April 17, 2010
Photographer: Conrad Fernandez
Summary Author: Conrad Fernandez; Jim Foster; Stu Witmer
The photo above shows a cluster of cacao trees (Theobroma cacao) nearly ready for harvesting on a plantation in western Venezuela. These trees are one of a large family of trees which originated around the headwaters of the Amazon River. They are relatively small evergreens, typically no more than about 25 ft (8 m) tall, grow best in the shade of larger rain forest trees.
“Cocoa” is thought to be a centuries-old misspelling of “cacao,” by English speaking traders. Both words are often used interchangeably nowadays, though "cocoa" tends to refer to the drink and "cacao" to the plant. Most likely the origin of the word "chocolate" is in the Nahuatl language of Central America which referred to the beans as "cachoatl." When it was classified by Linnaeus (clearly a chocoholic) the cacao genus was named Theobroma (food of the gods). Cultivation of cacao most likely started with the Mayans perhaps as early as 1500 BC. A little over 3,000 years later Hernan Cortez brought it to Europe where drinking chocolate did not catch on until sugar was added.
The ripe yellow-brown brown seed pods containing cacao beans look as though they’ve been attached to the trunks of these trees ("cauliflorous"). Today most commercial cacao beans are grown in East Africa on small farms and are harvested by hand as they have been for hundreds of years. Generally, harvesting is done during the rainy season but, since the plant has both flowers and fruits simultaneously, it can be harvested during most of the year. By the way, the chocolate I sampled at this plantation was divine! Photo taken on August 10, of 2004.
Photo details: Camera: NIKON E3100; Focal Length: 5.8mm (35mm equivalent: 38mm); Aperture: f/2.8; Exposure Time: 0.0062 s (1/161); ISO equiv: 100