Cocoa, its origin, properties and benefits

The cocoa what is traditionally known as one of the most desirable foods , especially in the form of white chocolate , milk chocolate or black chocolate which is currently fashionable.

What is cocoa?

Cocoa is classified , unlike many people think, as a neutral fruit along with coconut, avocado, walnut, peanut, chestnut, almond, hazelnut, macadamia nut, peanut or corozo . Cacao is produced in the cacao tree ( Theobroma cacao) or cacao tree and it is native to America . In addition, cocoa is used as an ingredient in a wide variety of recipes or as ingredients for other types of food, among which chocolate stands out .

This precious food is obtained from the seeds of the tree. These seeds are found in the pods of the tree with the same name. These pods are born from a wild orchid-like flower emerging from the trunk.

Cocoa is not the same as chocolate.

You have to carefully differentiate cocoa from chocolate:

  • Cocoa, which we have already talked about, is undoubtedly considered a superfood thanks to the excellent nutritional and beneficial properties that it contributes to our health.
  • Chocolate, one of our most consumed dietary sins , is the result of mixing the first with other less healthy and more chloric ingredients , often refined such as sugar, saturated fat and milk derivatives.

Where does cocoa originate from?

The cacao plant is believed to be native to the Amazon basin where it grew wild in prehistoric times and is currently endangered for different reasons.

There are historical accounts that show that the use of cacao dates back to times of the ancient civilizations of the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas . The consumption of cocoa has been present in these civilizations for its nutritional and medicinal properties beneficial to health.

In addition, they used it as a drink reserved exclusively for the highest social classes who used it as a bargaining chip, since they thought that the tree was divine and the fruit recognized it as a gift from the Gods. In fact, Theobroma means, in Greek, food of the Gods .

His arrival in the Old World

This fruit, gift of the Gods, was not known in Europe and was not discovered until the arrival of the Spanish to the new world like other types of food. It is believed that it was Christopher Columbus who first tasted it . Likewise, Hernán Cortés, with his tireless travels, was the one who brought this product to Spain for the first time and presented to the old continent the cocoa bean that, then, was prepared as a powerful drink.

In Spain, this grain brought from another contains immediately gained fame above other foods acquired from the new continent. In Europe it has become a widely consumed product and specifically in Spain the cocoa bean product has become part of our diet.

The heritage of the Aztecs

The Aztecs prepared a bitter drink in which they mixed the cocoa beans, roasted and ground, with water and spices (chilli, cinnamon, pepper or vanilla) and that was part of their diet.

Currently, cocoa is still used in the drink but mixed with different types of foods although in different donuts in Mexico a cocoa drink made with different types of recipes according to the area is taken and in which the following foods are included: cocoa, corn, bean, cinnamon, anise and sugar.

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This drink that is cultural heritage of Mexico receives different names such as cocoa drink, canyon water or Cacahuatole (pre-Hispanic name).

As we have already explained, cocoa comes from the cocoa tree, which is a small tree that grows naturally in tropical areas. Each plant produces approximately 20 fruits or pods containing approximately 30 to 60 cocoa beans. In addition, this cocoa plant needs a warm climate with high temperatures all year round, constant and regular rains and a lot of attention.

How many types of cocoa are there in the world?

There are different classes of this plant, of which according to the latest research indicates, there may be up to ten different ones . The most popular ones can be classified mainly into three :

  • Forastero: it is the best-known plant and the one most used in the production of chocolate, since it is one of the three best-known types of plants, the most resistant and productive with 95% of world production.
  • Criollo: it is the opposite side of the outsider , since, although the cocoa produced with this bean has an unmistakable flavor and an appreciated aroma, it is very difficult to cultivate due to the weakness of the plant.
  • Trinitario: it is in the two previous classes by wanting to combine the resistance of the foreign cocoa plant with the flavor of the Creole cocoa beans .

What are the main producers?

The main cocoa producers in the world are located in countries with a humid climate that are mainly spread over four continents and as a curiosity, the American continent, where this fruit originated, is not the main producer but the African continent, where the true world cocoa producer.

Which nations harvest and produce the largest cocoa bean crops to satisfy the chocolate industry? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ( FAO ), these are the main cocoa producers in the world:

  1. Ivory Coast, where 30% of the world’s cocoa is supplied, is the world’s leading cocoa producer and is responsible for approximately 66% of the country’s income.
  2. Ghana, where 75% of production is in the hands of small producers.
  3. Indonesia, a producer that since 1980 has dramatically increased its production, going from having almost no plantations to being a global giant.
  4. Nigeria, a producer that is constantly growing.
  5. Cameroon, being one of the main producers of this fruit.
  6. Brazil, which, although it is still the largest cocoa producer in the American continent, its production is in decline and with another added problem, Brazil consumes more cocoa than it produces.
  7. Ecuador, where chocolate experts believe that the best cocoa in the world is produced and where the most delicatessen chocolate industry looks for its perfect product. It should also be noted that the chocolate industry in Ecuador is one of the oldest in the world.
    In addition, it is one of the countries that share the Amazon area where there are traces of the use of this fruit that is more than 5000 years old, according to archaeological discoveries.
  8. Mexico, where giants of chocolate indulgence like Hershey and Ferrero have plantations and production facilities.
  9. Peru, where the cultivation of cocoa is important, in recent times is being replaced by other types of crops with more economic performance.
  10. Dominican Republic , which stands out for its sustainable crops and working this product ethically.

What is cocoa used for?


As we can all imagine, the main use that is given to cocoa is as an ingredient in chocolate, for which both the powder and the fat obtained from the crushing of its fruit once fermented are used, which is known as the cocoa butter .

From this bean, both cocoa powder and butter are obtained. The powder and butter extracted from the seeds are often mixed with refined sugars and milk ; Depending on the amount used of each one, the different types of chocolate made in different types of recipes arise. Some of these recipes are exclusive and secret from chocolate companies that make delicious chocolates.

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Cocoa is an ingredient that has become part of our diet, a diet that in addition to incorporating different types of fruits and vegetables we can include the healthy sin of chocolate .

Natural cosmetics

It is surprising to know that our favorite food par excellence also has different cosmetic properties that are beneficial for the skin.

It is used in beauty treatments and is increasingly popular and in demand, since this product is also a great antioxidant for our skin.

In addition to helping us to show off a splendid beauty, its aroma causes the brain to release endorphins, which are the chemical substances that cause us pleasant emotions, which is why they are key to well-being and happiness .

In addition to the pleasure we feel when chocolate touches our skin, this product helps stimulate cellular oxygenation and helps us improve blood circulation , for this reason it is used in anti-cellulite and anti-aging treatments . What’s more, it hydrates, firms and detoxifies the skin, making it a great ally in different skin beauty treatments .

Extending the treatments described, recently the natural cosmetics industry uses them for the creation of different cosmetic products such as hair masks, body soaps, shampoos or body creams thanks to their beneficial properties that they can contribute to our health.

What are the nutritional properties of cocoa?

Cocoa is a food that has a high index of saturated fats and, to a lesser extent, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It is also rich in carbohydrates and proteins , but it also contains magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, theobromine, caffeine, antioxidants, and water, among others.

Nutritional value per 100 grams of cocoa
Calories228 kcal
Fats14 g
Protein20 g
Carbohydrates58 g
Cafein: 230 mg230 mg
Iron13,9 mg
Football128 mg

It also stands out for having a high energy intake , indicated for people who perform sports activities or high-performance physical exercise .

What are the benefits of cocoa?

Since the time of the Mayan culture, the cocoa bean, a gift of nature, has been used as an excellent antioxidant and an undoubted antidepressant .

As we have already talked about, cocoa is caloric but it provides us with different nutrients such as fiber that can help us regulate intestinal transit and that are beneficial for our health by helping us regulate blood pressure and cholesterol among other benefits.

It also provides a large amount of antioxidants that act against free radicals and protect cells.

Another of its benefits can be found in flavonoids , which are generally found in vegetables, they are also present in cocoa and are antioxidants that help prevent some heart diseases and increase elasticity and hydration in the skin.

Other of the great benefits of consuming this fruit and which for me is the most important is that it favors the production of endorphins which, as we have already explained, contributes to improving the state of mind that allows to combat physical and mental stress . Moreover, other elements such as tryptophan, the phenylethylamine , the theobromine and flavonol also contribute to a more positive mood.

Therefore and now that you know the benefits of cocoa, go and enjoy a delicious portion of chocolate.

Ellie Lauderdale

My name is Ellie Lauderdale, MD and I am USA based professional Nutritionist .

I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and board certified specialist in sports dietetics who is trained in integrative medicine. I have worked with hundreds of clients, from those suffering with chronic disease to professional and olympian athletes. My goal is to help optimize you from the inside so that you can feel, perform, and look your best on the outside.

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