A cacao tree, scientifically known as Theobroma cacao, is a tropical evergreen tree native to the deep rainforests of Central and South America. It belongs to the family Malvaceae and is primarily cultivated for its fruit, which is used to produce chocolate. Cacao trees
Cacao fruit (pod)
The cacao fruit, also known as a cacao pod, is the edible fruit of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). The pod is attached to the tree trunk or larger branches through a short stem known as the peduncle.
- Size and Shape: Cacao pods are relatively large and have a distinctive shape. They are elongated and typically measure around 15 to 25 centimeters (6 to 10 inches) in length. The size can vary depending on the variety and maturity of the pod.
- Color and Texture: The outer skin of a cacao pod has a thick, tough texture. When ripe, the color of the pod’s exterior can range from yellow, orange to red. The surface of the pod can be smooth or slightly ribbed.
- Pulp: Inside the cacao pod, there is a sweet and tangy pulp that surrounds the cacao beans. The pulp is white and fleshy, and its flavor varies depending on the variety and ripeness of the fruit. It has a tropical fruity taste and is often consumed by animals and humans.
- Cacao Beans: The main reason for the popularity of cacao fruit is the beans (seeds) it contains. Embedded within the pulp of the pod, there are numerous cacao beans. These beans are arranged in rows or clusters and are usually covered with a whitish membrane. Cacao beans are oval-shaped, flattened, and about 1 to 3 centimeters (0.4 to 1.2 inches) in length.
- Harvesting and Processing: Cacao pods are harvested when they reach maturity. The process involves carefully cutting the pods from the tree using tools like machetes. Once harvested, the pods are opened, either by hand or using specialized tools, to extract the cacao beans and pulp. The beans undergo fermentation and drying processes to develop their characteristic flavor and aroma.
The cacao fruit is a vital part of the chocolate-making process. The beans extracted from the pods serve as the raw material for chocolate production, while the pulp can be consumed as a juicy snack or utilized in various culinary applications.
How to take care of a Cacao tree?
Taking care of a cacao tree involves providing it with the right growing conditions and proper maintenance. When taken care of properly, it is proven to produce cacao pods. Here are some essential tips for caring for a cacao tree grown in a pot:
- Suitable Growing Conditions: A chocolate plant needs a warm growing area that stays, for the most part, above 10-15°C, preferably with higher daytime temperatures and good quality light with some direct sunlight. This would be a large, south-facing window, a sunroom, greenhouse or conservatory. In most parts of Europe, Chocolate plants also benefit from being grown outside during the summer months in partial sunlight.
- Watering: Cacao trees require regular watering to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. They prefer consistent moisture but can tolerate short dry periods.
- Fertilization: Cacao trees benefit from regular fertilization to maintain their health and productivity. Apply fertilizer in the recommended quantities and frequency according to the instructions on the product label. Typically, fertilizers are applied every 2 to 3 months.
- Pruning: Pruning helps maintain the shape of the tree, promotes airflow, and encourages better fruiting. Remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches promptly. Prune the tree to your desired height and shape when in growing season.
- Humidity: If you notice leaves or yellow flowers turning brown and or dropping, this is an indication that the air’s moisture needs to be increased. If grown in a pot, use a humidity tray to increase humidity around the plant.
- Pollination: The tree should flower when 3-5 years old and about five feet (1.5 m.) tall. The cacao flowers on the same tree can’t pollinate/get pollinated by each other, but only by flowers from a different tree. So if you want your cacao tree to set fruit, you will need to have 2 trees. Hand-pollinate the flower in the early morning. Don’t panic if some of the resulting pods drop. It is natural for some pods to shrivel, leaving no more than two on each cushion.
Cacao trees are usually propagated through seeds, but can also be propagated by grafting or air layering.