Ever wonder how that wonderful substance known as chocolate is made? All of your questions are answered as we take you from seed to store, explaining exactly how chocolate is made. Sit back for a sweet lesson in cocoa.
The cocoa tree was named Theobroma Cocoa by Carl Linnaeus, which translates to “food of the gods”.
Food of the Gods
The cocoa bean is the basic ingredient from which chocolate comes from, and it grows in tropical (and sub-tropical) regions of South America, Africa, and Asia. The seeds, or beans, are contained within a pod that grows directly out of the trunk or larger limbs. Cacao trees require shade as they grow to thirty feet tall and require a hot, humid environment with regular rainfall and good soil. Often they grow underneath the protection of mango or banana trees.
The pods, when harvested, are 6-12 inches long and 2-4 inches wide and contain 20-60 beans, or seeds, in a white pulp. It takes approximately 300 seeds to produce about 2 pounds of chocolate liquor. Pods are harvested year round with two primary picking seasons; Fall and Spring.
The pods are opened by hand; the pulp and beans are removed and placed in fermentation vats (traditionally beans were allowed to ferment in piles under banana leaves). Fermentation helps to bring out the flavors we associate with premium chocolate while killing the germ within the bean. The beans ferment for up to a week and require rotation throughout the process to maintain even temperature and fermentation throughout the vat.
Beans are then dried to reduce the moisture content. This process is now often completed in forced hot air dryers but traditional cocoa beans were dried in the sun or over fires. Once dried, the cocoa bean is packed in sacks, sold, and shipped to chocolate manufacturers throughout the world.
At the Plant
When received at chocolate manufacturers the beans are first cleaned to remove any foreign bodies, this may include other organic matter (twigs, dried pulp, etc.) and non-organic matter (rocks and packaging material). Then the beans are sorted by size and are roasted. Roasting is performed at a variety of temperatures and varying times based on the size of the beans, type, origin, and the intended flavor profile.
The beans are removed from the roaster and then go to the winnower. Winnowing is the process that removes the outer shell of the bean. What remains is the cocoa nib. Beans, or nibs, are then ground and the resulting mass is called chocolate liquor. The make-up of this mass is approximately 50% cocoa butter and 50% non-fat cocoa solids.
Chocolate liquor has nothing to do with alcohol.
The liquor can be used directly or pressed with the goal to extract all the cocoa butter from the mass. Pressing allows for the production of cocoa powder and use of cocoa butter in industries other than chocolate production.
Getting the Recipe Right
Ingredients including both cocoa and non-cocoa products are mixed together. These ingredients usually include sugar and milk powders. The recipe is then refined using a five roll mill refiner to get the particle size of the product from 15 to 25 microns. Chocolate, now somewhat “liquidy”, moves to the conch. The conching, or stirring, homogenizes, dries, and refines the mass making it smoother on the tongue and to the pallet.
Now the chocolate must be tempered so that it can be made into bars or coins. It is tempering that gives chocolate both snap and shine. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling in conjunction with the movement of chocolate to align the fat molecules to give it that familiar snap and shine. As an example, dark chocolate needs to be heated to 115 °F, cooled to 81 °F, and then re-warmed to 86-88 °F.
The Best Part
Once the chocolate is tempered and cooled, there is only one more step. Place the chocolate in your mouth and allow it to melt on your tongue, and enjoy! Now if someone asks “how is chocolate made?” you will have the knowledge to answer the question.