The treat that now lies quietly in its wrapper carries a story of exotic places, long journeys and small families that raise delicate tropical fruit trees.
As you peel back the wrapper, you’re uncovering the cacao tree’s seed and joining people the world over who have turned to this mysterious food for ritual, medicine and sheer pleasure for the past 4,000 years.
How do the beans in chocolate farmers’ hands become decadent sweets in yours? Let’s explore how chocolate is made…the story of chocolate.
Where Is It From?
The treat so loved worldwide has very humble beginnings. The cacao bean begins life inside a fruit, called a pod, on a tree in the tropics, primarily in remote areas of West Africa, Southeast Asia and Central and South America.
These delicate, flower-covered trees need much tending and, when farmed using sustainable methods, grow in harmony in tropical forests beneath other cash crops such as bananas, rubber or hardwood trees. Grown on small family farms, the beans leave cocoa farms by hand, in carts, on donkeys or rugged trucks to be sold to a local buyer and then to processors abroad.
What Is It?
Chocolate grows on trees.
The cocoa “beans” that form the basis of chocolate are actually seeds from the fruit of the cacao tree, which grows near the Equator. The seeds grow inside a pod-like fruit and are covered with white pulp.
How is chocolate made? To make chocolate, cocoa farmers crack open the pods, scoop out the seeds, ferment them and dry them.
The beans are shipped to factories, where manufacturers inspect and clean them, then roast and grind them into a paste called chocolate liquor. More pressing, rolling, mixing with sugar and other ingredients, and heating and cooling yields delicious chocolate.
Who Depends On It?
Humans’ love affair with chocolate began at least 4,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, in present-day southern Mexico and Central America, where cacao grew wild. When the Olmecs unlocked the secret of how to eat this bitter seed, they launched an enduring phenomenon.
Since then, people around the world have turned to chocolate to cure sickness, appease gods, show love, buy rabbits, fete holidays, survive fasts, ward off scorpions and sustain warriors.
In fact, the making of chocolate has evolved into an industry so large that 40 to 50 million people depend on cocoa for their livelihoods and chocolate farmers produce 3.8 million tons of cocoa beans per year.