Many a person loves a good chocolate fix, but few know anything about how the chocolatey treat in their hand came to be made. There is a standard process that most basic forms of chocolate go through in order to make it from cacao bean to candy bar.
Ah, chocolate...rich, sweet (or bittersweet, perhaps, depending on your preference), and just so, so good. Many a person loves a good chocolate fix now and then. Few, however, know anything about how the chocolatey treat in their hand came to be made. There is a standard process that most basic forms of chocolate go through in order to make it from nature to candy.
It all starts out with the cacao bean. The beans are encased in a pod, which typically grows on a small tree in warm climates. These pods contain both bean and pulpa, a “sweet, mucilaginous pulp” made up of 10% glucose and fructose (Belitz, Grosch 703). This surrounds anywhere from 20 to 40 cacao beans, and both the beans and the pulpa are harvested for this first step.
The beans and pulpa are left to ferment for two to eight days and are occasionally mixed to allow oxygen in. The temperature is raised to around 45-50?C, which causes the beans to lose the ability to germinate, the pulpa to decompose/liquefy, and the pH of the mixture to become acidic (Belitz, Grosch 704). Flavor precursors and the chocolate-brown color also come about as a result of the fermentation process, along with the formation of several amino acids (Beckett 15).
After fermentation, the beans must be dried immediately. If the moisture level rises above 8%, then mould will almost certainly form (Beckett 16). If the moisture content falls below 6%, however, the beans will be over-dried (Beckett 15), spoiling them beyond use.
After they are dried correctly, the beans must be cleaned. The cleaning process is done to remove dirt and stones from the batch before moving on to the next process. The batch being worked with is placed onto a large, vibrating grid. Air is blown up through the grid, and it is slightly tilted. Due to the differing densities of the beans and the stones being removed, the beans are blown up higher and remain on the grid, while the stones eventually fall off (Beckett 31-32). This cleans the batch of unwanted elements.
The next step is roasting. This further reduces the moisture content and gets rid of pests (Belitz, Grosch 704), along with killing harmful microorganisms and enhancing the aroma and color (Beckett 32). This entire process is fairly short when compared to the previous ones. It only lasts for about 10-35 minutes, with the temperature being raised at this point to around 150?C (Belitz, Grosch 704). Afterwards, the beans are immediately removed and cooled to prepare them for the next step.
The next stage is winnowing. The batch is put into a special machine that removes shells and eliminates germ rootlets (Belitz, Grosch 704).
After winnowing, the cocoa must be mixed. While chocolate was originally made directly from the nibs, nowadays, the nibs are usually processed beforehand into cocoa liquor or powder (Belitz, Grosch 708). The chocolate liquor is usually what gets mixed, even though the nibs could still technically be used. When using the liquor, however, the cocoa is mixed with crystalline sucrose, cocoa butter, aroma/flavoring substances, and sometimes other ingredients (Belitz, Grosch 709). For example, milk chocolate is also mixed with milk powder. After the process of mixing, a homogeneous paste is formed, which then must be refined.
Refining involves sending the cocoa mixture over rollers. The paste is ripened in warm chambers, with temperatures usually between 45-50?C, for a full day. This allows the fat to become uniformly distributed throughout the cocoa particles. The mixture is then liquefied with residual cocoa butter and further homogenized (Belitz, Grosch 709).
The cooling stage is next, which is what brings chocolate from a liquid form to the solid form we typically buy in the store. Chocolate is normally kept as a liquid right until it is ready to be packed and shipped, and is then solidified and molded (Beckett 49). The molten chocolate is cooled from 50?C to 18?C within a ten minute time frame, all the while being stirred constantly. Then, within the five following minutes, it is raised somewhere between 29-31?C (Belitz, Grosch 709). The chocolate is then stored at 30-32?C until it is ready to be molded. The molds themselves are warmed, and as the chocolate enters them, they pass over a vibrating shaker in order to release air bubbles. Upon being in the molds, the chocolate is delivered to a cooling channel, where the temperature is finally reduced to 10?C (Belitz, Grosch 709). The chocolate can then be removed from the molds, packaged, and shipped.
From cacao bean to chocolate bar, cocoa undergoes a variety of complex processes. The production is long and complicated for something usually taken for granted as being a simple treat. Regardless of the work it takes to make it, however, the end result certainly seems worth it!
Beckett, Stephen T. The Science of Chocolate. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2004.
Belitz, H. D., and W. Grosch. Food Chemistry. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag Berlin, 1987.