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Cocoa beans (chocolate beans) Nutrition facts

Flavorful cocoa beans are another gift of Mexicans to the world, just as vanilla beans, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes. The kernels (seeds) extracted from cocoa fruits (pods) are further processed to obtain the cocoa powder and cocoa butter, the two most important products that command premium prices in the commodity markets.

Binomially, cocoa plant belongs to the Malvaceae or mallow family of flowering plants. Other well-known members of this family include durian, okra, cotton, and kola nuts.

Scientific name: Theobroma cocoa.

cocoa pods and dry beans
Cocoa pods and dry beans Photo courtesy: Lolay

Cocoa, also spelled as cacoa, is native to the tropical rainforests of South and Central America. Ivory Coast in West Africa is the leading producer of cocoa beans in the world.

Theobroma cocoa plant with pods
Cocoa pods on a tree. Photo courtesy: Denise Chan

It is a tropical evergreen, medium-sized tree with bright, glossy leaves. The plant demands a tropical, humid climate but shady coverings to thrive. At maturity, the cultivated cacao tree stands 15-to-25 feet tall, though it may reach 50 feet or more in the wild.

Cocoa pods appear on the 3rd year of plantation and continue to yield fruits for up to 30 years. The pods appear on the trunk as in jackfruits. Immature pods are green or maroon in a color that ripens to a bright yellow and orange color respectively as they mature.

While there are several cultivars of cocoa around the world, only three varieties popular for their unique fragrance and commercial importance; Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario. Criollo is a high-quality grade of cocoa with exceptional flavor and aroma. Trinitario is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero strains.

The pods are oblong in shape with ribs on the outer rind as in pumpkins. The pods measure about 5 to 14 inches long and 3 to 6 inches in breadth.

Health benefits of Cocoa beans

  1. Cocoa beans, akin to vanilla beans and saffron, are one of the highly prized, non-pungent condiment ingredients employed especially as a flavoring agent in a wide array of confectionaries.

  2. The beans carry high calories because of their high-fat content. Cocoa solids, a byproduct of cocoa mass after extracting cocoa butter, on the other hand, is very low in calories.

  3. Cocoa powder carries minerals and phytochemicals at higher concentrations that were nearly a miss in the cocoa butter.

  4. Cocoa solids contain phytochemicals; theobromine, and caffeine. Thier levels, however, is far below that found in the coffee powder.

  5. Theobromine and caffeine are nervous system stimulants and work as mood elevators.

  6. Additionally, cocoa has phenolic antioxidants like catechins, anthocyanidins, and pro-anthocyanidins. Research studies suggest that these chemical compounds, by virtue of their antioxidant properties, work against cancers, inflammation, aging, and viral infections.

  7. Its solid-extracts carry good amounts of B-complex groups of vitamins such as niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamin, riboflavin and vitamin B-6. These vitamins help in enzyme synthesis, nervous system function and regulating body metabolism.

  8. Further, the solids also contain an excellent composition of minerals such as iron, selenium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and zinc. Selenium is a cardio-protective, and antioxidant found abundantly in these beans.

See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:

Cocoa powder (Theobroma cocoa),
Nutritional value per 100 g.

(Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
Principle Nutrient Value Percent of RDA
Energy 228 Kcal 11%
Sugars 1.75 g 1%
Protein 19.60 g 35%%
Total Fat 13.70 g 46%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 37 g 97%
Folates 32 mcg 8%
Niacin 2.185 mg 13%
Pantothenic caid 0.254 mg 5%
Pyridoxine 0.118 mg 9%
Riboflavin 0.241 mg 18%
Vitamin A 0 IU 0%
Vitamin C 0 mg 0%
Sodium 21 mg 1.5%
Potassium 1524 mg 32%
Calcium 128 mg 13%
Copper 3.837 mg 426%
Iron 13.86 mg 173%
Magnesium 499 mg 125%
Manganese 3.837 mg 239%
Phosphorus 734 mg 105%
Selenium 14.3 mcg 26%
Zinc 6.81 mg 62%


sundried cocoa beans
Dry cocoa beans ready for export. Sourcs: Dept. of foreign affairs and trade.

Most of the buyers as such, unaware of how cocoa powder and cocoa butter being produced. Farmers in the plantation harvest mature cocoa fruits and extract beans manually from pods which undergo fermentation lasting for about a week.

The beans are then dried in sunlight for a couple of days until they become completely dry and shrivel. At the warehouse, they further cleaned and graded before dispatching to the markets for sale.

In the processing units, the whole cocoa beans undergo gentle roasting, de-hulled before obtaining the two most prime products, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder.

Selection and storage

Cocoa pods and dry beans are rarely found outside of their growing regions. Alternatively, buyers can easily find processed cocoa bean products like cocoa powder and butter in the stores.

Buy unsweetened cocoa powder from any nearby supermarkets. Since adulteration is quite common, look for the authentic brand displaying its source and complete nutritional information. Dutch-processed cocoa has a neutral PH, but inferior in respect to the quality of antioxidants to natural "broma" processed cocoa powder.

Buy powder that contains a higher percentage of fats in it. Do not open the sealed cocoa powder pack if in case you are unsure of using it soon. The unsealed pack may be placed inside an airtight jar and set in a cool, dark place, where it can stay well for a couple of months. Keep cocoa butter inside a dark jar, in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.

Culinary uses

Unsweetened cocoa powder is dark brown and bitter in taste, and therefore, unpalatable as is. Confectioners usually mix it with milk solids and sugar in order to prepare mouth-watering delights!.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Ancient Mexicans used to drink pure cocoa extract as is without adding milk/sugar and found it healthy, aphrodisiac, and refreshing.

  • Cocoa powder and cocoa butter much sought after ingredients in the chocolate industry worldwide.

  • Powder and solids employed in cookies, fudge, cake, muffins, ice creams, etc.

  • Cocoa butter used in all types of chocolates, and attributed to their glossy surface, creamy texture and melting properties.

Safety profile

Allergic reactions to pure cocoa bean products are generally rare. However, chocolate allergy sometimes is attributed for milk and nuts mixed in them. (Medical disclaimer)

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Further Resources:

  1. World cocoa foundation. Pdf.

  2. USDA National Nutrient database.

  3. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.