Cocoa butter is obtained by pressing and centrifugation or filtering cocoa kernel fat (cocoa bean) or from cocoa mass made from the seed (bean) of the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao L.). The resultant product is then refined.
The cocoa tree grows to a height of 15m and lives for up to 60 years. It is an evergreen tree that requires temperatures of 25-28°C, 80% humidity, 1500-2000 mm/m3 annual rainfall, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil, shady conditions and a mild climate. It is native to the tropical rain-forests lining the banks of the Amazon and Orinoco. From there, it was cultivated by the Mayas, Olmecs and Aztecs and spread to Central America and, subsequently, following the Spanish conquest of these areas, to other parts of the planet as well (in 1530, Hernán Cortez brought the first sizeable quantities of cocoa beans to Europe. These were approx. 2 cm long, 1 cm wide and weighed approx. 1 g). To the Aztecs, cocoa beans were of great economic importance (as a currency; a rabbit cost 10 cocoa beans) and of great mythological significance. Evidence of this can be found in the records of the Spanish Conquistador, Hernán Cortez, in Mexico. According to these records, the wealth of the national treasury of Montezuma II et al stood at 2.5m kg of cocoa beans (equivalent to approx. 1.25 bn beans. For comparison purposes, a bar of chocolate contains approx. 35 beans).
Today, the cocoa tree thrives within a 3000 km wide belt straddling the Equator. The principal areas are Central and West Africa, Central and South America, Ceylon, Indonesia, New Guinea and the Philippines. Cocoa butter is obtained either by pressing cocoa beans, which have a fat content of approx. 50-60%, (this is rarely used) or by pressing pre-roasted, ground and warmed liquid cocoa paste (cocoa masses containing >50% cocoa butter do not dry out). Press residue is processed into cocoa powder and forms the raw ingredient for products such as chocolate. Finally, cocoa butter obtained in this way is refined.
At room temperature, the rough, pale yellow cocoa butter, with a faint smell of cocoa and a mild, distinctive taste, consists primarily of palmitic, stearic and oleic acids and melts at approx. 36°C. Cocoa butter is used in the food industry for milk and fondant forms of chocolate; it is mixed with cocoa mass as patissier's chocolate (coatings for biscuits and chocolates) and, recently, has started to be processed into 'white' chocolate. In the pharmaceuticals trade, cocoa butter is used as an ointment base and in the production of suppositories. The cosmetics industry uses cocoa butter for lipsticks and hair cream