Christmas Food of the Gods

Chocolate for Christmas.

There’s always plenty of tempting chocolate about at Christmas. I was pleased to see the source of chocolate flowering at Kew Gardens this September. I find it rather fascinating and incongruous that the flower and fruit develop on the trunk of its source tree.

Theobroma cacao tree growing inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens. Note the developing fruits on the trunk and branches above. © Karen Andrews

Demanding Conditions

Theobroma cacao is fussy about its growing and fruiting requirements. It likes a combination of high humidity, high temperatures and significant rainfall. It will not grow above 300 metres in altitude either. In the wild, it relies on midges as pollinators. This means that it does not respond well to too fastidiously clean an environment. It needs untidy leaf litter on the forest floor for its midge pollinators to thrive. Evidently, the horticultural experts at Kew have managed to pollinate the above tree by hand.

Food of the Gods

The source of chocolate was named by Linnaeus himself. Amusingly, he called it Theobroma cacao. The name means Food of the Gods. Chocolate is made from the seeds of the fruit from this small tree. The fruits are fermented in boxes for around 6 days after harvesting. Then the pulp is washed away and the processed seeds or beans are dried. The seeds are then roasted and pulverised. Cocoa butter is extracted. The remainder is used as a powder which we recognise as cocoa.

Theobroma cacao fruit cut open to reveal the seeds or cacao beans that ultimately form chocolate. Photo credit: Genet at the German language via Wikimedia Commons.

History of an Addiction

The Mayans cultivated Cacao for at least 2,000 years before it came to the attention of Europeans. They used it as a drink with maize and chili peppers. Christopher Columbus brought it back to Spain in 1502. It became a popular drink with the rich. From 1831, the Birmingham Quaker John Cadbury sought to find an alternative to alcohol. He regarded alcohol as the demon drink. Drinking chocolate took off with the nation. Cadbury’s Quaker rival in Bristol, John Fry, introduced the chocolate bar Fry’s Chocolate Cream in 1847. Cadbury’s chocolate bar brand was launched in 1849. The British have been addicted to chocolate ever since.

© Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading

  • Davidson, Alan (2006): The Oxford Companion to Food. Second Edition. Ed. Tom Jaine.
  • Kane, Jason (2022): John Cadbury – Chocolatier and a Man of Morale. Snack History.
  • Mutter, Samuel (2016): The Journey of the Bean: from cacao to chocolate. Prospect Books, London.
  • van Wyk, Ben-Erik (2005): Food Plants of the World. An illustrated guide. Timber Press


Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

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