When frosting a cake with chocolate icing or inhaling the aroma of a cup of hot cocoa, most of us probably don’t consider our chocolate’s actual origin: a bulbous, melon-like fruit wrapped with a thick and fleshly skin. For whatever reason, the connection’s not always immediate.
Chocolate, as many of us know it at least, comes from the seeds (known as "beans") of the tropical cacao pod. These fruits, which unsurprisingly grow on a cacao tree, grow year-round and can hold up to 20 to 50 beans. To give you an idea of the amount of chocolate in a bean, it takes about 400 beans for every pound of chocolate.
After being removed from the pods, beans are fermented and dried. Depending on the climate, this process can take close to a month before the resulting product is either used as an ingredient, or subject to roasting and further processing to convert chocolate to its most widely known forms.
In Mesoamerica, where the cacao tree originates (although the top cacao bean producers are in West Africa and Southeast Asia), harvested and fermented beans are often ground at chocolate mills. The cacao can be mixed with a variety of different ingredients (like cinnamon, chile, and vanilla) to make drinking chocolate, or be sold as an important ingredient in savory foods like mole negro.
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