Sunday, October 21, 2007


I picked my first two cacao pods today. It’s the autumn equinox, not that it makes such a difference here, the sun rises and sets more or less at 5:30 each day. The pods are from the cacao tree closest to the house. They are not quite ready, still turning yellow, but I’m guessing they will ripen like the bananas. I wanted to try them early because the squirrels get to them first otherwise. I’ll leave some for the squirrels of course. They are so beautiful, excited!
After the banana blight this whole area was turned over to cacao and once again a monoculture existed – and once again a blight wiped out the plantations. Ah nature . . .. Much of the land here was once cacao plantation, judging by the number of trees on this hillside this was a plantation.
The cacao was revered by the native Indians as a food of the gods. It was used ceremoniously, as medicine and as money. Is this where the expression ‘money grows on trees’ comes from? In the Mayan culture a porter earned 100 cacao beans a day: the price of a hare; an avocado cost one bean; a fish wrapped in a corn husk cost 3. It was taken or exchanged during both religious and civic ceremonies, for example at a wedding the bride and groom exchanged 5 beans.
The trees look a little like apple trees, fairly short and gnarled. The pods grow from the stems and trunk and are shaped like a rugby ball but ridged and knobbly, they vary in colour from a minty green to a deep dark maroon. Inside the beans hang from a sinewy tough central stem – a bit like the middle of a tangerine but much stronger. The beans are covered with thick white ooze which tastes sweet but makes the whole thing look like the innards of some alien. The beans are almond shaped and sized, but smooth, they’re a creamy coffee colour, inside they are the most royal bright purple. The whole pod from inside out is an experience of colour and texture, shelling the beans has to be a fairly ritualistic practice moving through hard to soft to hard, ridged to slippery to smooth surfaces. The beans taste bitter but they come with a kick: 5 roughly equal an espresso shot. And they are rich. I’ve heard of people eating 30 and getting high, seeing the cacao god himself!
It’s said that cacao is a superfood: very rich in antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, dopamine, seratonin, anandamide, tryptophan and phenylethylamines are amongst the 300 chemical compounds present in cacao. With the seratonin, anandamide, dopamine and phenylethylamine it’s no wonder chocolate lifts one’s mood and why so many people reach for a slab when all else seems to fail. Of course the most healthy way to absorb all this goodness is through the fresh or dried bean, but that’s not so practical. They say that the addition of dairy products blocks the absorption of much of the benefits, so the darker the chocolate - and the least processed - the better for you.
It’s almost a week later and the pods are ripe: the beans are delicious, but 3 is enough at one time. What a gift to have such a fruit in the garden!
Interesting website, also google raw chocolate :