Africa and Chocolate

Africa and Chocolate


66% of the world's chocolate comes from Africa.


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Where does chocolate come from? It does grow on trees. It all starts with a small tropical tree, the Theobroma cacao, usually called simply, "cacao". Theobroma is Greek for "food of the gods" Cacao is native to Central and South America, but it is grown commercially throughout the tropics. About 70% of the world's cacao is grown in Africa.

A cacao tree can produce close to two thousand pods per year. The ridged, football-shaped pod, or fruit, of the cacao, grows from the branches and, oddly, straight out of the trunk. The pods, which mature throughout the year, encase a sticky white pulp and about 30 or 40 seeds. The pulp is both sweet and tart; it is eaten and used in making drinks. The seeds were you to bite into one straight out of the pod, are incredibly bitter. Not at all like the chocolate that comes from them.

It's a perfect design. The fruit attracts forest animals, like monkeys, who eat the fruit but cast the seeds aside, dispersing them and allowing new trees to sprout up. (One of my favorite memories of a recent trip to Costa Rica was watching monkeys eating in a "chocolate" tree.) It's hard to imagine why humans ever thought to do anything with the seeds.

What is it that we do with these seeds, which we call beans, to answer the question "Where does chocolate come from?" First, the pods must be harvested, which is usually done twice a year. Because the trees are too fragile to climb, harvesting is accomplished by workers on the ground, who wield either a machete or a long pole with a machete on the end. Then, workers open the pods by hand, taking care not to damage the beans inside.


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