Nigerian cocoa is gotten from the Cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). These trees are short and evergreen, shedding their leaves all year round. Although they are native to the Amazon basin, Cacoa trees are now commercially grown in parts of Asia and Africa including Nigeria.
Nigeria is the fourth-largest producer of cocoa in the world, churning out over 389,272 tonnes of the product per year. It is majorly grown in Ondo, Ogun, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Osun, Ekiti, and Oyo states.
Nigerian cocoa is highly versatile. There are a lot of products that can be derived from it. These include:
Chocolate is the most popular product derived from cocoa. Its sweet taste, delightful flavour and the smooth mouthfeel has made it a favourite delicacy for many. It is eaten on its own as a snack or prepared into foods like cakes, pastries, sauces and so on.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans which are seeds of the Cacao tree. The seeds undergo a fermentation process to get rid of its naturally bitter taste and build the desired flavour. They are kept in a warm and moist environment which promotes the growth of natural yeast and bacteria that causes fermentation.
After this is done, the beans are dried to prevent fungal contamination. They are then cleaned and allowed to roast evenly in a dry roast machine. After roasting, the shells (hulls) of the cocoa beans are removed to produce the nibs. These nibs are then ground to form a fine powder called cocoa mass. This is the purest form of chocolate.
The cocoa mass is liquefied by heating into cocoa liquor which has cocoa solids and cocoa butter in almost equal proportions. Cocoa liquor has a deep brown colour with a rich, bitter taste. The unique flavour, aroma and the addictive characteristic of chocolate are attributed to the cocoa liquor.
To make the various forms of chocolate eaten today, cocoa liquor is blended with varying amounts of cocoa butter, sugar added vegetable oils and milk. Chocolate, especially the dark variety is high in antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavenols. These antioxidants reverse the damage done by free radicals in the body. It may also reduce the risk of heart disease if consumed in moderation.
Cocoa butter is one of the components of cocoa liquor. It is a pale-yellow solid with a melting point that is just below the temperature of the human body. Cocoa butter is extracted from cocoa liquor by cold pressing the liquor to separate its fatty content from the non-fatty cocoa solids.
This butter is edible and is used in the manufacture of chocolate. It can also be used in the preparation of dishes that call for any type of oil as it lends that distinctive cocoa flavour and aroma to foods.
Besides its culinary uses, cocoa butter is heavily used in cosmetic products. Its high-fat content makes it a good choice of moisturizer as it seals moisture into the skin It is also said to have healing and anti-ageing benefits on the skin.
After cocoa butter has been extracted from cocoa liquor, the remnant is defatted cocoa called cocoa cake. A cocoa cake can be ground to form cocoa powder. This powder is used in making cocoa/chocolate-based products such as chocolate drinks and chocolate desserts like cakes and ice cream. It is also used in making brownies, chocolate sauces and smoothies. Cocoa powder has numerous health benefits. It has been shown to help reduce high blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Consumption of cocoa powder has been linked with improved functionality of the brain. It does this by stimulating an increase in blood flow to the organ.
Pectin is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in apples, berries and other fruits. It can also be derived from the sweatings of cocoa (cocoa pulp juice). The sweatings are precipitated with alcohol, then distilled to extract the pectin.
It is widely used as an emulsifier, thickener, and setting agent in pharmaceutical industries. A popular use of pectin is in the preparation of jam and marmalade. When heated with sugar and fruit such as strawberry, pectin causes the mixture to gel or set forming what we call Jam. Thus jam can be used as a spread for bread or eaten in its own.
Potash and Animal feed
The pod of the cocoa husk can be used to make both potash and feed for animals. To make potash, the husks are spread to dry in an open place for about a week or two.
The dried husks are then burnt into ashes in an ashing kiln to form the potash. This potash is used in making cosmetic soap bars. Cocoa pod husks are also used in making animal feed. In this case, the husks are sliced into small flakes, then minced and rolled into pellets. The pellets are allowed to dry before they are fed to animals.