Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) is a small perennial tree crop that primarily comes from three tropical regions; West Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. It usually ranges in height between four and eight metres.
While cocoa is a tropical crop, it doesn’t do too well in the sun and is usually cultivated in the shade of other crops such as oil palm, rubber and banana, and/or in the shades of fruit trees such as avocado, breadfruit, guava, mango, orange and coconut.
The cocoa fruit is an egg-shaped pod, and is usually coloured red or brown. It typically contains between thirty and forty seeds, each of which is surrounded by a bitter-sweet white pulp. When cocoa seeds are dried and fermented in the sun they are brownish red, and are known as cocoa beans/seeds.
In general, cocoa is considered to be a rich source of antioxidants such as procyanidins and flavanoids, which may impart antiagingproperties.Cocoa also contain a high level of flavonoids, specifically epicatechin, which may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. Cocoa is a stimulant and contains the compounds theobromine and caffeine. The beans contain between 0.1% and 0.7% caffeine, whereas dry coffee beans are about 1.2% caffeine.
The stimulant activity of cocoa comes from the compound theobromine which is less diuretic as compared to theophylline found in tea. Prolonged intake of flavanol-rich cocoa has been linked to cardiovascular health benefits, though this refers to raw cocoa and to a lesser extent, dark chocolate, since flavonoids degrade during cooking and alkalizing processes. Short-term benefits in LDL cholesterol levels from dark chocolate consumption have been found. The addition of whole milk to milk chocolate reduces the overall cocoa content per ounce while increasing saturated fat levels. Although one study has concluded that milk impairs the absorption of polyphenolic flavonoids, e.g. epicatechin, a followup failed to find the effect.
The three main varieties of cocoa plant are Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario.
The Criollos: This is considered the finest and most luxurious of cocoas. It very well dominated the international market in the 18th century, but only very few pure Criollo trees remain. Nigeria has a small share of these Criollo trees. The seed is hardly bitter and is only mildly acidic. It has a mild cocoa taste with striking secondary tastes of fruits, tobacco and nuts. This is a breed that is more susceptible to pests and fungal diseases, and a breed that has smaller yields when compared to other cocoa breeds. It is also the most expensive breed.
The Forasteros: This is a very robust and hardy breed of cocoa, a breed that accounts for more than eighty per cent of global cocoa cultivation. It is however not as aromatic as Criollo, and can in most cases have a bitter and/or acidic taste. It has a hard and rough back and is the most common breed cultivated in Nigeria.
The Trinitario: This is a breed derived from crossing Criollos and Forasteros. It combines the robustness of the Forastero with the powerful aromatic cocoa taste of the Criollo.
Cocoa is considered to be a rich source of antioxidants such as procyanidins and flavanoids, which may impart antiaging properties. Cocoa also contain a high level of flavonoids, specifically epicatechin, which may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. Cocoa is a stimulant and contains the compounds theobromine and caffeine. The beans contain between 0.1% and 0.7% caffeine, whereas dry coffee beans are about 1.2% caffeine. The stimulant activity of cocoa comes from the compound theobromine which is less diuretic as compared to theophylline found in tea. Foods rich in cocoa appear to reduce blood pressure according to an analysis of previously published research in the April 9, 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
Uses Of The Ccocoa Products
Chocolate is the best known product of the cocoa seed. The first recorded evidence of chocolate as a food product goes back the Mayans and Aztecs who made a drink from the beans of the cocoa tree. Chocolate was known as a beverage until the nineteenth Century when “eating chocolate” was made.
Another well-known product of the cocoa seed is cocoa powder, used as an ingredient in almost any foodstuff. It is used in chocolate flavoured drinks and desserts such as ice cream. It is also used for chocolate spreads and sauces, and cakes and biscuits.
Cocoa is also used to produce cocoa butter, an ingredient extensively used in cosmetic products such as moisturising soaps and creams. Cocoa is also used to manufacture cocoa liquor, jam and marmalade.
Fresh cocoa pulp juice is often used in the production of soft drinks and alcohol.
The crushed shells or pod husks of cocoa beans can serve as organicfertiliser, as natural deterrents to weeds, and are used to minimise erosion.
When pelletised, the husk can also be used as animal feed, while potash from the husk can be used for soft soap manufacture.
Cocoa Breeding Methods
Cocoa is raised from seed. Seeds will germinate and produce good plants when taken from pods not more than 15 days underripe.
Cutting – Tree cuttings are taken with between two and five leaves and one or two buds. The leaves are cut in half and the cutting placed in a pot under polyethylene until roots begin to grow.
Budding – A bud is cut from a tree and placed under a flap of bark on another tree. The budding patch is then bound with raffia and waxed tape of clear plastic to prevent moisture loss. When the bud is growing, the old tree above it is cut off.
Marcotting – A strip of bark is removed from a branch and the area covered in sawdust and a polyethylene sheet. The area will produce roots and the branch can then be chopped off and planted.
Locate a large expanse of forest land with the appropriate climate and suitable rainfalls. Cocoa seedling is very sensitive and can die off quickly if not handled properly. Under the forest canopy is the ideal place to plant cocoa. The land you intend to use for your cocoa farming must be covered by rain forest canopy. The trees need even temperatures between 21-23 degrees Celsius, with a fairly constant rainfall of 1000-2500mm per year.
Get good and improved cocoa variety from reliable source. International Institute for Tropical Agriculture will be a good place to get the cocoa variety with some advice. Or if you want to take the gamble, you just get the cocoa seeds directly from cocoa farm from an experienced cocoa farmers.
Clear the forest and plant the cocoa seeds at the beginning of raining season. Best period for planting cocoa is around April May when the raining reason is just picking up.
Climate Condition For Cocoa Farming
Cocoa is produced in countries in a belt between 10ºN and 10ºS of the Equator, where the climate is appropriate for growing cocoa trees. The largest producing countries are Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia.
The natural habitat of the cocoa tree is in the lower storey of the evergreen rainforest, and climatic factors, particularly temperature and rainfall, are important in encouraging optimum growth.
Cocoa plants respond well to relatively high temperatures, with a maximum annual average of 30 – 32ºC and a minimum average of 18 – 21ºC.
Variations in the yield of cocoa trees from year to year are affected more by rainfall than by any other climatic factor. Trees are very
sensitive to a soil water deficiency. Rainfall should be plentiful and well distributed throughout the year. An annual rainfall level of between 1,500mm and 2,000mm is generally preferred. Dry spells, where rainfall is less than 100mm per month, should not exceed three months.
A hot and humid atmosphere is essential for the optimum development of cocoa trees. In cocoa producing countries, relative humidity is
generally high: often as much as 100% during the day, falling to 70-80% during the night.
The cocoa tree will make optimum use of any light available and traditionally has been grown under shade. Its natural environment is the
Amazonian forest which provides natural shade trees. Shading is indispensable in a cocoa tree’s early years.
Soil Condition And Property
Cocoa needs a soil containing coarse particles and with a reasonable quantity of nutrients, to a depth of 1.5m to allow the development of a good root system. Below that level it is desirable not to have impermeable material, so that excess water can drain away. Cocoa will
withstand waterlogging for short periods, but excess water should not linger. The cocoa tree is sensitive to a lack of water, so the soil must have both water retention properties and good drainage.
The chemical properties of the topsoil are most important, as the plant has a large number of roots for absorbing nutrients. Cocoa can
grow in soils with a pH in the range of 5.0-7.5. It can therefore cope with both acid and alkaline soil, but excessive acidity (pH 4.0 and
below) or alkalinity (pH 8.0 and above) must be avoided.
Cocoa is tolerant of acid soils, provided the nutrient content is high enough. The soil should also have a high content of organic matter: 3.5% in the top 15 centimetres of soil. Soils for cocoa must have certain anionic and cationic balances. Exchangeable bases in the soil should amount to at least 35% of the total cation exchange capacity (CEC), otherwise nutritional problems are likely. The optimum total nitrogen / total phosphorus ratio should be around 1.5.
Harvesting And Harvest Processing
The pods on a tree do not ripen together; harvesting needs to be done periodically through the year.Harvesting occurs between three and four times weekly during the harvest season.The ripe and near-ripe pods, as judged by their colour, are harvested from the trunk and branches of the cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole. Care must be used when cutting the stem of the pod to avoid damaging the junction of the stem with the tree, as this is where future flowers and pods will emerge.One person can harvest an estimated 650 pods per day.
The harvested pods are opened, typically with a machete, to expose the beans.The pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are then piled in heaps, placed in bins, or laid out on grates for several days. During this time, the seeds and pulp undergo “sweating”, where the thick pulp liquefies as it ferments. The fermented pulp trickles away, leaving cocoa seeds behind to be collected. Sweating is important for the quality of the beans, which originally have a strong, bitter taste. If sweating is interrupted, the resulting cocoa may be ruined; if underdone, the cocoa seed maintains a flavor similar to raw potatoes and becomes susceptible to mildew. Some cocoa-producing countries distill alcoholic spirits using the liquefied pulp.
A typical pod contains 20 to 50 beansand about 400 dried beans are required to make one pound (880 per kilogram) of chocolate.Cocoa pods weigh an average of 400 g (14 oz) and each one yields 35 to 40 g (1.2 to 1.4 oz) dried beans; this yield is 40–44% of the total weight in the pod.One person can separate the beans from about 2000 pods per day.
The wet beans are then transported to a facility so they can be fermented and dried. They are fermented for four to seven days and must be mixed every two days. They are dried for five to 14 days, depending on the climate conditions. The fermented beans are dried by spreading them out over a large surface and constantly raking them. In large plantations, this is done on huge trays under the sun or by using artificial heat. Small plantations may dry their harvest on little trays or on cowhides. Finally, the beans are trodden and shuffled about (often using bare human feet) and sometimes, during this process, red clay mixed with water is sprinkled over the beans to obtain a finer color, polish, and protection against molds during shipment to factories in the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and other countries. Drying in the sun is preferable to drying by artificial means, as no extraneous flavors such as smoke or oil are introduced which might otherwise taint the flavor.
The beans should be dry for shipment (usually by sea). Traditionally exported in jute bags, over the last decade, beans are increasingly shipped in “mega-bulk” parcels of several thousand tonnes at a time on ships, or in smaller lots around 25 tonnes in 20-ft containers. Shipping in bulk significantly reduces handling costs; shipment in bags, however, either in a ship’s hold or in containers, is still common.
Throughout Mesoamerica where they are native, cocoa beans are used for a variety of foods. The harvested and fermented beans may be ground to-order at tiendas de chocolate, or chocolate mills. At these mills, the cocoa can be mixed with a variety of ingredients such as cinnamon, chili peppers, almonds, vanilla, and other spices to create drinking chocolate. The ground cocoa is also an important ingredient in tejate and a number of savory foods, such as mole.