Botanical and Natural History of Cacao

               Theobroma Cacao is the botanical name for the Cacao tree and cocoa tree. The genus Theobroma Cacao was named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, famed for formalizing the binomial nomenclature, in 1753. The Theobroma genus is native to the tropics of Central and South America, going as far North as the lower regions of Mexico. Theobroma encompasses 22 different cocoa species, and typically range from 4 to 8 meters in height. Interestingly, Theobroma are actually classified as evergreens, being related to the Malvaceae family, or mallows.

 

Cacao producing regions of Colonial Mesoamerica

 

The most important part of the Cacao tree is Cacao or cocoa. We can distinguish:

  • Cacao pods – the large colorful fruits of the Cacao These pods vary by type and origin. Cacao pods tend to change colors between stages of development; usually starting in deep hues of red, purple, or green, before maturing into shades of orange or yellow.
  • Cacao beans – the seeds of the Cacao pod.

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Cocoa bean

               Cacao and cocoa are both commonly used to describe the raw material from Cacao tree. The origin of the word Cacao comes from Central and South America. The cocoa is an Anglicization of the Spanish form – cacao. The Olmec (1500 BCE- 400 BCE ), predecessors to the Maya and first major civilization in Central America, are the first farmers of the Cacao pods, and the first plantations for the Cacao appeared in Guatemala and Southern Mexico around 400B.C.

               Theobroma means Food of the Gods in the Mayan language. Of their myths, Mayans believed that the Plumed Serpent gave Cacao to them, after people were created from maize by the divine grandparent deity Xmucane. The Mayans to this time celebrate Cacao because they think that this is a gift from the God. The Aztecs also believe that the Plumed Serpent– Quetzalcoatl – discovered cacao.

In 250 AD the Mayans started to painting Cacao in hieroglyphic. In Dresden and Madrid Mayan wrote the codex in hieroglyphics, but since this time saved only 15 texts. In these images, Cacao was presented like food or drink consumed by the Gods. Mayans also named Cacao on the hieroglyphics Kakaw.

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The Mayan and Aztec people used to prepare Cacao in many different ways as a food or drink. One such use was to turn Cacao into drinks for celebrations, and was imbibed by both the civilizations during the marriage ceremonies or religious rituals.

One important sacred document for the Maya is Popol Vuh  or, “Book of Counsel”. Within this story of the creation of the universe, the Cacao is mentioned few times like a godly plant worthy of reverence. People believed that Cacao – as well as tobacco – is an essential to their social, spiritual and physical prosperity. Cacao also was presented in rites of death. Part of their beliefs was that the seeds could help the soul in travel to the underworld.

Cacao tree was also perceived like a connection between earth, underworld and sky, royal bloodline. Mayans thought that plant is integral to keeping cycles of death, life, and rebirth. Cacao was thought to boost energy and made the imbiber stronger.

Cacao for Mayan and Aztec population was something what they could exchange for the goods. For example fish wrapped in maize husks was worth 3 Cacao beans.

             The Mayans and Aztecs used to make some Cacao or chocolate beverages which were stored in ceramic vessel. Archeologists found vessels dating to between 1900-900 BC. Vessels were labor-intensive arts & crafts; among the most important valuables a Mesoamerican owned, stamped with their personal insignia.   The chocolate contained in this way used to be served like a liquid and mixed with spices or wine. A commonly held belief was that this drink could work like an aphrodisiac. Today, this beverage is known as Chilate.

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Ceramic vessels

 

                   Christopher Columbus in 1502 was the first person from Europe who came into contact with Cacao during his journey to Guanaja. He sent the Cacao to the King Ferdinand. While cocoa was rare for some time, around 20 years after Columbus’ first sample, Prince Philip of Spain received the cocoa drink from a Dominican friar. The reception to this was so positive that France and Portugal didn’t trade cocoa to the rest of Europe for 1000 years.

 

Cocoa consists of around 700 compounds. Apart from the taste, the most important benefit are antioxidants who helps us to avoid diseases, reduce cholesterol, lower the blood pressure, and is even believed to be a preventative of cancer. Cacao is rich in protein, fat, fiber, iron, magnesium and calcium. Mayan and Aztecs were treating Cacao like a good medicine. They believed that this is a gift from the god who helps them to stay healthy. They also treated Cacao as currency because very often they got something in exchange of cacao. As we can see, Cacao has been known for centuries. Cacao and chocolates are famous on the all world. We can eat and drink it. I think for people this product can be a connection of something really tasty and healthy. It’s good for our heart, mind and mood.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Scholarly sources:

Gockowski & S. Oduwole (2003). Labor practices in the cocoa sector of southwest Nigeria with a focus on the role of children. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. pp. 11–15. ISBN 978-131-215-7

Olivia Abenyega & James Gockowski (2003). Labor practices in the cocoa sector of Ghana with a special focus on the role of children. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-131-218-1

Terry G. Powis; W. Jeffrey Hurst; María del Carmen Rodríguez; Ponciano Ortíz C.; Michael Blake; David Cheetham; Michael D. Coe; John G. Hodgson (December 2007). “Oldest chocolate in the New World”. 81 (314). ISSN 0003-598X. Retrieved 2011-02-15.

Watson, Traci (22 January 2013). “Earliest E SPONGEBOBca”. Science. Retrieved 3 March 2014.

 

Multimedia Sources:

http://www.tropical-plants-flowers-and-decor.com/cocoa-tree.html

http://www.medicinehunter.com/cocoa-health-miracle

http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treesandmarkets/inaforesta/history.htm

https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/

http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:320783-2

 

 

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