Chocolate comes from cocoa beans (seeds) of the cacao plant. These beans were previously used by Aztecs but now have been widely used by people worldwide.
History of Cocoa
We all have used cocoa powder in desserts at least once. But have you ever wondered what goes behind all the extraction and where they come from?
Cocoa beans, also known as cacao beans, come from the Theobroma cacao tree that mainly grows within 20 degrees of the equator. These seeds can be found inside white fleshy pulp known as Baba which grows inside pods.
The reason why you are likely to see them near Africa is that cocoa only thrives in hotter climates like (65-90°F) at lower elevations. As cocoa trees prefer to grow under shade, they are always planted under larger fruit trees like mangoes or hardwoods.
Long before cocoa seeds were used for chocolate, it was first developed as a crop in ancient South American cultures by the Aztecs and Mayans. Here, an average cacao tree produces 30 to 40 cacao pods a year which then gets harvested two times a year. Being 15 to 25 feet tall, these cocoa trees thrive better in slightly rainy climates. Therefore, many countries excel at harvesting cocoa beans.
In what countries is cocoa produced?
Now that you know these cocoa seeds grow in tropical climates and have billions dollar industry business, only a few countries are lucky enough to produce these. Here are the top countries where cocoa is produced.
1. Cote D’Ivoire Cocoa
Located in West Africa, Cote D’Ivoire is the largest producer of cocoa beans in the world. In fact, now Côte D’Ivoire contributes to 40% of the total export revenue of their national economy.
Just like how cocoa prefers; it is located in the tropical region.
Now, the country exports 2 million tons of cocoa, from which an average cocoa farmer earns 97 cents per day. The country mainly relies on the price and availability of cocoa to keep up with the demands.
2. Ghana Cocoa
After Côte D’Ivoire, Ghana makes up the second-largest producer of cocoa in the world. This production makes up 30% of the country’s economy where 800,000 Ghanaian farmers are dedicated to cocoa cultivation.
Just like in Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana is also commonplace for most child labour cases, especially during the production of cocoa.
During the analysis done between 2010 to 2015, 100 thousand hectares of forest were used for cocoa cultivation and the number seems to increase right after that.
That’s not it; thanks to the high demand for cocoa, Ghana has actually increased its cocoa production from 200,000 tonnes to 400,000 tonnes in 2019 where the majority of the value is generated abroad.
This allows them to solely focus on production and cultivate more every year.
3. Indonesia Cocoa
Although 70% of the total cocoa production comes from Africa, Indonesia makes up only a tiny part of the 30% of production that happens elsewhere. Indonesia cocoa is relatively new to the business and has barely contributed to the production until the 1980s, where it hit the market like a bang!
The country made a record for producing a whopping 849,875 tonnes of cocoa in the 2010s but fell behind after its decline in 2015 where they only produced 400,000 tonnes.
The main reason behind this decline is the ageing cocoa plants, increasing level of cadmium in Indonesian cocoa and government policies that restrict farmers to make the most out of what they have.
Neighbouring Nigeria, Cameroon has devoted 37% of the primary income from the production of cocoa beans in the country. Although it is known as the fourth-largest producer of cocoa now the future of this position seems to be in doubt.
The lack of maintenance and old farm makes it unsustainable decisions they have made. Another fact that contributes to their unpredictable future is the issue of deforestation.
The Cameroonian government has recognised the risks that deforestation has on the country and the emerging issues that come with growing cocoa all while preserving their precious forests.
5. Ivory Coast Cocoa
Growing cocoa is no easy job. The amount of care that it requires only calls for labour-intensive duties. Luckily, the cocoa plant bears fruits and produces cocoa beans throughout the year. This makes it easier for countries like Ivory Coast to produce large cocoa pods and extract cocoa butter and cocoa powder in bulk.
After their independence in 1960, the Ivory Coast government devoted most of their resources into perfectly one job that they excelled at the most—cocoa.
As the long term perk of this decision, the country now produces 2 million tonnes of cocoa every year, making it more than 40% of the world’s market.
Nigeria is also one of the biggest exporters of cocoa beans known today. by producing 300,000 tonnes per year, just like with Cameroon, Nigeria’s future doesn’t seem to be on the brighter side.
As they are yet to take full advantage of the cash crop, their progress might drop in the next few years.
The main reason that led to this condition is the old farm and farmers which are making all of their methods obsolete. The chemicals they are using to harvest cocoa beans are doing more harm than good and their projection line is only limited in variety.
In fact, it has gotten to a point that if Nigerians don’t diversify their cocoa production to other types like cocoa liquor, powder, and cocoa butter, the cultivation of cocoa may even cease by 2040.
7. Brazil Cocoa
In the 1980s, Brazil produced more than 430,000 tons of cocoa beans. However, after that, you get to see a decline in their cultivation which results in the production of only 200,000 tonnes of cocoa beans per year. The significant decline mainly results from a deadly fungal disease called Witches’ Broom, followed by a crisis in the production sector.
This is the main reason why Brazil went from the second-largest producer of cocoa beans to the seventh after the early 1980s.
8. Ecuador cocoa
West Africa’s love affair with cocoa dates back to the 16th century when the Aztec ruler Montezuma indulged in a spicy chocolate drink called “xocolatl”, or as some people like to call it “The Mayan Food Of The Gods”.
However, what really got chocolate the fame is when it was mixed with sugar and went fad in Europe. The native cocoa beans are also known as “Arriba” or “Nacional”.
This name has been derived from the location the beans were originally discovered from. Simply put, Arriba, in general means “upriver” which refers to the plantations that are located in the Guayas river flowing all the way to the port of Guayaquil.
9. Peru cocoa
Peru makes it out of the ninth-largest producers of cocoa beans known today.
Producing 71,175 tonnes of cocoa per year. Around 70% of the cocoa that Peru produces gets exported to other counties from which 50,000 Peruvians earn a living.
These farmers have an average of two hectares of land available for each that eventually adds up to make 40,000 total hectares that are used for cultivating cocoa beans.
The country always strives to try out different methods to add variety and productivity to their procedures and make themselves stand above the rest.
10. Colombia Cocoa
Colombia has one of the finest cocoa beans available in the world. 95% of Columbia’s cocoa exports are known to be “Fine Flavour”.
An average farmer from Colombia has over 3.5 hectares of land for the cultivation of these delicious beans and makes a living for themselves because of this cocoa.
The country has undergone countless internal conflicts but the income generated from the exports has been a true lifesaver for all Columbians.
Thanks to the dedication and zeal towards improvement, we can surely see the chocolate market has exceeded $115 billion in 2020 and is on its way to boost the figures in no time.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do cocoa beans become chocolate?
Before we get into the details, let’s get the fundamentals straight. Cocoa beans are the seeds of cocoa tree fruits that are known as the main ingredient behind most of the desserts eaten today.
These beans make up the centre of the cocoa bean which then gets extracted, fermented, dried and roasted to turn it into a fine powder, paste or liquid.
When we specifically talk about the liquid formulation, there is a lot that goes behind making cocoa beans into chocolate.
The beans first get fermented and the dried cocoa beans later get roasted by winnowing. Later, the mixture gets smelted to turn into liquor.
After that, this liquid chocolate gets stored and transported to factories for further commercial work. Here the manufacturers blend chocolate with sugar and milk and wrap them to get the final product.
Coming to cocoa powder, this is the second product that comes after pressing the chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. During this process, the cocoa butter gets separated from the actual liquid cocoa that later turns into the cocoa powder known today.
The raw cocoa has an intense bitter taste which usually gets alkalized or ‘dutched’ to neutralise its acidity and sweet flavours get added to make it edible.
Is chocolate made from cocoa plants?
As a general rule of thumb, chocolate comes from a cacao tree known as Theobroma Cacao.
These are highly delicate trees that need constant care, shade and protection during the early years. In order to get the final product from bitter cocoa to chocolate, a long process involves fermenting, roasting and mixing to help you get the scrumptious taste that melts in your mouth.
The liquid that is originally extracted from the cool can also be processed as cocoa solids and cocoa butter for added variety. But that is not the whole truth.
The chocolate that you get at your doorsteps comes with a blend of different types of chocolates, cultivated from different countries to bring you the most irresistible flavours.
Depending on the brand you go for, they all have highly guarded secrets that distinguish one chocolate from the other.
Are cocoa and chocolate the same?
Cocoa and chocolate are basically the same things but in two different levels of production, hence the different names. You can think of cocoa as the purer form of chocolate that hasn’t been touched by anyone yet.
In general, your average chocolate consists of two components: Coca and cocoa butter. Cocoa solids are used for flavouring, while cocoa butter gives the rich texture of this delicious chocolate.
If you are looking for more of a chocolatey flavour, cocoa powder can be your best bet as it only contains 10 to 12% while unsweetened chocolate contains 55% cocoa butter.
So the bigger bursts of chocolatey cocoa powder are always recommended for your regular desserts.
What happens to the cocoa beans?
As the fruits directly extracted have a bitter taste, it needs to be effectively fermented to bring it to the condition that is not only edible but tastes great too.
Here, they remove the shell of the cocoa bean to produce cocoa nibs and mass to form its liquid form. This new formulation gets converted into commercial solid chocolates, cocoa butter and other forms of liquid chocolate to add variety for all the chocolate lovers out there.
The best part about cocoa beans is that depending on the fermenting process, they can be used as a skincare product or something to satisfy our taste buds. Regardless of the type, cocoa beans have never failed to be an important part of our everyday life.
All in all, as you have already seen (or should I say read) from this guide, chocolate is made from cocoa beans. However, the process isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.
From the initial extraction and fermenting of the cacao plants to the final product, cocoa liquor makes it to the $178.11 billion industry that is making its mark in delicious confectionery, bars, and chocolate cakes to satisfy your sweet tooth.