Theobroma cacao trees, known as chocolate trees, are native to the lowlands of South America. They are cultivated worldwide in plantations in tropical rainforests around the equator. Africa produces 75 per cent of the world's cocoa crop. The largest cocoa-producing countries are Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia. Cacao seeds, or beans, are the source of commercial chocolate.
Mature cacao trees are between 12 and 15 feet tall. They have smooth brown bark and dark green, lance-shaped leaves. They produce clusters of small, white, odourless blossoms throughout the year. The flowers are replaced by 5- to 12-inch-long pods that grow directly out of the branches and trunks. The ripened pods contain between 20 and 40 seeds. Raw seeds taste like unsweetened cocoa.
Workers harvest cacao trees twice a year. The first harvest occurs from September through February, while the second harvest takes place in May and June. Workers cut the pods from the trees and extract the beans. They ferment and sundry the beans before bagging and shipping them to commercial chocolate producers. It takes about 20 to 25 pods to get 0.907kg. of cocoa.
Cacao trees prefer organic, moist, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil and partial sunlight. They are intolerant of drought and windy conditions. They are propagated by grafting, cuttings and buddings as well as seeds. Cacao trees are susceptible to several fungal diseases, such as pod rot, black pod and cocoa swollen shoot, as well as attacks from cocoa pod borers.
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