The term "Cocoa" is a corruption of "Cacao," but is almost universally used in English-speaking countries. The cacao-tree belongs to the natural order of Sterculiaceae, - a family of about 41 genera and 521 species, inhabiting the warmer regions of the world. None of them grow naturally in our climate, or in Europe, and, excepting the little yellow-flowered Mahernie, they are very seldom seen in our conservatories.
The cacao-tree can be cultivated in suitable situations within the 25th parallels of latitude. It flourishes best, however, within the 15th parallels, at elevations varying from near the sea-level up to about 2,000 feet in height. The following table contains the principal species, the places where grown, and the commercial name : -
T. bicolor . .
Brazil . .
T. Cacao (sativa)
The name of
. Central American.
Guinea . .
The name of
T. Cacao (sativa)
. Berbice. . Surinam.
T. microcarpa, T. ovalifolia
Ecuador Peru . . . Mexico . .
. Esmeralda. . Guayaquil. Soconusco.
T. speciosa . . T. sylvestris
Brazil . . . Brazil . . , Jamaica. . .
Besides the above-mentioned species, distinguished by botanists, T. Cacao, which is the most widely and largely cultivated, is divided by cocoa-planters into several varieties, the differences observed being due to the long-continued influences of varied climates, soils and modes of culture. The best of these is the Creole (or Criollo of the Spanish inhabitants of South America). The pods are small; but the nuts are thick, short, and almost globular, pale crimson in color, and of slightly bitter but agreeable flavor. This variety is becoming scarce, chiefly through the bad policy of replacing decayed trees by inferior specimens. The next variety is the For astero, the best kinds of which are the Cundeamar, of two descriptions, one with yellow, the other with red pods. The former is the better, containing large seeds which, in color and the ease with which they are fermented, resemble the Criollo. The third variety is the Amelonado; and the fourth and lowest is the Calabacillo, whose seeds are small, bitter, and of a dark crimson color.
All the varieties except the Criollo, which is probably confined to Venezuela, are known collectively as Trinitario, or "Trinidad," - the best being but little inferior to Criollo in the matter of quality, and superior on the score of fruitfulness. Hence Trinidad forms the principal nursery from which plants or seeds are procured for new plantations.
The various kinds of cocoa may be placed in about the following order of merit: Soconusco (Mexico) and Esmeralda, (Ecuador), mostly, it is said, consumed at home; Caracas and Puerto Cabello (Venezuela); Trinitario; Magdalena and Car-thagena, New Granada; Para; Bahia.1
The British West Indies appear to take the lead among the producers for exportation; Ecuador stands second, Venezuela third, and Brazil fourth. The larger part of the Brazilian crop goes to France; and the larger part of the Ecuadorian to Spain.
A French officer who served in the West Indies for a period of fifteen years, during the early part of the last century, wrote, as the result of his personal observations, a treatise on "The Natural History of Chocolate, being a distinct and particular Account of the Cacao-Tree, its Growth and Culture,
1 Spon's Encyclopaedia, etc., Div. II.
and the Preparation, Excellent Properties, and Medicinal Virtues of its Fruit," which received the approbation of the Regent of the Faculty of Medicine at Paris, and which was translated and published in London in 1730.
From this rare and valuable little work the following extracts are made: "The cacao-tree almost all the year bears fruit of all ages, which ripens successively, but never grows on the end of little branches, as our fruits in Europe do, but along the trunk and chief boughs, which is not rare in these countries, where several trees do the like. Such an unusual appearance would seem strange in the eyes of Europeans, who have never seen anything of that kind; but, if one examines the matter a little, the philosophical reason of this disposition is very obvious. One may easily apprehend that if nature had placed such bulky fruit at the ends of the branches their great weight must necessarily break them, and the fruit would fall before it came to maturity.
"The fruit is contained in a husk, or shell, which, from an exceedingly small beginning, attains in the space of four months to the bigness and shape of a cucumber. The lower end is sharp, and furrowed lengthwise like a melon. This shell in the first months is either red or-white, or a mixture of red and yellow. This variety of colors makes three sorts of cacao-trees, which have nothing else to distinguish them but this. ... If one cleaves one of these shells lengthways it will appear almost half an inch thick, and its capacity full of chocolate kernels the intervals of which, before they are ripe, are filled with a hard white substance, which at length turns into a mucilage of a very grateful acidity. For this reason it is common for people to take some of the kernels with their covers and hold them in their mouths, which is mighty refreshing, and proper to quench thirst.
But they take heed of biting them, because the films of the kernels are extremely bitter. "When one nicely examines the inward structure of these shells, and anatomizes, as it were, all their parts, one shall find that the fibres of the stalk of the fruit passing through the shell are divided into five branches; that each of these branches is subdivided into several filaments, every one of which terminates at the larger end of these kernels, and altogether resembles a bunch of grapes, containing from twenty to thirty-five single ones, or more, ranged and placed in an admirable order. When one takes off the film that covers one of the kernels the substance of it appears, which is tender, smooth, and inclining to violet color, and is seemingly divided into several lobes, though in reality they are but two; but very irregular and difficult to be disengaged from each other."
An interesting supplement to this description of the product in the West Indies, written more than a century and a half ago, will be found in the following report, made last year to the State Department at Washington, by the U.S. Consul at La Guayra, in relation to the cultivation of cocoa in Venezuela, where the choicest variety of the exported product, the Caracas, is raised:"The tree grows to the average height of thirteen feet, and from five to eight inches in diameter, is of spreading habit and healthy growth, and, although requiring much more care and attention than the coffee-tree, yet its equally reliable crops require comparatively little labor in properly preparing for the market.