The Chocolate Life

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Went on holiday recently, didn't expect to have anything to do with my chocolate obsession but I ran into a tree, literally, in the kids play section of the Darwin Botanic Gardens. This section is really cool with tree house and little things like a hedge maze and variaous contraptions to climb on and also a selection of tropical food trees for kids to learn about, bananas, cacao, papaya, etc. The cacao tree is quite a big tree, that looks like it was planted and left to just do its thing, unpruned and with many suckers from the central stem. Pictures are uploaded on my page on thechocolatelife. Anyway I knicked a fruit (sorry botanic gardens but it was for educational purposes), looks like it is an unusual variety judging by the high percentage of white beans in the pod. I was quite surprised actually as the stock I would have thought would have been Papua New Guinean hybrid. These have big wrinkly pods with quite strikingly purple almost black beans (see the other album I created for my Mossman trip). The taste of the beans from Mossman is very astringent and the pulp very sweet and fruity, I made chocolate from the beans there at the same time and it was intriguing that I was able to detect the same flavour notes in the finished chocolate as in the fresh bean and pulp. The Darwin beans were much more mild and the pulp not as tart, which makes sense seeing the lack of tanins in the beans. This got me thinking though, given that this Darwin tree is growing in a big pile of sand, whether the soil type has an effect on the tanin or polyphenol levels in the beans? Is the soil it is growing in in some part responsible for the pink and white beans, would they be purple in a different soil type? Along the lines of this thought I turned up this article abstract: http://resources.metapress.com/pdf-preview.axd?code=816k218llgph305...

 

There is another plantation near Darwin at the Coastal Plains Research Farm at Humpty Doo, if this is like the test plantation in Mossman FNQ then it has quite a few different varieties and perhaps it came from one of their trees. I am enquiring with the Darwin Botanic Gardens on whether they have any more info on the tree. Just to explain, a number of research plantations were set up something like 10-15 years ago to determine the best cacao growing region in Australia - Mossman won.

 

If there is any chocolate maker living in Darwin, they should get permission to harvest and collect the pods, ferment and make chocolate from the tree - I would. With a little pruning to open up the canopy the amount of fruit that could be harvested from this tree in one go would be enough to ferment on a small scale I would think.

 

Well, those are my musings on the tree in the Darwin Botanic Gardens.

 

 

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Replies to This Discussion

Cool. Keep us updated if you hear/find out more.

I read the full article which was pretty interesting but would have liked them to put more of their data on the individual trees they investigated, which included cacao grown hydroponically in a research centre near Reading in England. Anyway the take home message was fertilisation (actively putting nutrients onto the trees)  of the cacao trees resulted in less total polyphenol content in the beans fresh out of the pod.

Tree was planted around 1995 but no other information is in their database.

Hi Tom,

I am currently in Darwin for work for the week, and thinking about grabbing a pod for "research purposes" like you did previously.

I still have 4 actively growing plants in my garage, and I can definitely see an increase in growth since adding a humidifier to my grow tent to get the humidity to around 75%. I now want to source some Cacao from somewhere else, and was hoping a pod from Darwin would be the way to go.

Interestingly, is this a single tree in the Botanic gardens? I always thought that Cacao was self infertile and required pollination from the another plant with the aid of tiny midges. I wonder if there is another plant somewhere around the area or something, otherwise this might be the very plant I'm interested in for growing back in VIC.

Hi Cameron,

Yeah go for it, you can't miss the tree in the Botanic Gardens, it should have pods this time of year. As far as I am aware it is the only tree, and I haven't heard that cacao is self infertile. There may be trees in peoples back yards all over the place like there is in and around Mossman / Port Douglas area.

I think they are actually self incompatible, versus self infertile.

If you do a google search for self incompatible and cacao, there are lots of coverage about the topic. I guess self incompatible may mean that although the flower has both male and female parts, the pollen released from a flower can't pollinate the same flower, but could for others.

I don't know, I'm just logically trying to understand what it means. Certainly I've had many flowers on my indoor Cacao but no pods, but I've also not spent any time trying to pollinate them at the moment because of my travel habits.

I found the tree. Here are some photos:

Nice one, wish i had brought one back instead of planting them in darwin. Looks like they are healthy and starting to greminate. Were there many pods on the tree?

There were not many pods on the tree that I could see.

Probably half the nibs I planted have sprouted.

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