Where Does Chocolate Come From? Does it grow on trees?

Photo of Where Does Chocolate Come FromWhere does chocolate come from? Actually, it DOES grow on trees. It all starts with a small tropical tree, the Theobroma cacao, usually called simply, “cacao.” (Pronounced ka-KOW. Theobroma is Greek for “food of the gods.”) Cacao is native to Central and South America, but it is grown commercially throughout the tropics. About 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in Africa.

A cacao tree can produce close to two thousand pods per year. The ridged, football shaped pod, or fruit, of the cacao grows from the branches and, oddly, straight out of the trunk. The pods, which mature throughout the year, encase a sticky white pulp and about 30 or 40 seeds. The pulp is both sweet and tart; it is eaten and used in making drinks. The seeds, were you to bite into one straight out of the pod, are incredibly bitter. Not at all like the chocolate that comes from them.

It’s actually a perfect design. The fruit attracts forest animals, like monkeys, who eat the fruit but cast the seeds aside, dispersing them and allowing new trees to sprout up. (One of my favorite memories of a recent trip to Costa Rica was watching monkeys eating in a “chocolate” tree.) It’s hard to imagine why humans ever thought to do anything with the seeds.

What is it that we do with these seeds, which we call beans, to answer the question “Where does chocolate come from?” First, the pods must be harvested, which is usually done twice a year. Because the trees are too fragile to climb, harvesting is accomplished by workers on the ground, who wield either a machete or a long pole with a machete on the end. Then, workers open the pods by hand, taking care not to damage the beans inside.

Photo of Cacao PodsNext comes one of the most important steps in the process – fermentation. The beans, still sticky with pulp, are placed in earthen pits or wooden bins and covered with banana leaves, then left to ferment. The heat of fermentation changes the bitter flavors in the beans into something more edible, more chocolatey. The sugars in the bean turn into acids, the color changes from pale to dark brown, and the pulp residue melts away. The length of the fermentation process depends on the type of bean; the higher quality beans may need only a few days, where others may need a week or more.

After fermentation, the beans are dried in the sun for about a week. The flavor continues to develop during this time. Some manufacturers try to speed this process along by drying the beans over a fire, which gives them a smoky, inferior flavor.

Once the beans are dry, they are ready to be shipped to a factory, where they are turned into chocolate.

Continue on to our How is chocolate made? page, or, learn more about growing cacao and Fair Trade for more help in answering the question, “Where does chocolate come from?”

Comments 65

  1. po August 19, 2012
    • Jacob November 20, 2012
    • Montana lava February 20, 2018
  2. Aleena August 22, 2012
    • audrey October 7, 2012
      • mason barnaby February 8, 2016
      • maddyn barnaby February 8, 2016
    • honkeydong April 14, 2014
      • paris July 14, 2016
      • ItzSunix March 3, 2017
        • Sahib June 27, 2018
  3. dude August 22, 2012
    • theoharis January 13, 2014
  4. jess September 15, 2012
    • Hannah April 19, 2016
  5. Maz September 21, 2012
  6. audrey October 7, 2012
  7. catherine October 19, 2012
    • Food May 17, 2017
  8. dudette November 4, 2012
  9. marilyn kisten November 7, 2012
  10. olivia November 13, 2012
  11. Doza November 19, 2012
  12. mckenzi November 20, 2012
    • BRIEARA September 30, 2013
    • chaylyn June 9, 2014
      • Sophie January 20, 2016
  13. Uurwerk December 2, 2012
  14. Jannie December 2, 2012
    • Jannie December 2, 2012
      • hgnjyg March 2, 2016
  15. Jannie December 2, 2012
  16. Nana December 19, 2012
  17. Summer January 7, 2013
    • δ½ ε₯½ January 21, 2013
  18. δ½ ε₯½ January 21, 2013
  19. jonathan March 29, 2013
  20. RazzleBerryLuver :) May 8, 2013
  21. nikole p December 1, 2013
  22. Brett buckner December 18, 2013
  23. kaira September 30, 2014
  24. stefan February 19, 2015
  25. stefan February 19, 2015
  26. shantelwalker April 13, 2015
  27. toya siala August 10, 2015
  28. Corinna September 16, 2015
  29. jess November 30, 2015
  30. nae nae January 22, 2016
  31. Roman January 25, 2016
    • Roman January 25, 2016
  32. Joe February 6, 2016
  33. cool duck March 14, 2016
  34. Mareian taco March 21, 2016
  35. ZOE KNOWS ME April 17, 2017
  36. dhbvjebfiu May 18, 2017
  37. BellaPopcorn101 August 3, 2017
  38. alley January 19, 2018
  39. urmumchoclate March 7, 2018
  40. mattie April 18, 2018
  41. jamarious January 14, 2019
  42. jamarious January 14, 2019
  43. Jordan Harvey April 11, 2019
  44. Jordan Harvey April 11, 2019
  45. bootyful babe July 22, 2019
  46. Em March 11, 2020

Leave a Reply

Chocolate University Health Information History of Chocolate
Where Does Chocolate Come From? Does it grow on trees?
chocolate swirl
How is chocolate made? From bean to bar…
types of chocolate
General Questions About Chocolate
Wiseman House Chocolates
Wiseman House Chocolates Review
Vivani Chocolate
Vivani Chocolate Reviews
valrhona chocolate reviews
Valrhona Chocolate Reviews
terra nostra chocolate reviews
Terra Nostra Chocolate Reviews
Brownies Chocolate Bath Products Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes Chocolate Cookie Recipes Chocolate Dessert Recipes Chocolate Fondue Recipes Drinking Chocolate Recipes Hot Chocolate Recipes
5 Minute Coconut Date Bars
5 Minute Coconut Date Bars
Hot Chocolate Recipe Tips
Hot Chocolate Recipe Tips
healthy chocolate cheesecake
Healthy Chocolate Cheesecake
Books Gift Ideas Movies
Our Favorite Chocolate Movie
Our Favorite Chocolate Movie
chocolate videos
The Chocolate Tourist: Chocolate Videos!
Chocolate Spa Day
And the winner is…
custom chocolate bar contest
A Coupon, A Contest, and A Custom Chocolate Bar!
Chocolate Toothpaste?! I kid you not.
Dark Chocolate Practical Use #293