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The Cover
May 15, 2002

A Man Scraping Chocolate

Author Affiliations
 

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2002;287(19):2466. doi:10.1001/jama.287.19.2466

Chocolate, cioccolata, chocolat: even the words roll deliciously off the tongue. Ingredients such as flavonoids, catechins, serotonin, and phenylethylamines promise scientific effects and physiologic mechanisms to explain the time-tested fascination with chocolate. However, true chocolate lovers seek the luxurious melting sweetness from their treasure, not biochemical properties.

Swedish botanist Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) bestowed on the cacao plant the name Theobroma cacao, food of the gods. The cacao tree bears fruit in pods that spring from large branches or the trunk of the tree. Known as cauliflory, this surprised the Spanish colonialists because fruit of the Old World sprouts from terminal branches. The pods contain not only the seeds, more properly known as beans, but are full of sweet-tart pulp that melts away in the harvesting process. Cacao trees grow in a restricted geographic range, a band stretching from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer; they are undergrowth plants, part of the jungle symbiosis that provides insect habitat and pollination for the overshadowing trees, often banana or African kola-nut. Fungal infestations such as witch-broom disease (Crinipella perniciosa) have devastated cacao plantations, dropping the production of beans from the Bahia region of Brazil to below the number one cacao-producing region of the world, West Africa (Ivory Coast and Ghana). The Indonesian region of Sulawesi produces bulk cacao, used for cocoa butter. Medicinal theobromines derive from cacao bean shells, separated from the nibs (broken, shell-less beans) after the fermentation process.

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