Theobroma cacao L. (cocoa) is in the family Sterculiaceae. It is a semi-deciduous tree up to a height of 10m. It produces Cocoa bean which is the sun-dried and fully fermented fatty seed, from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted.

The cacao tree is evergreen with large, glossy leaves that are red when young and green when mature. Each tree sprouts thousands of tiny waxy pink or white five-petal blossoms that cluster together on the trunk and older branches. But, only three to ten percent will go on to mature into full fruit.

Growers in Uganda have found it takes on average two and a half years for the trees to be fully grown and in the third year the pods appear. They go green first, then turn purple and then yellow that is when they can be picked.

In Uganda, it is common practice to plant a cocoa seed next to a banana plant as the banana plant makes very good shade for the cocoa, as the cocoa must be grown under the shade from the sun.

A cocoa pod (fruit) has a rough leathery rind about 3 cm thick (this varies with the origin and variety of pod). It is filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp enclosing 30 to 50 large seeds that are fairly soft and pale pink or lavender in colour. Seeds usually are white, becoming violet or reddish brown during the drying process. The exception is rare varieties of white cacao, in which the seeds remain white.


Cacao trees will grow in a limited geographical zone, of approximately 20 degrees to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop is grown in West Africa. There are three main types of cacao beans used to make cocoa and chocolate:

  • Criollo, the prince of cacaos, is a soft thin-skinned pod, with a light colour and a unique, pleasant aroma. The most prized, rare, and expensive of the cocoa beans used by the Maya. Only 10% of chocolate is made from Criollo, which is less bitter and more aromatic than any other bean.
  • Forastero, a more plentiful type, is easier to cultivate, trees are significantly hardier resulting in cheaper cacao beans and has a thick-walled pod and a pungent aroma. 80% of chocolate is made using this bean.
  • Trinitario, which is believed to be a natural cross from strains of the other two types, has a great variety of characteristics but generally possesses good, aromatic flavour; and these trees are particularly suitable for cultivation and used in about 10% of chocolate.