Despite originating in Central and South America, cocoa is now grown in a much larger area and the biggest producers are actually in West Africa. This is due to the expansion of production and the opening of new markets. It’s all down to supply and demand really and people will always want chocolate. It’s one of those products that works on two levels.
It can be fantastically expensive and saved for an extremely special occasion or it can just be a simple treat – a bar of chocolate bought from the newsagents at the end of a busy day. For that reason, it will always be popular and it was necessary to find new areas to produce it. Currently, there are eight major cocoa producing countries in the world. They are:
There are obviously countless others but these are the big players and the ones that supply most of the world’s cocoa beans. Production does tend to change year on year and will very much depend on the climatic conditions and the harvest for that particular year.
However, The Ivory Coast and Ghana tend to produce around half of all the cocoa, which is the equivalent to a whole lot of chocolate bars. It’s quite nice to know, however, that most of the cocoa produced in Africa is grown on relatively small farms, rather than huge plantations. These farms tend to be owned and run by families, ensuring that profits can be fed back into the family business.
Over the years the cocoa trees have merged and mingled in the process called cross-pollination and this has resulted in a diverse range of beans that have distinct characteristics.
These produce a diverse range of flavors and are used for different types of chocolate production. While there are dozens of varieties of cocoa trees used in cocoa production around the world, there are three main varieties that make up the majority of trees you’ll find on a cocoa farm. Below is a brief description of each of these three.
This variety is relatively easy to grow, so it’s a popular choice and is by far the most widely grown cocoa tree. In fact, over 90% of the world’s cocoa comes from Forastero trees.
This is the bees’ knees in cocoa terms and is known for its high quality beans. These trees don’t produce as many pods as the Forastero so it’s rarer. They are also prone to disease and take a bit more work to sustain. Chocolate connoisseurs would say it’s well worth the effort as the end result is discernibly better but obviously, this comes at a price. Criollo trees aren’t grown in many countries and Venezuela is one of the biggest growers.
This is pretty much a combination of Forastero and Criollo trees and, as you would expect, it combines the good bits of both, although it’s seeds are thought to be better quality than Forastero. It’s basically a good compromise between quantity and quality. The Trinitario is hardier than the Criollo and puts up more of a fight against diseases. To try and alleviate problems with disease and production, many plantations will have a variety of trees and even if they don’t, the trees themselves are rarely identical.