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Cocoa growing in our Rainforest Biome

See the bright yellow pods, and their delicious contents, in our rainforest.

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  • Once the flowers have been pollinated they produce large pods containing cacao (or ‘cocoa’) beans. When crushed the beans yield cocoa mass, the basis of chocolate.
  • Cocoa trees originate from South America's rainforests but today most of our cocoa is grown by about 2.5 million farmers, mainly on smallholdings in West Africa.
  • The UK chocolate industry supports schemes such as Fairtrade, improving livelihoods and protecting locals from global price fluctuations. Fairtrade also gives a premium that can be reinvested in business, social and environmental schemes.
  • Scientists are crossing West African cocoa trees with their wild South American ancestors to create disease-resistant trees, which will lead to fewer chemicals being used and less planting on new land.

Where it grows

Native to lowland tropical America but now widely cultivated in West Africa. Requires a shady location, humid climate with regular rainfall and good soil.

Common uses

Today chocolate is the 'sweet snack of the people' but many years ago, as a part of their rituals, Mayan and Aztec nobles drank their cocoa beans ground and brewed with chillies. This is where the Latin name Theobroma cacao, meaning 'food of the gods', comes from. When it first arrived in Spain in the 16th century some didn’t like it, one even proclaiming it ‘fit for pigs’. Sugar was added and it grew in popularity especially with the ladies of the Spanish court. Chocolate became a European luxury, with chocolate houses frequented by the elite springing up in the capital cities. Debates centred around its medical value, and whether it was it an aphrodisiac. Chocolate went on to be used as emergency rations for armies, navies and rescue teams, and eventually became a ‘luxury’ that everyone could enjoy.

Useful links


  • Lobe: incomplete division in any plant organ (eg leaf).
  • Obovate: two-dimensionally egg-shaped with widest part at the apex.
  • Understorey: growing underneath the canopy layer.