Native Crops of Peru – Theobroma cacao
Theobroma cacao is a tree fruit endemic to the South American rainforest and distributed to Central America by humans. It was domesticated about 3,000 years ago by local indigenous people in the Amazonia and in the Lacandon area in Mexico; the domestication of this crop happened independently of each other. Although not exclusively indigenous of Peru, the tree is native of the Amazon basin and it is found growing in the wild at low elevations in the foothills of the Andes.
Flowers from the Theobroma cacao tree
The name Theobroma means “food of the gods” in Greek. Cacao comes from the word cacahuatl from the Nahuatl language used by the Aztecs. The usage of this crop was extensive in pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Inca, Mayan and Aztec. The Aztecs used the cacao seeds as currency reflecting the importance of the crop in their culture. The Mayan and Aztecs used the seeds to make a bitter beverage that the Spaniards appreciated. The Spanish conquistadors brought the seeds back to Europe and started sweetening the beverage with spices and sugar, the beverage became a status symbol consumed only by the wealthy and upper classes. In order to keep up with the demand European nations added chocolate trees to its established sugar plantations in African and Asian colonies.
Pods growing from the trunk of the tree
The Theobroma cacao tree measures from 12 to 16 feet high, it produces leaves, flowers and fruit all year round but the best time gather its fruit is twice a year in the months of June and December. Its flowers are small and yellow and red and its fruit yellow with white pulp. There are about 25 seeds contained in a capsule that should remain together in order to remain fertile.
Cocoa beans ready to be converted into chocolate
Theobroma cacao has many different uses. The most commonly known are cocoa and chocolate. Chocolate is prepared by roasting and then grinding the cacao beans into a cocoa liqueur or paste and mixing it with sugar, milk, lethicin and vanilla pod. The preparation of cocoa requires part of the fat being removed from the cacao liquor. When the oil is extracted from the beans it produces a yellow ointment called cocoa butter used as ingredient in cosmetics. Theobroma beans contain alkaloids which is used in medication to treat kidney disease and high blood pressure.
According to the International Cocoa Organization about 3.7 million tons of cocoa are produced annually. The crop is highly susceptible to diseases and insect pests which are responsible for 30% of worldwide yield losses.
Cocoa tree farm
Cocoa farming in Peru is grown in small farms and usually with other crops, providing work and income for local families in rural areas. The Ministry of Agriculture and other development agencies are promoting initiatives to develop a value added chain to the production of cocoa and paying farmers above the international price of the seed. In addition, governmental and international agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognize the importance of cocoa as a sustainable alternative crop to growing coca in some regions of the country.
More about Native Crops of Peru
They come in different shapes and colors, many shades of purple, blue, violet, pink, red, brown and yellow, pink with brown spots, yellow with pink spots and endless combinations.
Rediscovered in Peru, Pure Nacional was found growing in the valley of the Marañon Canyon.
Peru has a great variety of food due to its many microclimates and elevations and its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. It features one of the best cuisines in South America.