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Tree Description: Theobroma cacao is a small, wide-branching, evergreen tree that is native to tropical rainforest areas of Central and South America. It typically grows in the wild to 20-30' tall with glossy, oblong, drooping, bright green leaves (4-8" long). Seeds from this tree are the source of cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolate.
Scientific Name: Theobroma cacao
Common Names: (English) cacao, cocoa; (Spanish) árbol del cacao, cacaotero, calabacillo, forastero
Relatives: Cola nut
Origin: Central and northern South America
Distribution/History: There are two distinct types of cocoa, Criollo types (cacao dulce) that developed north of the Panama isthmus, and Forastero (cacao amargo) which originated in the Amazon basin. Criollo types were cultivated by the indigenous people of Central and South America and were the type Europeans were first exposed to. Commercial production commenced in Brazil using the Forastero types, mainly a uniform type called Amelonado. Both types were distributed throughout the Caribbean, where they hybridized in Trinidad, creating a distinct hybrid called Trinitario. Spanish explorers took cocoa to the Philippines, where it spread throughout southeast Asia, India, and Ceylon. Amelonado cocoa was taken to West Africa.
Importance: Cacao seeds are a "Super Fruit" and products derived from cacao seed extracts, such as natural cocoa powder and dark chocolate, are"Super Foods".