Chocolate Valentine

Chocolate is a Valentine’s Day requirement for chocoholics like me, and is made from the seeds of a small tropical tree. It’s not an orchid, but it is a fascinating plant that’s long been cultivated in Central and South America. My favorite food comes from cocoa pods, the fruit of Theobroma cacao, also known as the Cocoa Tree. Beans from the pods are dried, cleaned, roasted, and pressed to remove their bitterness, and turned into edible cocoa. Then, they’re just a recipe away from being a delicious confection.

Cocoa pod at Hawaii Tropical Botanical GardenCocoa pods and Vanilla beansYoung cocoa pod on tree at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Chocolate’s cultivation and history share close ties with that famous orchid vanilla. By the time Montezuma greeted Hernan Cortes with a vanilla-flavored chocolate drink in 1519, the peoples of Central and South America had been cultivating both crops for several millennia. Ancient Mayans and Aztecs drank chocolate mixed with chiles, cinnamon, honey, peanuts, or vanilla. They also used cocoa beans as currency. The conquistadors brought chocolate to Europe, where the fruit became the treat of royalty, always flavored with vanilla extract. It wasn’t until the court of famous sweet-tooth Queen Elizabeth I that English confectioners tried vanilla with different sweets.

Theobroma cacao flower close-upTheobroma cacao flowers close-upPart of a Theobroma cacao pod with dried cocoa beans

Fresh cocoa beans are very bitter, but have a sweet, pulpy coating that tastes just like chocolate (just don’t bite down!) Nowadays, farmers grow the crop throughout the tropics. West Africa and Southeast Asia supply most of the world’s cocoa beans. Vanilla remains a common flavoring in chocolate. Consider it a bonus that when you eat chocolate, you may be tasting a drop of orchid, too. Now bring on that Chocolate Valentine!

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4 Comments on “Chocolate Valentine”

  1. AboutOrchids » Blog Archive » Ouch! Says:

    […] Vallarta Botanical Gardens has orchids, chocolate, and vanilla to enjoy, but it also has a painful side. […]

  2. nancy Says:

    Yummy! I’ve seen the pods before but I never saw the flowers. they look tiny!

  3. KellyAp Says:

    Thank you very much for that magnificent article

  4. Fenix90 Says:

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