Theobroma cacao (Malvaceae family)


Origin: Amazonian basin

Fruiting season: year round

Height: small tree (10 – 25 ft)

Relatives: hibiscus, durian




The seeds of the cacao fruit (also called beans) are the main ingredient of chocolate. The pulp around the seeds is white and fruity, with hints of lemon. To make chocolate the seeds and pulp are fermented, dried, separated from their shells, cracked into nibs, and then ground into powder.


Cacao is a relatively new commercial crop in Hawaii. It grows best in high humidity and deep rich soil with abundance of rain. Young trees require partial shade. (In its natural habitat, cacao grows as a forest understory tree.)


Cacao has been used in ancient sacred ceremonies for thousands of years. The Mayans were the first civilization to make a beverage from the beans. The active constituent is theobromine (a compound similar to caffeine), which translates to

‘Food of the Gods’.