From cacao to chocolate
Chocolate is sweet. Everyone loves it especially at this time of the year. It can be made into different products apart from the chocolate bar itself: chocolate spread, pebbles, milk, and even used in bakery. Have you ever wondered how it’s made? Journey with us as we discover what goes on behind the scenes.
1. Cultivation of the cacao plant
The plant that produces the cocoa is called the cacao tree. Regions around the equator about 20degrees north and south favor the growth of the cacao tree which involves a mix of sun, rain, and shade. So far, there are about 4 varieties of this tree- Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario, and The Nacional. Some trees can start producing fruits after 3 or 4 years.
Each tree can produce between 20-40 pods each year. The pods contain cocoa beans.
2. Harvest and fermentation
The cacao plant is a delicate plant. When the pods are ripped, they changed from green to yellow/orange. Farmers have to pick them up by hand or with a stick that has a sharp knife at the edge. This is to prevent harming the fruits on the tree which have not yet developed. The pods are collected in buckets and sent to a processing house. Each pod contains about 50 beans.
Fresh cocoa beans are bitter at this stage but fermentation occurs to change their flavor and colour. The beans are scooped out into a box with a lid or heaped into a pile on mats then covered with banana leaves.
The cocoa beans are surrounded by a sweet moist white covering termed pulp. Fermentation occurs when the pulp is converted into alcohol by the yeasts present in the air and heat caused by the pile or the box. Fermentation can last for about 6-8 days depending on the variant of the cocoa as well as climatic conditions. Farmers rake the beans every 2 days to introduce oxygen which converts the alcohol into acids eventually hanging the flavor from bitter to the beginning of the chocolate flavor. It also allows the liquid around the beans to leak out of the box or pile leaving just the beans. Better fermentation results in better flavour.
3. Drying and shipping
After fermentation, the cocoa bean obtains about 60% water content which has to be reduced to at least 6%. It is done by spreading the beans on a wooden box or bamboo mats and exposing it to direct sunlight for about 1-2 weeks. Sometimes, electrical dryers are used on larger scales. The beans lose water and their colour changes from reddish-brown to dark brown.
Afterward, the beans are packed into sacks and sold on the international market or to a chocolate manufacturer directly.
The next stages turn the raw cocoa bean into chocolate.
4. Cleaning, Roasting, and Winnowing
Manufacturers clean or remove unwanted materials that may have found themselves in the package.
Afterward, the cocoa bean goes through a roaster machine for about 30 mins at 50 degrees Celsius. Roasting accomplishes the following:
· It kills any organism that may be present on the bean. This is because microbes aid with the fermentation process.
· It makes it easier to separate the outer husk from the inner bean.
· It promotes chemical reactions which is an integral part of imparting flavor on the chocolate. Just like fermentation, roasting is crucial in imparting the final flavor of the chocolate. Good roasting conditions yield good flavored chocolate.
After roasting, the outer shell of the bean is removed to expose the inner bean termed cocoa nibs in a process called winnowing.
The cocoa nibs are grounded into a paste called cocoa liquor or cocoa mass.
Cocoa liquor contains over 300 chemical compounds that give chocolate its addictive, aphrodisiac, and euphoria-inducing attributes. The liquor imparts a distinctive flavor and aroma to finished chocolate. Under high pressure, the paste separates into two components: cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
6. Making the chocolate
After grinding, the cocoa liquor goes through a process to remove about 80% of the cocoa butter leaving a majority of the cocoa powder. The cocoa powder is still bitter so additives are added depending on the preference of the manufacturer. Basically, cocoa butter is re-added in a solid form plus other sweeteners to reconstitute the powder into chocolate. For instance:
· Dark chocolate- cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sugar.
· Milk chocolate- cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder.
· White chocolate-cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder. It doesn’t use cocoa powder and is sometimes not considered as true chocolate.
Lethicin and vanilla may be added to develop the flavor.
It is a process of careful rolling, kneading, and aeration of the chocolate paste. It is the last most important process of refining the chocolate to develop its flavors and textures. Conching can take hours or days depending on the manufacturer: The chocolate is conched (mixed) in a large machine until it reaches the consistency that the manufacturer likes.
8. Tempering and molding
To achieve firmness and stability, the chocolate is slowly brought to a certain temperature through a process called tempering. It is then molded into mass chocolate bars of different shapes or sent to other distributors for finished products such as candies and so on.
Chocolate is inevitable mouth-watering as it melts the palate of the tongues. It goes through a careful systematic procedure. The next time you bite a piece of chocolate, appreciate its uniqueness and its origin.
- The production of chocolate. Retrieved from https://www.sfu.ca/geog351fall03/groups-webpages/gp8/prod/prod.html
- Champlain Chocolate. How is chocolate made from cacao? Retrieved from https://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/making-chocolate/
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