Cocoa, a word which comes from the Spanish word cacao, which is derived from the Nahuatl word cacahuatl, is the name given to the drink that also is commonly called hot cocoa or hot chocolate made from cocoa powder.
It also refers to the powder, which is the dry powder made by grinding cocoa seeds and removing the cocoa butter from the cocoa solids, which are dark and bitter. Finally, it is also used to refer to a mixture of cocoa powder and cocoa butter, a primitive form of chocolate.
The cacao tree is native to the Amazon Basin where it was domesticated by the Olmecs of Mexico. Wild cacao grows in the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, in Colombia and Venezuela.
Cacao trees grow in a limited geographical zone, of about 20° to the north and south of the Equator. Today, nearly 70% of the world’s crop today is grown in West Africa.
Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards and became a popular beverage by the mid-17th century. Spaniards also introduced the cacao tree into the West Indies and the Philippines.
The three main varieties of cocoa plants are Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario. Forastero is the most common variety comprising 80–90% of the world’s production of cocoa. The Criollo variety is rarer and considered a delicacy. One of the largest producers of Criollo beans is Venezuela.
The world’s highest producers of cocoa are the Ivory Coast with 38% of the total, Ghana (17%), and Indonesia (13%). Others are Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, and Ecuador.
Once the cocoa beans have been harvested, fermented, dried, and roasted, which helps improve the flavor, they are passed through a hydraulic press to produce cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Chocolate liquor can also be produced in another process. Cocoa butter is used in chocolate bar manufacture, other confectionery, soaps, and cosmetics while the powder is used in beverage making and bakery.
Cocoa contains several minerals, including calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc. Where they were found in greater quantities in cocoa powder than either cocoa butter or chocolate liquor.