Cocoa pod, nibs and seeds

Cocoa pod, nibs and seeds

Theobroma cacao

West Africa


Where does it come from? Cocoa is thought to have come originally from the rainforests of north-western South America. The first record we have of cocoa as a domesticated crop comes from Costa Rica, where archaeological evidence has shown that cocoa was drunk by the Mayan people as early as 400 BC. Today cocoa is grown all around the world in tropical equatorial countries. 

What part of the plant do we eat? The part of the cocoa tree that makes chocolate is the pod. The picture shows ripe pods growing on a cocoa tree in Reserva Guaycuyacu in Ecuador. The ripe pod has up to 60 bitter tasting beans in a sweet pulp.

Is there only one type of cocoa bean? Three different types of cocoa bean are used to make chocolate today.

How do you make chocolate out of a cocoa pod? The pulp and seeds from the pod are left out on the ground for a few days. In the heat of the tropics, the pulp ferments and this helps to make the beans less bitter. Next, the beans are roasted. The photo shows volunteers at Reserva Guaycuyacu working on the next stage to remove the shells and crack the roasted beans to make pieces called nibs. The nibs are ground into a thick creamy paste called liquor, which is just cocoa suspended in cocoa butter. Chocolate is made by mixing more cocoa butter and sugar into the liquor, rolling it into a smooth paste and kneading it. The chocolate is heated and cooled a few times to stop the butter crystallizing. Finally the chocolate is shaped or poured into moulds to make chocolate bars.


How does cocoa cultivation affect the environment? Although it is often grown in big plantations, cocoa trees can thrive under the shade of native canopy trees so even in plantations, cocoa growers can keep the natural forest. When they do this, they help to conserve the habitat of wild rainforest plants and animals.

Does cocoa growing help rainforest farmers? Cocoa is grown by around 40 million people, including five million farmers, many of whom are smallholders. One of the first Fairtrade certified producers was a cocoa farmer called Justino Peck, from Toledo Cacao Growers Association, a farmers’ cooperative in southern Belize.

Linked objects

Cassava tuber

Chontaduro palm

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