Food of the Gods

Inside Expo there is a place dedicated to one of the most tasty seed of the world: the cocoa bean.

The Cluster of Cocoa and Chocolate takes architectonic inspiration from the plantations of the tropical areas: a series of stakes of different heights symbolize trees beneath which grows cocoa. The cocoa tree, who can reach even 10 meters of height, has grown in the southamerican forest thousands of years ago.

Discovered and cultivated by the Maya and Aztecs, the cocoa bean was used as food and as currency. It was employed in the preparation of a particular beverage called “Xocolatl”. The cocoa was often used in different religious ceremonies as symbol of power and fertility and was considered the “food of the Gods” to be exclusively used by wealthy classes. The cocoa has been consumed for the first time between 1400 and 1500 BC, through the various pavilions of the Cluster and is possible to discover the origins and the process of lavoration to the final consumption. There are several illustrations and photos that describe the transformation.

The “Cabosse” are the fruit of the cocoa tree, has the aspect of a stretched watermelon ranging in color from yellow to red to brown.
The fruits are opened to extract the precious seeds: the cocoa beans. The cocoa beans are fermented and dried for some days and then further processed to produce and obtain medicines, beauty products and of course chocolate. The drying blocks the fermentation, reduces the humidity of the beans to allow the conservation, reducing the attack of molds and others microorganisms.

In the centuries after its discovery, the cocoa has been preservated and consumed as a beverage reserved to rich and powerful men.
In the Europe of the ‘700 it conquered the taste of aristocracy in different courts, of the clergy and only later, spread among the bourgeoisie.
Chocolate represented the aristocratic taste of doing nothing to reverse the stimulant coffee, more typical of the middle-class breakfast. In ‘800 there was a radical change: the chocolate from a symbol of elite became a mass consumption good; from the aristocratic environment to the new urban bourgeoisie. This change was favorited by the decline of the aristocracy and by the technological progress of industrial production.

Nowadays the Africa western coast represents the biggest production area of cocoa in the world. 90% of the global production of cocoa is in the hand of about 3 millions of little agricultural firms located mainly in developing countries. Infact it’s not possibile move the cultivations in developed countries due to the adverse climatic conditions. The production of cocoa doesn’t coincide necessarily with an enrichment from countries which cultivate it. Often little manufacturers of the south of the world don’t have sufficient contractual force and low control on prices and consequently the revenues that ends up in their hands is just a little percentage.

To protect the working conditions and remuneration of small farmers, cocoa is one of the products most affected in high consideration by the fair trade and is also the focus of many campaigns.

It’s interesting that only 29% of cocoa powder and only 4% of chocolate is processed in producing countries. Basically there is a transfer of cocoa to the developed countries that have a high degree of specialization in its transformation, such as Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Since 1961, cocoa production has increased by nearly 400% thanks to the scientific support to improve the yield of the plantations
(for example by crosses between different types of cocoa).

Today cocoa supports the economy of many African countries including Côte d’Ivoire (the first world producer) and many tropical regions of Latin America and Asia. The cocoa industry employs some 50 million people around the world. The largest consumers are the countries of Western Europe.

Written and translated into English by Alejandro Santos.

Photocredits: Juanita with her Cocoa Bean