If you’ve ever eaten a cacao bean before it has been treated, you know that many steps must be taken to turn this bitter bean into the sweet treat so many people love. The processes of making chocolate are many, and chocolate lovers know the candy is worth the wait.
The First Steps: Cacao Bean Processing
Cacao beans are found on cacao trees and, when grown in subtropical areas like Central America, these buds are available year-round.
The production process commonly runs as follows:
• Harvesting: Still done by hand, the harvesting process involves cutting cacao pods from the trees without damaging the buds. The beans are then carefully plucked from the moist white pulp of the pods.
• Fermentation: The pulp and beans are then put into a bin or box to ferment, and the beans are stirred gently throughout the process to introduce alcohol into the mix. The fermented liquid then seeps out of holes in the box, leaving just the beans behind.
• Drying: After the cocoa beans are fermented, they must be dried before being shipped or stored. In warm, dry climates, the beans are dried in the sun. In wet, tropical areas, the beans are dried in sheds.
• Roasting: When the beans arrive at a cocoa manufacturing plant, they are extensively tested before going into a roaster for 10 to 35 minutes, allowing the shell of the bean to separate from the kernel. The shells are then winnowed away from the kernel.
• Grinding: Cocoa nibs are then ground to liquefy the cocoa butter inside, producing chocolate liquor, the liquid used in making chocolate products. Cocoa butter is then mixed with the chocolate liquor in varying ratios to make different cocoa tastes.
Manufacturing Chocolate to be Eaten
In the final processes of making chocolate, cocoa liquor is mixed with cocoa butter and sugar. The percentage of each of these ingredients present in the mixture will determine the variety of the chocolate, such as milk or bittersweet.
For milk chocolate, condensed or powdered milk is added. Other chocolate makers add vanilla or a number of secret ingredients to develop their distinct flavors.
After the ingredients are put together, conching takes place–meaning a special machine will massage the chocolate mixture to blend it and make it smooth.
Finally, tempering takes place. This controlled heating and cooling process allows cocoa butter molecules to solidify correctly, which prevents the butter from separating from the mixture.
After reaching this stage, chocolate bars or beverages with chocolate can be made as people around the world are enjoying chocolate.