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Cacao beans (Theoroma cacao)

An evergreen tree, which grows in tropical America, West Africa, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Its seeds are cocoa beans from which cocoa and chocolate are prepared.

These seeds are called cocoa nis, and when left to ferment, then roasted and separated from their husks, contain about 50% fat, part of which is removed to make chocolate and cocoa.

The cacao bean contains caffeine and theobromine which, along with theophylline, are also found in tea leaves and coffee - but chocolate can't challenge the latter two on the stimulation stakes.

The Aztecs made a restorative drink from cocoa beans, vanilla and chilis, which they called chocolatl/cacaolatl/cacaohuatl - they drank it cold, chilled by snow brought down from the Sierras.. They also used them as currency. A rabbit cost 10 beans, a pumpkin 4, a live slave one hundred, the services of a prostitute 8 or 10.

It's possible that Columbus brought back some beans to Spain from his fourth voyage in 1502; but most sources credit the introduction to Hernando Cortez, who invaded Mexico in 1518 with four hundred men.

It's known that in Tenochtitlan, the capital (now Mexico City), he found the Aztecs consuming the drink.

The Spaniards took cacao beans home, along with vanilla (both were for long regarded as aphrodisiacs), and added sugar to make a chocolate drink that was an immediate success in Spain.

It long remained a Spanish secret, but when Maria Theresa, the Spanish Infanta, married France"s Louis X1V, The Grand Monarch, in 1659, she introduced the drink to Versailles. See "Caffeine"; "Chocolate"; "Theobromine"; "Theophylline"

If you enjoy cooking take a minute to look at ‘Simon Scrutton French Cookery Classes’ on Google – and learn how to make top class bistro-style dishes. Suitable for beginners upwards.

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