Cacao

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  • Botanical: Theobroma cacao
  • Family: Malvaceae
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Cacao

Botanical

Theobroma cacao

Family

Malvaceae

Known as

Cacao, Cocoa, Theobroma cacao, Kakao

Old Use

ceremonial, medicinal, culinary

Collection Times

September to February

Parts Used

seed

Medicinal

arteriosclerosis, circulation, coughs, diabetes, diarrhea, digestion, gastrointestinal, low blood pressure, menstrual cramps, menopausal symptom, skin rashes

Heart & Circulation

circulation

Hormone & Sexual Organs

gynecological issues, menstrual cramps

Mind & Nerves

depression, fatigue (exhaustion), headache, obesity, weakness

Stomach & Intestinal

abdominal pain, bowel cleansing, diabetes, low blood pressure

Properties

analgesic, antispasmodic, antidepressant, aphrodisiac, digestive, diuretic, stimulant, tonic

Note

middle

Extraction

solvent

Description

Leaves are alternate, entire, unlobed, 10–40 cm (3.9–15.7 in) long and 5–20 cm (2.0–7.9 in) broad.

The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; this is known as cauliflory. The flowers are small, 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) diameter, with pink calyx. While many of the world's flowers are pollinated by bees (Hymenoptera) or butterflies/moths (Lepidoptera), cacao flowers are pollinated by tiny flies, Forcipomyia midges in the order Diptera.

The fruit, called a cacao pod, is ovoid, 15–30 cm (5.9–11.8 in) long and 8–10 cm (3.1–3.9 in) wide, ripening yellow to orange, and weighs about 500 g (1.1 lb) when ripe. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called "beans", embedded in a white pulp. The seeds are the main ingredient of chocolate, while the pulp is used in some countries to prepare refreshing juice, smoothies, jelly, and nata. Each seed contains a significant amount of fat (40–50%) as cocoa butter. Their most noted active constituent is theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine.

Properties & Uses

Chocolate is more than just a delicacy; evidence suggests that eating between 46 and 105g chocolate a day can have a moderate effect on lowering blood pressure.

Cocoa has been used for an array of medicinal purposes. Unfermented cocoa seeds and the seed coat are used to treat a variety of ailments, including diabetes, digestive and chest complaints. Cocoa powder, prepared from fermented cocoa beans, is used to prevent heart disease. Cocoa butter is taken to lower cholesterol levels, although its efficacy is unclear.

It is also used widely in foods and pharmaceutical preparations, as well as being used as a rich moisturiser for the skin.

Cautions

Cocoa contains caffeine. The caffeine in cocoa, especially when taken in large amounts, can worsen diarrhea.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Cocoa contains caffeine. The caffeine in cocoa, especially when taken in large amounts, can worsen diarrhea and might worsen symptoms of IBS.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Cocoa seems to hinder the effectiveness of the valve in the food tube (esophagus) that keeps the contents of the stomach from coming back into the food tube or the airway. This could make the symptoms of GERD worse.

Migraine headaches: Cocoa might trigger migraines in sensitive people.

Surgery: Cocoa might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgical procedures. Stop eating cocoa at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Rapid, irregular heartbeat (tachyarrhythmia): Cocoa from dark chocolate can increase heart rate. Cocoa products might also make irregular heartbeat worse.

Distribution

T. cacao is widely distributed from southeastern Mexico to the Amazon basin. There were originally two hypotheses about its domestication; one said that there were two foci for domestication, one in the Lacandon area of Mexico and another in lowland South America.

Constituents

Alkaloids, theobromine, theophylline, beta-sitosterol, polyphenols, vitamins, glycerin, cocoa butter, coumarins, lecithin, salicylate, valerate epicatechin