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Know Your Cacao – Cacao Folklore and the Cacao Plantation

Imagine walking through an orchard surrounded by a canopy of leafy trees with winding branches, which are only slightly taller than a six-foot man. This is often a common sight in a cacao plantation, especially in Latin American and African countries.

Plantation|Source: www.africas-eden.com

The actual name of a cacao tree is a Theobroma cacao. There are various Latin American folklore on how cacao came about. According to an Mexica/Aztec folklore from the mid 13th century, cacao was a gift to humans for a faithful princess who sacrificed herself.

As the story goes, a Mexican princess was guarding her husband’s treasure while he was away in battle. While he was away, his enemies came and forced her to reveal where the royal treasures were hidden. However, the faithful princess stayed silent and was killed by her husband’s enemies. From the blood shed by the faithful wife and princess, the cacao plant was born. The fruits of the cacao are the real treasures, which are bitter like the suffering of love but with seeds as strong as virture. The lightly pink seeds represent the blood of the faithful wife.

Kakaw Hieroglyph|Source: www.ganache.co.il

In most traditional cacao plantations, the men are involved in the heavy cutting and clearing of cacao trees, while the women tend and harvest the fruit. Baskets of cacao fruit are weighed and harvesters are normally paid according to the weight of wet cacao pulp.

Once cacao beans are harvested, the cacao beans go through a two-step process of fermentation and drying. The wet cacao pulp (called baba) is cleared of dirt particles. Workers then heap the pulp in wooden bins, which are covered in plantain leaves, for fermentation. Fermentation causes the wet pulb to melt into a liquid vinegar, which is drained off to leave a slightly darkened beans. The beans are rotated from one bin to another to aerate the fermenting mass.

Fermented Beans|Source: www.tava.com.au

After fermentation, the cacao beans are spread in the sun to dry on a platform that could be cement or wood. The beans are periodically turned with wooden rakes in the day. At night, the beans placed in the shed for protection. This goes on for five to six days. Once dried, the beans are classified according to their size and ready to be shipped!