Cacao in Mexico

Cacao is a gift from Mexico to the world!

The cacao seed is considered heritage of Mexico. Incredibly, Mexico is a country with regions that have the characteristics suitable for growing cacao.

Origin of Cacao in Mexico

Cacao has its origin in Mexico. Its scientific name: Theobroma cacao, contains its essence, as the first word is of Greek origin and means “food of gods”.

The origin of the cacao tree is found in the states of Tabasco, Campeche, and Chiapas, along the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

Cacao in Pre-Hispanic Mexico

Cacao had great importance for Mesoamerican cultures.

The Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs considered it sacred. It was food, “currency”, and a religious symbol. 

Cacao, the food of the gods, was also a symbol of wealth. Only nobles, warriors and high society figures could drink or store chocolate. As a drink it was reserved only for warriors and high society figures and, in some cases, was intended for celebrations or rites.

It is said that ground cacao seeds/beans were mixed with water, and spices were added.

As a symbol of wealth, the jicara where the cacaoa was served was adorned with a teaspoon of gold, silver or precious woods.

The Olmecs of La Venta, in the state of Tabasco, were the first humans to taste chocolate as a drink.

The Mexica associated cacao with the human heart, as both contained precious liquid.

The Aztecs used cacao as currency. It is said that Moctezuma came to accumulate a fortune of 100 million cacao seeds/almonds. The Aztecs were also the first to start growing cacao.

Cacao in Mexico is also documented in a Mayan stone stelae.

Cacao Characteristics

The cacao tree grows to a height of 20–40 feet, usually remaining at the lower end of this range. Its oblong leathery leaves measure up to 12 inches in length. The leaves are periodically shed and replaced by new leaves. The new leaves are red when young. The flowers are odorless or foul-smelling. They are abundant twice a year. The flowers grow in clusters directly from the trunk and limbs and are about ½ inch in height and breadth. They can be white, rosy, pink, yellow, or bright red, and are pollinated by tiny flies.

After four years the mature cacao tree produces fruit (pod) and may yield up to 70 fruits annually. The fruit ripens in less than six months. The cacao fruit is an elongated pod about 14 inches in length, and about 5 inches wide. The fruit (pod) of the cacao tree is oval shaped and has a hard shell. It grows directly from the tree or on its oldest branches. The cacao pods can range in color from bright yellow to deep purple. Each pod has numerous ridges running along its length and holds 20 to 60 cacao beans. A cacao tree normally bears between 15 and 20 fruits (pods).

Cacao pods were used as currency in ancient Mexico.

The cacao fruit is an elongated pod about 14 inches in length, and about 5 inches wide.

The oval beans (seeds) are about 1 inch long. Inside the cacao pod they are covered with a sticky white pulp.

Natural Environment

Cacao trees grow in the forest understory. Cacao thrives at altitudes of 100 to 1,000 feet above sea level in areas with temperatures not below 68 °F or above 82 °F.

The minimum necessary rainfall is about 39 inches, distributed throughout the year. 59–79 inches of rainfall are optimal.

Successful cultivation requires deep well-drained, porous soil that is rich in humus.

Types of Cacao

There are three types of cacao:

  1. Creole: Creole cacao represents 10% of world production and is reserved for the finest chocolates.
  2. Forastero: Forastero cacao represents more than 70% of the world’s cacao production. It is the most used cacao plant in the production of chocolate bars. This cacao plant requires minimal maintenance, such that the crop that the market requires is easily achieved.  
  3. Trinitarian: Trinitarian cacao is a hybrid between the Forastero and the Creole. This cacao plant emerged in the attempt to combine the resistance of foreign cacao with the aroma and flavor of Creole, to produce cacao with great flavor, easy to plant, and disease resistant.

In Mexico, most cacao originates from the “Creole” variety, which surpasses in quality.

Cacao Production in Mexico

Mexico is 8th in the production of cocoa in the world. Mexico produces more than 22 thousand tons of cacao per year.

In Mexico, cacao production is concentrated mainly in indigenous communities in the states of Tabasco, Chiapas and Guerrero. These states contribute more than 27 thousand tons annually.

In the state of Tabasco, cacao is planted in 10 of the 17 municipalities, with the municipalities of Comalcalco, Cárdenas, Cunduacán and Huimanguillo. These account for 87% of the entity’s production. The state of Tabasco contributes to about 67% of the volume of national production.

In the state of Chiapas, cacao is grown mainly in four regions: North, Central, Soconusco, and Selva-Norte. The state of Chiapas accounts for about 33% of cacao production in Mexico.

The states of Veracruz and Nayarit have great potential for cacao cultivation, due to their temperatures and climates.

In Mexico, the cacao industry is worth about 51 million pesos (mdp) per year and generates about 55,000 direct jobs.

Cacao Importance in Mexico

Currently, the importance of cacao as an agricultural product is prevalent. In soil conservation the cacao tree is a good crop to in land reforestation, as it contributes a large amount of organic matter to ecosystems. This benefits the conservation of soil, flora, and fauna.



Cacao México (

Did you know?

Cocoa is a processed ingredient, which is mainly used to make chocolate bars, cakes, spreads and cereals. It may contain preservatives and refined sugars.

Legend has it that the god Quetzalcoatl gave men the cacao tree.

Cacao beans (seeds) are “cracked” into pieces called nibs in the process of chocolate elaboration.