Chocolate and all its fabulous derivatives, like everyone knows, come from cocoa. The exact name of this plant is Theobroma Cacao (literally goddess food) and it was Linneo in person to give it.
The chocolate name instead derives from the atzeco xocoatl term, used to define a hot beverage obtained from cocoa seeds by adding water and flour. The seeds were used as a coin and were thought to have almost magical properties, as they were donated to men by the divine Quetzalcóatl.
Its cultivation dates back to 1,000 BC by pre-Columbian civilizations, Maya and Atzechi. Following Colombo’s travels, this plant was also known in Europe and subsequently exported to the rest of the world. Mainstream farmers still remain those of the South Central America, with the exception of Central Africa.
The cocoa plant reaches 5 to 10 m in height, the flowers are small and white or pink; it takes two to three years before it starts to flourish and 5 or 6 to give its fruits, oval caps (called cabosse) with a corny shell; inside, the pulp contains 20 to 80 flattened seeds (fave), covered in turn by a reddish hard layer. The part used is cocoa almond.
The seeds extract from the plant are subject to several subsequent stages of processing: fermentation (which gives the cocoa the characteristic smell), drying (which reduces moisture) and squeezing. This last phase in particular serves to separate the fat – which once refined will give rise to cocoa butter – from the seeds.
The seeds, therefore destined for the food industry, will still undergo three phases, roasting (in special ovens, from 120° to 140°) that improves sweetness and favors the next stage, decortication and finally grinding: the final result is the cocoa powder, from which chocolate originates.
Cocoa butter is mainly used by the culinary, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
Chocolate has recognized antioxidant properties (due to high content of two flavonoids, catechin and epicatechin), energy (thanks to the contribution of carbohydrates, vitamins and mineral salts is recommended to sportsmen), stimulants (due to two alkaloids , caffeine and theobromine), antidepressants (high concentration of serotonin) and – always and only in moderate amounts, well-meaning – also benefits the cardiovascular system and has anti-inflammatory properties.