Food of the gods. That’s what some indigenous people in the Americas called chocolate beans from the cacao tree. Cacao trees are native to tropical America, where they grow beneath the forest canopy.
In the 1500s, when Spanish conquistadors landed in Mexico, they found storehouses filled with tons of chocolate beans. These served as currency and were considered more valuable than gold.
Indigenous people made a bitter, invigorating drink by grinding the beans and mixing them with cornmeal and chilies. Europeans later added sugar to make the chocolate we enjoy today.
Mature cacao pods are still cut from the tree with a machete and sliced open to remove the beans and surrounding pulp. The beans and pulp are fermented and then dried in the sun. Dried beans are shipped to factories for roasting, which further develops the chocolate flavor.
Over three million tons of cocoa are produced annually in more than 40 countries. The Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon produce more than two-thirds of this, which is mostly exported for processing. The United States and the Netherlands are the largest processors of cocoa beans.