27 Jun2006

Cacao “Pulp”

by Marketman


I had no idea you could eat the pulp of a cacao bean. No idea. I suppose I have barely spent cac2any 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 relative’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 Hershey’s chocolate Kisses or Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars all started from these strange looking bean pods that grew out of the cacao tree trunks… 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 cac4thought 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 flavor…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 up… 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 cac3the 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 ordinary…but just eating the pulp surrounding the cacao beans was already a bit extraordinary, if you ask me!



  1. Apicio says:

    If you find yourself in a coffee grove you can also pick (once the owner diverts his attention) and taste the fresh ripe berries off the tree just like you did the cacao beans. It is sweet but the flavour would not be anything close to coffee as we enjoy it either.

    Jun 27, 2006 | 4:48 am


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  3. MGR says:

    How I wish the Philippines could be a major exporter of highly prized beans. I don’t know what the process is, but I feel that anything grown in the same equatorial countries could be matched. For example, why can’t we produce good coffee beans as our neighbor Indonesia and mass market worldwide? I think goverment subsidies play a big role in this. Thailand’s agricultural industry is heavily subsidied by their government.
    Kudos to your inquisitive mind and giving us a better understanding of the chocolate process.

    Jun 27, 2006 | 6:46 am

  4. MasPinaSarap says:

    I cannot agree with you more MGR. Why not the Philippines? If not for the world(although this is more than possible), but at least for Filipinos. It should be a symbol of our homegrown pride, gourmet desserts made all from the finest Philippine resources. Philippine mangoes are being sold in some of the finest grocery stores in Belgium (and expanding), and they are categorized as “Gourmet Produce”. This could be possible for all of our produce.

    MM, I’ve heard you just suck the fruit off the bean, and then it’s perfect for planting. The covering will hinder germination. Some enjoy the fruit even more than the beans. :)

    Jun 27, 2006 | 9:27 am

  5. mojitodrinker says:

    Two things:
    (1) Thanks for the post on cacao… Hot chocolate made from tablea rocks! I don’t know why anyone still bothers with the powdered form when tablea is available.
    (2) MGR, much as it would be great for national pride–do we really want to be coffee bean producers? The competition for coffee in the world is fierce and prices of coffee beans are ridiculously low. Coffee producers like Guatemala barely make any money off the coffee bean producing industry. Even if Starbucks sells coffee for ridiculous prices, most of the cash goes to Starbucks or P&G or the other manufacturers not the growers… So why would we want to get into that?

    Jun 27, 2006 | 11:54 am

  6. honey says:

    we have several cacao trees in our front and back yard and i make our tsokolate every december. it’s great roasting the beans as you can breathe in the rich chocolatey aroma. shelling it is a pain though. you have to shell it while it’s still warm as when it’s already cold, you will have to scrape off the skin with yuor fingernails

    Jun 27, 2006 | 12:24 pm

  7. Anna says:

    i never knew you could eat the pulp like a fruit either! that would have been a nice experience. i love reading your blog because i get to discover fruits and vegetables i’ve never heard of before. the only problem is that after i read about them i want to eat them and most aren’t available in sydney (australia).

    Jun 27, 2006 | 2:52 pm

  8. lee says:

    eat the pulp, spit the seed.

    to Apicio: i believe you have heard of “kofi luwak” where they let civet cats eat coffee berries and then roast the seeds after. But then civet cats don’t spit…

    Jun 27, 2006 | 3:23 pm

  9. Jaja says:

    reading your post brings me back to my childhood days. We had cacao trees in front of our old house and my lola would pick out the ripe pods and we would eat the pulp. Just like eating mangosteen or marang, scooping it out with a fork. Then she would collect the beans to make tablea for tsokolate and champorado.

    Jun 27, 2006 | 4:31 pm

  10. Marketman says:

    Apicio, now I have to find a coffee plantation…with my luck, I will ingest a bean that has been sprayed with deadly insecticide…heehee. MGR, in general, I too lament that our produce is so sub-standard. Yes, other Asian governments help in producing world class quality produce and we can’t seem to get out acts together…mojitodrinker, it’s not just to be coffee bean producers, but rather to be proud of the quality and quantity of stuff we grow and showcase… honey I can only imagine what the smell is like…the closest I have come is during a tour by Ivan Mandy through Chinatown where we passed by an old chocolate/tablea manufacturer… Anna, you may not have a lot of the stuff I write about but you have lots of other superb fruits and vegetables in your neighborhood as well…I love Australian produce! lee, the intestinal tracts add just the right amount of “acids” to enhance the beans flavor…imagine if that were true for other larger foods as well… Jaja, think our own kids will have memories like these???

    Jun 27, 2006 | 4:49 pm

  11. Apicio says:

    Lee, taking off from your spit imagery, yes, I heard of that but haven’t tasted it for another reason, I confine my coffee budget within the absolute outer limits of good Hawaian or Jamaican beans. That is probably one of those food items of which the less you know about it the more pleasurable experience you get out of it as with savouring birds nest soup that one will never enjoy as much as when the thought of its source and substance is blocked entirely. After all even the mundane hotdog’s fans are rightly admonished not to watch its production.

    And btw, Linda from Australia, my feelings are with you about the Socceroos.

    Jun 27, 2006 | 8:56 pm

  12. MasPinaSarap says:

    I think that’s what it’s all about; providing top quality to the people, if anything, to ourselves. Why import when the best can be grown in the homeland? If not the best, then super close too. Whatever is not top quality can then be imported from where it is. I mean, don’t we deserve the best? Why should Starbucks have dominance when startups like Cordillera Coffees which buy from Cordillera backyard growers is actually benefitting the P.I.? At least this is my understanding. Then they should mark all these products with the “Proudly Pinoy” mark, and show the world what we’re made of! Idealism, I know, but it might not be that far out of reach.
    It’s all about the Fair Trade coffees. Whether in the Philippines or elsewhere, this is the best system I know of so far, where grower and consumer both benefit. Dunkin’ Donuts sells it, and it’s diverting customers from Starbucks, where you have to ask specifically for it because they supposedly carry it.
    BTW, I don’t usually drop brands as such, but obviously, I wanted to inform using specifics.
    Thanks :)

    Jun 28, 2006 | 2:12 pm

  13. Marketman says:

    When a local grower, producer or manufacturer sells something that is local and good, I always buy that up as much as I can. I can fill my cart with imported goods too but in the past two years I have spent a whole heck of a lot on locally sourced goods…not in small part due to this website and my discovery that we do indeed have so much to offer, it just takes some time to identify the stuff worthy of our attention and wallets!

    Jun 28, 2006 | 2:18 pm

  14. gonzo says:

    good idea the ‘Proudly Pinoy’ label system. Yes we should promote our own 1000%, and knowledgable food people should get involved in improving products. MM, maybe you can think of some way people can participate in the process of improvement. Cordillera coffees – great name. As they say in SF and Berkeley, Starbucks is the enemy.

    Did someone say something about the Socceroos? Incredibly bad call by that spanish guy. Terrible refereeing in this World Cup. The referees ruined the whole thing this year if you ask me. sayang. (Go Ghana!)

    Jun 28, 2006 | 9:50 pm

  15. edna says:

    we had a cacao tree in our backyard when i was a kid and i would check on the fruits everyday and picked the ripe ones before anyobe else could. loved it and i missed it… my mom used to make our own tableas and i would sit and wait ’til she’d finish grindng the roasted cacao seeds. then she would allow me to get some of the gooey stuff. i would then mix it with sugar and milk and put in the freezer for my own version of a chocolate bar. but of course it didn’t taste like the chocolate bar from the stores.

    Apicio, yes to the coffee beans! we also did this when we were kids at my grandfather’s house. he had a few coffee trees in his backyard,

    Jun 29, 2006 | 9:19 am

  16. wawell says:

    the eleven year old davao girl who committed suicide becauseof poverty might have been deterred fromdoing so if the cacao scholarship program of the toledo green arc were known natio wide. the program is simple. plant 50 cacao trees for every child and usethe proceeds from these trees for the chikd s schooling. this program is supported by the tolodo division of city schools and the local churches.. parentsimmediately took to this.
    november 112004

    Nov 11, 2007 | 8:16 pm


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