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White cocoa – a few words about the cocoa cousin

Reading time: 5 minutes

On the shelf of an average store in Poland we will find various varieties of chocolate: from milk, with or without filling, through dessert, bitter, on white, which for many gourmets is not real chocolate at all, ending. Where does this disqualification come from? Because, unlike other bars, white chocolate does not contain cocoa powder at all, but only cocoa butter [1]. Few people know, however, that in the world of cocoa there is a type of cocoa, which due to its bright color is called white. And although white chocolate lovers will not find in it a salvation for the status of their favorite delicacy, white cocoa has a rich history dating back to the ancient Maya and many unusual properties, including a unique, deviating from traditional cocoa taste.

What is white cocoa?

White cocoa, a fruit from a tree called Pataxte (pronounced"Pataszte"), is a lesser-known cousin of the chocolate cocoa associated with everything chocolate. In the past, white cocoa was widely used in Mayan and Aztec cultures, but when the Spaniards came to South America, the European world became primarily interested in brown cocoa, which now surrounds us at every turn. Knowledge of Pataxte has not yet become widespread, but is now experiencing its heyday, at the end of which perhaps global success awaits [2].

Pataxte, also called the mocambo tree or jaguar tree, belongs to the same genus Theobroma as the classic cocoa tree and functions under the species name Theobroma bicolor. It grows in Central and South America and as a free-standing tree grows to several meters, while growing among other trees it can reach up to a dizzying 30 meters [3]. For comparison, traditional cocoas measure a maximum of 15 meters [4]. Most importantly, Pataxte cocoa is more white than brown, because although at first glance the fruits of the mocambo tree contain brownish seeds resembling almonds, these seeds turn out to be light gray, almost white under the shell. At the same time, they are covered with a grid of cracks that bring to mind porcelain krakelura. The seeds of the jaguar tree are, like traditional cocoa, high in calories and rich in protein and fiber, but also in Omega 9 and caffeine [3]. It is worth noting that Theobroma bicolor contains more protein and less fat than its classic cousin, which makes white cocoa a better choice for people looking for protein without unnecessary additional energy [9].

History of Pataxte – sacrum and profane

The species Theobroma bicolor is sometimes neglected by scientists dealing with vegetation and cultures of South America. In particular, anthropologists fail to factor in their work the difference between Pataxte and other, more popular cocoa species — even though the local population lists white cocoa as a distinct item among their daily foods. Scientists also neglect to forget the role Pataxte played in Mayan and Aztec rituals [5].

We have already mentioned in our blog that cocoa played a large role in the religious customs of pre-Columbian South American cultures [6]. Discovered perhaps even seven millennia ago, cocoa fulfilled important functions in Aztec, Mayan and Olmec communities. They were consumed primarily in drinks, and having it testified to the high position and respect that the owner enjoyed. But when it comes to religious issues, cocoa was in the first place the sacrifice that man made in order to ensure a good fate for the gods. The important role of cocoa is also emphasized by its presence in religious iconography: it appears as an attribute of the gods, and in the Maya it is even associated with the very beginning of the world [8].

It turns out, however, that despite the central role of traditional cocoa known to us, in the life of pre-Columbian cultures, Pataxte has found an important place in symbolism. White cocoa could be a key addition, thanks to which cocoa fruit drinks gained... Foam. Sixteenth-century texts describing the holidays of Native American communities show that the whipped foam in the drink was perceived as a feature testifying to its excellent quality. However, this foam could not be easily obtained in the drink from cocoa alone, so white cocoa, mocambo, was used to achieve an effect worthy of today's cappuccino [7]. Despite the reluctance of European newcomers to the jaguar tree, we know today that Pataxte was also valued by pre-Columbian civilizations – the absolute pioneers of cocoa.

Theobroma bicolor today and tomorrow

Nowadays, Pataxte fruits are eaten in very different forms. The seeds of this cocoa can be fried or added to the soup, and the sweet pulp surrounding them in the fruit can be eaten raw. The shell formed after selecting the seeds and pulp can be – according to the principle "nothing is wasted" – used as a natural pot or container [3]. The fruits of the jaguar tree are still used to prepare drinks, often with thick foam, and these drinks are still popular during the holidays [2]. The taste of white cocoa is certainly different from the taste of traditional cocoa: it lacks the typical "chocolateiness", somewhat reminiscent of macadamia and cashew nut. However, it is so characteristic that after the first attempt it is difficult not to recognize it in other products [9].

The cultivation of Pataxte is popular primarily in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, although the names of the tree differ from each other in these countries so much that you might think that it is a completely different species. Currently, white cocoa products are beginning to appear on the market, not only in cold drinks or ice cream, but also in sweets: marzipan and chocolate. In Mexico, where the cultivation of the jaguar tree is also growing, its fruits are eaten in sweets or as a raw snack. In the city of Oaxaca, there is even a tradition of preparing the drink "popo", which is called by visitors "cappuccino from Oaxaca" [2]. No wonder!

But in addition to the nutritional and taste qualities, there is also talk about the health benefits of white cocoa. Preliminary research on Pataxte fruits indicates that their pulp may be rich in inulin, which supports digestion and behaves like a natural probiotic: it supports the growth of bacteria of our digestive system, while defending against invasive strains. In addition, white cocoa turns out to contain antioxidants whose positive effects on health are widely known [2, 10]. Perhaps soon there will be health-promoting products based on Pataxte fruits on the market.

White cocoa has not enjoyed great fame so far, but it seems that this state of affairs is slowly changing. It is certainly worth paying attention to the further fate of Pataxte fruits, fruits that are known for their unusual taste, many uses, long history, as well as – potentially – health properties. Perhaps soon when ordering hot cocoa on a winter evening we will be immediately asked: white or dark?

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