Cacao Harvest from Barrett's 1928 Tropical Crops


Cacao is in a class by itself as it is both a beverage and food crop. Coffee should be in the same category, but is not. Tea is virtually and financially twice as important as cacao, but in commerce and industry the reverse is ture. Coffee is between three and four times heavier in trade and six or eight times more valuable.

Coffee costs by the pound, production-center price, about twice as much as cacao, and tea between two and three times as much, depending on where the value is calculated. Yet this cheaper commodity has not only about the same stimulating power as these two other beverages but in addition is a very nutritious food. The industrial world is fortunate in obtaining cacao so cheaply. Were it not for the disconcerting but comprehensible fact that in a single African colony native growers are today producing over half of the world's crop at about half the production cost a pound in other countries, the buyers would be paying not around ten cents a pound for the raw bean.

Cacao is one of the most interesting strictly tropical export crops. If its "butter", or fat, were a little more readily digestible, it would excel, perhaps, both coffee and tea. Chemists are obviating this negative feature by taking out the heavy fat and substituting one or more lighter ones-just as the factory manager covers up the bitter taste with sugar....

Cacao probably occurs in the wild state in the jungles of northern South America; at least very close relatives of it have been discovered there. Centuries before Colon (Columbus) came over searching for pepper and cinnamon at fifty dollars a pound, this denizen of the coastal rain forests had traveled perhaps from the Orinoco around up to the "Tierra Caliente" of eastern Mexico. the seeds dried and roasted and steeped, with or without other substances, like the seeds of the Ceiba tree, were consumed as a fooddrink by the upper classes. Small bags of the seeds were used as money. Without milk and sugar, butter and gritty, the Emperor Montezuma quaffed fifty mugfuls a day and gave 2,000 more to his household because, besides the nutritious fat, starch, and proteids, they got a 2 per cent caffein stimulus out of the theobromine. Most coffee has only about has as much of the similar alkaloid, caffein.

The Aztecs, who were unquestionably the first to use cacao largely, named it "cacaoquáhuitl". The Spaniards, having little respect in those days for aboriginal words, dropped the latter half. The British later transposed the letters.

Chocolate, the preparation of the ground seeds, was called by the Aztecs "chocolatl". The Spaniards were in that case content with substituting an "e" for the final "l"; and the English lexicographers divided it into three syllables and set the accent back on the first. The British grower insists on calling his cacao orchard a "cocoa walk." But correctly speaking cocao is the flour left after taking most of the fat out of the ground seed, or chocolate.

The Spanish for coconut it "coco"; hence to avoid confusion in trade parlance, the Trinidad merchant sells "cokernuts" and cacao and buys Venezuelan cocos, and also local cocoas.

Excerpt from O. W. Barrett's Tropical Crops, (1928, pp. 87-89).
Photo from:
Image from p. 88b

Cacao Harvest