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Oompa loompa seeds

Be a real-life Oompa Loompa!

Is there such a thing as too much chocolate? Wait! Don’t answer till you’ve travelled the chocolate timeline.

We all love chocolate, no matter how old or young we are. There are times when we spot our parents and grandparents gobbling up some chocolate on the sly! Chocolate has captured the imagination of storytellers and filmmakers alike.

Remember ‘Hansel and Gretel’, where the witch’s house was made out of chocolate and candy? Or the exciting varieties of sweets sold in Honeydukes, the sweet shop in Hogsmeade village in the Harry Potter series?

Roald Dahl’s famous book ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is equally popular as a movie. The plot revolves around children who love chocolate and Mr Willy Wonka’s factory, which makes amazing chocolates.

Did you know that chocolate was once used by people to pay taxes?

It is believed cocoa was first cultivated in 2000 BC in the Amazon. The term ‘chocolate’ is derived from an Aztec word, ‘xocalatl’, which means ‘bitter water’! Indeed, chocolate in its early avatar was a bitter liquid.

The Aztecs and Mayans are known to have used it in religious ceremonies. The Aztecs even added flavours like chilli and vanilla, and used it as a health drink. They also used it as currency, exchanging the cacao seeds for food.

Some records say that chocolate was first brought to Europe in the 16th century. The Europeans added sugar to make it sweet and removed the chilli from it. In the beginning, chocolate was made in mechanical mills, which removed the cocoa butter to make a solid bar of chocolate. This was a deviation from the traditional health drink. Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, bigger and more advanced machines were designed to make chocolates.

Chocolate is made from the seed of the cacao tree. Flowers grow on the trunk of the cacao tree. These flowers then grow into a pod, which has nearly 30 or 40 seeds. A pulp covers these seeds.

The cacao seed is very bitter and has to go through many stages of processing before we can eat it. The seed is first fermented. There are two ways of fermenting cacao seeds. One is by covering the wet seeds with banana leaves, and leaving them a maximum of seven days. The other way is to use ‘sweating boxes’, or wooden boxes with drains or holes at the bottom of the box, to enable air and moisture to circulate.

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During the fermentation, changes take place to the seeds. They get the colour and taste of chocolate. They should not be kept for fermentation for more than seven days, as this can have an adverse effect on the seeds.

After the fermentation, the seeds are left out in the sun to dry. Drying has to be done very carefully. If the seeds get too dry, the chocolate can be bitter. If they remain a little moist, it can result in mold or fungus, which will ruin the chocolate. The dried beans are roasted and shelled, and then sold to manufacturers.

The seeds arrive at the factory, ready to be made into yummy treats. They are cleaned, and dust, stems or stones, if present, are removed. The seeds are put through huge sieves, to ensure that they come out clean.

After this, they are roasted. This is again an important step. The temperature has to be correct, otherwise they can be burnt. The seeds are put into a machine and winnowed, to remove the shells. What is left now is called nibs. The nibs are ground into a fine cocoa mass. Cocoa butter and powder is a result of applying pressure on the cocoa mass.

Chocolate is now made by adding milk, sugar, chocolate liquer, and other ingredients to the cocoa mass. After a process called ‘conching’, where a machine kneads the mass into a mixture, it is poured into moulds to be made into cubes, balls, animal shapes, cars and all the different and exciting shapes we see.

The next time your family makes a chocolate cake at home, try this: take a small amount of cocoa powder, add some powdered sugar and milk to it and mix it well. Now you have a small portion of a simple chocolate sauce. Divide it into two or three portions.

Remember, each portion should not be more than a spoonful. Toss a tiny pinch of pepper powder into one. Try to crush some chilli and put a small pinch into the next portion.
Alternatively, you can use chilli sauce, if you have it at home.

Keep in mind that you have only a small amount of chocolate, so add only a very small portion of chilli and pepper. In the last portion, add a tiny drop of vanilla essence. Taste each one, and see if you like the different flavours. Vanilla-flavoured chocolate is common and will not taste strange. You can now tell your friends that you ate a 2000-year-old chocolate flavour!

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A beautiful plant with an unusual name

Those of us who hunt nurseries for interesting plants, occasionally come across something new to us that is lovely. I recently found a beautiful plant with bright orange tubular flowers and a most unusual name. “Oompa Loompa” is a hybridized cultivar of Tecoma stans to which the botanical name Tecoma x smithii is sometimes assigned. William Watson of London first described this hybrid in 1893. It has taken more than 100 years of cultivation, to select qualities that are into this cultivar that now has a funny name.

Those of us who hunt nurseries for interesting plants, occasionally come across something new to us that is lovely. I recently found a beautiful plant with bright orange tubular flowers and a most unusual name. “Oompa Loompa” is a hybridized cultivar of Tecoma stans to which the botanical name Tecoma x smithii is sometimes assigned. William Watson of London first described this hybrid in 1893. It has taken more than 100 years of cultivation, to select qualities that are into this cultivar that now has a funny name.

Of course, fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may remember the Oompa Loompas as natives of Loompaland. They were short, had orange complexion and green hair. That description could also apply to Tecoma stans “Oompa Loompa.” It is a dwarf shrub, with orange blossoms and green leaves. It is, however, far more attractive than the Chocolate Factory dwarfs.

Further research led me to a litany of common names for this species. Native to South America, the plant is known in Texas as “Esperanza.” In other warm parts of the U.S. where it grows, it is known as “Orange Jubilee” and “Orange Bells.’” Frankly, I prefer the “Oompa Loompa” name.

Tecoma is a genus of 14 species of shrubs or small trees in the trumpet vine or Bignoniaceae family. The generic name is derived from the Aztec word tecomaxochitl, which was applied by indigenous people of Mexico to plants with tubular flowers.

“Oompa Loompa” is likely a hybrid created from her cousin, the original Tecoma stans. It has a yellow trumpet-shaped flower and is known as “Yellow Bells.” The yellow variety is well known and currently more widely available. It is celebrated as the official flower for the U.S. Virgin Islands and is the floral emblem of the Bahamas. “Yellow Bells” as well as the “Oompa Loompa” and a recent red-flowered hybrid are all members of the trumpet vine family. All are attractive shrubs with similar characteristics, though with different colored flowers.

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“Oompa Loompa” has many appealing qualities in addition to the clusters of bright orange flowers that grow on racemes at the end of branches, nearly year round. The individual blossoms are more than an inch across when opened and about two inches long. The clusters often have many flowers that weight the branches down a bit into a weeping habit. The glossy green leaves of this plant are pinnately compound with serrated margins.

The orange flowers are not only attractive to us. Butterflies, hummingbirds and bees often visit “Oompa Loompa” for the flower’s nectar and serve as pollinators. The pollinated flowers leave five-inch seed pods behind. They are slim, light brown and bean-like in appearance and full of seeds. Each seed is encased in a clear film that allows it to catch the wind and spread easily. To avoid self-seeding, it is best to remove and dispose of the pods when they appear.

Cuttings are another a good way to propagate “Oompa Loompa.” A 4- to 6-inch piece of softwood stem can be dipped in a rooting hormone and placed in a 50/50 moist mix of vermiculite and perlite for a few months until it puts our new leaves and develops good roots. The new plant will do well in a sunny spot that has soil that drains well.

“Oompa Loompa” is a dwarf hybrid and usually grows to less than 6 feet tall. It has a horizontal growth habit and can spread to about 4 feet. It is useful as part of a small hedge, does well as a container plant and makes an attractive specimen wherever it grows. Once established “Oompa Loompa” can thrive in full, hot sun and is somewhat drought tolerant.

Maintaining “Oompa Loompa” is fairly easy. The plants grow quickly and may require occasional pruning to maintain a desired size and shape. They have low water requirements and only need occasional light fertilizing a few times a year.

Typically, few pests or diseases attack this plant. It is subject to root rot, however, if planted in soil that does not drain well. Check it frequently for symptoms of this disease or any occasional insect attacks.

However you choose to grow “Oompa Loompa,” I’m sure it will add beauty and charm to your garden as well as delight to those who ask for her name.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona.