Journey of the Cocoa Bean

Journey of the Cocoa Bean

Journey : The tree theobroma cacao (theobroma, meaning food of the gods in Greek, and cacao is thought to be borrowed from the mixe-zoquean language family and was originally ‘kakawa’) is originally a native to central and south America and now grown in tropics of the world, particularly in Africa and in Indonesia, places where it was taken after the conquests of the new world and the colonial period. It is an unusual tree in which small flowers bloom from small cushions on its trunk and large branches these flowers are self pollinated or by pollinators like midges and produce pods that vary from 100 to 350mm in length and weigh from 200g to 1kg when mature. when we open the pod it usually contains 30 to 40 almond shaped bitter beans surrounded by a sweet pulp and there is no doubt that animals were attracted towards this delicious white gooey pulp and probably what early humans were interested when they first saw the tree. The pods which ripen in about five to six months are soon harvested, opened and then dumped inside out into a tray or anything like that and are left to ferment probably for five day which builds up heat. The rotting is initiated by a wide range of microorganisms present when the pod is opened. During the process beans briefly germinate but are soon killed by heat, ethanol and acetic acid which penetrate through the testa of the cocoa beans into their cotyledons and kill the embryo, the non-germinating beans don’t produce a chocolate flavor.

Biochemical transformations within the bean lead to the formation of numerous flavor precursors, ethanol may be responsible for the activation of certain cocoa bean cotyledon enzymes, acetic acid penetrates into the cocoa beans and so the alkaloids and polyphenols leak from the fermenting cocoa beans into the surrounding pulp hence reducing bitterness and astringency of the fermented cocoa beans, the pulp is converted into a mild alcohol from its sugars and the proteins and polypeptides react with polyphenols to give a brown color. Hence the process of fermentation is the basis of the entire chocolate making process and now the focus is on the enhancement of flavor in the final chocolates through the use of appropriate starter culture which enable the production of uniformly fermented cocoa beans within four days as well as produce standard bulk chocolates. The next phase is drying of the fermented wet bean were the volatile or low boiling acids, such as acetic acid are lost and the brown colour becomes more pronounced and result in the beans which are less astringent but still bitter and then is the roasting phase which is important as it is the process in which the full flavor of chocolate starts coming out and the chemistry involved is enormously complex because there’s hundreds of compounds in the seeds of the chocolate so called ‘beans’ and the chemical reactions in this process are often approximately called the”browning reactions”. Then these beans are gone through the processes of winnowing because there is a sort of skin outside which has to be removed. Then these beans are ground and native way of doing it is in Mesoamerican which is where chocolate was invented, they apply heat underneath while grounding which brings up the flavor of the beans and then results in the formation of a solid chocolate mass. The process involved has always been the Same throughout history to the present and the difference being only the machinery and technology.

Chocolate in one form or the other has been around since the ancient times and there are a lot of myths about the history of chocolate, there is no 100% evidence but it had to have been in the Mesoamerican lowlands, the evidence to this is that the word ‘cacao’is found in practically all Mesoamerican languages for chocolate and it is a lone word in those other languages, its origin is in a language that was spoken in the olmec country, known as mixe-zoque, analysis of the olmec pottery found traces of chocolate and another hard evidence of early chocolate was found in the Maya area in the site of Rio azul in northeastern Guatemala, very near the Belize border. An expedition worked on tombs at Rio azul and found a great Maya pyramid probably about 450A. D, they also found a tomb of a king which was buried by digging down into a bedrock which contained early classical Maya pottery which were the remains of the king and these pottery vessels which had hieroglyphs written around it on stucco some of them containing animal bones and fish bones but there was a tall cylindrical vessel which was very important at Rio azul and the hieroglyphs on this read ‘kakawa’ which means cacao and this vessel might have chocolate in it which belonged to the king. This vessel and several others which had a kind of residue at the bottom were sent to the Hershey company lab in Hershey, Pennsylvania and what they found was two alkaloids that occur together and are peculiar to chocolate, they are caffeine and theobromine and they have found traces of these in many Maya vessels, there are many descriptive pictures of people drinking chocolate on pictorial Maya vases. It was a very prestigious drink and only the upper caste which includes the kings, politicians could drink it and was an important part of the Maya marriage negotiations, it was their champagne and any celebration or festival was incomplete without this ‘drink of the gods’. These beans were not only used to produce a highly valued drink and were also used as currency, The cocoa beans were of tremendous value but it was consumed as a drink for the first couple of thousand years of their existence before it was consumed as chocolate bars.

The Maya even had a chocolate god called ‘Ek chuah ‘ and celebrated an annual festival in April to honor their cacao god. And as the time went by other Spaniards, invading the yucatan peninsula and Mexico in the early 1500s, quickly discovered that people were drinking and highly valuing chocolate and so did they. The Aztec accounts say that the froth on top of their cocoa drink was very important to them. The Spaniards used a large wooden swizzle stick to obtain the froth and the natives made their cocoa drink frothy by pouring the beverage from a great height from one vase to another. The best chocolate came from the province shoconochco called soconusco in the colonial times. Down in the chiapas and going over into the pacific coast of Guatemala, this was the top quality cacao from one variety of cacao which among chocolate produces today is called ‘criollo’. Today the best and the finest chocolate originates here. The Aztecs have made many descriptions about the cocoa beans, so important were the cocoa beans that the emperor made huge storehouses for the cocoa beans and paid his people and army with these beans and there were even cocoa bean counterfeiters. The first European encounter with cocoa beans came with Columbus on his fourth and final voyage to the new world, but he never knew what they were and didn’t know their value. The arrival of cocoa in Spain was documented in a Dominican document in which a Dominican priest who were in the Alta Vera paz of the Guatemala among the k’ekchi Maya and they took a group of k’ekchi nobles to Spain to the court of Philip II And they prepared a chocolate drink for him, hence this was the first mention of chocolate in Europe. Soon chocolate became popular in the Spanish court during the first 17th century, it was especially popular among women and tasted better after adding sugar, thus the craze for chocolate spread throughout Europe.

Everything changed in the 19th century when a Dutch chemist Conrad van housten devised a method to press out some of the fat from the cocoa beans as this popular chocolate drink was considered as very fatty by modern standards and this fat is called cocoa butter. The leftover residue is with turned into cocoa, which is a very weak chocolate drink or you could also mould them into bars. The chocolate which was consumed in the liquid form was transformed into a solid bar form. In great Britain the great Quaker families like Cadbury’s, rowntree’s etc developed methods to mass produce solid chocolate.

In Switzerland, Swiss innovator Hendry Nestlé who invented condensed milk and Swiss chocolatier Daniel peter collaborated and added dried milk to chocolate. To produce the first milk Chocolate, The Nestlés which is the largest food corporation in the world was thus founded.

In U. S. A the commercialization of solid chocolate was done by Mr. Hershey and developed mass production in a big way and was known as Henry ford of the chocolate industry.

The Cadbury or any other chocolate bars that we eat isn’t chocolate at all and contains only less than 15% of cocoa solids, they extract the cocoa butter from the cocoa beans which is delicious and sell it to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, then add cheap substitutes like sugar, milk and vegetable fats. Nowadays the finest chocolate is produced by the French chocolate makers in Europe.

Cacao or Chocolate, was used both as a medicine and as a vehicle to deliver other medicines, which originated among the olmec, Maya and Aztecs. The Aztecs drank chocolate to treat stomach and intestinal complaints when cocoa was combines with liquid from the bark of the silk cotton tree, five cocoa beans were used to treat childhood diarrhea and it also served as a vehicle to deliver other medicines which includes quinametli, described as “the bones of the ancient people called giants” was used to treat patients who passed blood.

In the 16th to early 20th century manuscripts produced in Europe and Spain revealed more than 100 medicinal uses of chocolate and the consist roles are to treat emaciated patients to gain weight, to stimulate nervous systems of the apathetic, exhausted or feeble patients and to improve digestion and elimination where chocolate countered the effects of weak stomachs, stimulated kidneys and improved bowel function.

Chocolates methylxanthines constitutes like caffeine and Theobromine may contribute to the liking, craving and addiction for chocolate. The caffeine increases mainly energetic arousal and acts as a central nervous system stimulant and Theobromine as a muscle stimulant.

Real chocolate which have 70-80% cocoa solids contain antioxidants which are good for the heart and to the vascular system and eating dark chocolate may also help sleep better at night as it regulates the body clock, Magnesium present in the dark chocolate helps cells to cope in the body’s circadian rhythm