What is chocolate?

Deborah Beauvais
Nutrition & Dietetics
Chocolate is a confection produced from the fruit of the tropical tree Theobroma cacao. The fruit, known as cacao beans, are fermented, dried, roasted, and ground, and the resulting product is called cocoa liquor, which can be separated into cocoa butter, a smooth, solid fat used in both food and cosmetics, and cocoa powder. Cocoa butter and cocoa powder are combined in various proportions with other ingredients to produce chocolate. Common varieties of chocolate are dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. Chocolate can be eaten on its own, but it also pairs well with dried or candied fruits, nuts, fondant, and marzipan. For the most professional results, chocolate should be tempered.
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
Chocolate is produced from the beans of the cacao tree, named Theobroma cacao by Linnaeus. There are three main varieties of cacao trees. The most common, the Forastero, gives us nearly 90 percent of the world's cacao crop. The beans of the Criollo, the rarest and most prized variety, are sought after by the world's best chocolate makers for their rich aroma and delicate flavor. The Trinitario variety is a cross between the Criollo and the Forastero.

Despite experiments in crossbreeding in an effort to make these three types of cacao trees more productive and pest resistant, so far the cacao remains a rather delicate and strictly tropical tree, thriving only in geographical areas within 20 degrees (about 600 miles) north and south of the equator. Only in these regions does the cacao tree find the necessary hot, stable climate (temperatures never below 680F), humidity (rainfall between 70 and 90 inches a year), damp soil, protection from the wind, and heavy shade, especially in its first two to four years of growth.

Making matters more difficult is that only 3 to 10 percent of cacao trees mature to develop full fruits. The fruit, the source of the world's chocolate and cocoa, appears in the form of green or sometimes maroon pods on the trunk of the tree and its main branches. Shaped a bit like tiny footballs, the pods ripen to a golden color or sometimes develop a scarlet hue with multicolored flecks. The Criollo produces a soft, thin-skinned pod, with a light color and a unique, pleasant aroma. The fruit of the Forastero is a thick-walled pod with a pungent aroma. The fruit of the Trinitario has some characteristics of both but generally possesses a rich, aromatic flavor.
Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

More About this Book

Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

From the bestselling authors of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the most comprehensive and practical guide available to the nutritional benefits and medicinal properties of virtually everything...

Continue Learning about Fats

All About YOU: Getting More Better-for-You Fats
All About YOU: Getting More Better-for-You Fats
Corn oil, margarine, steak . . . if these items make a regular appearance in your diet, you may need more "3s." That's omega-3s—found in foods like f...
Read More
What is prostaglandin?
Discovery HealthDiscovery Health
Prostaglandin E1 is a hormone-like substance created when the body ingests an essential fatty acid c...
More Answers
The Best (and Worst) Fats for Your Body
The Best (and Worst) Fats for Your BodyThe Best (and Worst) Fats for Your BodyThe Best (and Worst) Fats for Your BodyThe Best (and Worst) Fats for Your Body
Protect your heart health—and much more—by choosing the right fatty foods.
Start Slideshow
How Can Eating Fat Help Me Lose Weight?
How Can Eating Fat Help Me Lose Weight?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.