Do you Really Know Everything about Cocoa? Find it out in this Blog

In this blog you’ll learn which are the characteristics of cocoa (both the fruit and the plant), its main varieties, properties, history, main exporters and importers, how it is cultivated, and some cocoa-based products.

However, we have to clarify that here we focus mainly on pure cocoa and not fermented cocoa to make chocolate or cocoa powder. Don’t miss it!

What is cocoa and what are its characteristics?      

Scientific nameTheobroma cocoa
Common nameCocoa
Place of originTropical regions in America
HabitatAmerican rainforests, rainforest shade, and moist soils adequately drained and with a good amount of organic matter.
DistributionWest Africa and South and Central America.

Characteristics of the cocoa plant  

The cocoa tree, also called Cacao tree, is a plant native to tropical regions of America. Nowadays it is usually found in Western Africa in areas such as Ivory Coast and Ghana and in countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela in South America.

It can grow up to 6 m tall with an oval and narrow crown of 7m and a diameter of 25 cm. In addition, its leaves are large, pendulous and abundant, tend to be longer than wide and retain a smooth margin.  

This plant is grown from seeds and not from parts of the plant as is the case with other species like blueberry.

This plant can have rather small white flowers with about 5 petals that are distributed along the trunk and branches, these flowers do not grow all grouped together on the tree, but are separated into small sets of about 3 flowers.

Description of the cocoa fruit  

This fruit consists of a group of seeds (approximately 20 to 50) encapsulated in a thick oval shell of yellow, orange or red tones.  

These seeds tend to be distributed in a row, covered with a fibrous and viscous whitish pulp with a sweet taste.  

The fruit size usually varies between 10 to 30 cm long and 7 to 9 cm wide. When ripe, it can weigh approximately 450 grams.  

Cocoa fruit

Types of cocoa  

There are three main types of cocoa, which are:

Creole cocoa 

Scientific nameTheobroma cocoa – cocoa subespicies
Common nameCreole cocoa
Place of originSouth America
HabitatTropical and humid climate. Trees with little sunlight.
DistributionMexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Caribe islands, Jamaica and Granada, islands Madagascar, Indonesia, and Africa

It is usually recognized by its orange-reddish color and its unvaried oval shape that I mentioned in the previous description.  

It has a slight bitter taste that sometimes can be acidic like lemon and certain berries such as blueberries and raisins, or have a sweeter fruity taste. Its texture is a little rough and has a delicate fragrance. It’s the best quality species.

It can be found in the American continent in countries such as:  

  • Mexico (mainly in Tabasco).
  • Guatemala (Alta Verapaz, Suchitepéquez, Retalhuleu. Quetzaltenango and San Marcos).
  • Nicaragua (Rancho Grande and Tuma-La Dalia-La Dalia-Matagalpa, Mining Triangle: Siuna, Bonanza and Rosita).
  • Venezuela (Tucaní-Mérida, Yaguapita- Miranda and Yaguaraparo-Sucre).
  • Colombia (Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, Cauca, Chocó, Santander, Huila, Nariño and Tolima).
  • Caribbean islands (Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago).
  • Madagascar (Sambirano-Ambanja).
  • Indonesia (Java).
  • Africa (Comoros islands).
Infographics cacao criolloAlicia O. Cariño on Gourmet de México

Cocoa forastero 

Scientific nameTheobroma cacao subespecie sphaerocarpum
Common nameCocoa forastero
Place of originBrazil
HabitatFlat or undulating, fertile, well-drained soils, at least one meter deep. Stream banks.Closed and humid places.  
DistributionPeru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and Southeast Asia.

Its surface, particularly this one, has several wrinkles and, besides the colors mentioned above, it can be brownish as well.  

Like the criollo cocoa, this fruit is oval but slightly smaller and with flat seeds. It also differs from criollo cocoa for having a stronger aroma. At the time of tasting it, we can notice a scratchy texture with a rather bitter flavor that gets balanced by a strong process of roasting.  

It can be found in countries such as:  

  • Peru (Cusco, Ayacucho, Amazonas and Junín).  
  • Ecuador (Guayas, Los Ríos, Manabí, Esmeraldas, El Oro and Santa Elena).
  • Colombia (Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, Cauca, Chocó, Santander, Huila, Nariño and Tolima).
  •  Brazil (Bahia, São Félix do Xingú-Pará, and Marañón) Venezuela (Miranda-Barlovento, Carabobo, Aragua, and Yaracuy).
  • Ivory Coast (Goin-Débé and Côte d’Ivoire).
  • Ghana (south of the Volta River).
  • Cameroon (Konye).
  • Southeast Asia (Indonesia).
Foreign cocoa

Trinitarian Cocoa  

Scientific nameTheobroma cocoa subespecies cocoa x spherocarpum
Common nameTrinitarian cocoa
Place of originTrinidad
HabitatTropical and humid climate. Trees with little sunlight.  Flat or undulating, fertile, well-drained and deep soils of at least one meter. Stream banks.Closed places.
DistributionCameroon, India, New Guinea and Venezuela

This is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero cocoa. The combination affects its size because by mixing their characteristics, the trinitarian cocoa reduces the length and width usually seen in the other two varieties.  

Its taste is very diverse, but many say it is similar to dried citrus fruits such as raisins and spices. This cocoa has a long-lasting aroma that lingers in the mouth even after it is consumed. It has good quality but not better than criollo.

You’ll find it in countries such as:

  • Cameroon (Konye)
  • Indonesia (Java)
  • India (Sri Lanka)
  • New Guinea (Papua)
  • Venezuela (delta plains, Aragua, Miranda and Sucre)

Properties and benefits of cocoa  

Nutritional profile of cocoa  

We invite you to see the nutritional table of cocoa beans per 100 g taken from Natural Ingredients Consciously Selected (Nics).

Energetic value464 kcal
Total fats43 g
Saturated fats25 g
Carbohydrates36 g
Sugars0 g
Proteins14 g
Dietary fiber32 g
Salt0 g


It prevents conditions such as varicose veins

Pure cocoa, as a source of flavonoids that are known to help vasodilation, promotes the smooth flow of blood throughout our body, so the nutrients and oxygen we carry in our blood are distributed more effectively.

Useful for the circulatory system  

Thanks to the vasodilator effects caused by the flavonoids, it turns out that cocoa favors the stability of blood pressure and becomes a cardioprotective as it also prevents coronary vascular damage.

It helps to improve mood  

Components such as phenylethylamine, which are present in cocoa beans, have stimulating components that can produce feelings of euphoria, happiness, pleasure and other positive sensations that are desired by human beings.

It reduces vision problems  

It’s been scientifically proven that the daily consumption of natural cocoa improves vision in young adults since it has flavonols and theobromine that promote the proper functioning of the central nervous system, which is the basis of eyesight.

It prevents diabetes  

Cocoa has substances like polyphenols, catechins, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins that fight factors such as insulin resistance, which is often the beginning of the development of diabetic disease.

History and origin of cocoa  

This fruit is probably one of the oldest in history. Its consumption is known to have begun some 5000 years ago in the pre-Columbian era when it was brought from the Amazon to Central America.  

There it began to be attributed to medicinal functions in the 1500s discovered by the indigenous people of Mexico, more specifically the Olmecs, who were the protagonists of the beginning of its cultivation and several of its uses such as preparing energy drinks with cocoa mixed with other spices.  

In addition, there was certain worship of cocoa. It used to be called “food of the gods” and was used in religious ceremonies such as the weddings of their kings or funerals celebrating a military victory.

From this country, it was taken to Spain by Christopher Columbus, although the product was not very important at that time.

Years later, in 1828, the first cocoa press was created from which cocoa butter began to be extracted.

Then in 1879, in Switzerland, they began to add milk to cocoa, which would give rise to many of today’s candies such as KitKat and, therefore to several companies in the food sector that created these products, such as Nestlé.

Origin of cocoa

Global cocoa industry  

Learn about the main producers and importers of cocoa fruit in the world.

Top 5 cocoa producers  

Key facts:

World cocoa production has reached volumes of 4.7 million tons coming mainly from countries such as the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Ecuador, and Brazil.

Latin America stands out among cocoa producers for comprising 80% of the cultivation of this fruit around the world (Development Bank of Latin America, 2017).  

Next, we’ll see the 5 countries with the largest amount of tons produced and with the largest cocoa exports:

CountryCocoa tons produced in a year (approx.)
Ivory Coast2’400.000

Ivory Coast  

This nation leads the list of cocoa producer regions in the world with a percentage of 40% of cocoa that is currently on the planet. Not only is its production level colossal, but so is its number of producers, since it has 920,000 of them.  

In addition, they achieve significant monetary gains by exporting this product. The income from the international sale of cocoa reaches 3.5 billion dollars a year.  

Below is a graph showing the average investment of Ivorian cocoa abroad.

Data in millions of dollars of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) of Ivory Coast in the world.20112012201320142015201620172018

ivory coast cocoa exports graph


This country is the second largest cocoa producer not only worldwide but also in Africa. However, this production performance has been declining over time due to factors such as aging plants, poor crop management, and droughts that occur in these types of countries due to global warming.


It has stood out as one of the most important cocoa producers in the world, ranking third in the world. It has 39,962 producers that make up part of 336 communities that make up programs such as Cocoa Life, which is an initiative for sustainable cocoa cultivation. This program has been exercised in Indonesia since 2013.


This region, in 2021, reached export figures of US$266.4 million, although it is worth mentioning that this is not its highest export year since in 2020 it reached US$815.5 million in exports of this fruit.

In 2011 Ecuadorian cocoa won the award for best cocoa for its oral quality and best cocoa bean by geographical region.  


A large part of the Brazilian economy is covered by cocoa. However, its production rate has been declining over time; in the 80s, they had about 430,000 tons produced and these tons have now decreased to 200,000 tons per year. This reduction is due in part to the spread of fungal diseases that have caused crises in both cocoa production and exports.

Top cocoa importers  

Globally, cocoa imports reached figures of $9,533 million in 2017 with a growth rate per year of 2.5% since 2012.

The main importers of cocoa, according to Procolombia (2018), have been:

  • The Netherlands with 991,447 tons.
  • The United States with 470,283 tons
  • Germany ranks third with 353,673 tons,  
  • Belgium with 320,282 tons  
  • Malaysia with 311,519 tons imported.  
  • Indonesia with 246,084 tons
  • France with 142,125 tons  
  • Spain with 123,664 tons
  • The United Kingdom with 107,111 tons
  • Turkey with 103,371 tons

Where is cocoa cultivated?    

Ivory Coast 

Cocoa farming arrived in the country in 1895 and began to expand rapidly after the country was liberated from the French conquest in 1960. After this event, the African country became the number 1 cocoa grower in the world, surpassing Ghana in the 1970s.

At present, cocoa cultivation is a challenge for this country due to the dryness and cracking of its soils as a result of the damage done by mankind to the planet, together with the excessive temperatures present in these areas that don’t allow the crops to flourish and cause them to dry out before their time.

Another factor that has to be worked on is the reduction and subsequent elimination of child labor in the cocoa sector; cocoa producers of this region have been threatened with no more cocoa exports if this forced labor is not stopped. 

Not only Ivory Coast, but several countries such as the United States have joined forces to stop this problem by making donations in order to economically support the African country so that they do not have to force children to work.

One of the most important aspects to guarantee a good cocoa crop is to stop the illegal logging of its jungle, which is forbidden precisely because of the atrocious level of deforestation and because it destroys the home of thousands of wild species that live there.


In places like the south of the Volta River and west of Kumasi, there are tropical climates and a wide range of vegetation making them optimal locations for planting cocoa trees.  

In Ghana, farmers organize themselves into “farmers’ societies” which translates to production groups in a given municipality. These farmers travel between villages to set up small stores and market their cocoa products as soon as their quality is tested.  

Each package of cocoa is registered and sealed in order to verify with greater certainty the process of evolution in each of its stages and also to trace more easily the location of the store where each package comes from and therefore the community of producers in charge of the process.  

In a matter of days, these packages go from the stores to chain warehouses where they are valued and assigned with an official seal, then once again they are graded in port warehouses and prepared to be shipped to countries such as Belgium.

Cocoa in Colombia  

In this nation, cocoa is grown mainly in departments such as Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, Chocó, Santander, Huila, Nariño, and Tolima due to the eco-environmental conditions and the geographical location of the country results in high-quality cocoa in terms of aroma and flavor.

The average production in the last decade is 53,000 tons, in 2020 the figure was 63,048 tons while in 2019 it was 59,749, which means an increase of 6% in 2020.  

How is cocoa cultivated? 

There are several requirements that must be met in order to cultivate this fruit. Below, we’ll show you what they are:


The soil must be deep and properly drained so that the crops do not drown. It’s advisable to create mechanisms such as canals that collect water from the puddles to prevent it from altering the ideal humidity levels.

Its pH should be between 5.5 and 6.5°, ideally at 6.2°.

In addition, this crop should be exposed to daylight for an average of 11.5 hours. Even so, it should be exposed to the sun on land where there is some shade.

The soils range from highly eroded to those located in volcanic areas, so there is a large variety of soils in which cocoa can be cultivated.


It must be rainy and humid as it is a plant that grows in shady places, together with the humidity can cause fungus in the fruit, so you have to find the balance between these elements so that this incident doesn’t occur.  

The fruit cannot adapt to low temperatures, so the minimum ambient temperature should be 21ºC (70ºF). On the other hand, very warm temperatures can cause the fruit, the plant and the flowers to wilt. For this reason, they must be in the shade.

Cocoa planting method  

First, the soil must be prepared, not only the plant must be protected from the sun’s rays, but also the soil, as these can damage the humus layer. This will also help the crop during periods of extreme temperatures. It’s also necessary to control the excessive amount of leaves that can reproduce in the weeds so that they do not absorb the crop.

Next, the weeds must be removed and chemicals must be used to ensure their eradication; however, one must be careful not to let these herbicides fall on the crop because cocoa is very sensitive to these products, which is why we suggest the use of cylindrical protectors. Herbicides such as dalapon, gesapax and diuron can be used.

Once the weeds are removed, proceed to prune all branches and leaves that are not needed and also the rotten parts of the cocoa tree, this will reduce the possibility of acquiring pests and diseases for the tree.

For this tree it is necessary to perform several prunings:

  1. One in which only the most tender branches are left in order that these are the ones that produce the fruit and flower and thus are fresher.
  2. Another pruning to remove the dead or diseased parts of the plant, so that the disease does not affect more areas of the tree.
  3. A shade pruning in which we check that the branches do not grow downwards because of the shade, but that they remain upright, the branches that are growing downwards are cut so that new ones grow and are correctly directed.
  4. And, finally, pruning for old trees is done when they decrease their production or do not produce fruit at all, this usually happens when there are too many old branches, so these are removed or part of the tree is cut down to stimulate their production.

Cocoa harvesting  

After about 150 days after flowering and showing a yellow, orange or red color, they are ready to be harvested.

Cocoa can be harvested manually with scissors or a sharp knife to cut the lower stalks.

Cocoa post-harvest  

After being harvested, they are regrouped to open the shell and remove the seeds that are taken to fermentation and drying processes, where, depending on what you want to obtain from cocoa, either cocoa powder or chocolate, they will go to their corresponding processing.

Cocoa-based products  

This ingredient is often used to make candies such as chocolate or it can be consumed in its original form to accompany breakfasts, snacks, or to make alcoholic beverages.

But cocoa itself does not only have several uses, even the shell can be used in several situations. Do you want to know more? keep reading!

Cocoa nibs  

They are fragmented pieces of cocoa that taste like bitter chocolate, they are roasted and crushed in order to finish their creation.  

Although they are small, the nibs are full of benefits both for your body and culinary. For example, nibs contain tryptophan which stimulates the production of serotonin, which is known as the hormone of happiness, and the production of melatonin, which is responsible for rest and sleep.  

Nutritionally, you can consume it as a snack or include it in bitter herbal teas such as Chai tea, add it to smoothies, use it as chocolate chips in desserts or eat it in whole grain cereals.  

Jar of cocoa nibs

Cocoa powder  

It’s usually used as a base or extra ingredient in cakes, ice cream, hot drinks or smoothies, and cookies to decorate and flavor them.  

It’s best to consume it in its pure form and avoid buying it in versions that have been artificially sweetened and have had other chemicals added that do not contribute to the body.

Cocoa powder

Cocoa butter  

One use given in the cosmetic industry is as a lip moisturizer. In this presentation, its characteristic aroma is preserved but it loses its distinctive sweetness or bitterness; moreover, when used for this purpose, it is not edible.  

On the other hand, this butter, together with other ingredients such as sugar and powdered milk, is used in creating one of the most beloved candies in human history: chocolate. It’s especially used for the preparation of white chocolate, cocoa butter is the base of high-quality white chocolates.

Cocoa butter bars

Cocoa liquor  

It’s obtained from grinding fermented cocoa that has been roasted and removed from its shells. It’s not only consumed as any alcoholic beverage but it can be incorporated in bakeries to give a special touch to their food, in ice creams, and in some candies such as certain chocolate bars.  

Cup of cocoa liquor

Cocoa shell  

Just like its fruit, it has tranquilizing properties related to its alkaloids.  

In cocoa farming, the husk is beneficial after decomposition as it is used as part of the fertilizer. Other uses that can be attributed to this shell are to serve as food for some animals and even as a component of some soaps!

Cocoa shells

To conclude, we can see that cocoa is a fruit with so many uses, so many properties and products that we did not expect could be created with it that you can never get bored of cocoa! But the most important thing is its unique and incomparable flavor and how it benefits your body. Don’t you crave it?