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About Chocolate
Cocoa Pods

Cocoa Pods

Criollo Cacao Pod
Forastero Cacao Pod
Trinitario Cacao Pod
Pure National Cacao Pod


Before it becomes candy, chocolate is an agricultural crop. Cacao bean trees (Theobroma) grow in tropical rain forest plantations. Methods of production, processing, and the treatment of farm workers vary enormously from plantation to plantation.

Most cacao beans come from the Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria. Cameroon, and Brazil. Smaller export countries include Ecuador, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Mexico. The work conditions of the farm workers range from indentured servitude to fair treatment of workers with attention to economically sustainable trade practices. Maya visits cacao plantations and makes sure that every one of her chocolates reflects fair sustainable farming practices.

Cacao beans vary distinctly depending on the cacao variety, growing conditions, terroir, and production methods. Comparison tasting is the best way to learn a particular chocolate’s flavor traits and develop your sensitivity to quality and subtle variations in character.

So before you do your chocolate shopping, join Maya Schoop-Rutten, owner of chocolate Maya for a memorable tasting of single origin chocolate and her delectable truffles. Learn more about how chocolate is grown and produced and what to look for when you buy chocolate.


There are over 20 different Theobroma species. About 15 of these are harvested for edible pulp or seeds, but Theobroma cacao is the most highly-prized species.

Origin and Distribution
Native to the central and western Amazon, cacao trees now grow throughout the humid tropics, within a band 22 degrees above and 22 degrees below the Equator.

Botanical Description
Fast-growing cacao trees reach an average of about 20-30 feet tall. Their light to dark green leaves are soft, and pliable. New growth stands out in shades of pink to red.

Clusters of small white flowers grow on both the branches and the trunk of the tree. The hanging fruits (cacao pods) that follow are 5-10 inches long and about 2-3 inches across. These green or dark purple pods begin to appear when the tree is 2 to 3 years old. Some trees produce pods year round.

Depending on the variety, the pods may be elongated or rounded. The smooth or ridged hard-shelled pods turn bright red, yellow, or orange as they ripen. If left on the tree, the pods turn black before they fall to the ground.

Each pod harvested from the tree branches and trunk contains 20-70 beans (seeds). The cacao beans rest in a delicious cream-colored, acidic, aromatic pulp, which aids the fermentation process.

Cacao beans need to be fermented, dried, roasted, and ground to become the primary ingredient in chocolate as we know it.

Each of the four major varieties of cacao beans has its own underlying flavor profile:

  • Criollo: Grown largely in Central America, Criollo trees produce thin-shelled yellow or red pods that contain large round white or light purple beans. Considered the highest quality cacao bean, these beans have low astringency with complex mild, nutty, sweet flavor notes.  However, due to its low yield and susceptibility to disease, the Criollo is not widely cultivated .
  • Forastero: About 80% of the world’s of cacao beans come from these highly-productive trees. Grown largely in South America and West Africa, the thick-shelled yellow pods contain flat purple beans. Forastero beans produce a strong cacao flavor with a bitter note.
  • Trinitario: Grown in all cacao regions of the world, Trinitario  originated in Trinidad as a hybrid of the Criollo and Forastero varieties. Trinitario combines the higher quality aromatic flavor of Criollo with the hardiness and productivity of Forastero. Tasters describe spicy, earthy, and fruity flavor notes.
  • Nacional: Grown in Ecuador and Peru, this bean is believed to be a rare rediscovered member of the Forastero family thought to be extinct. Some pods produce unusual lower-acid white cacao beans that turn brown when roasted. The Nacional bean has a full cacao flavor with floral and spicy notes.

Grown primarily to make chocolate from the bean, people in the tropics also use the delicious pulp in various forms—sweet drinks, jellies, and alcoholic potions.

Cocoa butter (the fat contained in the cacao bean) is widely in cosmetics and pharamaceuticals—for example, to heal bruises. The beans also contain theobromine, an alkaloid used as a diuretic and to lower blood pressure. Antioxident cocoa flavonoids are found in the dried beans may have anti-inflammatory properties as well as promote cardiovascular and immune health. Flavonoids reduce the bloods ability to clot, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Cocoa butter in dark chocolate does not raise blood cholesterol, however some chocolates contain added fats or milk fat. Chocolate Maya selects chocolates that contain no added fats except the milk fat in milk chocolate.

The carbohydrates in cacao beans come in the form of starch, soluble and insoluble dietary fiber and a small amount of simple sugar. Sugar is added in the manufacture of chocolate but the higher the percentage of cocoa, the less added sugar.

The amount of caffeine in chocolate is far less than that found in a cup of coffee, tea, or colas. Phenylethylamine found in chocolate acts as a stimulant similar to the dopamine and adrenaline produced by the body. Seratonin in chocolate can increase seratonin in the brain. Seratonin levels are often lower in people experiencing PMS or depression.

Cocoa beans contain essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese. Vitamin content includes A, B1, B2, B3, C, E, and pantothenic acid.

Nutrients Per 100 Grams of Cacao Powder
Carbohydrates – 16.5 grams
Protein – 21.5 grams
Fat – 11 grams
Dietary fiber – 34 grams
Polyphenols – 7 to 18 grams
Theobromine – 2.5 grams
Caffeine – 0.1 grams
Potassium – 2 grams
Calcium – 150 grams
Magnesium – 550 grams
Phosphorous – 700 grams

To Your Health!