Garden View: From cacao tree to chocolate bar

Chocolate is a product of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao.

The seeds of the tree are encased in a pod that grows along the branches. This tropical understory tree is found along deeply forested river banks. It is believed that this plant originated in the northern Amazon rainforest, however, its utilization as a food crop, may have begun in other areas of the Americas.

Chocolate is made by harvesting the pods, separating the seeds from the pod, fermenting the seeds for three to five days, then roasting washed and dried beans.

The rich dark color of the seeds develops during the fermentation process.

The use of the cacao plant’s seeds, from which chocolate is derived, shows up in bowls at early Mesoamerica archaeological sites, in southern Chiapas and Veracruz, dating between 1650 to 1500 BC where the Mokaya and Olmec societies were established.

In more recent history, the Mayans and Aztecs believed that the seeds were a gift from the god of Wisdom, Quetzalcoati. They fermented the seeds and made a drink, used in sacred rituals, from the fermented beans.

Most explorers did not like the bitter drink made by the Aztecs, however, when honey or sugar was added, the drink became popular throughout Spain. By the late 1700’s, the invention of the steam engine allowed for broader production and distribution of this chocolate drink. By 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to remove part of the natural fat (cacao butter) from the chocolate drink. He developed a powder that became known as Dutch cocoa and soon, thereafter, solid chocolate became a marketable product.

More sugar and additives resulted in “milk chocolate” by the late 1800s.

Today, we see the birth of specialty chocolate companies focusing on dark chocolate, which has a much higher percentage of cacao and no milk or additives. One such company is Mozna Chocolate, a local artisan chocolate company.

This company utilizes single source cacao from several countries, including Mexico, Tanzania, and Vietnam.

They produce 70% dark chocolate bars, energy bars, keto bars, and chocolate for traditional Mexican hot chocolate.

Today, Mozna Chocolate is at the Growing Growers Farmers Market, in McAllen’s Firemen’s Park, on the corner of First Street and Business 83.

They are serving their traditional Mexican style hot chocolate free from 9 to 11:45 a.m. and serving samples of all of their dark chocolate products.

Mozna offers educational tours of their factory for groups of adults and children where you can learn more about the gift of Quetzalcoati.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. She can be reached at barbarastorz@hotmail.com.