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Chocolate: A Culinary Gift from the Amazon

Scott A. Mori, Ph.D., formerly the Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany, has been studying New World rain forests at The New York Botanical Garden for over 30 years. As part of The Edible Garden, he [held] informal conversations about some of his research topics -- chocolate, Brazil nuts, and cashews -- during Café Scientifique on August 13 [2009]. [Taken from NYBG's Plant Talk Blog.] I met Scott Mori at the January meeting of the Brooklyn Heights Garden Club in New York City when his wife, Carol Gracie, gave an illustrated talk on wild flowers. He has kindly allowed me to reproduce his article, written for the New York Botanical Garden's Plant Talk Blog, and to include several photos from his field work in Bahia that show cacao plantation workers cutting harvested pods for the fermentation and drying stages of the cacao beans, or seeds. In this piece, he discusses his fascination with the “chocolate tree,” the origins and original distribution of this plant, the unsolved mystery of pollination, the derivation of its name Theobroma cacao L., and much, much more about this "food of the gods." He begins: “The chocolate that we eat and drink is one of the most complicated foods utilized by mankind. Not only did it co-evolve in the rain forests of the New World with still unidentified pollinators and with the help of animals that disperse its seeds, but it also undergoes an amazing transformation when it is processed, going from inedible, bitter seeds to the delicious chocolate products that most of us enjoy.

I became fascinated with the natural history and cultivation of chocolate while working for the Cocoa Research Institute in southern Bahia, Brazil, from 1978 to 1980. I directed a program of plant exploration in what was then, botanically, one of the least explored regions of the New World tropics. During those two years, I made 4,500 botanical collections, including many species new to science and many from cocoa plantations.”

To follow the rest of the blog, here’s the link:

Bahia cacao plantation

Cacao plantation, Bahia

Removing seeds from pods

Removing seeds (or beans) from the pods

Beans with surrounding pulp

Wooden cart for easy transport of beans

Harvested beans with empty pods

Harvested wet beans on banana leaves

Cleaning the dried, fermented beans

Raking and "dancing" on the fermented beans to dry evenly

Bagging the dried beans

Bagging the dried beans

Photos courtesy of Scott Mori

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