Why Don’t Cocoa Beans Grow in the US?

Question: Why Don’t Cocoa Beans Grow in the US?

Many people don’t believe that cocoa beans grow in the US. The truth is, cocoa beans DO grow in the US, but only in very limited areas. Typically, cocoa beans are grown in a narrow band referred to as the Cocoa Belt or Chocolate Belt. This bands extends up to 20 degrees of latitude north and south of the equator. Like their parent trees, cocoa beans require fairly constant, warm to hot temperatures year-round (usually in the range of 65 to 90 degrees F), with high humidity and a lot of rainfall (from 40 to 100 inches annually). They cannot tolerate cold, drought, or too much wind. A quick look at a map will show that almost all of the United States is more than 30 degrees north of the equator, so cocoa trees have a difficult time surviving in much of the US.

There are exceptions to the above rule; cocoa trees and their beans can grow in the US in South Florida and Hawai’i. Hawai’i is 19 degrees north of the equator, barely inside the cocoa belt. But it might surprise you to know that there’s a small, new chocolate industry sprouting in Hawai’i as a result of the cocoa beans grown there. While growing cocoa beans in the US is a new industry and there’s always a learning curve, some of the cocoa beans grown in Hawai’i are of excellent quality.

Unlike Hawai’i, South Florida has no commercial cocoa plantations. South Florida has occasional cold snaps that could kill the trees. Moreover, because the wood of a cocoa tree is very soft, the trees are especially susceptible to wind damage. Given the fact that tropical storms and hurricanes sometimes affect South Florida, growing cocoa beans there on a commercial scale isn’t really viable.

The next time anyone insists that cocoa beans don’t grow in the US, you’ll know better! Just tell them that cocoa beans can indeed flourish in the US, and some of them are very very good.