It is a tropical evergreen, medium sized tree with bright, glossy leaves. The plant demands tropical, humid climate but shady coverings to thrive. At maturity, the cultivated cocoa tree stands 15 to 25 feet tall, though it may reach 50 feet or more in the wild. Cocoa pods appear about three years after plantation and continue to yield fruits for up to 30 years. The cocoa is scientifically known as Theobroma cacao and belongs to the Malvaceae botanical family. Cocoa trees only prosper under specific conditions, including fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind. These conditions are found in rainforest areas. According to research, cocoa trees can tolerate temperatures as high as around 350C (950F) and as low as 130C (550F). Minimum temperatures above 190C (650F) and an average temperature of around 270C (800F) are recommended for optimal growth.
About 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans come from four West African countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the largest two producers of cocoa, accounting for more than 50 percent of the world´s cocoa.
At maturity of Cocoa tree, pods appear on its trunk. Immature pods are green or maroon in color that ripens to a bright yellow and orange color as they mature. The pod and the pulp surrounding the cocoa seed in this case constitute the fruit. During processing of cocoa, the outer shell or pod, is opened and the beans are removed. The cocoa bean consists of seed coat, kernel, and germ. The Cocoa beans are fermented so as to destroy the seed coat, kill the germ and give the cocoa a good taste. Cocoa beans fermentation is a spontaneous curing process to facilitate drying of non-germinating cocoa beans by pulp removal as well as to stimulate colour and flavour development. Cocoa beans are not beans technically speaking, but rather the seeds found in Theobroma Cacao tree fruit.
benefits of cocoa
Cocoa has been linked to numerous health benefits, including reduced inflammation, better blood flow, lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Cocoa is one of the richest sources of polyphenols. Epidemiological studies suggest that cocoa-rich products reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Flavanols found in cocoa have been shown to increase the formation of endothelial nitric oxide which promotes vasodilation and therefore blood pressure reduction. Cocoa flavanols have strong anti-inflammatory properties in vitro.
Cocoa has phenolic antioxidants like catechins, anthocyanidins, and pro-anthocyanidins. Research studies suggest that these chemical compounds, by virtue of their antioxidant properties, work against cancers, inflammation, aging, and viral infections. In addition, Cocoa contains phytochemicals theobromine and caffeine. Their caffeine levels are below that found in coffee. Theobromine and caffeine are nervous system stimulants and work as mood elevators.
Cocoa powder is an excellent source of fiber, magnesium, calcium, copper, manganese, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium, among others.
Fiber helps regulate digestion by preventing constipation.
Magnesium plays many roles in the body, including regulation of countless biochemical processes such as protein synthesis, function of muscles and nerves, and regulation of blood pressure and blood glucose.
Copper aids in red blood cell formation, iron absorption, energy production, and connective tissue formation.
Manganese plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption and blood sugar regulation.
Iron is essential for growth, development and red blood cell formation, and is also needed to create some hormones and connective tissue.
Phosphorus promotes formation of bones and teeth, assists in kidney function, muscle contraction and a normal heartbeat.
Selenium is a cardio-protective.
Cocoa carries good amounts of B-complex groups of vitamins such as niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6. These vitamins help in enzyme synthesis, nervous system function and regulating body metabolism.