Cacao is also known as Theobroma cacao. It is a tall evergreen tree, and native to the tropical area of Amazon in America. The Cacao Tree grows in lowland tropical forests with little seasonality. Naturally it grows under heavy rainforest canopy, it is cultivated underneath Banana or Casaca (Tapioca) or other large leaf, tree-like, grasses. It needs a consistent climate: temperatures of 21 to 32 degrees Celsius year round - never lower than 15 C, and 100 to 250 cm of rainfall, well distributed throughout the year with no month less than 10 cm. It grows only below 1000 meters of elevation, and usually below 300 meters. All of this means that it grows only in the tropics - almost exclusively within 10 degrees latitude of the Equator and only in places that are not too mountainous and do not have monsoons or droughts.
The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; they are small and 1–2 cm diameter with pink calyx. The seeds are encased in a large colorful pod which grows close to the tree after a flower. The large pod is green while maturing and and turns yellow, orange, red or purple when ripe (some varieties are still green when ripe). The pods vary significantly in size, shape and texture. They range from about 10 cm to greater than 40 cm in length! They have 5 to 10 veins or longitudinal ridges and are spherical to oblong, shaped roughly like an American football. Fruits are produced throughout the year, simultaneous with more flowering. It takes take 4 to 5 months to achieve the pod size, and then yet another month to ripen! Its ovoid cacao pod is about 15–30 cm in lenght and 8–10 cm in width, and weighs about 500g when ripe. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds inside the white pulp. Each seed contains a high amount of fat. Their most active constituent inside seed is theobromine similar to caffeine. The cacao seeds are used to make cocoa and chocolate.
There has been a long history of human consuption of cacao seeds. The Maya believed that cacao was discovered by the gods in a mountain and was given to the Maya after humans were created. The Maya celebrated an annual festival in April to honor their cacao god. This celebration included sacrificing a dog with cacao colored markings; offerings of cacao, feathers and incense; and an exchange of gifts.
In pre-Columbian age cacao seeds served both as ritual beverage and as a major currency system . The Aztec empire even received 980 loads of cacao as part of the tribute annually. Each load contained 8000 cacao seeds. At that time 80-100 seeds could buy a new cloth mantle. In some areas cacao seeds were still used as coins up to the 1840s.
It is widely held that Columbus first discovered cacao in America, but they didn't realise the value of cacao at that time. Then Cacao seeds were brought back to Spain at beginning of 16th centuary, then the cacao beverage was introduced to Spain later. Then cacao and chocolate had gradually spread into Western Europe such as France, German, and England etc. Due to large demand of cacao, French companies setup farms in Caribbean to commerically grow cacao trees.
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