Monday, August 25, 2008

Hot Chocolate

The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) is an evergreen tree in the family Sterculiaceae (alternatively Malvaceae.) The scientific name Theobroma means "food of the gods".

It takes five years to grow into a tree that produces fruits. When cacao leaves fall, they mix with the leaves of other plants and decay on the floor. In the decaying leaves breed midges in the order Diptera. These little flies pollinate the cacao flowers. The small flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches and they fruit three to four times a year. The hard, coarse shell changes from green to yellow, and then to a reddish brown. Inside the fruit is a white sweet pulp where between 20 and 40 almond-shaped bitter cacao seeds are arranged in rows. These seeds are used to make chocolate. The insert shows what these cacao seeds look like.

The fruits have skins that are so thick that they do not open naturally to release their seeds. Instead, pods rely on the lure of their sweet pulp to attract animals. Birds and mammals looking for a meal pierce the pod’s tough hide to get at the delicious sweet pulp inside and discard the bitter-tasting seeds. Each seed contains a significant amount of fat (40–50% as cacao butter). Their most noted active constituent is theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine.

Cacao trees can flourish only in the hottest regions of the world, and this one is happy at its home in the FTBG here in Miami, although I think it could be in a bit better shape than it is seen here.

Hot Cacao

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