Cacao: Production and Harvesting

Before it can be made into the products that we like, the Cacao beans have to go through their own process.  Despite the popularity of  Cacao back in the 1500’s and the popularity of chocolate now, this plant is very hard to grow. This is because it only thrives in climates 20 degrees north and south of the equator which means they have to be planted on a larger scale because growing regions are limited.  The illustration below depicts where cacao is produced.

 It must be planted next to taller trees whose leaves will protect it from direct sun and high wind, which makes these areas great for their growth. Cacao needs to be harvested manually in the forest so the use of heavy machinery is a no-no, as the machines will damage the trees and prevent any further growth and seed production.  The seed pods of cacao will first be collected; the beans will be selected and placed in piles and then the cacao beans will then be ready to be shipped to the manufacturer for mass production.

Country

Amount produced

Percentage of world production

Côte d’Ivoire 1.23 million tons 34.7%
Ghana 730 thousand tons 20.6%
Indonesia 490 thousand tons 13.8%
Cameroon 210 thousand tons 5.9%
Nigeria 210 thousand tons 5.9%
Brazil 165 thousand tons

4.7%

This table shows the world’s leaders in Cacao Production.

Cacao goes through three major steps before being manufactured into all the goodies we love today; Harvesting, Fermentation and Drying. The entire process is very labour intensive and is a very delicate one every part of cacao farming is done by hand, not machines. During harvesting the pods are collected into baskets by removing them from the trunk of the tree by hand and with the use of a machete for easy removal and because not all pods are ripen at the same time .

 Cacao Harvest

After pods are collected, they go through a fermentation process where in the end they change from white to brown.  They are sometimes placed in large, shallow, heated trays or covered with large banana leaves on the ground.  If the weather is right they can just be simple heated by the sun, they are stirred periodically so that all the beans can be equally fermented.  The heat of fermentation, which can reach up to 120 degrees, causes the white pulp to melt away from the beans and this process takes about 5 to 8 days to complete.

Cacao Fermentation

The final stage before the seeds get shipped of to be come wonderful treats is the drying process.  During this final process the seeds have to be dried so that they can be easily packed and scooped into sacks so that it easy for them to be shipped to the manufacturing factories.  Cacao seeds are laid on bamboo mats so that they can soak up all the warmth from the sun.  If the beans are dried too quickly some of the chemical reactions started in the fermentation process will not be allowed to finish and the beans will taste acidic or bitter and if the drying is too slow, mould and off- flavors can develop.

Drying of the Cacao Beans

Seeds packed in sacks getting ready to be shipped to manufacturing companies.

Once this final process is done, the seeds will be on their way to a manufacturing company to be turned into the wonderful treats that we love.  I would have to give lots of credit to the farmers that make this a profession.  Even though the conditions are not the best and the pay really isn’t much, they make it very possible for us to enjoy cacao beans to their full extent. Long Live Chocolate. 

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