Family • Sterculiaceae / Malvaceae - Theobroma cacao - CACAO / CHOCOLATE TREE - Ke ke shu

Scientific names

Theobroma cacao L.
Cacao sativa Aubl.
Theobroma sativum (Aubl.) Lign. & Le Bey
Ke ke (Chin.)

Common names

Kakaw (Tag.)
Cacao tree (Engl.)
Chocolate tree (Engl.)
Cocoa tree (Engl.)
Ke ke shu (Chin.)

Other vernacular names

BURMESE: Kokoe. MALAYALAM: Kokko, Kokkoo.
CHINESE: Ke ke shu POLISH: Kakaowiec.
DANISH: Kakaotrae. PORTUGUESE: Arbore de cacao, Arvore-da-vida, Cacau, Cacau-de-mata, Cupuacu de mata.
DUTCH: Cacaoboom. RUSSIAN: Kakao, Shokoladnoe derevo.
FINNISH: Kaakao, Kaakaopuu. SINHALESE: Maikonagaha.
FRENCH: Cacao, cacaoyer. SPANISH: Arbol de cacao, Cacahualt, Cacao amarillo, Cacao del monte, Cacaoeiro, Cacaotero.
GERMAN: Kakaobaum, Kakaopflanze. SWEDISH: Kakao, Kakaobuske.
HINDI: Kokko. TAMIL: Kakkavo, Kona maram.
ITALIAN: Albero del cacao. THAI: Kho kho, Ko ko.
JAPANESE: Kakao, Kakao no ki, Kokoa no ki, Teoburaama kakao. TURKSIH: Hint bademi agaci, Kakao agaci.
KHMER: Kakaaw. VIETNAMESE: Ca cao.
MALAY: Pokok coklat.


Gen info
• Chocolate comes from the fruit of the kakaw tree. Kakaw’s scientific name “Theobroma” means “food for the gods,” derived from the Greek words theo (god) and broma (drink). In the Aztec language, the drink was called chocolati. In pre-Columbian times, its bean was a major currency with great trading value.
• The current global production of cocoa beans is estimated at 3,520,000 tonnes while grinding is estimated at 3,678,000 tonnes for year 2008/09. Africa yields about 70% of cocoa production. Ivory Coast is the leader in cocoa production followed by Ghana and Indonesia.


Additional Sources and Suggested Readings

(1) Effects of polyphenol substances derived from Theobroma cacao on gastric mucosal lesion induced by ethanol / OSAKABE N., SANBONGI C et al / Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry / 1998, vol. 62, no8, pp. 1535-153

(2) Effect of Theobroma cacao flavonoids on immune activation of a lymphoid cell line 

(3) Dietary flavanols and procyanidin oligomers from cocoa (Theobroma cacao) inhibit platelet function / Karen J Murphy, Andriana K Chronopoulos et al / American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 77, No. 6, 1466-1473, June 2003

(4) Antioxidative Polyphenols Isolated from Theobroma cacao / Chiaki Sanbongi et al / J. Agric. Food Chem., 1998, 46 (2), pp 454–457 / DOI: 10.1021/jf970575o

(5) Flavonoids from Theobroma cacao Down-Regulate Inflammatory Mediators / Emma Ramiro et al / J. Agric. Food Chem., 2005, 53 (22), pp 8506–8511 / DOI: 10.1021/jf0511042

(6) Protective Activity of Theobroma cacao L. Phenolic Extract on AML12 and MLP29 Liver Cells by Preventing Apoptosis and Inducing Autophagy / Marco Arlorio et al / J. Agric. Food Chem., 2009, 57 (22), pp 10612–10618 / DOI: 10.1021/jf902419t

(7) Sorting Theobroma names / Porcher Michel H. et al. 1995 – 2020 / MULTILINGUAL MULTISCRIPT PLANT NAME DATABASE

(8) Polyphenols in cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) / C.L. Hii, C.L. Law, S. Suzannah, Misnawi and M. Cloke / As. J. Food Ag-Ind. 2009, 2(04), 702-722

(9) Theobroma cacao L., the Food of the Gods: A scientific approach beyond myths and claims / M. Rusconi∗, A. Conti / Pharmacological Research 61 (2010) 5–13

(10) The Protective Effect of Cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) in Colon Cancer / Yazan Yazan Ranneh*, Faisal Ali and Norhaizan Mohd Esa / J Nutr Food Sci 3:193. doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000193

(11) Production of Activated Carbon from Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) Pod Husk / Gerardo Cruz*, Minna Pirilä, Mika Huuhtanen, Lili Carrión, Emilio Alvarenga and Riitta L Keiski / J Civil Environment Engg 2:109. / doi:10.4172/2165-784X.1000109

(12) Farm and Forestry Production and Marketing Profile for Cacao (Theobroma cacao) / Prakash Hebbar, H.C. Bittenbender, and Daniel O’Doherty / Agroforestry

(13) Cacao: Theobroma cacao (LINN.) / A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M Grieve / Botanical.com

(14) Chocolate Lover? Compound Inside Cocoa Beans Causes Parkinson’s – GMO Cocoa Trees To Increase Its Concentration / NATASHA LONGO / April 12, 2013 / WHN Forum for Anti-Aging & Regenerative Disease

(15) Effect of Theobroma cacao flavonoids on immune activation of a lymphoid cell line / Emma Ramiro, Angels Franch, Cristina Castellote, Cristina Andre ́s-Lacueva, Maria Izquierdo-Pulido and Margarida Castell* / British Journal of Nutrition (2005), 93, 859–866 / DOI: 10.1079/BJN20051443

(16) Anticancer Agents from Non-Edible Parts of Theobroma cacao / Zainal B, Abdah MA*, Taufiq-Yap YH, Roslida AH and Rosmin K / Natural Products Chemistry & Research, 2:134. / doi: 10.4172/2329-6836.1000134

Kakaw is a mall tree, growing to 3 to 5 meters high. Leaves are alternate, entire, oblong-ovate to oblong, 15 to 40 centimeters long, 5 to 20 centimeters wide, with pointed tip and rounded base. Flowers are solitary or fascicled on the trunk and branches; yellowish or nearly white, about 1 centimeter in diameter. Fruit is oblong, 10 to 15 centimeters long, prominently wrinkled, yellow or purplish. Seeds are numerous and embedded in whitish pulp; when ripe they rattle in the capsule when shaken

– Widely scattered in cultivation at low and medium altitudes.
– Cultivated for its seeds.
– Nowhere spontaneous in the Philippines.
– Introduced from Mexico.


– Cocoa contains approximately 380 known chemicals and 10 psychoactive constituents.
– Seeds contain fixed oil, 40-56 %; theobromine; glucose, saccharose; vitamin A, 825-1400 I.U. per 100 gm; cellulose, 2.8-5.4%; water, 5-7%; ash, 3-5%; starch, 5% and a glucoside, cacarine.
– Seeds yield about 2% theobromine, 40 to 60% solid fat. Shell contains about 1 percent theobromine.
– The mesocarp and seed contain theobromine and caffeine.
– The wall and pulp of the fruit contain arabinose and galactose.
-The flesh contain enzymes: protease, invertase, raffinase, cesease and oxydase.
– Cacao is high in magnesium.
– High in antioxidants, approximately 40 times higher than blueberries.
– Possibly contains MAO inhibitors with effects on serotonin and neurotransmitters.
– Contains PEA (phenylethylamine) and anandamine.
– High in polyphenols, with three main groups: catechins (37%), anthocyanins (4%) and proanthocyanidins (58%). The main catechin is (-)-epicathechin with up to 35% of polyphenol content.
– Studies have yielded various polyphenolic compounds, viz., simple phenols, benzoquinones, phenolic acids, acetophenones, phenylacetic acids, hydroxycinnamic acids, phenylpropenes, coumarines, chromones, naphthoquinones, xanthones, stilbenes, anthraquinones, flavonoids, lignans, and lignins.


– Considered emmenagogue and ecbolic.
– Emollient, diuretic, aphrodisiac, nutritive.
– Studies have suggested anti-carcinogenic, anti-atherogenic, anti-ulcer, anti-thrombotic, anti-inflammatory, immune modulating, anti-microbial, vasodilatory and analgesic properties.
– Theobromine resembles caffeine in action, with less powerful effects on the central nervous system.
– Rich source of polyphenols, reportedly with higher antioxidant activity than teas and red wines.
– Oil of Theobroma or cacao butter is a yellowish white solid, with odor resembling that of cocoa, tasting bland and agreeable.
– The feel good sensation with chocolate is attributed to the chemical phenylethylamine which might be partly responsible for the release and potentiation of brain dopamine. Higher concentrations of PEA are found in some cocoa beans and high quality cocoa powder.


Parts utilized
Seed, roots, oil, bark, flower, fruit pulp, leaves.

Edibility / Culinary
– Cultivated for use in the manufacture of cacao, chocolate, cacao butter, chocolate food, drink or fruit.

– Oil or cocoa butter is an excellent emollient, used to soften and protect chapped hands and lips.
– Eczema, dry skin: Roast 10-12 seeds and pound ; apply to affected areas as poultice after a warm compress.
– Root decoction used as emmenagogue (promotes or stimulates menstrual flow) and ecbolic (promotes labor by stimulating uterine contractions.

– Cocoa butter (oil of theobroma) is an excellent emollient for use to prevent chapped lips and hands.
– Cacao butter used in the manufacture of confections, toilet articles and cosmetics; in pharmacy, used for pill coating and suppository preparation.
– Preparation: Cocoa is prepared by grinding the beans into a paste between hot rollers, then mixing it with sugar and starch, with part of the fat removed. Chocolate is prepared in the same way, with the fat retained.
– Ritualistic Food: Cacao was a tree and food most prized by ancient Maya and Aztec, consumed during rituals and offered as sacraments to the gods.

Study Findings
• Hypoglycemic: Hypoglycemic Properties of Malaysian Cocoa (Theobroma Cacao) Polyphenols Extract: Study showed that Malaysian cocoa polyphenol extract has a potential of being an insulin-mimetic agent. Further studies are suggested to elucidate on the underlying mechanisms for its glucose reduction and insulin mimicking activities.
• Anti-Ulcer: Effects of polyphenol substances derived from Theobroma cacao on gastric mucosal lesion induced by ethanol: Study suggests that the antiulcer mechanism of the polyphenols was from radical scavenging and modulation of leukocyte function.
• Immune Activity: Effect of Theobroma cacao flavonoids on immune activation of a lymphoid cell line: Extract down-modulated T lymphocyte activation and the acquired immune response which could be important in autoimmune or chronic inflammatory disease.
• Flavonoids / Nitric Oxide / Endothelial Function: Study indicate flavanol-rich foods provide extraordinary health benefits. In populations that no longer consume large quantities of such foods, the risk of cardiac and cancer deaths have significantly increased.
• Flavonoids / Decreased BP and LDL:Studies have suggested the antioxidants and flavonoids in dark chocolate with benefits of lowering effects on blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels.
• Epicatechin: Epicatechin, one of the bioactive nutrients in cocoa can promote blood vessel relaxation and the cardio-benefits might not be antioxidant dependent.
• Human Platelet Reactivity Modulation / Platelet Function Inhibition: Study sought to evaluate whether a 28-day supplementation with cocoa flavanols and related procyanidin oligomers would modulate human platelet reactivity and primary hemostasis and reduce oxidative markers in vivo. Results showed significant increase in plasma epicatechin and catechin concentrations and significantly decreased platelet function.
• Antioxidative Polyphenols: Study isolated clovamide, deoxyclovamide, quercetin and its glucoside. In the bulk oil system, clovamide had the strongest antioxidative activity. Results suggest that chocolate is stable against oxidative deterioration due to the presence of these polyphenolic compounds.
• Inhibition of NO Release / Cytokine Secretion Inhibition: Study shows that cocoa flavonoids not only inhibit NO release from macrophages but also down-regulate inflammatory cytokines and chemokines.
• Polyphenols / Antioxidative Activity: Study showed the polyphenol content and its antioxidant capacity vary among a wide range of cocoa and chocolate products, with processing making a great impact on the level of polyphenols.
• Hepatoprotective / Apoptosis Prevention / Autophagy Induction: Study shows that cocoa inhibits drug-triggered liver cytotoxicity and prevents apoptosis by inducing autophagy. Results suggest that cocoa can be added to the list of natural chemopreventive agents with a potential for hepatopathy prevention and therapy.
• Antioxidant and Biologic Activities / Cocoa Hulls: A supercritical CO2 extraction method showscocoa hulls by-product to be a matrix rich in fiber (pectin) and phenolics. A better characterization of the bioactivity of the phenolic pigments is suggested for its potential use in food technology as functional colorant ingredient or antioxidant complex extract.
• Colon Cancer Benefits: Study evaluated cocoa’s effect in colon cancer, both in-vivo and in-vitro.Several preclinical studies concluded that dietary polyphenols, in large amounts, can exert a desirable effect. Cocoa is a food rich in polyphenols (flavonoids and phenolic acids). Its main flavonoids are flavan-3-ols, epicatechin, and catechin. Total polyphenols in raw cocoa is up to 60% in monomeric and oligomeric forms. In-vivo studies, demonstrated an antiproliferative effect of cocoa-rich diet. In-vitro studies were done on caco-2 cell line, considered as human epithelial colonic adenocarcinoma cells. Crude procyanidin and procynidin-enriched extracts showed an inhibitory effect on G2/M phase of cell cycle, leading to non-apoptotic cell death. Studies have shown potential inhibition on pro-inflammatory mediators on TNF-α-sensitized Caco-2 cells. Study concludes suggesting large scale, long term, randomized, placebo-controlled studies.
• Activated Carbon from Pod Husk / Arsenic Adsorption: Study showed cocoa pod husk material, a waste biomass, can be used to produce activated carbon by chemical activation and ZnCl2 showed to be the best chemical activation agent. The activated carbon can adsorb arsenic (As), up to removal levels of 80% in less than an hour.
• Cacao and Cardiovascular Health: Review summarizes the available data on the cardiovascular effects of cocoa, highlighting its potential clinical implications associated with consumption. Possible mechanisms of its protective effects include endothelial Function and NO antioxidant properties platelet function anti-hypertensive effect antiatherogenic effects including effects on insulin resistance and blood lipids.
• Phenylethylamine (PEA) / Pros and Cons: Phenylethylamine is a natural alkaloid, related to amphetamines, functioning as a central nervous system neurotransmitter or neuromodulator. (2) The feel good sensation with chocolate is attributed to the chemical phenylethylamine which might be partly responsible for the release and potentiation of brain dopamine. Higher concentrations of PEA are found in some cocoa beans and high quality cocow powder. Depending on the type of chocolate, a 100 /day of chocolate consumption provides between 0.36-0.83 mg/day of Beta-PEA. (3) PEA is also believed to increase the release of AcH (acetylcholine), possibly with mood and cognitive benefits. Although sold as dietary supplement, some believe oral PEA is ineffective because of extensive presystemic metabolism. Synthetic Beta-PEA at doses of 0.63 to 1.35 mg/day has been reported to cause Parkinson’s symptoms through by-passing of presystemic metabolism. The concerns relate to synthetic PEA additives—hybrid or GMO—not naturally occurring PEA, escaping enzymatic metabolic action, reaching the brain in trace amounts. When initial PEA level is low, enzyme inhibitors can raise it 1000-fold; 3 to 4-fold when initial concentration is high. Long-term effects of unmetabolized beta-PEA from daily ingestion are unknown.
• Cacao Flavonoids on Immune Activation of Lymphoid Cell Line: Study evaluated the effect of (—)-epicatechin and cocoa extract on activation of lymphoid cell line. There was dose-dependent reduction of IL-2Ra (CD25) expression on activated cells. There was also IL-2 secretion inhibition and 3 to 4.5-fold increase in IL-4 release. In summary, the extract down-modulated T lymphocyte activation and the acquired immune response, which suggests a potential use in immune system hyperactivity such as autoimmune of chronic inflammatory disease.
• Antiproliferative / Leaf: Study evaluated the potential anticancer properties from non-edible parts of the cocoa plant, viz., leaf, bark, husk, fermented and unfermented shell, root, cherelle, and pith. The hexane partitioned fraction of cocoa leaf showed the highest anticancer activity with IC50 value about 66.7± 0.71 µg/ml and generated 10 major active compounds with synergistic effect against MCF-7.
• Effect of Roasting on Contents of Cocoa Beans: Study evaluated the effect of roasting conditions on the content of fat, tocopherol, and phytosterol and antioxidant capacity of the lipid fraction from cocoa beans. Results showed roasting significantly affected phytochemical composition and lipophilic antioxidant activity. Roasting may cause significant degradation of α-tocopherol and phytosterols compared to raw cocoa beans.
• Clovamide / Antioxidant Activity: Study identified the caffeoylated amino acid clovamide [( – )-N-[3′-4′ -dihydroxy-(E)-cinnamoyl]-dihydroxyphenylalanine] in the antioxidant polyphenolic fraction of cocoa and investigated the effect of roasting on its content in different samples of cocoa beans. Although roasting was found to be detrimental for the clovamide content, no correlation was found between clovamide concentration and overall antioxidant properties of the cocoa samples, suggesting clovamide is important but not critical for the antioxidant activity.