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Brief History of Cacao

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

Where does the cacao bean come from?

Cacao beans

Chocolate, a beloved treat enjoyed by people around the world, has a fascinating history that begins with the humble cacao bean. Brief history of cacao, the journey that starts in the tropical regions of the Americas, where it is cultivated by millions of farmers today. In this blog post, we will explore the origins of the cacao bean, its rich flavours, and the cultural significance it holds.


The cacao bean, also known as the cocoa bean, is derived from the Theobroma cacao tree, which translates to "Food of Gods." These beans are actually seeds that develop inside pods that grow on the cacao tree. Encased within the pods' white fleshy pulp, these seeds are transformed into the delectable ingredient we know as chocolate.

The cacao tree is believed to have originated in the upper Amazon basin region, encompassing countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. It thrives in the warm, humid climate of these regions, where it has been cultivated for centuries. The cacao beans from different regions and varieties offer distinct flavours, ranging from floral and fruity to nutty notes, adding to the diversity of chocolate experiences.



The cacao bean holds a significant place in history, particularly among ancient civilizations such as the Mayans, Aztecs, and Olmecs. These cultures recognized the medicinal properties of cacao and utilised it in various ways. The Mayans, for example, considered cacao a sacred food and used it in religious ceremonies. The Aztecs, on the other hand, created a bitter beverage called "chocolatl" from cocoa, which played a central role in their cultural and religious practices.


The word "chocolate" as we know it today has its roots in the Nahuatl language, spoken by native groups in Mesoamerica. It is derived from two Nahuatl words: "chocolatl," meaning "hot water," and "cacahuatl," which referred to a bitter beverage made with cocoa. These terms reflect the ancient tradition of preparing a warm, bitter drink using cacao beans during sacred rituals and communal gatherings.


The cacao bean, with its origins in the Amazon basin and its cultural significance among ancient civilizations, has a captivating story to tell. From its discovery by indigenous communities to its journey through time, the cacao bean has transformed into the chocolate we know and love today. Its diverse flavours and rich history continue to captivate chocolate enthusiasts worldwide, making it a true symbol of indulgence and cultural heritage.



The arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in the New World marked a turning point in history, not only for the native cultures they encountered but also for the discovery of a valuable crop—the cacao plant. As they embarked on a mission of invasion and colonisation, the Conquistadors stumbled upon the bitter cocoa beans and introduced their own innovations, leading to the widespread adoption of chocolate across western Europe.


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