How does cacao grow?

Cacao (Theobroma cacao) trees grow only in tropical environments with most plantations today being in Africa, South East Asia, Central America and South America1. Majority of cacao tree growth is concentrated in a region called the “Cacao belt,” which is anywhere within 20 degrees north or south of the Equator belt2,3. Not only are these conditions crucial for the growth of the tree itself but they are also the prime conditions for the midges that naturally pollinate these trees4.


In the wild, they grow as understory trees, shaded by denser, taller trees around them. Today’s domesticated trees can be grown in direct sunlight, aided by fertilisers and hormonal treatments to increase their foliage3. They still require some shade and this is provided in the form of shade trees, such as lemon trees, banana plants, palms, and Gliricidia sepium or madre de cacao (“mother of the cacao”)3.  

Domesticated cacao trees grow to about 8-12 metres tall before being trimmed for ease of access to the fruit, known as cacao pods2,3. This is also to prevent the pods from being exposed to sunlight or becoming too entangled in other branches3. With good care and optimal conditions for soil, heat and other factors, trees can grow for up to 50 years3. The tree grows slowly from a seedling into a straight stem, with light brown and smooth bark2,3. 

The pods are made of a fleshy, white fruit that surrounds the cacao beans and they develop from flowers, which are fertilised naturally by midges or artificially. The pods need to be harvested regularly as they can ripen at different times throughout the season. They can grow between 15-40 cm long, take on the shape of an American football and can take on various colours, regardless of their variety2–4. These pods grow on the bark of the trunk or large branches, before being harvested from the ground by hand or with long poles for the fruits that are higher up3. 

Opened cacao pod showing the white fruit surrounding the cacao beans.

Trees do notusually produce pods until their third or fourth year3.Once they are producing pods, they produce about 20-30 pods per yearand these pods will each produce 20-60 beans4.The pods are then harvested and split open to retrieve the cacaobeans, which can undergo the fermentation process. Upon completion offermentation, the cacao beans undergo a drying process between one tothree weeks before being cleaned and packaged for transport5.The cacao beans are then ready to make cacao-based products.

Our ceremonial cacao comes from an agroforestry farm in Tocacahe Peru. The trees grow under the natural shade of the canopy and are surrounded by native fruits and Amazonian plants. Pods are porous and absorb not only the smells and flavours of the jungle but also the energy and frequency. This shade-grown type of cacao sequesters 30% more carbon than non-shade grown cacao but also produces higher vibrational cacao beans with powerful unique flavours, aromas and therapeutic and heart awakening properties. Each tree only produces 30 pods per year, with 14 pods being used to make 1 kg of cacao beans. So in essence one tree of our artisanal cacao will only make 2 blocks of ceremonial paste per year. Despite this low yield the resulting cacao is the finest grade and quality, resonating with high-vibration and packed with medicinal heart awakening components. Truly artisanal with love and result for Pachamama (mother earth) and the Amazonian jungle.


Learn About Cacao

References

(1) FAOSTAT http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QC (accessed Mar 2, 2021).

(2) Pohlan, H. A. J.; Pérez, V. D. GROWTH AND PRODUCTION OF CACAO. 10.

(3) MacLeod, M. Cacao. In The Cambridge World History of Food; Kiple, K. F., Ornelas, K. C., Eds.; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2000; pp 635–641. https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521402149.073.

(4) Chocolate: The Journey From Beans to Bar https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/kids/chocolate-from-bean-to-bar (accessed Apr 23, 2021).

(5) Lima, L. J. R.; Almeida, M. H.; Nout, M. J. R.; Zwietering, M. H. Theobroma Cacao L., “The Food of the Gods”: Quality Determinants of Commercial Cocoa Beans, with Particular Reference to the Impact of Fermentation. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr.2011, 51 (8), 731–761. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408391003799913.