Cocoa powder and the many different types of chocolate are all derived from cocoa beans, the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree. These small trees are native to the tropical America but are extensively cultivated elsewhere in the tropics.
The tree begins to bear fruit when it is 4-5 years old. The small pink flowers and succeeding fruit pods grow directly from the trunk and main branches. On average a full grown tree may produce 6000 flowers, only twenty of which will become pods. A pod weighs about 1 pound (450g), and contains 20-40 seeds, or cocoa beans, which resemble plump almonds and are covered with a sweet white pulp. An ordinary bean has a dark brown or purple flesh, with a bitter, astringent and nutty taste.
The Mayas and Aztecs of Central America, or what is known as Mexico, were the first know drinkers of chocolate. In 1519 the Spanish explorer Cortes discovered the beverage and introduced it to the Spanish court, after observing the Aztec Emperor, Montezuma consuming it.
The drinking chocolate was made by drying the cocoa beans and roasting them over a fire. Water was then added and the beans pounded to a paste, often spices, nuts and powdered flowers were added.
The chocolate making process is somewhat long and involved. When the cocoa beans (seeds) have been scooped from the pods, they are piled onto leaves, covered with more leaves and left for several days. The sugary pulp surrounding the beans begins to ferment.
After fermentation the wet beans are dried, on mats, wooden platforms or in drying equipment. After drying, the beans are packed into bags ready for transportation to the next stage.
At the factory the beans are sorted, cleaned and roasted for an hour in rotating drums at 275’F (135’C).
The roasted beans are then “kibbled", a process in which they pass between rolls of serrated cones placed at such a distance apart that the beans are cracked rather than crushed. The cracked shell is carried away by an air-blast(a process called winnowing).
The broken beans or nibs are then ground between steel rollers. Because the cocoa beans are 50% fat (cocoa butter) and the grinding process generates heat, the crisp nutty cocoa nibs emerge as thick brown liquid. When cooled this solidifies to a hard block of unsweetened chocolate known as a “mass". This is the basis of all chocolate products.
Cocoa is made by extracting 70-80% of the butter. The hard dry cake which remains is then ground, reground and sieved.
To make plain chocolate, extra cocoa butter and powdered sugar are added to the “mass".
Milk chocolate has sweetened full cream milk added which has been condensed into a rich creamy liquid. At these stages the chocolate has a rough texture. After being ground and mixed the liquid chocolate is further ground (Conched) with heavy rollers to produce a smooth velvety texture.
This article was written by John Jarmola, a freelance consultant Food Technologist. For help or advise on producing chocolate and or chocolate products, or to increase your knowledge visit: http://chocolate-center.info/