If you are a sucker for chocolate, you would probably know that it comes from cacao beans. However, not many people know about the entire process of how cacao beans turn into chocolate bars. The process takes many days and is complex as well. Since cacao beans are initially bitter, they have to be fermented. Thus, they must undergo several processes before they develop the lovely flavor that people worldwide favor. Keep reading to learn more about the cacao tree and the different processes resulting in the cacao beans transforming into chocolate bars.
The Cacao Trees
Chocolate is made from the cacao tree, formally referred to as the Theobroma Cacao. This tree is delicate and requires much attention and care before they yield fruit. Four main varieties of cacao can come from the trees, namely-
- Forastero: This is the most commonly found and productive variety of cacao. Thicker pods characterize the trees, and the beans have a strong flavor of chocolate. This variety is generally in Africa and Brazil.
- Trinitario: This cross of Forastero and Criollo originated in Trinidad. The pods are smooth and have a nice flavor.
- Criollo: The prince of cacaos, you can find this variety in the Caribbean and Central America. Though the beans are of high quality, the yield is low.
- The Nacional: This variety is in the west of the Andes, in South America. Though it has a fantastic aroma, it is hard to grow as it is disease-prone.
Harvesting Of Cacao Beans
Since the cacao tree is delicate and reaches about 25 meters, picking the beans is difficult. After the workers pick the pods from the tree, they collect them in baskets for the breaking operation to commence. A good breaker can open up to 500 pods an hour, and they break either by using a machete to inflict two lengthwise blows on the pods or rapping the pod on a tree or a rock. Then, they scoop the beans out for the next process, that is, fermentation. Thus, one can make one pound of chocolate from approximately 500 cacao beans.
Fermenting Of The Beans
The cacao beans need to be fermented, or they won’t develop the beans’ natural flavors. The main reason to ferment the beans is to remove or reduce astringency to highlight the complete cacao flavor. This process generally takes two days to a week, depending on the variety of cacao beans. The fermentation process contains two phases- the anaerobic phase and the aerobic phase. In the former phase of two days, the sugar and yeast in the pulp that surrounds the beans transform into carbon dioxide and alcohol. In the latter phase, after two days, the beans are aerated. Finally, the alcohol turns into acetic acid, and the beans are covered with banana leaves to facilitate fermentation.
Drying And Manufacturing
After fermentation, the beans are sun-dried. While in smaller plantations, the beans are spread and turned over by hand, electric dryers aid in drying in larger plantations. This process takes around a week or two, and the beans change color from reddish-brown to brown or dark brown. The drying process marks the beginning of the manufacturing process. Before cacao beans go to the manufacturing facility, they need to be inspected and approved to ensure the best quality of cacao beans.
Sorting, Cleaning, And Roasting
After the stringent processes of quality control, that is, sorting and cleaning, the beans are roasted, which leads to the aroma of cacao beans becoming even more pronounced and intoxicated. Moreover, the process of roasting kills any microorganisms that might be present in the bean. Also, it aids in the later process of cracking and winnowing. Therefore, roasting is a very crucial process to determine the flavor of the chocolate.
Winnowing, Grinding Of The Nib, And Conching
In the “winnowing” process, they remove the shells of the beans so that only the roasted cocoa nib remains. The nib is the main ingredient to make chocolate. Next, these get ground into a paste-like substance called cocoa mass or chocolate liquor. This liquor gives a distinctive aroma and flavor to the finished chocolate. The penultimate process called conching involves grinding the cocoa mass even more. In this stage, they add other ingredients like sugar and other flavorings. Conching imparts a smoother texture to the finished chocolate.
Finishing The Chocolate
Lastly, cocoa butter is blended in various quantities with chocolate liquor to make different types of chocolates. The final process to finish the making of chocolate is tempering. Tempering ensures that the cocoa butter crystals in the end product are of uniform size. The result is a lovely sheen and a crisp bitey texture in the chocolate.
This process is fascinating because most people don’t realize that chocolate comes from trees. Next time you eat some chocolate, remember the process and savor it! It is a long process to make the end product so smooth and luxurious, but it is worth it.