Tropical Botanic Garden
by Noris Ledesma, Curator of Tropical fruit
Making Cacao Growing a Piece of Cake
As published in the Miami Herald
Chocolate really does grow on trees; although not as little
chocolates wrapped up in foil. Chocolate comes from the seeds of the
understory tree Theobroma cacao,
a tropical rainforest species closely intertwined with the needs of
mankind. Cocoa cultivation began in the Americas by the hands of the
Maya in Central America, ca. 1500 BC. The Maya attributed divine origin
to cocoa, being brought down from heaven by their God Quetzacoatl. The
cocoa beans were so precious in fact that they were used as a currency.
plants are now cultivated in rainforest habitats throughout the
tropics. Shaded agro ecosystems such as cacao provide a promising means
of bring the challenges of creating forest-like habitat for tropical
biodiversity in a rapidly deforested landscape, while simultaneously
providing a lucrative crop for the agricultural communities.
is one of the most environmentally sustainable tropical food crops.
Cacao today still thrives throughout most of the lowland tropics
sharing their needs with diverse mixture of shade trees. Because of
cultural tradition, economic necessity, and crop biology, cacao is
grown beneath larger trees that form a shade canopy, creating a closed,
forest-like habitat within the typically open, degraded agricultural
landscape. Though the management of this shade canopy can vary
tremendously from crop to crop and within a crop type, the presence of
a shade canopy generally provides some benefit to the farmer, while
improving the ability of these agricultural habitats to harbor a
diverse array of flora and fauna with a biodiversity-friendly cacao.
good consuming chocolate, particularly if you consume products that
help sustain communities and natural resources such as rainforests.
fruit of the cacao tree is a pod that contains a sweetish pulp that
clings tightly to the seeds. The pulp is eaten as a dessert and serves
for juices, both fresh and fermented. The seeds or "beans" are
fermented while still in the pulp, dried, roasted and processed into
cocao, the raw material for chocolate.
Cacao trees grow and bear
fruit in a band 20 degrees north and south of the equator. They thrive
on tropical rains and partial shade. A thick layer of leaf litter or
compost and a still, moist environment is ideal for the cacao tree.
Cacao can be grown in South Florida given attention to a few specific
Growing Cacao In South Florida
an area protected from wind and providing partial shade. The richest
organic soil in your home garden should be devoted to your cacao plant
for optimal conditions. The soil should be moist, but not water-logged,
as this will cause disease on the roots and the developing pods of your
plant. In absence of a rich organic soil a large hole can be dug and
filled with a mixture of peat moss and sand. This will allow for proper
root development and health of the plant.
In your home garden
the cacao tree will take up to four years to begin to bear fruit. The
time from flower pollination to a fully developed pod is from five to
seven months. The pods come in a rainbow of colors from green to
yellow, red and purple. Some pods are striped with two and even three
colors at full maturity. There could be no easier display than an
eye-catching grouping of cacao pods on a simple table.
Cocoa plants can be purchased from local specialty nurseries in
Florida; however, they are usually seedling plants. Seedling cacao
plants may be self-incompatible, and their flowering will result in
little or no pod production. It is a good idea to plant multiple plants
to increase pollination and the chance of fruit production. There are
self-fruitful types of cacao that will bloom and fruit in isolation,
but these are not generally available in South Florida at this time.
Cold protection must be provided for young trees by covering the entire
tree with a blanket or with the use of a large cardboard box. Even with
protection, the leaves of the cacao tree will develop brown leaf edges
during the winter and Spring months due to cold, low humidity and
winds. Thoroughly watering the area around your tree on the day of cold
danger will also help to protect it. The well-watered soil will absorb
more solar radiation than dry soil, radiating heat during the night.
Pruning for height control may be necessary if all goes well. Pruning
should be done at the end of the summer to prepare the tree for the
A granular fertilizer like an 8-3-9 or similar formulation should be
applied in June and August. The granular fertilizer should be spread
lightly below the drip line. A foliar minor element spray and
iron drench can be done in June and August to improve the growth of the
How to Make Chocolate from Scratch
1. Harvest: harvest mature cacao pods and scooped out the seeds. The cacao beans, still covered in sweet and fruity pulp.
2. Fermentation: Pour the seeds in water for 3 days for fermentation.
Remove the water and dried the seeds in the sun. The drying process
takes 1weeks, and during that period the color changes from reddish
brown to dark brown.
Cacao beans can be roasted in your oven at home. The temperature and
time of roasting affects the flavor and color of the chocolate. The
first roast started off with a 425 degree oven for 7 minutes, then 325
for eight minutes, and finally 260 degrees for 10 minutes.
Let it cool and separate the beans from the hulls. Remove the husk from
the chocolate. You will need to first crack the cacao bean and then
blow the husk away.
Placing the beans in coffee grinding. You will continue to pass the
nibs through the grinder to remove more husks and refine the chocolate.
After just a few moments the beans were reduced to the cacao paste.
Keep it in a room temperature in a plastic container.
This is the base for any chocolate recipes.