COCOA BEANS (Cacao)

Theobroma cacao L., is the scientific name of the cocoa tree, which in Greek means “food of the gods.”
The word cacao comes from the Nahuatl word cacahuatl derived from the Maya kakaw, meaning “red and strong fruit.”
The cocoa tree is a tropical plant featuring cinnamon-colored bark, elongated leaves, purple flowers and small clumps of oval fruits, called cocoa pods or cones, which develop in the tree’s trunk and main branches. Ripe cocoa beans take on a yellowish or reddish hue and cocoa yields several crops yearly.
The plant dates back some 4000 years, to the Western Hemisphere’s tropical and subtropical regions and in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins. The Maya domesticated and consumed processed seeds starting about 2000 years ago, and also used beans as a form of currency. At the time, cocoa was the subject of myths, divine cult and was also a ritual beverage.
With the sixteenth century and the arrival of the Spaniards, both cocoa cultivation and use were favored. Cocoa was mixed with sugar, spices (especially cinnamon) and almonds, among other ingredients, and gave rise to chocolate (in the form of bars and tablets) meant to be diluted in milk and whipped with a wooden grinder known as a molinillo de madera.
Today cocoa is grown in Mexico’s hot and humid regions, notably the Southern Gulf region (the La Chontalpa zone, organic product; Slow Food Bastion) the Southern Highlands (Pichucalco, Xoconusco and Montes Azules in Chiapas, cultivated using agro-ecological methods) and to a lesser extent, the Central Gulf region.
Cocoa and its derivatives are rich in fats and carbohydrates. The former derive from cocoa butter found in the seeds. Additionally, cocoa contains minerals (potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, vitamins and folic acid); as well as theobromine (an alkaloid similar to caffeine and a central nervous system stimulant). Regular cocoa consumption prevents constipation and releases endorphins that promote a positive mood; as well, cocoa is rich in antioxidants that enhance cardiovascular health.
Mexicans eat and drink numerous cocoa preparations. Combining cocoa with corn leads to various non-alcoholic beverages (tejate, taxcalate and popo, among others). Mexico produces manually-made chocolate, called metate chocolate, where the cocoa mixture, sugar and spices—diluted with water or milk—varies by region and each family’s personal tastes. Chocolate also goes into tamales and atole; provides a sweet note in different regional moles and sauces; is used to make ice cream and popsicles; and is combined with amaranth and beans: after beans have been roasted their skin is removed for use in tamales and atole.

Recipes

Coffee with metate chocolate