Cacao, a tree of the genus theobroma, belonging to the natural order sterculiacece, the seeds or beans of which furnish the cocoa of commerce. It is called by the Mexicans choco-lat, from which comes the English chocolate. It is indigenous in Central and South America, and in the "West India islands, sometimes forming whole forests, and is extensively cultivated in tropical countries between lat. 25° N. and 25° S., flourishing best between the 15th parallels, and growing at an elevation of 600 ft. above the sea. It is an evergreen, producing fruit and flowers throughout the year. If unchecked, the tree attains a height of about 30 ft., and resembles in size and shape a black-heart cherry tree. The leaves are smooth and oblong, terminating in a sharp point. The flowers, which are small, appear in clusters, and are composed of five sepals, five petals, and five stamens with double anthers. The fruit resembles a short, thick cucumber, 5 or 6 in. long and 3 1/2 in diameter, varies in color according to the season from bright yellow to red and purple, and contains 20 to 40 beans. These are arranged in a pulp of a pinkish white color, in five rows. Their size is commonly about that of a sweet almond, but thicker.

In this respect, however, there is a great difference in the trees of different countries. In Central America the fruit is much larger, being from 7 to 9 in. in length and 3 to 4 in diameter, and contains from 40 to 50 seeds; in the West India islands, and in Berbice and Deme-rara, it is so small as to contain only from 6 to 15 seeds. The rind of the fruit is smooth, thick, tough, and tasteless. The pulp which encloses the beans is a sweet, slightly acid substance, something like that of the watermelon, and is used for food. The fruit matures for gathering in June and December. The beans when separated from the pulp and dried in the sun are ready for the market; but in some countries they are placed in large tubs and covered for the purpose of undergoing a slight fermentation, by which they lose some moisture and a portion of their bitter and acrid qualities. While fermenting, they are regularly stirred every morning. The same object is attained in Mexico and elsewhere by burying the beans in pits in the earth, and they are finally sun-dried. The best beans when gathered are full, plump, and shining. The shell is of a dark brown color, thin and brittle, and furnishes the cocoa shells of commerce.

The kernel is divided into several unequal parts slightly adhering together, and having an agreeable aroma and a slightly bitter but pleasant taste. The seeds yield by expression an oil that is very nutritive and acts as an anodyne; but the tree is cultivated for cocoa and chocolate, and the best producing plantations are in the West Indies, New Granada, Ecua dor, and Brazil.

Theobroma cacao.

Theobroma cacao.