1. The name of both the tree native to Amazon forests (Theobroma cacao L.) and the unprocessed seeds (beans) from which chocolate is made. Americans refer to the bean as cocoa. The word cacao comes from the Olmec, a highly cultured civilization that preceded the Maya in the southern Gulf of Mexico area from 1,500 and 500 B.C.E. Cacao is divided by quality: either flavor or fine, or special or sweet cacao, and bulk cacao.The first group includes Criollo, Trinitario and Arriba or Nacional beans. The Arriba or Nacional bean is a unique Forastero, the only flavor Forastero, and is found only in Ecuador. The latter group comprises the Forastero cacaos. Each group has many hybrids and clones: There are more than 12,500 identified cacao clones. Legend tells us that the the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl bestowed cacao beans on mankind via his messenger Cacaoti, for whom cacao is named.
2. From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Standards of Identity refers to the bean, which is the source of the cacao components of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Many people incorrectly refer to this as the cocoa bean or the chocolate bean. In the U.K., the term “cocoa” is preferred.