Most people will eat chocolate at some stage in their life. For some of us, maybe a little too much. But did you know the tropical cacao fruit can be eaten fresh off the tree?
If you’re tempted to try one for the first time, you’re probably wondering what it tastes like. We’re about to give the complete rundown on this fruit’s flavor, texture, and lots more handy info.
What do cacao fruits taste like?
The cacao has a juicy, sweet white pulp with a complex melange of fruity flavors and a slightly sour undertone. It is a tropical fruit, with hints of mango, citrus, and pineapple. Some people also detect a faint taste of chocolate along with the fruity notes. If you’ve ever tasted an atemoya or cherimoya before, then you may find them similar.
At the center of the fruit, surrounded in the pulp, lie 30-50 cacao beans that are arranged in neat rows. These are the building blocks of chocolate and are also edible raw. Although these seeds are easy to chew and have a powerful chocolate taste, most find them too astringent and bitter. They are a lot like cacao nibs, only softer and a little nutty.
The seeds and pulp are tasty eaten at the same time. Sweetness from the flesh helps to balance the bitterness of the bean, resulting in a better eating experience for some.
How to prepare a cacao
What you need: chopping board, sharp knife, ripe cacao.
- To prepare a cacao fruit place it on a chopping board and carefully slice it lengthways. If you want to keep the seeds intact, so that they can be re-planted or used to make chocolate, then don't cut the fruit all the way through. This may inadvertently damage them.
- Scoop out the beans and pulp with your hands or a spoon and set them aside for other uses.
- Slice the fruit completely in half and use a peeler to remove the skin.
- Chop the two halves into suitably sized pieces for cooking.
Tip: You’ll notice that the inner side of the flesh, nearest the core, is tougher than the outside. You’re best to chop this bit off, even though it’s fiddly and time-consuming.
Culinary uses for the cacao fruit
Eaten raw: the fresh fruit pulp can be eaten on its own, although this is not a popular option in many countries where the fruit trees are grown.
Preserves: cacao pulp is high in pectin which makes it excellent for boiling into jams, jellies, marmalade. It also makes a tasty chutney or relish.
Fermentations: pulp can be left on the beans to ferment in the sun for several days. It adds acidity and a subtle sweetness to the beans.
Drinks: the pulp is excellent for juicing or adding to smoothies and can also be used to make liquor.
Powder: businesses are starting to process the fruit into powder which can be used in beverages, yogurt, ice cream, and other desserts.
Health benefits of cacao
The cacao fruit is packed with nutritional goodness and is high in magnesium, iron, polyphenols, and calcium. It contains 20 times more antioxidants than blueberries and is high in vitamin E, D, and B.
The cacao fruit can help reduce blood pressure, boost the immune system, improve energy levels, and support cognitive function.
Where to buy cacao fruit
Cacao trees only grow near the equator, within a zone 20 degrees to the north and south. Roughly 70% of the world's production of cacao beans comes from West Africa. Other major producers include Indonesia, Ecuador, Brazil, and Cameroon. Visit a market in one of these countries at the right time of the season to get your hands on the fruit.
People in most countries will find it hard to source this fruit. However, in Hawaii, an increasing number of cacao trees are being grown. You can also buy the fruit from online sellers like Miami Fruit, which ship to most parts of the Unites States.
Note: to learn more about the different types of chocolate and where the beans come from, be sure to check out our ultimate chocolate guide.
Fast facts about cacao
- Each fruit is roughly 7-8 inches long and is the shape of a skinny American football. It can have yellow or red skin which is tough and leathery; it protects the edible pulp and beans.
- The botanical name for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao, which is part of the Malvaceae family. The tree is an evergreen that ranges from 13-26 feet in height. It is also called the cocoa tree.
- In South America, the pulp is called baba de cacao.
- Cocoa beans can be dried and fermented, before extracting cocoa butter and cocoa solids. These are the base ingredients for making chocolate.
- The beans can be combined with maize to make a delicious Mexican drink called tejate.
- During harvest time, most farmers open the pods and remove the seeds, then leave the rest of the fruit to rot.
Cacao beans have always been the sought-after part of a cacao fruit, revered for their ability to make mouth-watering chocolate. But people are starting to realize the rest of the fruit shouldn’t be overlooked. The flesh and pulp have a variety of applications in the kitchen and also provides some useful health benefits.
The juicy cacao fruit has a tropical feel to it with a mix of mango, citrus, and pineapple flavors. Eaten on its own, we wouldn't rate it as one of our favorite tropical fruits. But it also doesn't have any offensive flavors to make you gag. Give this food a try and see what you think for yourself.
Have you ever been to a cacao tree plantation? Did you get a chance to try the pulp or the raw beans? Please let us know in the comments below.