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Raw cocoa -                 the story

Cocoa – what is it really? Where does it come from?


Cocoa powder is extracted from the seeds found inside the pods of the cacao tree. The seeds are called “cocoa” and the name comes from the Mayan language that reached Spanish by way of Aztec. The Maya discovered the cacao tree as an economically useful plant in Central America around 1500 B.C. The Aztecs already knew cocoa by the 13th century and they regarded it as a “gift of the gods”.


For the Aztecs, cocoa was always more than food: An indulgence, a valuable cosmetic and even stable currency. In the 15th century, Spaniards brought cocoa to the European royal houses. From there, it started its triumphant progress as an “exotic” foodstuff and drink to be indulged in.


As the drink became increasingly popular in Europe, the tree was cultivated on an industrial scale in the European colonies of Central America and the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th century. Cocoa cultivation also started in Africa in the 19th and 20th century. Nowadays, the Ivory Coast has the largest cacao tree plantations.


Cacao trees can reach a height of 15 meters, but owing to their economic usefulness they are pruned to at least 5 meters for better harvesting. The fruit (pod) of the cacao tree weighs about 500 grams and contains up to 50 cocoa beans in addition to the fruit flesh, the main component.


Untreated cocoa beans contain a high proportion of bitter substances that cannot yet be compared to chocolate. To reduce the quantity of these bitter substances, the first processing step is carried out, namely the so-called “fermentation”:

Once the fruit of the cacao tree is opened, it starts fermenting very quickly. The 2-week fermentation takes the bitter substances away from the cocoa beans, which now get the well-known cocoa aroma and their typical brownish coloring. Afterwards, the beans are dried and lose about 50% of their initial size.


Linen bags are filled with the dried cocoa beans and shipped to the cocoa-processing centers that are located mainly in Europe and North America. There, the actual cocoa mass is made from the cocoa beans and this mass subsequently becomes the basic substance from which all other chocolate products are made.


For a long time, cocoa and chocolate products were semi-luxurious foods, affordable and available only for aristocrats, high ecclesiastical dignitaries and privileged citizens. At the start of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution transformed the chocolate drink to an available, but still expensive, mass product. Later, the first chocolate bars were offered for sale in ever larger batches. Until the 1950s, chocolate was a truly exclusive product consumed only on special occasions and not excessively.