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 Theobroma subsp. var.  
Theobroma cacao fruit
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Sterculiaceae > Theobroma var. , L.

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Theobroma is a genus of about 20 species in the family Sterculiaceae or sometimes classified as Malvaceae. They are small understory trees native to the tropical forests of Central and South America. The scientific name translates to "drink of the gods".

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Theobroma (Greek, food of the gods). Sterculiaceae. Here belong the trees that produce the seed from which chocolate and cocoa are derived.

About a score of small trees in Trop. Amer., with large simple thick and strongly nerved entire lvs., and small fls. which in at least some species are borne laterally on the branches rather than in axils: calyx deeply 5-parted or -lobed; petals 5, mostly clawed or narrowed below; fertile stamens 5, opposite the sepals; ovary sessile and 5-celled, many-ovuled, the style filiform: fr. a large woody drupe or pod, with seeds imbedded in the pulp. The species of prime economic importance is T. Cacao, but other species are probably concerned in the production of cocoa, and the natural history of the group is yet confused. The word "cacao" (pronounced ka-kow') is the name of the plant and the unmanufactured product of it; "cocoa" is the manufactured product, produced from the bean-like seeds, chocolate being the chief commercial commodity. (Coco is a very different plant: see Erythroxylon.) The beans are washed or fermented, or both, to remove the mucilaginous substance with which they are surrounded or coated with clay to make them moisture-proof, to prevent decay, and preserve the aroma.

The common cacao is T. Cacao, Linn., native apparently in Cent. and S. Amer. It is a wide-branching evergreen tree, reaching 20-25 ft. in height (or somewhat more in the wild), with pubescent twigs and alternate oblong-oval or elliptic-oblong entire short- petioled lvs., the blade 6 in. long more or less, rounded at base and abruptly acuminate at apex, with strong midrib and paired or somewhat alternate arching side veins: fls. small, in fascicles directly on the bark of the trunk and main branches, about 3/4 in. across when expanded, on slender pedicels 1/2 in. or more long; calyx rose-colored, with acuminate segms.; corolla yellowish, the long petals with a stalk-like claw and expanded blade: fr. or "pod" 1 ft. or less long and mostly 4 in. or less in diam., about 10-ribbed, red, yellow, purplish, or brown, elliptic-ovoid in form, the rind thick, hard, and leathery; cells 5, each with 5-12 "beans" in a row imbedded in a white or pinkish acid pulp; the pods will average about 20-40 good beans; these flat brown or purple beans or seeds, each an inch or more across, constitute the commercial cacao, from which the products are manufactured. For an account of the cult. of cacao, see Cyclo. Amer. Agric., Vol. II, pp. 224-6. There is a large literature on the subject.

The estates devoted to the culture of the plant are usually known as "cacao plantations" and are largely on the increase in all suitable climates, owing to the increased demand for the manufactured article in the different forms in which it is now prepared for consumption. The larger proportion of commercial cacao is produced by Theobroma Cacao (Fig. 3793). Other species native to Central America and the West Indies are T. pentagona, T. speciosa, T. angustifolia, and the closely related Tribroma bicolor.

In vigor of growth and productive capacity, Theobroma pentagona resembles to a very large degree the generally cultivated varieties of T. Cacao, but it differs in the flowers, in the size of the beans, and especially in the shape of the pods. The beans are larger in size than those of T. Cacao, fully equal if not superior in flavor, and are capable of being worked up in the same way as the commoner species. This kind is known on the mainland as "Alligator" cacao, from the fancied resemblance of its skin to the hide of an alligator. The outside of the pod is soft and easily broken, and does not afford such good protection to the interior as the harder shell possessed by T. Cacao. In Nicaragua, T. Cacao and T. pentagona are grown together, and the produce is mostly a mixture of the two species. From the presence of T. pentagona, it is possible that hybridization has taken place between two species. It has been noted that the pods of T. Cacao produce much larger seeds or beans in Nicaragua than in countries where this species is not grown in company with T. pentagona: and the beans of the two species are almost impossible to distinguish when cured together. The product of Nicaraguan plantations also requires much less time for fermentation than the produce of Grenada, Trinidad, or Venezuela, some forty-eight hours being the usual period, while more than four times that number of hours will be required for the proper fermentation of the produce of the last-mentioned countries.

The "Monkey cacao" of the mainland is produced by Theobroma speciosa. This is never made into market cacao, as it is very inferior in quality and has a disagreeable flavor. The pods are hard, much corrugated, warted, and of a dirty brown color when ripe.

Many names have arisen for the varieties of Theobroma Cacao which are in cultivation, as many as forty having been listed by a Trinidad cultivator of large experience. Looking at the matter from a practical point of view, all these are merely strains of the one species, produced by natural cross-fertilization of the older types. According to Hart's "Cacao," Trinidad, 1900, there are but three major strains or classes of T. Cacao, respectively, "Criollo," "Forastero," and "Calabacillo." The type of the first is found indigenous in Trinidad and various places on the mainland, its distinctive character being its bottle-necked pod, with a thin skin and finely ribbed exterior, together with its white or whitish seeds or beans, which are mild in flavor and somewhat rounded in form.

The characters of "Forastero" are its roughly corrugated or verrucose pod, containing large flattish seeds of a purplish color. It is a tree having greater vitality than "Criollo," and gives a much larger crop. "Forastero" means foreign, and this type is said to have been found on the mainland of South America, whence it was imported to Trinidad by Arragonese Capuchin Fathers about 1757. (De Verteuil, "History of Trinidad," 1884.)

"Calabacillo" is the third form, its chief characteristics being the vigor of its growth and its small flat and strongly flavored bean. By some it is considered as a degraded form of Forastero.

While the above gives a brief sketch of the chief characters of the principal types; it must be understood that there are varieties intermediate between the forms; in fact, on the larger number of estates it is impossible to find any two trees exactly alike in all their botanical characters, occurring, without doubt, from the uninterrupted cross-fertilization which has taken place. Still, each country appears to maintain certain characters more permanent than others, and thus secures for itself a name upon the markets of the world. It is probable that this is due, in a measure, to the unconscious preference taken by some to distinctive features of the produce by the continuous cultivation of a fairly fixed strain which has arisen. It may also be due in some measure to the influence of climate and environment. Certain it is, however, that there are today strains of cacao which are possessed of distinctive characters, not readily produced by any process of preparation in places other than that in which they are grown. A fine set of illustrations of varieties common to different countries has been published in a work by Paul Preuss, who traveled in cacao-producing countries on behalf of the German government.

These different brands are bought by manufacturers and blended to suit their particular market, but there are certain kinds possessing special flavor which are readily sold at high prices. The value of the commercial product fluctuates and the price has marked variations due to many causes. Whether this results from increased production or from a deterioration in the quality cannot be ascertained. It is clear that if cultivators grow cacao for seed without regard to the best rules of selection, the quality must deteriorate. What mitigates this fact is that all the cacao world has, up to a recent date, followed the same practice. The process of grafting, to which the cacao tree readily submits, as has been proved in Trinidad, will enable operators to make large fields of the choicer varieties, and it may confidently be expected that in a few years a great improvement will be shown in the various grades placed upon the market. (For a recent account of budding, see Wester, Philippine Agric. Rev., 1914, p. 27.) But little cacao is manufactured in the countries where it is grown.

Chocolate is the term used for sweetened and hardened preparations of the roasted and ground cacao bean, with the larger proportion of the original fat retained, while the so-called "cocoa" preparations are the same material in fine powder, sweetened or unsweetened, but with the greater proportion of the cacao fat extracted. This fat, when clarified, is a pure white substance, almost as hard as beeswax, and is used in many pharmaceutical preparations. Chocolate and cocoa are both made from the beans or seeds of Theobroma Cacao and T. pentagona, and differ only in the method of preparation.

The word "cocoa" is a market corruption of the original Spanish '"Cacao," which was adopted by Tournefort as a generic name but has since been displaced by the Linnaean Theobroma.

The plant known as Theobroma bicolor has recently been made the type of a new genus (Tribroma bicolor, Cook) on account of distinctly different habits of fruiting and flowering and structural differences in the flower (O. F. Cook, Journ. Wash. Acad. 5:287-289, 1915). The leaves are large, and in the juvenile stages of growth are broadly cordate in form, and assume the mature or oblong form only on reaching the third or fourth year's growth. The pods are oval, ribbed and netted, hard and woody, with an outer shell 1/2 inch in thickness which can be cut only with a saw. The seeds are oval, much flattened, with a dark, hard, and smooth exterior. The interior is white, and has a somewhat nutty flavor. They are used in sweetmeats in the same way as almonds, but cannot be made into commercial cacao, suitable for the manufacture of chocolates. This species is very widely distinct from any of the varieties of T. Cacao which produce commercial cacao. The produce of T. bicolor is known in some parts of Central America by the names of "Wariba," "Tiger," and "Patashte" cacao. See also Cont. Nat. Herb., vol. 17, pt. 8, for branching and flowering habits of cacao and patashte. CH

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.


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