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The flowering and Fruiting Stem of the Cacao Tree. 

Field Museum of Natural History 

Chicago, 1923 

Leaflet Numbeb 4 


Long before the discovery of the American con- 
tinent, cacao was used and cultivated from Mexico to 
Ecuador. It is thus a distinctly American contribu- 
tion to the world's food resources. 

It is the product of some small trees indigenous to 
the shady forests of northern South America. It 
probably also grew native along the Gulf Coast as far 
north as southern Mexico. The original extent of dis- 
tribution of a plant so useful as the Cacao tree is diffi- 
cult to determine with exactness. Its use has no 
doubt spread from one native tribe to another over a 
large area suitable for its cultivation. Besides, in the 
region in question, there has apparently been a shift- 
ing of peoples or a change of territories occupied by 
them in prehistoric days. It is even possible that the 
cultivation of the cacao was carried northward into 
Mexico from the south. There, at any rate, it was 
used by the Aztecs, and before them by the Toltecs. 
The early Conquistadores made its acquaintance at 
the court of Montezuma and the revenues of this re- 
nowned monarch consisted in part of cacao beans. 
"Chocolatl" was served to the king in a golden goblet, 
and he took it with the aid of a tortoise-shell spoon. 
His fondness for it must have been prodigious for fifty 
pitchers are said to have been prepared daily for his 
personal consumption, and two thousand more for his 

'Prescott, Bk. IV, Ch. I. 


2 Field Museum of Natural History 

The readiest source of information about the Aztec 
use of cacao is of course, Prescott's "Conquest of 
Mexico." In a note there- we read in this connec- 
tion: "Torquemada has extracted particulars of the 
yearly expenditure of the palace from the royal ac- 
count book, which came into the historian's possession. 
The following are some of the items: 4,900,300 fan- 
egas of maize (the fanega is equal to about 100 
pounds) ; 2,744,000 fanegas of cacao; 8,000 turkeys, 
1,300 baskets of salt; besides an incredible quantity 
of game of every kind, vegetables, condiments, etc." 
A cacao consumption, according to this, almost equal 
to the world's entire production today ! 


Fig. 1. Aztec glyph or pictojrraph for 80 bales of cacao. Each pennant stands 
for 20. The oval figure on the bale is the sign for cacao beans. The pictographer 
must have wanted to make the meaning unmistakable, or he desired to exercise his 
artistic skill, for to the usual glyph he has added a flower growing out of one side of the 
bale, as from the trunk of a cacao tree. (The Book of Tributes). 

In the Book of Tributes^, an old Mexican codex, 
setting forth the "Tributes which some towns of Mex- 
ico paid to the Emperor Montezuma," there are speci- 

*Prescott, Bk. I, Ch. VI, note 29. 

'Libro de Tributes, in collection Lorenzo Boturino. 

Antonio Peiiafiel: Monumentos del Arte Mexicano Antiguo. 

Berlin 1890. 



Fig. 2. Aztec ?Iyph for 20 baskets heaped with cacao beans to the extent of four 
xiquipilli each. (The Book of Tributes). 

fied in Aztec glyphs the kind and number of articles 
annually required by him from his provinces. The 
lists include arms, apparel, skins, feathers, shells, 
balsams, resins, perfumes, maize, peppers, etc. Cacao 
beans are mentioned several times, e. g., from Cihuat- 
lan 80 bales of red cacao, from Tlaltelolco 20 baskets 
containing four xiquipilli (4x8000) of cacao beans. 
The district of Soconusco must have been famous even 
then for its cacao, for two hundred bales were re- 
quired from there, together with 400 cups for drink- 
ing chocolate. On the basis of the information in 
this ancient document, the revenues of Montezuma 

Fig. 3. Aztec glyph for 400 chocolate cups. (The Book of Tributes). 


4 Field Museum of Natural History 

have been estimated. His yearly quantum of cacao 
seems to have been about a thousand porters' loads, 
equivalent to perhaps 100,000 pounds, with chocolate 
cups to the number of 1600. 

As to the ancient manner of preparation of the 
favorite beverage, Prescott* states, "They had a way 
of preparing the froth of it, so as to make it almost 
solid enough to be eaten." And again in a foot- 
note where he quotes "Anonymous Conqueror" : ' "The 
froth delicately flavored with spices and some other 
ingredients was taken cold by itself. It had the con- 
sistency almost of a solid," and the writer is very care- 
ful to inculcate the importance of "opening the mouth 
■wide, in order to facilitate deglutition, that the foam 
may dissolve gradually, and descend imperceptibly, as 
it were, into the stomach." ' 

The Franciscan monk Ximenes, who published an 
abstract of Hernandez' manuscript on Mexican natural 
products before the appearance of that work, is au- 
thority for the following account': "She who sells 
prepared cacao grinds it first in this way, breaks or 
pounds the kernels; the second time grinds it more; 
the third or last time grinds it still finer, mixing it 
with grains of corn, cooked and washed, and this being 
done adds a little water in a jar. If a small quantity 
is added it makes a rich cacao, if too much no foam 
results and in order to produce the very best it is made 
and preserved as follows: namely it is strained, and 
after straining it is lifted in order to drain, foam is 
formed and is set aside and the remainder sometimes 
becomes very thick, and water is added after grinding. 
The one who knows how to make it well, sells it good 
and fine, that only the Senores drink it ; it is soft, foamy 
brown red and pure, without much paste. Sometimes 

'Book I, Ch. V, note 45. 

'Cecilio A. Robelo: Diccionario de Aztequismos, etc. Cuemavaca, 


Cacao 5 

they add aromatic spices and even honey from bees, 
and some rose water, but the cacao that is not good 
has much sediment and water and does not make any 
foam but only froth." 

A similar account of the preparation of the cacao 
in ancient Mexico is given by Joyce^ as follows: 
"The beans were first roasted in pans of pottery and 
then ground on stones with a little water. The result- 
ant paste was put into calabash cups, more water 
added, and occasionally a little spice." 

Or, in another^ manner: "The nut was pounded 
and boiled in water with a little maize flour, the oil 
was skimmed off and the mixture strained and poured 
into another vessel, so as to produce a froth. Some- 
times honey and vanilla were added, and it was gen- 
erally taken after food." Such a dish of cacao and 
maize flour constitutes many a Mexican breakfast 
today. The Chorotegas colored the drink red with 
Anatto seed. Among the Nicaraguans such a drink, 
prepared with cold water, sugar and spice, is known 
as "tiste." It is beaten to a froth with a swizzle stick 
held vertically between the palms of the hands and 
rapidly rotated with a backward and forward motion. 
The swizzle stick functions as a primitive and some- 
what inefficient egg-beater. It is often cut from a 
natural branch, forked or with a whorl of small twigs 
as spokes. It is even now a famous household utensil 
in the Caribbean region, and is employed in the mixing 
of cooling drinks. Since its adoption by the white 
population, however, a devotion to the swizzle stick no 
longer necessarily implies an addiction to foaming 
chocolate. The Mexican term, "chocolatl," from 
which our word "chocolate" is derived, actually means 
a foaming drink, "choco" = "foam," "atl" = "water" 

^Thomas A. Joyce, Mexican Archeology, p. 155. 

7Joyce, Central American and West Indian Archeology, p. 39. 


6 Field Museum of Natural History 

or "drink." The Cacao tree was called Cacaoquahuitl 
or Cacahnatl. 

The beans were used as small currency in old 
Mexico. The unit was a score, 20 beans ; 20 x 20 or 
400 made a Tzontle; twenty (20) Tzontles or 8000 
cacaos one Xiquipilli, and 3 Xiquipillis a load. Weights 
formerly did not exist there and large quantities were 
measured in baskets or bags assumed to hold a speci- 
fied number, just as farmers today by preference esti- 
mate their produce by counting and measuring in 
bushels and pecks, rather than by weighing. On the 
Mosquito Coast the habit of using cacao beans as 
money is said to be prevalent among the Indians even 
at the present time, as is the use of coca leaves for the 
same purpose in Peru, and tobacco in many places. 
It was of this use of the beans that Peter Martyr* 
exclaimed, "O felicem monetam", etc., "blessed money, 
which exempts its possessor from avarice, since it 
cannot be long hoarded nor hidden under ground." 
However, there was a complaint in Mexico that the 
Indians would remove the kernels and fill the empty 
shells with clay. 

Cacao was introduced into Europe early in the 16th 
century, at first into Spain, There it was for a time 
the monopoly of the Conquistadores, but interest in the 
new beverage must have been considerable, for "it was 
also prepared secretly, and was taken with wine and 
hot beer."" Outside of Spain it remained completely 
unknown, so long that a ship-load of cacao beans, 
seized by the English in 1579, was burned as worth- 
less. A Florentine, long resident in the West Indies, 
made known its manner of preparation in Italy and 
its use gradually spread on the continent, though not 

^Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 4. 

Prescott, Hist. Mexico, Bk. I, Ch. V, note 27; Bk. IV, Ch. II, 

p. 140. 

Warburg Planzenwelt, VII, p. 425. 



Cacao 7 

without opposition. Its introduction into Prussia was 
prohibited by Frederic the Great. The Parisian physi- 
cian Bachot, however, in a thesis to the faculty of 
medicine, praised the cacao as one of the most noble of 
discoveries, far more worthy to be the food of the 
gods than are nectar and ambrosia. 

When Linnaeus sat down to straighten out the 
confusion of terminology existing in the herbals, and 
to confer unmistakable and distinctive names on all 
the animals and plants of which he could learn and 
could muster a definite description, he coined a name 
for the chocolate tree, from two Greek words, (^£6s) 
theos, god and (fSpwixa) broma, food — Theobroma, 
"food for the gods". This remains the scientific name 
for Cacao trees in general. 

The particular kind or species of Cacao trees which 
furnishes the beans of commerce was designated as 
Theobroma Cacao. Other species of Theobroma also 
furnish nourishing food or drink to a lesser extent 
but are less valuable or less amenable to cultivation. 
There are about a dozen of these. The best known of 
them is the Tiger Cacao, or "Pataste", Theobroma 
bicolor, of Colombia and Rio Negro, a much larger and 
taller tree than the Cacao tree proper. The famous 
cacao of Soconusco is said to be the product of Theo- 
broma angustifolia, and the cacao of Esmeralda of 
still another species. The beans of an inferior kind 
were used in Mexico as alms for the poor. The rest, 
all natives of tropical America, are of some local 
importance and the fruit of several is gathered in 
Brazil where they grow wild. Some of them may be 
adaptable for stock or for grafting, as recent experi- 
ments would indicate. 

The cultivated Cacao is a small shade-loving tree, 
which is usually kept down in plantations to about the 
size of a peach tree, but grows much more rapidly 
and bears large simple leaves which remain a long 


8 Field Museum of Natural History 

time on the tree. It produces its flowers and fruits in 
a curious manner peculiar to certain members of the 
tropical forest flora. The smaller branches and ter- 
minal twigs support the foliage only, while the incon- 
spicuous yellow and purple flowers spring in clusters 
from points on the bark of the trunk and of the larger 
branches. It has been suggested in explanation, that 
this arrangement facilitates the finding of the flowers 
by low-flying insects that visit and pollinate them. 
They do not have to search for the small blossoms 
among a crowded mass of foliage on top, but can find 
them readily on the bare trunk near the forest floor. 
However that may be, the fruiting tree presents a 
striking appearance. While very young, the fruits look 
like miniature green cucumbers sharply pointed at both 
ends; as they enlarge and mature, they become great 
"pods", five to seven, or even ten inches long, with 
longitudinal grooves alternating with ribs on the sur- 
face. They acquire a texture recalling that of a thin- 
skinned squash, and a color varying from a lemon or 
ochre yellow to a deep red. Hanging singly or in small 
bunches around the slim trunk of the tree, they 
scarcely look as if they had grown, but rather as if 
they had been accidentally or purposely hung there. 
The pods are picked when ripe and gathered into piles. 
The workers on the plantation then sit down to break 
the outer casing which is of no further value, in order 
to secure the contained seeds, the cacao beans, which 
furnish the chocolate. In a well-filled pod there may 
be fifty of these, usually there are not so many, all 
attached to a central core and covered with a white, 
slippery and soft, mucilaginous pulp, of a pleasant acid 
taste. This layer is removed or is completely destroyed 
in the process of sweating or fermentation to which 
the beans are subjected for some days before they are 
dried for the market. For this purpose they are piled 
into heaps which are turned occasionally. The fer- 



mentation is thought to be initiated by a yeast fungus, 
and an enzyme is said to bring out the characteristic 
chocolate flavor of the beans. Their kernels, origin- 
ally white to purple in color, assume a brownish hue, 
while the papery thin shell often becomes discolored 
and spotted. The subsequent process of drying is 
necessary to prevent moulding and spoilage. To clean 
or polish the beans they are sometimes treaded with 
the naked feet, or "danced". In some localities they 
are colored with a red earth to improve their appear- 
ance. The dried "beans" will keep for a long time. 
A bearing tree in good condition, will yield a pound to 
two pounds of dried beans, usually in two principal 
harvests occurring about the beginning and middle of 
the year, though pods keep ripening to a certain 
extent continuously. The cacao bean "eats like a rich 
nut", but has a rather bitter taste. 

It is perhaps well to point out here, that in spite 
of the similarity of names, cacao, or cocoa, has 
nothing to do either with the cocoa-nut, more properly 
spelled coco-nut, from the Coco-palm; nor with coca, 
the source of cocaine, obtained from the leaves of the 
Coca shrub of the Andean region. 

As is the case among almost all cultivated plants 
there are many varieties of the Cacao tree proper, 
differing in minor particulars and in size and shape 
of the pods and in the color of the kernels. The best 
known of them are : the Criollo, which furnishes the 
finest chocolate; the Forastero, much resembling the 
former, but somewhat more hardy and yielding beans 
of not quite so fine a grade; the Calabacillo, with 
smooth pods, still easier to grow but yielding an 
inferior product. Of all of these, there are both red 
and yellow varieties. 

The cacao beans are put in sacks and shipped to 
the manufacturers of chocolate products. In the fac- 
tories they are first of all freed from the outer shell 


10 Field Museum of Natural History 

by a slight crushing and winnowing. The kernels 
are known in the trade as "cacao nibs". They are 
roasted like coffee in iron cylinders to develop the 
aroma, to modify the bitter taste and to improve the 
color. They are then either ground directly, without 
any addition, into a dark-browii paste which we know 
in its moulded form as "bitter chocolate", or they 
are subjected to other treatment. Sugar or milk 
products and flavoring matter, principally vanilla or 
its substitutes, are added to increase the palatability, 
or starch to increase the bulk of the mass before it is 
pressed into moulds and made into convenient shapes 
and packages for the trade and for the consumer. The 
cacao shells contain some theobromine (1%) and are 
sometimes ground up and are knowTi to the trade as 
"miserable", or "shells", sold as a poor substitute for 
cacao, "cacao coffee" or "cacao tea". They are seldom 
added to the chocolate mass, never to the better grades. 
Lately they have been employed as cattle fodder. If 
cacao powder is desired, the ground mass is usually 
heated slightly and subjected to pressure to express 
about one-half of the easily liquified fat, which is 
present in large quantity. This is then used separately 
as "cacao butter". It is a fixed oil, a soft solid at 
ordinary temperatures, with a pleasant odor and flavor 
of chocolate. At first yellowish in color, it becomes 
white with age. It has excellent keeping qualities 
and does not readily turn rancid. It is therefore 
valuable, being largely used in the manufacture of 
the filling for chocolate creams, and in the drug trade 
for the preparation of salves and pomades. 

Cacao is never entirely soluble, but the drink 
when prepared is a suspension of cacao in the fine and 
thin paste of the natural starch of the bean. To make 
a smoother beverage the starch content may be 
increased somewhat in the manufacture of "break- 
fast cocoa". The sweetened cacao may have also all 


Cacao 11 

of the natural fat, plus sugar. To make the so-called 
"soluble cocoa" or Dutch cocoa, a small quantity of 
an alkali is added, in which the tannin and theobro- 
mine are soluble. 

The popularity of cacao is due to its combination 
of pleasant taste, and stimulating and nourishing 
properties. The latter depend partly on its fat con- 
tent, but there is also naturally present in cacao beans 
starch and vegetable proteins. A drink of chocolate 
or cocoa, without any addition, is consequently much 
more nourishing than either coffee or tea, with which 
it is comparable in respect to stimulating properties. 
The stimulating substance, an alkaloid, is practically 
the same in the case of all of these, producing the 
same physiological effect. It is caffein in coffee, thein 
in tea, theobromine and caffein in cacao. In cacao the 
caffein^" is present in less quantity than in either of 
the other beverages. There is also a volatile oil, as 
in coffee, to which must be attributed some of the 
exhilarating properties and flavor. 

Hundreds of millions of pounds of cacao beans are 
now produced and consumed annually. In 1921, the 
United States imported three hundred million pounds, 

"'Theobromine and caffein may be extracted and isolated as 
alkaloids and as such are white, fleecy, crystalline substances of 
a bitter taste. Medicinally they are used as stimulating drugs 
acting upon the nervous system by increasing the arterial ten- 
sion and blood-pressure. They also stimulate the cerebral cen- 
ters and respiration. The "nervousness" produced by their ex- 
cessive use is due to continual stimulation of the nervous sys- 
tem and particularly of the spinal cord. 

Theobromine and caffein are closely related. Chemically the 
former may be prepared from the latter. 

Other stimulating drinks in which caffein is the active principle 
are: Kola, from the Kola "nut", the product of another tree of 
the Chocolate family, and Guarana, from a Brazilian bush 
(Paulinia Cupana) of which the seeds are gfround up, and sold 
and used by the natives like cacao. 

Of non-caffein containing substitutes for cacao, locally used in 
poor districts, may be mentioned the roasted and ground 
kernels of the pea-nut or ground-nut. In Mexico the name of 
the pea-nut is curiously enough "cacao of the ground" 
iCacahuate) . 


12 Field Museum of Natural History 

valued at twenty-three million dollars. Most of the 
supply is still derived from northern South America, 
particularly from Ecuador and Brazil, from the West 
Indian San Domingo, and from the island of Trinidad 
off the delta of the Orinoco. Each of these countries 
furnishes over twenty thousand tons each year. Vene- 
zuela exports a little more than half as much ; the 
Caribbean island Grenada about a quarter, or about 
five thousand tons a year. Cuba, Porto Rico, Haiti, 
Jamaica, and other West Indian islands produce 
smaller quantities, while Mexico evidently supplies 
only a negligible amount for export. In all, the Amer- 
ican production amounts to over a hundred and fifty 
thousand tons. The rest of the world's output com- 
bined, adds only a third more to the available supply. 
The cultivation of the Cacao has been undertaken on 
the West Coast of Africa; on the Gold Coast, in 
Cameroons and in the Congo Free State, but by far 
the greater part of the African supply is furnished 
by Sao Thome. This small Portuguese island in the 
Gulf of Guinea, alone yields more cacao beans than 
any single American country. In Asia, cacao growing 
has been tried, and Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies 
together sometimes yield as much as the island of 
Grenada; but on account of serious inroads of fungus 
diseases of the trees. Cacao has not been a success in 
this region, which otherwise is perfectly suitable, as 
to temperature, rainfall and freedom from drought, 
for the cultivation of the tree. 

The African supply goes directly to Europe. ' It is 
not considered to be of a high grade. The American 
product is superior. That from a district in Guate- 
mala, Soconusco, has the reputation of being the best 
of all, but like genuine Mocha coffee and the very finest 
of tea, it scarcely ever comes into the market. Of the 
export grades, the heavy beans from Ecuador and 
from western Venezuela, those from Colombia and 


Cacao 13 

Esmeralda are the most highly esteemed. Trinidad 
cacao takes a high rank. Brazil and Cayenne ship the 
less desirable, unfermented grade of beans gathered 
partly from trees growing wild in the forest. The 
price has recently been low and the gro\ving not very 
profitable to the planters. The trees require consider- 
able care. As in the case of many tropical products 
a low price is dependent on very cheap labor, and the 
recent general increase of labor costs, without a corre- 
sponding rise in the price of the product of the plan- 
tations, has made production in places almost an 
impossibility. Unprofitable plantations are permitted 
to go to ruin. They continue to yield some cacao for a 
few years without care. When a dwindling of the 
supply eventually reacts on the price, active produc- 
tion will presumably be started again, till a commer- 
cial satiety is produced. New trees come into bearing 
in their fifth or sixth year. Cacao growing is evidently 
a somewhat risky business. Particularly is this true 
since the grower has to contend with a host of pests 
and diseases, chiefly caused by parasitic fungi which 
are extremely destructive to the trees where they 
obtain a hold. 

In some cases these fungi have been traced to the 
taller trees which are planted among the Cacao trees 
for shade. Many kinds of shade trees have been tried, 
such as palms, the large-leaved Anchory Pear, and 
others, but the favorite one is the leguminous Madre 
de Cacao, "Mother of the Cocoa", the Bois immortelle 
of Trinidad. This is a rapidly growing deciduous tree 
which easily towers over the low chocolate trees, lend- 
ing an interesting note of bright color and variety to 
the plantations, particularly in our winter season. 
These tall conspicuous trees then shed their leaves 
and are covered only with bright red flowers. At this 
time the rays of the sun are less intense, even in most 
of the tropical places where the Cacao grows in the 


14 Field Museum of Natural History 

northern hemisphere, and the full amount of light 
not only does no harm, but may even be desirable. 
During the rest of the year, when shade is required, 
these shade trees are in foliage. 

The rapidly increasing use of cacao, particularly 
in the form of sweets, bids fair to keep pace with 
production for some time to come. 

B. E. Dahlgren 

In the Hall of Plant Life, Hall 29, on the second floor east, 
may be seen a reproduction of a Cacao tree bearing flowers 
and fruit, also an enlarged flower, a fruit in section, cacao 
"beans" and a pod of the Tiger Cacao. 

The economic exhibit of Cacao is to be found among the 
vegetable food products on the south side of the adjoining 
Hall 25. 

[38 J 

An Opened Cacao Pod. 

r'^vr^' -CFTHE