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Theobroma cacao: The food of the gods

This warmth-loving rain forest dweller is a native of the South American tropics. Its seeds provide a stimulating beverage once treasured by the Maya and Aztecs. Today, we know it as cacao or chocolate, from the native words “xocoatl” or “kakáwatl”, meaning “bitter” or “bitter water”.

The first cacao beans were brought to Europe in 1528 by Hernán Cortez, the Spanish conquistador of Mexico. Cortez was introduced to the cold, chilli- and vanilla-spiced cacao drink by Montezuma, the last ruler of the Aztec Empire. The Spaniards added honey and sugar to the mixture and started heating the beverage.

To make cacao, the seeds are removed from the sweet, white flesh of the plant’s seed pods. The seeds contain 50% fat, also known as cocoa butter, while cacao’s stimulant properties come from theobromine, a substance related to caffeine. As soon as the seeds are harvested, they are fermented and roasted, producing the characteristic cacao aroma.

The high esteem in which cacao has long been held is evident in its scientific name: The great Swedish botanist Linnaeus dubbed it Theobroma cacao, meaning “food of the gods”.

Audio file download
Theobroma cacao: The food of the gods (MP3, 608 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Ehrentraud Bayer, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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