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Cocoa Butter

Latin Name
Theobroma cacao

Family: Sterculiaceae or Byttneriaceae

Etymology
Cacao is from the Mexican cacauati. Linnaneus gave the plant the name Theobroma from the Greek, meaning 'food of the Gods'. Also known as cacao butter, beurre de cacao and Kakao butter.

THE PLANT AND ITS ENVIRONMENT
The tree are native to Central and Southern America where they have been cultivated for centuries, and cocoa butter was first made in 1695. The seeds have always been prized, at one time they were even used as a form of currency.

The tree flourishes in most tropical moist countries and it is now grown in Central and Southern America, the West Indies, West Africa, Ceylon and Java.

Over the years the plant has been much developed so much so in fact that the original trees no longer exist. The present one is a small evergreen tree varying in height from 4-6 meters (12-20 feet).

The small yellow flowers characteristically grow directly on the trunk and older branches producing brown fruit  shaped like large broad beans  ( or small cucumbers), each of which contains about three dozen 3.cm (1 and a quarter inch) long seeds.

These are the cocoa beans, which are odorless, very astringent and bitter when fresh; They take on their brown color only after prolonged fermentation and desiccation; it is only after roasting  and rolling that the unmistakable taste of cocoa appears (Bruneton 1995). This wonderful taste  (with a touch of vanilla) was experienced by Cortez in the hall of Montezuma in 1519 and was soon known and highly regarded in Europe.

THE OIL

Theobroma is a solid fat better known as cocoa butter.

METHOD OF EXTRACTION
Chemically the kernel of the seed of cacao contains about 50% lipids (Bruneton 1995): the seeds are first fermented, then washed and dried before the final processing.

This involves hulling, roasting and then hot expressing the oil (in the form of solid fat) from the roasted seeds. This final step yields cocoa and cocoa butter. Solvent extraction is also commonly used.

Principal Constituents 

TYPE BASED ON CONTENT - %
Saturated Fatty Units     
C16:0 palmitic acid  25-29 
C18:0  stearic acid   
C20:0  arachidic acid  small 
Typical saturated fatty acid unit content    29 
Monounsaturated fatty acid units:  oleic acid  34-36 
C18:1     
Typical monounsaturated fatty acid unit content.    36 
Polyunsaturated fatty acid units  linoleic acid  <4 
C18:2    
Typical polyunsaturated fatty acid unit content   <4
(Leung & Foster 1996)    

PHYSICAL PROPERTIES 

It is a firm but brittle yellowish mass which melts at between 30 and 35C.

FOLKLORE AND TRADITIONAL PLANT USES
The seeds have a diuretic and stimulant action due to the presence of Caffine (0.05-3% and theobromine (1-3%), although theobromine does not affect the central nervous system (Stuart 1987). Theobroma 'oil' is used to treat wrinkles on the neck, around the eyes and the corner of the mouth.

In European tradition it was used in combination with other ingredients for infectious intestinal disease, diarrhoea, bronchial expectorant in asthma, bronchitis, irritating cough, and lung congestion; it has also been used to regulate the function of endocrine glands, especially the thyroid (Monograph 1991).

THERAPEUTIC PROPERTIES - INTERNAL USE

Theobroma oil is used extensively as a base for suppositories and pessaries, because it melts at body temperature; it as also used as an ointment base. (Leung & Foster).

THERAPEUTIC PROPERTIES - EXTERNAL USE
Can be used in ointments and and also as a massage lubricant, since it melts in the hand, softening and lubricating the skin.

COSMETIC USE
The 'oil' is employed in lipsticks, nail whiteners, rouge pastes, soaps, emollients, eyelash creams and massage creams.

CULINARY USE
The major use for ground cocoa beans is the chocolate; the fat extracted from the beans when making drinking chocolate is also used in the manufacture of chocolate.

The drink is stimulating as, like coffee and tea, it contains caffeine. Cocoa is used to flavour certain meat and fish dishes especially octopus, and is used with onion and garlic and tomatoes in Spain, Portugal and Italy.

In some countries (Denmark) Ireland, UK) sal seed fat (Shorea robusta, Dipterocarpaceae) is allowed as a substitute for cacao butter up to a limit of 5%. Sal seed fat is also used in cosmetics.

CAUTIONARY  NOTES
Theobroma oil may cause an allergic reaction on the skin . It is sometimes adulterated with waxes, stearins and animal or vegetable tallows (Trease & Evans 1983.

References: Brunton J 1995 Pharmacognosy, phytochemistry, medicinal plants, Intercept, Andover pp 889-891 Leung A Y, Foster S 1996 encyclopedia of common  natural ingredients. John Wiley  & Sons. New York pp 181-184

Monograph 11991 Cacao semen. Bundesanzeiger no. 40 27 Feburary. Cited in : Leung & Foster 1996 Stuart M (ed.) 1987 The Encyclopedia of herbs and herbalism. Black Cat, London p. 271. Trease G E. Evans W C 1983 Pharmacognosy 12th edition. Bailliere Tindall, London p. 335

Carrier Oils For Aromatherapy Massage: Len Price with Ian Smith & Shirley Price.