There are several small trees which belong to the genus Theobroma. These yield the seeds from which cocoa is made. The tree known as "Theobroma Cocoa" yields by far the greatest quantity and the most valuable of that found in commerce. The cocoa tree does not grow high. It seldom exceeds sixteen to eighteen feet, but grows higher in the native forests than it does under cultivation. This tree, like the fig, has flowers and fruit in different stages of growth at the same time. The ripe bean-bearing pod is from seven to ten inches in diameter. The thick purplish yellow rind is hard and leathery. The surface is marked with ten very distinct longitudinal elevations. Each pod contains from twenty to forty seeds, or sometimes more. These are imbedded in the delicately pink acid pulp which fills the interior of the pod, and are arranged in five longitudinal rows.
Cocoa Pods and Leaves
The cocoa tree begins to bear the third or fourth year, but does not attain its full vigor until the eighth year. Under favorable circumstances, it should continue prolific for thirty or forty years.
The cocoa gatherers cut off the ripe pods only by the use of curved knives on the ends of long poles. The fruit is left lying in heaps on the ground for twenty-four hours. The pods are then opened, and the seeds removed and carried in baskets to the sweating sheds. The seeds are freed from the pulp, and the acid juice drained off. Then they are placed in sweating boxes, where they are allowed to remain for some time, the air about them being kept at a certain temperature. Sometimes they are buried in trenches. The process of sweating is then called "clay-ing."
Cocoa Pot and Cups
When the fermenting has proceeded far enough, the seeds are dried in the sun. The process of curing gives beans of the best quality a warm, reddish tint. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, Venezuela produces the finest beans of any country. This product is known in commerce as "Caracas Cocoa." The best quality of cocoa beans resemble plump almonds in size and shape.
The husks are a brick red color, and the seed is easily broken, and falls into many irregular pieces when crushed. The kernels are astringent in taste, and have a mild, agreeable flavor. Different beans vary somewhat both in chemical composition and character. The following is given by Payen as the average composition:
Fat (cocoa butter) 52 parts in 100.
Nitrogenous compounds, 20 parts in 100.
Starch, 10 parts in 100.
Cellulose, 2 parts in 100.
Theobromine, 2 parts in 100.
Saline substances, 4 parts in 100.
Water, 10 parts in 100.
Cocoa red, traces.
Essential oil, traces.
Theobromine is the alkaloid of cocoa, and has the same physiological value as the theine of tea and coffee. The fat which is pressed from the bean is white and solid at ordinary temperatures. It has a pleasant taste and odor, and is remarkably free from any tendency to become rancid.
Cocoa nibs are a simple and usually a pure form of manufactured cocoa. They are simply the shelled roasted bean, broken up. When the nibs are ground up into a coarse uniform paste, they form what is known as "cocoa flakes." This can be much more easily disintegrated by cooking than the nibs can. In making extract of cocoa, a portion of the fat is removed from the bean, and it is then reduced to an extremely fine powder. This forms a drink more agreeable to some stomachs than the nibs or flakes because the fat is not present. The preparations which are sold in the powdered forms offer a fine opportunity for adulteration. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, most of these preparations, whether sold as cocoa or chocolate, are mixtures of various substances with ground nibs, the object of the mixture being to mask the presence of the cocoa fat, and render the whole readily miscible with boiling water.
The ordinary distinction between soluble cocoa and chocolate is that the cocoa is usually sold in the form of a powder, the chocolate being made up in cakes, which require to be scraped down, boiled, and frothed before being ready for drinking.
The finely-ground cocoa, while still a warm and pasty mass, can be easily adulterated by mixing thoroughly with it arrow root, sugar, etc. Cocoa shells are also sometimes used to adulterate cocoa.
Bulletin No. 13, United States Department of Agriculture, Division of Chemistry, says: "There is probably no more abused or misleading term in the English language than the term 'soluble cocoa.' No cocoa in the market contains a very considerable percentage of matter soluble in water unless the material so dissolved is foreign soluble material that has been added during the process of preparation. The term seems to be used to denote a preparation that allows none of the insoluble matter to deposit from the beverage prepared from it. This purpose may be accomplished in two ways, - the material may be so finely divided that a very long time will be required for its deposition, or foreign substances (as starch or sugar) may be added to render the liquid of so high a specific gravity, or so pasty, that the insoluble part will not deposit."
The best sweet chocolates are combinations of chocolate and sugar alone, flavored with some aromatic sub-stance, usually vanilla. Into the cheaper grades some starchy substance often enters. The nibs for chocolate are brought to a pasty state in a heated mill, and the sugar, with whatever else is added, is thus thoroughly incorporated in the milling process. The paste is further mixed by passing several times between horizontal rollers. It is at last put into a mold, and when cooled is ready for wrapping.