The cacao tree is native to the Amazon rainforest. It was first domesticated 5,300 years ago, in equatorial South America, before being introduced in Central America by the Olmecs(Mexico). More than 4,000 years ago, it was consumed by pre-Hispanic cultures along the Yucatán, including the Maya, and as far back as Olmeca civilization in spiritual ceremonies. It also grows in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, in Colombia and Venezuela. Wild cacao still grows there. Its range may have been larger in the past; evidence of its wild range may be obscured by the cultivation of the tree in these areas since long before the Spanish arrived.
The cocoa Tree is a wide-branching evergreen tree, reaching 20-25 feet in height. The plant is "cauliflorous" with flowers (and later fruits) protruding directly from the woody branches and trunk. The fruit, or "pod", reaches to one foot long and 2-4 inches in diameter. Cacao beans contain the caffeine alkaloid Theobromine, which is a mild stimulant. Cacao is the source of chocolate, which is obtained by roasting and grinding the seeds. Chocolate is also said to contain the chemical Phenylethylamine, a natural amphetamine found in the human brain, which induces a feeling of euphoria.
- Cocoa beans are primarily used in the production of chocolate: The dried, fermented, and roasted seeds of this plant, called cacao beans, are the source of cocoa, chocolate, and cocoa butter. These are widely used in the confectionery industry to make chocolate confections, cakes, ice cream, drinks, etc
- Cocoa butter is also used in the cosmetic industry
- used as stimulants or treatments for fatigue, for weight gain, as emollients (for softening or soothing dry or damaged skin), antiseptic (killing microbes around bites or wounds), and in certain species, as part of a snake bite remedy.
- Cacao has been used to treat various ailments from cracked lips and coughs to irritations of the scalp and other sensitive areas of the body