Table of content A-Z

 

cacao

 

Synonym: cocoa

botanical name: Theobroma cacao


Kakao

 

The cacao tree originated in the Amazon region of South America. It was cultivated there by the Aztecs and Maya long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.

 

The plant must have had special importance for the Maya. Bowls of cacao beans as well as drawings of gods with cacao fruits were found in numerous tombs, as funerary goods for the dead. The Maya also probably used the cacao bean as a means of payment.

 

In the 16th century the Spaniards brought the cacao bean to Europe; it was then shipped to the Caribbean to be cultivated in the climate there. Numerous cacao plantations quickly grew.

Today cacao is found in almost all tropical regions worldwide. Particularly in West Africa, the plant is grown on a large scale over broad areas. The cacao traded in Germany stems 50% from the Ivory Coast and 13% from Ghana and Nigeria.

 

Availability

Cacao makes high demands on temperature and humidity and grows only in the warmest regions of the earth. The tree bears fruit all year. Dried cacao beans and products made from them are available all year round.

 

Appearance, taste, characteristics

KakaoschoteThe cacao tree grows up to 8 m tall and has leathery green leaves. It bears 20- to 25-cm-long, red-yellow pods with a rough, ribbed surface. When it ripens, the pod changes colour and becomes reddish-brown. This is a sign that it can be harvested. Each pod contains 20-50 cacao beans that are embedded in a white pulp.

 

KakaosprossenCacao beans contain many bitter substances and also taste very bitter before they have been dried. Only dried beans are used to make chocolate and other products.

 

Cacao beans are differentiated into premium and consumers' beans, which are then classified according to variety and quality, i.e. aroma, flavour, fat content etc. Criollo is a premium cacao, Forastero is a consumer cacao.

 

Ingredients

Characteristic of cacao beans is their high fat content. In addition, especially the vitamins niacin and biotin and the minerals and trace elements potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper and manganese must be emphasized.

 

100 g contain:

 

 

Cacao bean

Cacao powder

Chocolate

Energy (kcal)

342

391

536

Water (g)

5.1

1.9

1.4

Protein (g)

20

5.5

9.2

Fat (g)

11

6

32

Carbohydrates (g)

25

77

54

Fibre (g)

33

6

1.4

Vitamin B1 (mg)

0.13

0.06

0.1

Vitamin B2 (mg)

0.4

0.04

0.4

Niacin (NE) (mg)

6.7

1.6

2.3

Pantothenic acid (mg)

1.1

0.4

0.9

Biotin (µg)

20

10

3

Potassium (mg)

1920

410

471

Calcium (mg)

114

33

214

Magnesium (mg)

414

150

86

Phosphorus (mg)

656

190

242

Iron (mg)

13

2.4

2.3

Zinc (mg)

5.7

1.9

2

Copper (mg)

3.8

1.1

1.3

Manganese (mg)

3

2

0.3

 

Harmful substances

Cacao contains the purines theobromine and caffeine. A great deal is generally known about the effects of caffeine. It reduces fatigue, enhances mental performance, and acts as a diuretic. In excessive doses it can also lead to sleeplessness, nervousness, and tachycardia. Theobromine has vasodilative and stimulating effects on the cardiac musculature. These and other effects have been proven in experiments, however, only with the pure substance. Caffeine and theobromine constitute about 1% of the cacao bean; in chocolate the percentage is even less. It is doubtful that in these small quantities, and bound in a complex food, negative effects occur.

 

Anandamide, also contained in hashish, elicits feelings of happiness and pleasure. Chocolate also contains this substance, but in such small quantities that there is absolutely no danger of addiction.

 

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Optimal storage conditions for cacao beans are a temperature of 18°C and a relative humidity of 60%. Chocolate should not be kept where it is too warm, and fluctuations in temperature should be avoided.

 

Presumed effect on health

Cacao beans and chocolate are rich in polyphenols, which belong to the secondary plant substances. In particular, catechin and procyanidine are present in high concentrations. A positive influence on the development of cancer, circulatory and other diseases is attributed to the polyphenols. However, to what extent the intake of health-promoting substances via chocolate makes sense is a matter of discussion. Chocolate contains fat and is made with a great deal of sugar. It would be much more sensible to consume polyphenols by eating fruits and vegetables.

 

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Following the harvest, the pods are carefully cracked open; the beans are collected on banana leaves and covered with these. A process of fermentation is started, during which the white pulp decomposes at temperatures around 45°C. The bitter substances contained in the cacao beans are degraded and the typical cacao aroma is generated. Oxidation processes cause the beans to change colour, from a light-brown to a deep dark-brown. The fermentation continues for about a week, after which the beans are laid in the sun for approximately 10 days to dry.

 

Cacao powder, cacao butter and chocolate can be made from the fermented cacao beans. They are cleaned and roasted at about 150°C to reduce the water content to around 2%. Then they are broken to remove the shell and the germ bud. The product is known as cacao nibs.

 

In order to make cacao powder from these nibs they are treated with alkali, which makes it easier for the fat to separate from the cacao mass. In addition, the flavour and colour of the powder can be influenced. Then the mass is crushed again and pressed, and the fat content is adjusted. Cacao powder containing 20-22% fat is known as cacao partially freed of oil and fat, and is used for baking. Cacao with 10-20% fat is greatly freed of oil and fat and is used for instant drinks. This process results in two products: liquid cacao butter, consisting of pure fat, and cacao oil cake, which is then ground to fine cacao powder.

 

Cacao powder is the raw material for many further products. It is used to make sauces, cookies or biscuits and cakes, ice cream, mousse, pudding, drinks and much more.

 

To make chocolate, the cacao nibs are ground and mixed with cacao butter until a homogenous mass is formed. Rolling makes the particles of chocolate smaller. Then the chocolate is put into a conche, brought to a desired temperature (ca. 50°C), and kneaded and stirred for several hours up to several days. To attain the highest quality, the temperature must be set so that the undesired ingredients evaporate while the desired substances that provide for the good flavour are preserved. Every chocolate producer keeps this process a secret, because conching is, so to speak, the secret of making chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is moulded and shaped.

 

Seasoning tip

Numerous spices enhance the flavour of cacao, such as vanilla, allspice, anis, cayenne pepper, and chili.

 

Miscellaneous

It was Carl von Linné who assigned the scientific name Theobroma cacao to the cacao bean in 1753. 'Theobroma' means food of the gods, and 'cacao' is a derivation of the term that was used for the plant by the Aztecs.

 

 

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