Harvesting cacao pods
Ripe and ready
It takes five or six months for the cacao pods to ripen from the pollinated flowers of the cacao tree. This period varies depending on the country of cultivation, the climatic conditions and the cacao variety. The harvesting period also depends on the climatic conditions in the country where it is grown. It generally starts at the end of the rainy season and goes on into the first few months of the dry season. There are two harvests a year: a main harvest and a secondary harvest with lower yields.
When harvested, the cacao pods are about 15 to 30 centimetres in length and 300 to 700 grammes in weight. Their colour ranges from greenish yellow to a reddish purple. Knowing the right time to harvest the fruits is extremely important and takes a great deal of experience and knowledge. It is only when the cacao pods are fully ripe that the pulp surrounding the cacao seeds provides enough sugar for optimal fermentation. This is crucial for the later taste and physical properties of the chocolate. A cacao pod is ripe if it makes a hollow sound when tapped.
During harvesting, the fruits have to be cut from the trunk and branches very carefully with a machete, without cutting off the fruit buds, as they produce new flowers. The cacao pods are collected at special locations in the plantation, where they are carefully opened with the machete to remove the pulp with the undamaged seeds. This mixture of pulp and cacao seeds is then ready for fermentation.
The average cocoa bean crop yield is 500kg per hectare and less than one kilo per tree.