Cocoa Bean: Everything You Need to Know!

The cocoa tree is particularly delicate and sensitive, requiring wind shelter and shade, especially in its early years. Some strains can bear fruit after three or four years.

Growing cocoa is arduous manual labour, as caring for and harvesting the beans demands close and continual attention. Throughout the year, the cocoa tree flowers and bears fruit.

It produces thick cocoa pods that must be removed from the trees with machetes or clubs. Each cocoa pod includes 20 to 30 seeds that are surrounded by a sweet white pulp – these are the actual cocoa beans. A kilo of cocoa requires a whole year’s production from a single tree.

Since cocoa pods don’t mature at the same time, the trees should be constantly monitored. Cocoa is also a very fragile crop, directly affected by climate variability and vulnerable to diseases and pests. After harvesting, the ripe pods must be sliced apart with machetes and the beans extracted.

The beans must next be fermented, dried, cleaned, and packed. The growers are ready to sell the product to middlemen once the beans have been wrapped into cocoa sacks.

Intermediaries purchase raw bean sacks and resell them to exporters.

How do cocoa trees grow?

The cocoa tree requires a minimum temperature of 68°C-70°C and a maximum temperature of 90°C to thrive. A significant amount of rainfall is also required (about 1250mm to 3000mm per year), with a dry period of no more than 3 months.

Types of cocoa

The trees yield four main varieties;

1. Criollo 

Criollo means “local to a region” in Spanish, and these are the indigenous cocoa plants that initially grew in the Amazon basin. The cocoa produced by these trees is generally regarded as of the highest quality, with the cocoa described as fine and aromatic, with less of a conventional chocolate flavor but rich in secondary flavor notes and scent.

However, these plants account for only about 1-2% of global cocoa production. They are native to Central and South America, but they have a low yield and are highly susceptible to diseases and pests, making them unsuitable for large-scale cocoa production.

2. Forastero

Contrarily to Criollo, Forastero is a robust breed that is preferred for large-scale cocoa production because of its high yield and disease resistance. Forastero means “stranger or foreigner” in Spanish, as the Spanish colonists considered the Criollo type to be native and all other cocoa plants to be foreign. This is the most common type of cocoa, and it grows in Africa and Brazil.

3. Trinitario

Trinitario is a cross between Forastero and Criollo. According to history, the Trinitario tree arose on the island of Trinidad in 1727 after a hurricane nearly destroyed the Criollo crops.

Considering that all Criollo crops had died, Forastero was planted in their place, but a spontaneous hybrid developed, which may explain why Trinitario cocoa plants have the best of both prior species.

The tree is more resilient than Criollo yet yields darker, more complex chocolate beans than Forastero. Trinitario is now grown all over the world, accounting for about 5% of total production.

4. The Nacional 

This crop is primarily grown in South America west of the Andes. It is susceptible to disease and difficult to grow, yet it has a wonderful perfume.

Where Do Cocoa Beans Grow?

Cocoa beans are grown in tropical locations around the Equator, where the temperature is hot and humid and ideal for cultivating cocoa trees. Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon account for 70% of the world’s cocoa bean production.

Cocoa does not grow in Europe, with the exception of Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, due to the growing circumstances.

The Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the two major cocoa producers, producing more than half of the world’s cocoa. Other cocoa-producing countries include Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, and Ecuador.

90% of cocoa farmed globally grow on smaller family farms of 2 to 5 hectares, with only 5% grown on huge estates of 40 hectares or more. Cocoa production employs 40 to 50 million farmers, rural workers, and their families in the Global South. Cocoa is the principal source of revenue for up to 90% of farmers in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

From the forest to the sack.

What are the top 10 producing countries of cocoa?

Cocoa is cultivated in over 

  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Ghana
  • Indonesia
  • Nigeria
  • Cameroon
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • Dominican Republics

Does Chocolate Come From Cocoa Beans?

Cacao beans or trees, accurately described as Theobroma Cacao, are used to make chocolate. Cacao tree seeds have a bitter taste and must be fermented before they can be consumed. The beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted after fermentation.

Cacao nibs are made by removing the shell of the cocoa bean. The nibs are then processed into a crude form of pure chocolate. This cocoa mass is normally in the form of a liquid called chocolate liquor, which is then combined with additional ingredients to make commercial chocolate. The liquor can also be further processed to get cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

What is the process of making chocolate?

The first crucial step in achieving the natural flavors of the beans is fermentation. The primary function of fermentation is to reduce acidity while also developing a rich chocolate flavor. The fermentation process changes the flavor to that which we identify with cocoa and chocolate.

There will be no chocolate flavor without the fermentation process. Depending on the type of cacao, the fermentation process might take anywhere from two to eight days. Unfermented cocoa bean chocolate does not have the same body and richness as fermented cocoa bean chocolate.

Each cocoa bean has a white, mucilage-like layer around it. Cocoa sweatings, the pale yellowish liquid that pours from cocoa fermentation, are a breakdown product of the mucilage that surrounds the cocoa bean. 

Despite getting thrown away most of the time, the liquid has been discovered to be a suitable medium for the creation of wines, alcohol, marmalade, jam, and syrup.

During the first 48 hours, the yeast and sugar in the pulp surrounding the beans are turned into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Microorganisms are most likely transferred to the beans by insects such as the Drosophila melanogaster, or vinegar fly.

At the end of the 48-hour period, the aerobic phase begins. As the beans are turned, aeration promotes the growth of aerobic bacteria, which convert alcohol to acetic acid. Temperatures begin to soar to 50 degrees Celsius at this point.

Heat, alcohol, and acetic acid kill the cocoa bean’s bud. When the amigos are released, significant chemical changes occur as enzymes within the bean itself are free. This is necessary for the formation of the chocolate flavor.

The top layer of the beans is covered with banana leaves to aid in the fermentation process. The plastic, which is covered by the jute bags, serves to conserve heat and stimulate the “sweating” process that the beans go through.

Banana leaves are preferred because the bottom section of the banana leaf contains natural yeast and bacteria that aid in the natural fermentation of the beans.

After the fermenting process, the cocoa beans are sun-dried. Fermented beans are spread by hand on smaller plantations and then shuffled over by hand.

Only after roasting does the characteristic chocolate aroma become apparent. A person with a developed sense of smell can detect a small chocolate scent prior to this stage, but after roasting, the aroma becomes virtually overpowering with a strong chocolate scent.

Any organisms present on the bean are destroyed by roasting. This is critical, especially since several microorganisms are present during the fermentation process. It facilitates the separation of the outer husk from the inside bean and facilitates cracking and winnowing. Third, it enables chemical interactions, which are necessary for flavoring chocolate.

Roasting, like cocoa seed fermentation, is an important step in determining the final flavor of chocolate.

The cocoa nibs are processed into a paste called chocolate liquor after being roasted and winnowed. Chocolate liquor has about equal amounts of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. To manufacture various types of chocolate, varying amounts of chocolate liquor are combined with cocoa butter.

Tempering is the final step in the production of chocolate. The uncontrolled crystallization of cocoa butter produces crystals of variable sizes, some or all of which are large enough to be seen by the naked eye.

This causes the surface of the chocolate to appear mottled and matte, and when broken, the chocolate crumbles rather than snaps. Tempering produces consistently small cocoa butter crystals, which result in the homogeneous sheen and crisp bite of properly processed chocolate

To temper, the chocolate is typically heated to 50 °C to melt all six types of crystals.

The chocolate is then chilled to around 27 °C for a few minutes to allow crystal types IV and V to develop. At this temperature, the chocolate is stirred to produce a large number of little crystal “seeds” that will act as nuclei to form small crystals in the chocolate.

The chocolate is next heated to roughly 31 °C to remove any type IV crystals, leaving just type V. Any more heating of the chocolate will damage the temper, and the process must be repeated.

Other methods of tempering chocolate may also be utilized. The most popular variation is to use pre-tempered, solid “seed” chocolate. A chocolate temper meter can be used to assure precision and uniformity when measuring the temper of chocolate.

Chocolate tempering machines can be used to produce uniformly tempered chocolate, which is very useful for high-volume applications.

What are the uses of cocoa?

1. Medicinal properties

Cocoa beans are used for their medicinal properties. They once purported to soothe a wide range of illnesses. Aztec warriors drank xocolatl before going into battle so that it would give them increased strength and courage, showing the multiple benefits they attributed to the cocoa bean.

2. For making beauty products

When cocoa beans are pressed, they release a fat called cocoa butter. This edible fat is also an emollient and is very good at hydrating dry skin. You can also use cocoa butter for cooking and making delicious recipes.

3. To make a drink

When you open a cacao pod, you’ll find each bean surrounded by sweet, tangy white fruit. This is referred to as cocoa pulp by the International Cocoa Organization and can be collected and bottled to make juice. If the juice is boiled and fermented, it can even be turned into brandy!

4. As soil manure

Cocoa shells are frequently seen as a byproduct of the chocolate-making process, although they can be dried and used in a variety of ways. They are an effective mulch and soil conditioner because they contain nutrients that help plants flourish.

If the husk is sliced, dried, and minced, it can be made into pellets and sold as poultry and pig feed, ensuring that no part of the cocoa tree becomes waste.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you eat a cocoa bean?

The source of all chocolate is cocoa fruit. The white fruit pulp surrounding the beans is delicious, but when people make commercial chocolate, they discard the pulp and only use the beans. With a fresh cacao fruit like this, you can enjoy the fruit pulp and cocoa beans together.

What is cocoa bean used for?

Its seeds, called cocoa beans, are processed into cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate.

Is cocoa beans the same as coffee?

Although we regularly use the terms coffee beans and cocoa beans, neither are actually beans. Coffee beans are the pits/seeds of bright red berries, and cocoa beans are seeds from the cocoa pod.

Are cocoa beans good for your health?

Cocoa trees are only likely to flower when they’re four to six years old and about five feet tall, and during this time they need to be grown in optimal conditions. After this, it then takes five to six months for the cacao pods to ripen from the pollinated flowers.

What weather does cocoa grow in?

It requires high rainfall and temperatures to grow, as well as rainforest trees to offer shade and protection from too much light and damage caused by wind. Because cocoa farms are sensitive to this type of climate, they can only flourish in a narrow band of countries between 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

Now it’s your turn

Cocoa beans are used for making chocolate that you love. From cocoa beans, you can also have cocoa powder and moisturizing cocoa butter. 

Cocoa butter is mostly cultivated in Africa but spread abroad around the world.

What is your favorite thing about cocoa?

Photo of author
Hello! Sedi here... I love cocoa and everything that comes out it even more! Chocolate, butter, paste, etc... Picture this: I have very sensitive and dry skin, and as a result, I develop dark spots, especially on my legs, at the slightest provocation. To get rid of it, I have been using cocoa butter for more than a decade. My dark spots are gone; my skin tone is even! When I'm not writing, you'll find me reading, working out, and advocating for plastic-free earth.