(10) Brasil: Cocoa
Cocoa... Kaa-Cow is how they pronounce it down here. They should know, they grow it and harvest it.
Having not seen a Cocoa Plant before I found the experience rather interesting. It is actually a tree that will only thrive and produce harvestable fruit in a shade environment. Therefore a Cocoa Tree is a secondary level in a rainforest ecosystem. It must be within the forest to thrive.
Cocoa grows as a large oblong fruit, about the size of an elongated soft ball. Each fruit grows separately as a single projection from the trunk or branch and hangs from a stem. Many are attached to a single tree.
Research is developing fruits double the normal size and of varying sweetness and color. Cross-breeding with different plant species also produces some unusual hybrids not yet in commercial production. Over 2,000 people are employed in the CEPLAC complex, from labourers for planting and harvesting to scientists working in Research and Development.
The Cocoa Pod is a thin-shelled fruit which when cracked open yields a cluster of 30 or more oblong seeds about the size of a cashew nut. They are coated in a white, slimy milk which is sweetly addictive when sucked off of the seed. The seed at this stage is not edible.
Commercially the shell is cracked open and the seeds and milk are allowed to ferment in vats for 7-10 days. A sweet liquer is the result. The seeds are then removed from the vat and placed on large grids to sun dry. After drying they are crushed to produce the cocoa powder which is then sweetened and blended to taste. The raw, dried cocoa is not unlike baking cocoa and alot of the local people prefer that taste to the sweetened, sugared flavour of contemporary chocolate as we know it.
In 1998 Brasil lost its world status as a cocoa producer. A virus decimated the crops as it raged unchecked through the cocoa fields. Recovery has been slow as the Philippines were quick to capitalize on the loss.
The CEPLAC Research Facility consisting of roughly 760 hectares studies the viruses and infections to try to be ready with a remedy when the next epidemic occurs. In the meantime Brasilian Cocoa struggles to regain its foothold in the World Market.
The CEPLAC facility with its large land holdings also provides a sanctuary for birds and is a center for studying and protecting the two species of sloth found in Brasil.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at August 14, 2006 11:45 PM GMT