Cocoa Beans

Do you like chocolate? Most people do. The smooth, brown candy is deliciously sweet. Not all chocolate tastes exactly alike, but it all tastes like chocolate, doesn’t it? That’s because it all comes from the cocoa bean.

What is a cocoa bean

Cocoa beans are little beans found in the pods that grow on cacao (cocoa) trees. The pods are orange and are about as big as a small pumpkin. They look like a football with some of the air out of it.

When the pods are ready to be picked, they are cut open so the beans inside can be taken out and roasted (baked). Before the cocoa bean is roasted, it has over three hundred different flavors.

Roasting the beans dries them so they can be crushed into cocoa (chocolate powder). So I guess you can say chocolate grows on trees…sort of. Plain cocoa is very bitter. It’s not really chocolate until you add sugar.

Growing cocoa beans

Since cocoa beans grow on trees, you might be thinking you want to plant a few in your yard. Unless you live in South America or somewhere else south of the Equator, you won’t be able to. That’s because cocoa trees only grow in climates where it is hot and humid all year long. Cocoa trees need neat and humidity, but they do not grow well unless they are planted near taller trees that will help shade them from the direct sun. That is why most people who grow cocoa trees also grow mangos or papayas. This works well because both of these fruits need the same kind of weather and soil.

Cocoa trees grow slowly. It takes three to five years for cocoa trees to produce pods with beans for making chocolate. Cocoa trees can live up to two hundred years, but will only produce cocoa beans for about twenty-five of those years.

A tree produces about one thousand cocoa beans every year. That is enough to make about two pounds of chocolate.

Think about this…

Every year, people all over the world eat or drink 2 BILLION pounds of chocolate every year. So…if every cocoa tree produces enough beans to make only 2 pounds of chocolate a year, 1 BILLION cocoa trees are needed every year to keep the world supplied in chocolate.

The first chocolate

The Mayan Indians were the first people we know of to use chocolate. They crushed the beans into powder and mixed it with water for…HOT CHOCLATE. They called it ‘bitter water’ because they did not put sugar in it.

The Mayans even used cocoa beans for money. Mayan Indians used cocoa beans to buy slaves and animals.

Other interesting facts about cocoa

  • Chocolate is the number one use for cocoa beans, but it isn’t the only thing they are good for. Cocoa beans can also be used for…
  • The oil taken from cocoa beans before they are roasted is called cocoa butter. It is used to make chocolate and many other food items.
  • Some animals like to eat cocoa bean hulls.
  • The hulls from the cocoa beans are used as mulch. Mulch is what people put around trees and in flower beds to keep the weeds from growing.
  • Cocoa is not used to make white chocolate.

Cocoa challenge

Taste plain cocoa powder, dark chocolate, semi-dark chocolate and milk chocolate. How are each of them different?

Read more about Plant Facts for Kids