ca·​cao | \ kə-ˈkau̇ How to pronounce cacao (audio) , kə-ˈkā-(ˌ)ō\
plural cacaos

Definition of cacao

1 or cacao bean : the dried partly fermented fatty seeds of a South American evergreen tree (Theobroma cacao of the family Sterculiaceae) that are used in making cocoa, chocolate, and cocoa butter … polyphenols also make cacao beans taste astringent and bitter.— Patricia Gadsby

called also cocoa bean

2 or cacao tree : a tree having small yellowish flowers followed by fleshy pods from which cacao is obtained Chocolate starts as the seeds in the fruits of the cacao tree, a tropical plant that produces flowers and fruit not at the tips of branches but on the trunk.— Kenneth Chang The cacao tree is native to the tropical countries of South America, but now grows in other parts of the world, notably Africa, the West Indies, and Central America.— Joanna Morris

Illustration of cacao

Illustration of cacao

cacao 2

Examples of cacao in a Sentence

a farmer who grows cacao

Recent Examples on the Web

Archaeologist Patricia McAnany has argued that the presence of northerners in the river valleys of central Belize may be related to the lucrative trade of cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made. Gabriel D. Wrobel, The Conversation, "Trophies made from human skulls hint at regional conflicts around the time of Maya civilization’s mysterious collapse," 10 June 2019 Some of the activists were active proponents of aspects of the peace accord, including substitution programs to replace coca plants with new crops like coffee and cacao, as well as victim rights initiatives and land restitution. Washington Post, "Artist pays homage to murdered Colombia rights activists," 10 June 2019 Her bright home kitchen, perched on a hill above Mission Dolores Park, also held fermenting cacao beans, mesquite flour and fluffy tamales. Julia Moskin, New York Times, "This Mexican Chef Is Having a Very Good Year," 4 June 2019 Sprinkle with some of the cacao nib crumble before serving. Ben Mims,, "Culinary SOS: Botanica’s Gluten-Free Buckwheat Brownies," 5 June 2019 Soon, Egerstedt hopes the robots will be meeting their real-world counterparts at a cacao plantation in Costa Rica, where real sloths live. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "This Robotic Sloth Is Purposely Slow," 30 May 2019 Mascarenhas told me about an attempt to create a cacao industry in the reserve so that locals could live sustainably. Paula Moura, ProPublica, "Why Carbon Credits For Forest Preservation May Be Worse Than Nothing," 22 May 2019 Hibiscadelphus wilderianus, of the Malvaceae or mallows family (along with cotton and cacao), was a casualty of colonial cattle farming on the island of Maui. Jill Kiedaisch, Popular Mechanics, "You Can Now Smell a Flower That Went Extinct a Century Ago," 16 Apr. 2019 Of course, cauliflower and leek stew, pumpkin and chai overnight oats, and our personal favorite cacao and avocado smoothie are a far cry from the ramen soup of our college days. SELF, "The Best Meal-Kit Delivery Services to Try in 2019," 1 Jan. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cacao.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of cacao

1555, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for cacao

Spanish, from Nahuatl cacahuatl

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cacao

Statistics for cacao

Last Updated

1 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for cacao

The first known use of cacao was in 1555

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cacao



English Language Learners Definition of cacao

: the dried seeds of a tropical tree that are used to make cocoa and chocolate


ca·​cao | \ kə-ˈkau̇ How to pronounce cacao (audio) , kə-ˈkā-ō\
plural cacaos

Kids Definition of cacao

: a South American tree with fleshy yellow pods that contain fatty seeds from which chocolate is made


ca·​cao | \ kə-ˈkau̇ How to pronounce cacao (audio) , kə-ˈkā-(ˌ)ō How to pronounce cacao (audio) \
plural cacaos

Medical Definition of cacao

1 : the dried partly fermented fatty seeds of a South American evergreen tree (Theobroma cacao of the family Sterculiaceae) that are used in making cocoa, chocolate, and cocoa butter

called also cacao bean, cocoa bean

2 : a tree having small yellowish flowers followed by fleshy pods with many seeds that bear cacao

called also chocolate tree

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on cacao

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cacao

Spanish Central: Translation of cacao

Nglish: Translation of cacao for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about cacao

Comments on cacao

What made you want to look up cacao? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


food or victuals

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!