Cocoa tree characteristics (Theobroma cacao)

What is a cocoa tree?

Cocoa tree, with leaves and fruits

Cocoa tree or cacao tree, with leaves and fruits

Scientific name: Theobroma cacao L, (Cacao sativa Aubl.; Theobroma caribaea Sweet; Theobroma pentagonum Bernoulli; Theobroma saltzmanniana Bernoulli; Theobroma sapidum Pittier; Theobroma integerrima Stokes; Theobroma kalagua De Wild.;Theobroma leiocarpum Bernoulli…)

Etymology of cocoa: The botanical name of cacao tree is Theobroma cacao, that means Food of the Gods. Its scientific name comes from the Greek “Theos” which means “God” and “broma” which means “food.” This name was coined thus by the botanist Lineo in reference to the importance that this plant had for the native Americans.

*See: Cocoa in other languages

Distribution and habitat of cocoa: Cocoa tree grows wild in the forests of Central America in the area between 26 degrees north and 26 degrees south of the equator.

Where does the cacao tree grow?

cocoa tree

Cocoa tree drawing

Cocoa or cacao is a tropical tree of the Malvaceae family to which other trees belong, such as the Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus) or the cola tree (Cola acuminata).

There are approximately 20 species of the genus Theobroma, among them the most important because of its commercial value is cocoa (Theobroma cacao) because from their seeds are obtained products as appreciated as cocoa powder or cocoa butter, from which chocolate is made.

It is also found as a cultivated tree in the tropics of West Africa and Asia.

Description of the cocoa tree

In the wild the cacao tree reaches a maximum height of about 9 meters, although the trees cultivated are smaller to facilitate its collection and cultivation and usually do not exceed 2 or 3 meters in height.

It has erect and smooth trunk with pale brownish color, almost white.

Oval leaves with well marked apex of up to 25 cm in length of a reddish color when they are young and bright green when they are adult.

Cocoa tree flowers are small with creamy yellow petals and pink sepals. They grow on the trunks or the thicker branches.

From flower fruits are produced. They are elongated berries having ribs; up to 30 cm long. They turn bright reddish brown, dark brown or black coffee when they mature.

Inside the fruits, wrapped in a milky pulp, there are some 20 or 40 seeds from which the cocoa powder is made.

Uses of cocoa

cocoa powder
Photo of cocoa powder

The main utility of the cocoa fruit is the production of cocoa powder and cocoa fat, both used mainly for the production of chocolate. Two-thirds of cocoa produced in the world is used to make this product. However, another series of products, obtained in the process of preparation of chocolate, can be used for other purposes.

Cocoa powder: In addition to the production of chocolate, cocoa powder is used to flavor cookies, cakes, drinks or iced tarts.

Cocoa butter: cocoa butter is used by the pharmaceutical industry for the production of medicines; By the cosmetics industry, for the manufacture of beauty products, skin cleansers,

cocoa butter
Picture of cocoa butter

face masks, etc. As well as soaps.

From a medicinal point of view, it can be used to heal wounds, burns, rheumatism, cough, etc.

Cocoa pulp: From the cocoa pulp drinks can be made, some with alcohol.

Peel of the fruit: The peel of the fruit is used for animal feed and with the juice jams can be made.

*Related information: Cocoa varietiesHistory and legends about cocoa

punto rojo More information on cocoa and chocolate

This article was endorsed by Julián Masats - Technical agricultural engineer specialized in horticulture and gardening.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

9 January, 2022

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