Other Names: Cocoa, Chocolate tree
Cacao is is a small (4–8 m tall) evergreen tree, growing best with some overhead shade. The leaves are alternate, entire, unlobed, 10–40 cm long and 5–20 cm broad.The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; they are small, 1–2 cm diameter, with pink calyx. The fruit, called a cacao pod, is ovoid, 15–30 cm long and 8–10 cm wide, ripening yellow to orange, and weighs about 500 g when ripe. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called 'beans', embedded in a white pulp. Cocoa is the dried and partially fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree from which chocolate is made. The seeds by itself has an extremely bitter flavour.
The uses of cocoa beans are numerous. Chocolate or cocoa powder is mixed into cakes, ice creams, creams, cookies, or drinks as a natural flavour.One of the most common forms of cocoa is the chocolate or candy bar. It is also available in chocolate syrup, used as an ice cream topping or to make chocolate milk.
Cocoa has about twice as many antioxidants as does red wine, and up to three times more than green tea. Antioxidants are thought to be healthful compounds. Several chocolate manufacturers are beginning to offer chocolate products with guaranteed levels of these antioxidants, called polyphenols.
Cacao is adapted to a humid tropical climate. Trees grow best with light shade, but will grow well in full sun with adequate soil moisture. In its natural habitat, cacao is found growing as a forest understory tree.
Cacao grows best in fertile, well drained soils.
Propagation is by seeds, airlayers, cuttings or grafts. Seeds germinate in 5 – 10 days, but lose viability quickly if they dry out. Seedlings should be grown under 50% shade. Cacao may be cleft or patch grafted. Growth is rapid and fruiting occurs 2-3 years from planting.