Warm up and see our cacao tree in fruit
In the tropical rainforest zone of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, one of our most economically important plants, the cacao tree, is laden with yellow fruits.
02 Dec 2010
Theobroma cacao, cacao tree (Image: Pippa Healy, www.kewgardensdailyphoto.com)
Discovered over 2000 years ago, deep in the tropical rainforests of the Americas, the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) is the source of one of the world’s most delicious and familiar products…chocolate!
The delicate flowers grow directly from the trunk and older branches, as do the large oval fruits, or pods, which contain the seeds. Cacao pods are cracked open to reveal the seeds which are then scraped out and fermented in the sun.
Theobroma cacao by Marianne North - sponsor this painting now!
First made by the ancient peoples of Central America and Mexico, chocolate was originally consumed as a bitter beverage, and later was used as currency.
The Aztecs believed chocolate was of divine origin and that it had healing and nourishing powers. Theobroma literally means ‘food of the gods’. Ground seeds were mixed with chilli peppers, vanilla and ground annatto to make a drink enjoyed only by the elite. Once Spanish explorers discovered its decadent delights in the 1520s, they brought it home, sweetened the recipe and spread its popularity throughout Europe.
Discover more at the Plants+People exhibition in
Museum No. 1
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