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Where does Chocolate come from?

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464431.  Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:57 am Reply with quote

Klaxon: Mexico or any country in Central America


When chocolate was first discovered by Europeans it was being used by the Mayas and Aztecs as a drink called xocolātl. However, the true origin of chocolate, or at least the cacao tree from which it is grown, is not in Central America. The plant first evolved in the Amazonian rainforest where the tree can be found growing in the wild with the greatest biodiversity (there is a separate variety restricted to several of the major tributaries of the amazon). It was first thought that the Mayas discovered the trees growing in the wild in Central America, however, it has now been shown that the trees that grow in the wild were most likely brought to the area from the amazon by groups of people that pre-dated the Mayas.

The origin of the cacao tree is only a recent discovery made by a team of researchers working on a joint project between the USDA and Mars Inc. The majority of the world's cacao trees are descended from a very limited number of trees exported from the Americas around the tropics by Europeans who set up plantations to feed the 18th and 19th century demand for the new drink. As a result there is very little genetic diversity in the commercial population (most cacoa trees are grown from cuttings making them genetically identical to the parent plant) which leaves them very vulnerable to diseases like Witch's Broom and Frosty Pod. A release of either fungal disease in the African growing regions of Ghana and the Ivory Coast could result in a massive loss of commercial revenue in the space of a few year. Hence the team of researchers have been examining the genetic history of the cacao tree to find wild varieties that could offer protection from the diseases. They also hope that improvements in yield could help prevent the 'slash and burn' process associated with the need of farmers to cut down rainforest in order to expand their crops.


MacKenzie D. (2008) Chocolate in Peril in NewScientist (vol200 No 2687, p57)
Motamayor JC, Risterucci AM, et al (2002) Cacao domestication I: the origin of the cacao cultivated by the Mayas in Heredity (vol 89 p380)
Motamayor JC, et al (2007)
Current challenges of tropical tree crop improvement: Integrating genomics into an applied cacao breeding program Proceedings of the International Symposium on Biotechnology of Temperate Fruit Crops and Tropical Species

Sadurian Mike
464653.  Wed Dec 24, 2008 3:20 pm Reply with quote

Chocolate comes from the sweet counter.


464700.  Wed Dec 24, 2008 4:13 pm Reply with quote

Chocolate comes from heaven. *drools*

715064.  Tue Jun 01, 2010 8:21 pm Reply with quote

As a result there is very little genetic diversity in the commercial population

So - bananas and chocolate (Europe's favourite fruit and Europe's favourite confection) are both under threat from the lack of bio-diversity?

715130.  Wed Jun 02, 2010 4:11 am Reply with quote

Doesn't that mean chocolate comes from wherever the Mayans/Aztecs lived (you can tell historical geography is my strong point huh) but the Cacoa tree comes from the Amazon rain forest?


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