Chocolate in Bloom

Posted by on Aug 21, 2013 in edible, flowers, nature centers, plant parts, seeds, summer, Unmowed Blog | 1 comment

Yes! The chocolate is in bloom! Now on view at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, NY. botanical garden 071

What I can’t figure out is how anyone ever discovered the insanely fabulous taste of this plant. It’s a very easy plant to ignore. It blends in with the other trees in the tropical section of the Botanical Garden’s enormous conservatory. The little cacao tree is dwarfed by palm trees and giant ferns, totally upstaged by orchids and bird-of-paradise flowers. The leaves are nondescript, the flowers pretty but half an inch long.chocolate flowers

But come and worship at the foot of this homely little tree, for this is Theobroma cacao. Food of the gods.

The tiny flowers grow in the oddest places, scattered all over the trunk of the tree, and eventually some of them grow into a big orange pod. cacao podI’d never hefted a cacao pod before—it’s heavy, hard-shelled, with little brownish beans inside. The staffperson on duty in the conservatory offered us a nibble of the raw nibs, as the insides of a cacao pod are called.botanical garden 031 They tasted faintly like walnut, but bitter and slightly unpleasant. You have to wonder how–why–who it was that first figured out that if you ferment and grind and dry and roast this clunky-looking pod, it will yield what is probably the most adored food on the planet.

The inventor is lost in the mists of time, of course. Chocolate has been consumed by humans, mostly as a beverage, for at least three thousand years. Aztec kings used to drink it out of golden cups, seasoned with–of all things–chili powder. Europeans added milk and sugar, which was a definite improvement. But that wonderful taste isn’t just made up of fat and sweetness, of course–it’s the flavor of a tropical, exotic plant, that bitter, enticing, smoky, elusive taste…chocolate.

Oh, dear. The problem is that there’s something about the word “chocolate.” Whisper it to yourself…Chocolate… I have to go eat some. Right. Now. I’ll be back later…

One Comment

  1. amazing!

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