds, on the other hand, are cacao beans that have been roasted and processed.
  • The processing of the cocoa bean starts right from when it is picked out of the pod.
  • Most of the time, the seeds or the beans are taken out of the pod directly by hand.
  • Then, the pulp-covered cocoa beans are put in baskets or under large banana leaves to ferment and dry.
  • Cocoa beans, which are purple in color, turn a shade of rich and dark brown after a week or so.
  • They are then washed by the farmers and set out to dry.
  • Cocoa seeds are then ready to be sold to make any of the cocoa products the buyers want.
  • Cocoa powder is made when roasted cocoa beans are grounded, and any remaining bean or seed cover is removed.
  • Cocoa powder is the main ingredient in chocolate that is enjoyed by people around the world.
  • Roasted cocoa beans can also be grounded into a liquid state which is known as chocolate liquor.
  • Cocoa solids are the dry components left when cocoa butter is removed from chocolate liquor.
  • There are three varieties of chocolate, and these are white, milk, and dark.
  • The different color of each variety of chocolate depends on the number of cocoa solids present in them.
  • White chocolate only contains cocoa butter and no chocolate liquor, which is the reason why white chocolate appears so smooth and pale.
  • Dark chocolate is also called black chocolate and comes in different flavor levels depending on the amount of cocoa present.
  • Dark chocolate became quite popular when it was revealed that there were several health benefits of eating dark chocolate.
  • Some of these health benefits include improved cardiovascular performance, lower blood pressure, and cognitive function.
  • Research has also shown that eating dark chocolate is also related to experiencing a better mood.
  • On the other hand, milk chocolate is a mixture of condensed milk and cocoa.
  • It is the most popular chocolate variety, but eating milk chocolate does not really improve or benefit our health, unlike dark chocolate.
  • In contrast, high consumption of milk chocolate is bad for our health because of the high sugar and carbohydrate content.

The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.

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