This overview unveils the fascinating journey of Theobroma cacao (known to Mayan ancestors as the Food of the Gods) from its inception to the consumer's cup. Cacao embarks on an adventure, navigating symbiotic relationships and encountering a myriad of friends, allies, and necessary challenges crucial for the balance of universal life.
Reproduction Cycle of Theobroma Cacao L.
Seedling Cacao Tree
The cornerstone of ancestral or technical phytogenetic improvement lies in the mother plant. A seedling tree must exhibit specific traits such as robustness, strong and thick main branches, freedom from diseases or pests, no history of nutritional or hydration deficiencies, and at least 7 years of established growth in the field. Genetic influence significantly impacts the phenotypic characteristics of cacao. Central American Criollo cacao boasts the finest flavor profiles, though conserving Criollo genetics poses challenges due to vulnerability to pests and diseases.
Maturity Criteria for Cacao Pods
Cacao Source seeks pods with an elongated, pointed shape, 10 well-defined pairs of furrows, with 5 deeper furrows and prominent ridges. Maturity is crucial, originating from main branches, free of pests or diseases, and in full ripeness.
The few seeds that reach the end of gestation are endowed with nutrient reserves, fostering the embryo's early stages within Mother Earth's nurturing embrace. Layers of protection, including mucilage, facilitate embryo development and create a fertile environment for microscopic companions like bacteria and fungi, forming a symbiotic relationship between plants and soil microbiota. Attempting to sterilize seeds with fungicides or removing mucilage could disrupt the natural plant development.
Every species requires balanced nutrition in its early stages to enhance chosen genotypic and phenotypic characteristics. Regenerative agriculture emphasizes organic compound integration to nourish the soil and the organisms within. Diversifying nutrition is essential for plant and subsurface life, fostering strong immune systems and resistance to pests and diseases.
The seed has lived for several years before reaching reproductive maturity, engaging in a delicate dance with cacao plants, nutrition, wind, and lightweight flies capable of seducing cacao flowers. Pollination involves a delicate balance of three genera: Forcipomyia, Dasyhelea, and Atrichopogon. The cacao tree faces the challenge of reproductive success, requiring specific nutrients to ensure flourishing flower production. Nutritional balance across production cycles is essential for species survival.
The Many cacao fruits won't reach maturity, especially in the first three months, prone to attacks by pathogens and pests. Nutrition inversely correlates with pest incidence, emphasizing that well-nourished plants face fewer pest and disease issues. Harvesting, ideally aligned with the full moon, captures substances and nutrients during the gravitational pull. Indigenous practices recognize the cosmic connection in agricultural processes.
Seeds perish shortly after fruit harvest. Producers initiate a delicate fermentation process, followed by precise drying. Fermentation contributes to the distinct flavors and aromas cherished in cacao. Indigenous Kaqchikel women peel the seeds and craft cacao blocks, passing the final quality check before reaching customers who appreciate the ancestral medicine of cacao.
Cacao undergoes intricate processes before reaching the cups of end consumers. Each stage demands a deep exploration, highlighting the complex task of bringing a cacao seed into our homes. With every sip, we acknowledge the intricate team of macro and microscopic species sustaining our enjoyment of the Food of the Gods. This exploration leaves us with more questions than answers, prompting philosophical reflections on our interactions with the surrounding life, turning the study of Theobroma cacao into an endless spiral of discovery.