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Submitted by on Jun 25, 2021

The cocoa bean, also known as the cacao bean or cacao (/kka/), is a dried and completely fermented seed of Theobroma cacao from which cocoa solids (a combination of nonfat compounds) and cocoa butter (fat) may be extracted. Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, as are Mesoamerican dishes like tejate, a traditional Mexican drink made with maize.

The word “cocoa” is derived from the Nahuatl word cacahuatl, derived from the Spanish word cacao. The Nahuatl term kakawa is derived from the Proto Mije-Sokean word kakawa, which has been reconstructed.

The name “cocoa” can also refer to the beverage known as hot cocoa or hot chocolate.

Cocoa powder is a dry powder prepared by grinding cocoa seeds and separating the cocoa butter from the dark and bitter cocoa solids.

A prehistoric type of chocolate made from cocoa powder and cocoa butter.

The cocoa tree is a Mexican native. It was domesticated for the first time 5,300 years ago in equatorial South America, before being domesticated by the Olmecs in Central America (Mexico). It was eaten by pre-Hispanic tribes in the Yucatán, including the Maya, and as far back as Olmeca civilization in spiritual rites, more than 4,000 years ago. It may also be found in the Andes foothills, the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, and Colombia and Venezuela. There is still wild cocoa-growing there. Its distribution may have been wider in the past, although the tree’s cultivation may have obliterated evidence of its wild range in these places even before the arrival of the Spanish.

Cacao was originally domesticated in tropical South America, according to data as of November 2018, before being domesticated in Central America about 1,500 years later. According to artifacts discovered in Santa-Ana-La Florida, Ecuador, the Mayo-Chinchipe people were producing cocoa as long as 5,300 years ago. Cocoa products were originally consumed in Honduras between 1500 and 1400 BC, according to chemical analyses of residue recovered from pottery discovered at an archaeological site in Puerto Escondido. Evidence also suggests that the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit, which is used to make a fermented (5.34 percent alcohol) beverage, drew attention to the plant in the Americas long before the flavor of the cacao seed (or bean) became famous. Before the Spanish invasion, the cocoa bean was a widespread form of money across Mesoamerica.

Cacao trees can only be found in a narrow geographical zone, around 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. Today, West Africa produces about 70% of the world’s crop. Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish natural scientist, gave the cacao plant its botanical name, Theobroma (“food of the gods”) cacao, in his initial taxonomy of the plant world.

In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, cocoa was a valuable product. According to a Spanish soldier who participated in Hernán Cortés’ conquest of Mexico, Moctezuma II, the Aztec emperor, consumed only chocolate served in a golden cup while he dined. His chocolate was whipped into a froth that melted in the tongue and was flavored with vanilla or other spices. Moctezuma II has devoured up to 60 pieces each day, with 2,000 more consumed by his court nobles.

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