What is Chocolate?

What is chocolate and how is it grown, harvested and processed.

What is chocolate and where does it come from?

Chocolate is the ingredient which is made from the cacao pod. Through a long process of harvesting, drying, conching and mixing, you get the result of a silky smooth chocolate which is packed full of flavour. The cacao pods can only be grown in certain areas around the world which is close to the equator. This is because for the tree to grow, it needs humidity and heat all of which can be found in places such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana.


Harvesting the pods

A pod has a rough leathery rind about 3 cm (1¼ inch) thick. It is filled with slimy pinkish pulp, sweet but inedible, enclosing from 30 to 50 large beans that are fairly soft and pinkish or purplish in colour. As soon as they ripe, the pods are removed with a curved knife on a long pole, opened with a machete, and left to dry until taken to the next stage of fermentation.

Then the beans are removed and piled in heaps, bins, or on grates where, during several days of "sweating", the thick pulp ferments until it thins and trickles off. The quality of the beans, which originally have a strong bitter taste, depends upon this sweating. If it is overdone they may be ruined; if underdone they have a flavour like raw potatoes and are susceptible to mildew.

Then the beans are spread out, constantly raked over, and dried. On larger plantations this is done using huge trays, either outdoors by sunshine or in sheds by artificial heat. However, thousands of ton from smaller producers are dried on small trays. Finally, the beans are trodden and shuffled about and sometimes, during this process red clay mixed with water is sprinkled over the beans to get a finer colour, polish, and protect it against mould during transportation to factories all around the world.



The making of chocolate 

Chocolate producers once receive the beans, roast them to a specific temperature and time depending on the recipe for the chocolate and the overall taste complexity. They then crush them to make the cocoa butter and the chocolate liquor come out of beans. Then the chocolate producer mixes different ingredients together to make the desired type of chocolate. This can be dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate. There are other types of chocolate out there though such as Ruby chocolate and caramel chocolate, but these go through a slightly different process to the basic 3.

 After these ingredients are put together, the chocolate producer moves onto the stage called conching. Conching means crushing the chocolate very finely and keeping it warm so that it is liquid. Before chocolate is conched, it feels very rough in the mouth instead of smooth. Conches use heavy rollers that plow back and forth through the chocolate paste under regulated speeds and temperatures. Conching for several hours to several days gives the producer the desired chocolate. Every producer has it's own secrets on what they want from it and usually kept from the public.

The last step in making chocolate is called tempering. This is a vital part of the chocolate as it gives the snap and shine to any bar of chocolate out there. The process involves heating up the chocolate to a certain temperature, cooling it down and bringing it back up a couple degrees. This is an interesting topic as there are a few ways to temper the chocolate of which I will cover in the next blog post. Hope you enjoyed this little insight on how chocolate is made.