Theobroma cacao, translated as 'food of the gods', was a sacred substance for the native Mesoamerican peoples, and was nourishing both physically and spiritually. Even today chocolate seems to have an almost spiritual appeal to the many chocophiles among us.
The cocoa tree grows within 20 degrees north and south of the equator and is native to the South American rain forest. The rain forest is the only environment in which the cocoa tree thrives. This fragile ecosystem is the most biological diverse forest in the world and the 'tree' has evolved in an environment which supplies all the nutrients and antibodies necessary for it to succeed. Wild cacao trees contain genetic secrets that make them resistant to diseases that commercially grown trees, outside the rain forest, do not have. The shorter the distance between the cocoa tree and the rain forest, the happier the tree!
It takes about 5 years for a tree to bear fruit, and maximum yield occurs in about 10 years. The tree produces about 50 cocoa pods, twice a year, so chocolate is always 'in season'. Each pod contains as many as 50 beans - about the size of an almond.
The pods have a leathery look to them - yellow to reddish brown in colour - and can measure up to 12 inches long and up to 5 inches in diametre. In terms of product yield, each pod contains enough chocolate to produce 10 milk chocolate candy bars, or 4 dark chocolate candy bars.
Cacao beans contain about three hundred substances that affect the flavour and nutritional value of chocolate, including antioxidants, stearic acid, copper, magnesium, calcium and caffeine. Recent studies by leading Universities have confirmed the presence of many 'feel good' chemicals that can help beat the blues, including relaxing magnesium, calming anandamide and pleasure-inducing phenylethylamine.
Not that the chocophiles among us need anymore proof!