Cocoa tree (Teobroma cacao)

Food of the gods

Look up. The cocoa tree produces fruit all year round. Ripe fruits are orange. The seeds, or beans, within the fruit are used to make cocoa.

The roots of drinking cocoa go back to ancient Mexico, where cocoa could be drunk only by the wealthy elites and the gods. This ancient drink was made of roasted and ground cocoa beans, cornmeal, chili and boiling water. The Latin name of the plant, Theobroma, means food of the gods. Cocoa beans were also used as currency.

The Spanish brought hot cocoa to Europe in the 16th century, notably before coffee and tea became popular. Cocoa beans contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. So don’t be surprised if eating a chocolate bar results in heart palpitations and feelings of addiction. The darker the chocolate, the more potent its stimulating effects.

Chocolate is actually a fairly recent invention. In the 19th century, the Dutch C.J. van Houten developed a press that could separate fat, or cocoa butter, from cocoa beans, resulting in cocoa powder. When the butter and powder were mixed together with sugar, powdered milk and vanilla, the result was chocolate.

Ripe fruits and small white flowers on a cocoa tree.
The fruits are orange when ripe and green when raw.
Raw fruits of a cocoa tree.
The flowers have a dung-like smell.