Chocolate is a such a familiar part of our diets, that it seems surprising to think that its origins lie many thousands of miles away in the tropical forests of Mexico and the Amazon basin.
Chocolate is made from the roasted and ground seeds of Theobroma cacao, an understorey tree, domesticated by the meso-americans as early as 1900 BC. Originally it would have been consumed as a bitter, fermented beverage, rather than the sweet solid we are familiar with today.
At the Garden, Theobroma cacao can be found in the Main Tropics, a two metre shrub in the shady understorey of the canopy. If you look carefully you will see tiny flowers, borne directly from its woody stems. These are pollinated by midges. From this they develop into large ribbed pods, which contain many seeds surrounded by a white pulp. The plant in the Garden’s Glasshouse is yet to produce a mature pod, having only achieved a number of aborted attempts to date. However, a couple of young specimens have been planted alongside it recently for cross pollination, so look out for chocolate pods in the coming years.
While the University is not actively involved in research on this species at the moment, the Garden continually seeks to expand its collection of crop species and their wild relatives to increase the research potential of the collections for the future. They are also key to our public education programmes, to introduce the source of many foods and commodities. So when reading the ingredients on the back of your chocolate egg, why not explore some of these further with a trip to the Botanic Garden?
Publication Date 22/02/2016