Have you ever harvested a cocoa pod?
Once the flower on the cocoa tree is pollinated, it takes five or six months for the cacao pod to ripen. This period varies depending on the country of cultivation, the climatic conditions and the cacao variety. The harvesting period also depends on the climatic conditions in the country where it is grown. This is why you will hear about different harvest seasons in different countries.
Generally, cocoa farmers will start harvesting at the end of the rainy season, until the first few months of the dry season. There are two harvests a year: a main harvest (the biggest one) and a secondary harvest with lower yields.
When harvested, the cacao pods are about 15 to 30 centimeters in length and 300 to 700 grammes in weight and will contain around 30-50 cocoa beans. They take on a wide range of colors, from greenish yellow to a reddish purple.
Knowing the right time to harvest the fruits is extremely important and takes a great deal of experience and knowledge, which cocoa farmers develop over time. It is only when the cacao pods are fully ripe that the pulp surrounding the cacao seeds provides enough sugar for optimal post-harvesting processes. This is crucial for the later taste and physical properties of the chocolate. How to know if a cocoa pod is ripe? Not by its color or size, but by the hollow sound it makes when tapped.
During harvesting, the fruits have to be cut from the trunk and branches very carefully with a machete, without cutting off the fruit buds, as they produce new flowers. The cacao pods are collected at special locations in the plantation, where they are carefully opened with the machete to remove the pulp with the undamaged seeds.
This mixture of pulp and cacao seeds is then ready for the next and most crucial step for flavor development: fermentation.