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Description: Cocoa beans are the seeds, contained in a cucumber-like fruit, of the cacao tree, a member of the Sterculiaceae family. The flowers/fruit are borne directly on the trunk (cauliflory) and on thick branches (ramiflory). The yellowish, reddish to brownish fruits (botanically speaking, berries), which are of similar appearance to cucumbers, are divided into five longitudinal compartments, each containing up to 10 seeds (cocoa beans). As the fruits approach ripeness, the partitions break down and the seeds are located around the central funicle in a whitish pulp with a sweet/sour flavor. The cocoa bean consists of the seed coat which encloses the cocoa kernel and almost solely consists of the two folded cotyledons, and the radicle. The cocoa kernel is the principal component for the production of cocoa products. Two subtypes are distinguished: - High-grade, criollo cocoa: the beans are large, roundish and brown in color. They have a delicately bitter, aromatic flavor and are easily processed. - Forastero or common grade cocoa: the beans are smaller than criollo cocoa beans, flattened on the side, have a dark reddish-brown to violet color and a sharper flavor. Forastero cocoa beans account for around 90% of the world's cocoa harvest. The main zones of cultivation of the tropical cacao tree fall within a band 10 degrees north and south of the equator. Central Africa produces approx. 75% of the world's forastero cocoa harvest, while criollo cocoa is primarily shipped from Central America (Venezuela, Ecuador) and from Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Due to its high content of fat (cocoa butter), protein and carbohydrates, cocoa has a high nutritional value. Since cocoa contains only small amounts of substances such as theobromine (1 - 2%) and caffeine (0.2%), consuming it has no harmful side-effects. In order to moderate the initially bitter flavor of cocoa and to develop the flavor typical of cocoa, the beans must be subjected to a fermentation process during which the highly bitter tannins present in the beans are oxidized, resulting in the formation of aromatic substances and the development of the typical brown to deep red-brown color of cocoa. As a result of the heat associated with fermentation, the cocoa beans lose their ability to germinate. This process is performed after harvesting by heaping cocoa beans in layers in troughs, concrete pits or fermenting tanks.
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