Chocolate is a beloved treat enjoyed worldwide. Have you ever wondered how this delectable delight is made?

Today we'll explore the fascinating process of creating chocolate from cacao beans. 

Cacao - The Beginning of Chocolate Making

Cacao, the fruit from which chocolate is derived, is grown around the equator in economically challenged countries. Unfortunately, the commercial chocolate available widely masks the delicate flavor potential of cacao.

However, craft chocolate makers are working diligently to highlight the true essence of cacao in their products. The journey of cacao from fruit to chocolate has evolved over centuries, with various recipes and techniques leading to the terms "cocoa" and "cacao" in the chocolate-making lexicon.

Chocolate Making from Tree to Bar

1. Cultivation

The process of making chocolate starts with growing cacao trees. Cacao trees need warm and humid climates, so they thrive within 20 degrees of the equator. Farmers either plant fresh cacao seeds or graft high-quality cacao onto existing trees. It takes years for the trees to bear fruit in the form of colorful cacao pods.

2. Collection

When the cacao pods are ripe, farmers harvest them. These pods are small and shaped like footballs, growing on branches where they get enough sunlight. They come from tiny flowers that are pollinated by tiny flies called midges. Different types of cacao trees produce different kinds of beans, each with unique flavors and fat content.

3. Fermentation

After harvesting, the beans are taken out of the pods and left to ferment. This process happens in wooden boxes covered with banana leaves to create the right conditions. Fermentation reduces the bitter taste of the beans and helps develop the chocolate flavor. It's a bit smelly, but it's essential for the final taste.

4. Drying

Once fermented, the beans need to be dried to prevent mold and continue flavor development. Drying takes about 5 to 10 days on average. In some places with a lot of humidity, they use wood fires to dry the beans faster, which gives them a smoky flavor.

5. Shipment

When the beans are dried, they are packed into big sacks made of jute and sent to middlemen or directly to chocolate makers.

6. Sorting

At the chocolate maker's place, the beans are carefully sorted to remove any dirt, rocks, or damaged beans. This ensures that only the best beans go into making chocolate.

7. Roasting

Next, the beans are roasted to bring out their full flavor. The roasting temperature and time influence the taste of the chocolate. The chocolatey flavor we love starts forming during roasting.

8. Cracking & Winnowing

After roasting, the beans are cracked to remove the outer husks, leaving behind cacao nibs. This step is called winnowing, and it helps refine the cacao.

9. Grinding

The cacao nibs are ground to create a smooth paste. Stone or metal grinders are used for this. Some chocolate makers use hand-cranked grinders for small batches.

10. Conching/Refining

To make the chocolate smooth and tasty, the paste goes through conching and refining. This mixes the chocolate, making it less bitter and more enjoyable.

11. Tempering

Tempering is an important step to give the chocolate a glossy appearance and a satisfying snap. It stabilizes the cocoa butter, making the chocolate look and feel good.

12. Molding & Packaging

Finally, the chocolate is molded into bars or other shapes and left to set. Once ready, it's packaged in various ways to keep it fresh and attractive for us to enjoy. And that's how we get delicious chocolate from cacao trees!

Is Chocolate Different in Other Countries?

Regional Variations in Chocolate

Depending on the country, the chocolate you encounter can vary significantly. In different regions, cacao has been consumed in various forms throughout history. For example, in Mexico and Central America, unsweetened chocolate is used in savory traditional dishes, while the Philippines features a bittersweet chocolate beverage called tableya. Despite modern globalization, regional differences in chocolate persist, with varying preferences in ingredients and flavors.

Hershey's vs. European Milk Chocolate

A striking example of regional variation is the difference between Hershey's chocolate, beloved in the United States, and European milk chocolate, often preferred in Europe. The varying taste is attributed to the milk powder used in the manufacturing process. Hershey's employs a milk powder with a higher concentration of butyric acid, creating a distinct flavor that differs from European milk chocolates. Furthermore, the choice of cacao percentage and inclusions also contributes to regional preferences.

Final Thoughts

The art of chocolate-making involves a deep understanding of the delicate balance between science and craftsmanship. From fermentation to roasting, grinding to conching, each stage is a labor of love that transforms raw cacao into a delectable treat loved by people worldwide.

So, the next time you unwrap a chocolate bar, take a moment to relish not just its sweet taste but the incredible journey it took from the cacao tree to your hands. Chocolate-making is a true art form, a blend of science and passion that delights our taste buds and brings joy to our hearts.

July 21, 2023 — Colin Dunn

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