cocoa pods growing from a Theobromo cacao tree

Where Are Cocoa Beans Grown?

Cocoa beans are the primary ingredient in chocolate making, but have you ever wondered where these beans actually come from? Cocoa beans typically grow within 20 degrees of the equator. This distinctive growing region is commonly referred to as the “cocoa belt.”

map of cocoa growing countries and cocoa belt

Where does cocoa come from?

the inside of a cocoa pod Cocoa beans, or cacao beans, come from the Theobroma cacao tree. The Theobroma cacao tree is a fruit tree, whose name means “food of the gods”. The cacao beans, which are technically seeds, grow inside pods surrounded by a white fleshy pulp known as Baba. The Theobroma cacao tree flourishes in hotter tropical climates (65-90°F) at lower elevations (<2,000ft). It needs a growing area where there is ample rainfall, yet sufficient soil drainage. Because the cacao tree also requires an abundance of shade, it is often planted with other, larger fruit trees (like mangoes) or hardwoods.

Cacao trees are relatively short, only growing to be about 15-25 feet tall. It takes about 5 years (from seed) for a cacao tree to grow mature and start producing cacao pods. The beans grow in football-shaped pods on the trunk of the tree and from larger branches. The average cacao tree produces 30-40 cacao pods a year. These pods are typically harvested two times a year and can be green, yellow, orange, or red, depending on the variety of the cacao tree.

different varieties of cocoa

Like grapes and wine, cocoa beans can have different flavors depending on the variety of the bean and the location where the bean is grown (commonly known as terroir). The Forastero variety has a smoother, more rounded shape cacao pod with a thicker shell wall and produces cocoa with more classic chocolate flavor characteristics. The Criollo variety has a knobby, more elongated pod shape with a thinner shell wall and produces cocoa with more floral, fruity and nutty flavors. The Trinitario variety is a hybrid of the Forastero and Criollo.

In what countries is cocoa produced?

The Theobroma cacao tree originated in the upper Amazon basin region (Brazil, Colombia, and Peru). Today, cacao is grown by 40-50 million cocoa farmers in more than 50 countries around the world. 90% of the world’s cocoa is grown on small family farms, while only 5% is grown on larger commercial plantations. For the majority of these farmers, cacao is their primary source of income. Many make less than $1USD a day for their hard work growing and harvesting cacao — so supporting sustainable farming practices and fair trade chocolate is more important than ever!

Cocoa Producing Countries

Côte d’Ivorie
Nigeria
Ecuador
Colombia
Mexico
India
Guatemala
Liberia
Nicaragua
Republic of Congo
Vanuatu
Grenada
Costa Rica
Guyana
Trinidad and Tobago
Belize
Gabon
Saint Lucia
Fiji

Ghana
Cameroon
Peru
Papua New Guinea
Venezuela
Sierra Leone
Madagascar
Tanzania
Bolivia
Democratic Republic of Congo
Sri Lanka
Honduras
Samoa
Equatorial Guinea
Dominica
Cuba
Central African Republic
Comoros
Suriname

Indonesia
Brazil
Dominican Republic
Uganda
Togo
Haiti
Guinea
Philippines
Solomon Islands
Sao Tome and Principe
Malaysia
Panama
Angola
El Salvador
Jamaica
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Thailand
Micronesia
American Samoa

While this list might seem long, many of these countries only produce a small amount of cocoa. More than half of the world’s cocoa comes from only two countries: the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The countries at the bottom (listed in green) produce less than a thousand metric tons of cocoa a year.

Does Cocoa Grow in the United States?

Because this delicate fruit tree requires such a distinct climate, it can only successfully grow in select areas. While the United States is one of the top ten chocolate consuming countries, the majority of the country does not have the optimal cacao-growing climate. Hawaii is the only state that can sustain commercial cacao production.

Cocoa at Lake Champlain Chocolates

As a certified B Corporation®, we are dedicated to using business as a force for good. For us, this means being committed to sustainability and transparency in our supply chain. Our organic chocolate is made with cocoa grown by farmer co-ops in the Dominican Republic and Peru. Our conventional (non-organic) chocolate is a blend of fair trade cocoa grown in West Africa. 100% of the chocolate we use is fair trade certified!

Interested in discovering more? Check out our fun facts about chocolate or learn about what goes into making the different types of chocolate!

Sources:
Fair Trade USA
World Cocoa Foundation
Make Chocolate Fair
World Population Review