Where does chocolate come from?Chocolate is one of the oldest cultivated plants. Cocoa originated in the Amazon basin in South America and traveled north as far as Mexico. Indigenous tribes believed the gods planted it. Aztecs and Mayans first created xocolatl a hot chocolate drink often mixed with vanilla or chili peppers. Today, Americans consume 11.7 pounds of chocolate per person each year.
Cocoa is the world's 3rd most traded agricultural product after coffee and sugar. Cocoa comes from Cacao trees. Theobroma cacao needs a humid climate with a lot of rain. They grow best in the partial shade of large rainforest trees. Cocoa beans come from the cacao tree. The cocoa belt is found exclusively around the equator, with most cacao trees growing within 10* of the equator. Cocoa beans were so highly valued they were used as money until the 1800's.
The cacao treeThe cacao tree is an evergreen that grows to be 15-25 feet tall. The fruit, which is called a pod, grows directly from the trunk and can reach 4-12 inches in length. The pods ripen into a variety of colors such as red, yellow and purple. Each pod contains 20-60 cocoa beans, enclosed by sweet pulp. Because cacao trees tolerate the shade of taller rainforest trees, the rainforest does not need to be destroyed to grow cocoa. Each tree produces only 50-60 pods a year, yielding 15-20 pounds of beans.