I had no idea you could eat the pulp of a cacao bean. No idea. I suppose I have barely spent any time on a cacao farm so there is a reasonable excuse for that. I spent a few summer holidays with my mother in her ancestral town in Bohol, in a relativeâ€™s house that was located in the middle of dozens and dozens of rows of cacao trees. I was always fascinated with the idea that my favorite Hersheyâ€™s chocolate Kisses or Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars all started from these strange looking bean pods that grew out of the cacao tree trunksâ€¦ Somehow the hot chocolate made from the cacao cakes or tablea was good, but not Kisses, if you know what I mean. It was on trips such as these that my memory banks were hardwired to remember treats such as local broas dipped in a cup of nice thick tsokolate. I used to watch the broas suck up the liquid and I had to figure out when it was just the right moment to extract the confection and pop it into my mouth so that you still had some crunch but maximum chocolate flavor!
So when I saw cacao trees on the farm in Bicol last week with several ripening pods, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take some photographs for this blog. Before I could turn my back, the locals opened several ripe pods and told me to pop a few of the pulp covered seeds or beans into my mouth. Wow! What great flavorâ€¦sort of like mangosteen in a way but rather different, and certainly not chocolatey in any way. Very hard to describe but something worth trying if you ever get the chance. Apparently if you wait a bit too long and the nut matures, the pulp dries upâ€¦ And the pulp is not something that folks often eat as of course they are after the beans themselves that are relatively precious (a tree only yields a pound or two of dried beans per year…) when compared to the pulp…
According to Alan Davidson, cacao trees are indigenous to Latin America and were perhaps already being used as a food source as early as 1000 BC. The pods that grow out of the trunks and large branches contain several beans that are enveloped in the pulp you see in the close up photo up top. The beans are then dried, and the pulp surrounding them ferments a bit and this plays a large role in adding flavor to the beans. The beans are then roasted, shelled and the nibs are then ground up to make chocolate liquor made up of cocoa fat and other stuff. This is essentially unsweetened chocolate. Our tablea is the crudest form of this and when added to water or cream and sugar, makes a pretty wicked cup of hot chocolate. From what I can gather, the finer chocolates around the world have as their base increasingly sophisticated cocoa butters or essences that have undergone several iterations of blending and tasting and testing in order to achieve something better than just the ordinaryâ€¦but just eating the pulp surrounding the cacao beans was already a bit extraordinary, if you ask me!