2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Food

Cocoa beans in a cacao pod
Cocoa beans in a cacao pod
Cocoa beans before roasting
Cocoa beans before roasting

Cocoa is the dried and partially fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree from which chocolate is made. "Cocoa" can often also refer to the drink commonly known as hot chocolate; cocoa powder, the dry powder made by grinding cocoa seeds and removing the cocoa butter from the dark, bitter cocoa solids; or it may refer to the combination of both cocoa powder and cocoa butter together.

A cacao pod has a rough leathery rind about 3 cm thick (this varies with the origin and variety of pod). It is filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp called 'baba de cacao' in South America, enclosing 30 to 50 large almond-like seeds (beans) that are fairly soft and pinkish or purplish in colour.

Cocoa should not be confused with the coca plant which can be used to create cocaine.


The cacao tree is native to the Americas. It may have originated in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America where today, examples of wild cacao still can be found. However, it may have had a larger range in the past, evidence for which may be obscured because of its cultivation in these areas long before, as well as after, the Spanish arrived. It may have been introduced into Central America by the ancient Mayas, and cultivated in Mexico by the Olmecs, then by the Toltecs and later by the Aztecs. It was a common currency throughout Mesoamerica and the Caribbean before the Spanish conquest.

Cacao trees will grow in a limited geographical zone, of approximately 20 degrees to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop is grown in West Africa.

Cocoa was an important commodity in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Spanish chroniclers of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés relate that when Montezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, dined he took no other beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet and eaten with a golden spoon. Flavored with vanilla and spices, his chocolate was whipped into a froth that dissolved in the mouth. It is reported that Montezuma II may have consumed no fewer than 50 portions each day, and 200 more by the nobles of his court.

Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards and became a popular beverage by the mid 1600s. They also introduced the cacao tree into the West Indies and the Philippines.

The cacao plant was first given its botanical name by Swedish natural scientist Carolus Linnaeus in his original classification of the plant kingdom, who called it Theobroma ("food of the gods") cacao.


World production

Top Cocoa Producers
in 2004
(million metric tons)
Flag of Côte d'Ivoire Côte d'Ivoire 1.33
Flag of Ghana Ghana 0.74
Flag of Indonesia Indonesia 0.43
Flag of Nigeria Nigeria 0.37
Flag of Brazil Brazil 0.17
Flag of Cambodia Cambodia 0.13
Flag of Ecuador Ecuador 0.09
World Total 3.6
UN Food & Agriculture Organisation
Cocoa bean output in 2005
Cocoa bean output in 2005

About 3,000,000  tonnes (3,000,000  LT/3,300,000  ST) of cocoa is produced each year. The global production was

1,556,484 t (1,531,902 LT/1,715,730 ST) in 1974,
1,810,611 t (1,782,015 LT/1,995,857 ST) in 1984,
2,672,173 t (2,629,970 LT/2,945,567 ST) in 1994,
3,607,052 t (3,550,084 LT/3,976,094 ST) in 2004 (record).

This is an increase of 131.7% in 30 years, representing a cumulative average growth rate (CAGR) of 2.8%.

There are three main varieties of cacao: Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario. The first comprises 95% of the world production of cacao, and is the most widely used. Overall, the highest quality cocoa beans come from the Criollo variety, which is considered a delicacy . Criollo plantations have lower yields than those of Forastero, and also tend to be less resistant to several diseases that attack the cocoa plant, hence very few countries still produce it. One of the largest producer of Criollo beans is Venezuela (Chuao and Porcelana). Trinitario is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero varieties. It is considered of much higher quality than the latter, but has higher yields and is more resistant to disease than the former .

The Netherlands is the leading cocoa processing country, followed by the U.S..

Cocoa and its products (including chocolate) are used world-wide. Per Capita consumption is poorly understood with numerous countries claiming the highest: various reports state that Switzerland, Belgium, and the UK have the highest consumption, but because there is no clear mechanism to determine how much of a country's production is consumed by residents and how much by visitors, this is all speculative.

The world's largest cocoa bean producing countries are as follows. The figure gives the production estimates for the 2006/7 season from the International Cocoa Organization. The percentage is the proportion of the world's total of 3.5 million tonnes for the relevant period.

Country Amount produced Percentage of world production
Côte d’Ivoire 1.3 million tonnes 37.4%
Ghana 720 thousand tonnes 20.7%
Indonesia 440 thousand tonnes 12.7%
Cameroon 175 thousand tonnes 5.0%
Nigeria 160 thousand tonnes 4.6%
Brazil 155 thousand tonnes 4.5%
Ecuador 118 thousand tonnes 3.4%
Dominican Republic 47 thousand tonnes 1.4%
Malaysia 30 thousand tonnes 0.9%


Cocoa pods in various stages of ripening
Cocoa pods in various stages of ripening

When the pods ripen, they are harvested from the trunks and branches of the Cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole. The pod itself is green when ready to harvest, rather than red or orange. Normally, red or orange pods are considered of a lesser quality because their flavours and aromas are poorer; these are used for industrial chocolate. The pods are either opened on the field and the seeds extracted and carried to the fermentation area on the plantation, or the whole pods are taken to the fermentation area.


The harvested pods are opened with a machete, the pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are then piled in heaps, placed in bins, or laid out on grates for several days. During this time, the seeds and pulp undergo "sweating", where the thick pulp liquefies as it ferments. The fermented pulp trickles away, leaving cocoa seeds behind to be collected. Sweating is important for the quality of the beans, which originally have a strong bitter taste. If sweating is interrupted, the resulting cocoa may be ruined; if underdone the cocoa seed maintains a flavor similar to raw potatoes and becomes susceptible to mildew.

Some cocoa producing countries distill alcoholic spirits using the liquefied pulp.

The fermented beans are dried by spreading them out over a large surface and constantly raking them. In large plantations, this is done on huge trays under the sun or by using artificial heat. Small plantations may dry their harvest on little trays or on cowhides. Finally, the beans are trodden and shuffled about (often using bare human feet) and sometimes, during this process, red clay mixed with water is sprinkled over the beans to obtain a finer colour, polish, and protection against molds during shipment to factories in the United States, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and other countries. Drying in the sun is preferable to drying by artificial means, as no extraneous flavours such as smoke or oil are introduced which might otherwise taint the flavor.

Chocolate production


To make 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of chocolate, about 300 to 600 beans are processed, depending on the desired cocoa content. In a factory, the beans are washed and roasted. Next they are cracked and then de-hulled by a "winnower". The resulting pieces of beans are called nibs, and are ground using various methods into a thick creamy paste, known as chocolate liquor or cocoa paste. This "liquor" is then further processed into chocolate by mixing in (more) cocoa butter and sugar (and sometimes lecithin as an emulsifier and vanilla), and then refining, conching and tempering. Or it can be separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter using a hydraulic press or the Broma process. This process produces around 50% cocoa butter and 50% cocoa powder. Standard cocoa powder has a fat content of approximately 10-12 percent. Cocoa butter is used in chocolate bar manufacture, other confectionery, soaps, and cosmetics.

Adding an alkali produces Dutch process cocoa powder, which is less acidic, darker and more mellow in flavor than what is generally available in most of the world. Regular (nonalkalized) cocoa is acidic, so when cocoa is treated with an alkaline ingredient, generally potassium carbonate, the pH drops. This process can be done at various stages during manufacturing, including during nib treatment, liquor treatment or press cake treatment.

Another process that helps develop the flavor is roasting. Roasting can be done on the whole bean before shelling or on the nib after shelling. The time and temperature of the roast affect the result: A "low roast" produces a more-acid, aromatic flavor, while a high roast gives a more-intense, bitter flavor lacking complex flavor notes.

Health benefits of cocoa consumption

Chocolate and cocoa contain a high level of flavonoids, specifically epicatechin, which may have beneficial cardiovascular effects on health. The ingestion of flavonol-rich cocoa is associated with acute elevation of circulating nitric oxide, enhanced flow-mediated vasodilation, and augmented microcirculation.

Prolonged intake of flavonol-rich cocoa has been linked to cardiovascular health benefits, though it should be noted that this refers to plain cocoa and dark chocolate. Milk chocolate's addition of whole milk reduces the overall cocoa content per ounce while increasing saturated fat levels, possibly negating some of cocoa's heart-healthy potential benefits. Nevertheless, studies have still found short term benefits in LDL cholesterol levels from dark chocolate consumption.

Hollenberg and colleagues of Harvard Medical School studied the effects of cocoa and flavanols on Panama's Kuna Indian population, who are heavy consumers of cocoa. The researchers found that the Kuna Indians living on the islands had significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer compared to those on the mainland who do not drink cocoa as on the islands. It is believed that the improved blood flow after consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa may help to achieve health benefits in hearts and other organs. In particular, the benefits may extend to the brain and have important implications for learning and memory.

Foods rich in cocoa appear to reduce blood pressure but drinking green and black tea may not, according to an analysis of previously published research in the April 9, 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Non-human animal consumption

Chocolate is a food product with appeal not only to the human population, but to many different animals as well. However, chocolate and cocoa contain a high level of xanthines, specifically theobromine and to a much lesser extent caffeine, that are detrimental to the health of many animals, including dogs and cats. While these compounds have desirable effects in humans, they cannot be efficiently metabolized in many animals and can lead to cardiac and nervous system problems, and if consumed in high quantities, even lead to death. However, since the mid-2000s, some cocoa derivatives with a low concentration of xanthines, have been designed by specialized industry to be suitable for pet consumption, enabling the pet food industry to offer animal safe chocolate and cocoa flavored products. It results in products with a high concentration of fibre and proteins, while maintaining low concentrations of sugar and other carbohydrates; thus enabling it to be used to create healthy functional cocoa pet products.

Sustainable Cocoa

The sustainability of the cocoa economy is presently most problematic in the area of the production of cocoa beans. The main sustainability problem in the world cocoa economy is with the farmers. They are the most important, but also the most vulnerable link in the cocoa chain. To date, the use of cocoa beans (processing and manufacturing) and final consumption (almost exclusively in the form of chocolate) have been quite sustainable. However, there are certain deficiencies in the sustainability of processing and manufacturing, while the continued sustainability of final consumption is far from secure.

The deficiencies in the sustainability of processing and manufacturing would appear to be mainly of a social character. A number of processing and manufacturing companies should further improve their performance in the area of corporate responsibility, with particular regard to the cocoa farming communities.

In the past decades, final consumption of cocoa-based products, mainly chocolate, has been expanding at a growth rate of about 2.5% on average. This implies a doubling of consumption each 25 to 30 years. In recent years, this growth rate seems even to have increased, thanks to a switch of consumers to chocolate products with a high content of cocoa solids. However, some concerns of consumers and of authorities in consumer countries form a threat to a continued rapid expansion of consumption. Consumers are more and more concerned about food safety. These concerns are taken into consideration by the industry, in order to meet increasingly strict food standard regulations.

Obesity, particularly among children, has become a major health problem and chocolate – a food product with a high calorie content – is considered to be part of the problem. Moreover, consumers increasingly want their food products to be produced in a socially acceptable way, with respect for the environment and providing an acceptable income to the farmers. However, the world cocoa economy does not seem to be sufficiently geared towards these consumer demands. This constitutes a threat to the sustainability of cocoa consumption.

The major sustainability problem in the cocoa economy is the lack of economic sustainability of cocoa farming. There are problems of price instability and a declining trend in real cocoa prices. However, the core problem is the low income levels of cocoa farmers. A well-to-do cocoa farmer in West Africa has a cocoa farm of three hectares, with an average yield of around 650 kg. per hectare. The farm family has to handle around 50,000 cocoa pods, resulting in a net income of around US$ 2,000 to US$ 3,000, at best. For an average family size of six or seven, that amounts to US$ 300 to US$ 500 dollars per capita per year. Growing their own food, the family can achieve an income that comes to the poverty threshold of US$ 2 per capita per day, as established in the Millennium goals of the United Nations. Even in such circumstances, it is clearly not economically sustainable for the farmer to remain in cocoa farming. However, with a little less land and/or lower yields, the income of the family easily drops below the poverty line. This situation is not acceptable and clearly makes cocoa cultivation not economically sustainable.

The lack of economic sustainability also results in shortfalls in both social and environmental sustainability of cocoa cultivation. Cocoa farmers in many producing countries do not enjoy the social amenities that would be considered sustainable in terms of the criteria formulated in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Living in rural areas, many farmers are denied access to basic infrastructure facilities, such as roads, electricity, potable water, medical services, education and other essential basic amenities. Due to a lack of genuine educational opportunities and poverty, the farm family often decides that the child should work on the farm. In some cases, this results in the occurrence of the worst forms of child labour, as defined by relevant ILO Conventions. This is not acceptable and if left unchecked, such occurrences give cocoa a bad name and might also negatively impact on the sustainability of consumption.

The lack of economic sustainability also has a direct negative effect on environmental sustainability. Poor people cannot afford to care about the environment. For many decades, cocoa farmers have encroached on the forest, most of the time after the best trees had been cut down by logging companies. This has happened less in recent times, as there is less forest left and because many governments and communities take better care of the remaining forests. Usually, use of current inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, by farmers is limited. This also explains why most farmers have only limited knowledge of the most appropriate ways of using such inputs. Therefore, considerable work remains to be done in this area.

Roundtable for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy (RSCE)

This initiative, called the Roundtable for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy (RSCE), has developed from the growing requirement to face the challenges posed by sustainability and the need to adopt a holistic approach in addressing this very complex topic. It was launched in 2007 by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) and is steered by an independent working group with representation of major stakeholders. The mission of the Roundtable is to establish a participatory and transparent process towards economic, environmental and social sustainability in the global cocoa economy. The 1st Roundtable in 2007 brought together more than 200 stakeholders representing 25 countries, including cocoa farmers, government officials from cocoa producing and consuming countries, traders, chocolate manufacturers, donor organizations and national and international NGOs. The 2nd Roundtable will continue this open and transparent approach.

The social pillar of sustainable cocoa

  • Children work in the cocoa production industry. According to an International Labor Organization report, in 2002 more than 109,000 children were working on cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), some of them in 'the worst forms of child labor'. The International Labor Organization later reported that 200,000 children were working in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast in 2005.
  • The first allegations that child slavery is used in cocoa production appeared in 1998. The 2005 International Labor Organization report failed to fully characterize this problem, but estimated that up to 6% of the 200,000 children involved in cocoa production could be the victims of human trafficking or slavery . (See Economics of cocoa).
  • See Cocoa Protocol for efforts to end these practices. The Cocoa Protocol has been criticized by some groups including the International Labor Rights Fund as an industry initiative which falls short.

Projects for sustainable cocoa

  • Cocoa farmers in many countries lack information on production and marketing practices to help them improve their livelihoods. Charities such as the World Cocoa Foundation helps to support sustainable cocoa efforts through public-private partnerships such as IITA's sustainable tree crops program (STCP) in cocoa growing regions.

Cocoa trading

Cocoa beans, Cocoa butter and cocoa powder are traded on two world exchanges: London and New York. The London market is based on West African cocoa and New York on cocoa predominantly from South East Asia. Cocoa is the world's smallest soft commodity market. The futures price of cocoa butter and cocoa powder is determined by multiplying the bean price by a ratio. The combined butter and powder ratio has tended to be around 3.5. If the combined ratio falls below 3.2 or so, production ceases to be economically viable and some factories cease extraction of butter and powder and trade exclusively in cocoa liquor.


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