how is chocolate made

Before you ask "How is chocolate made?", let's start with the basics...

CACAO refers to:
1. the tree (cacao tree),
2. the pod that grows on the tree (cacao pod),
3. the bean that grows in the pod (cacao bean),and
4. the pure paste of the bean (cacao paste or cacao 'liquor').

COCOA refers to:
1. the 2 components of the cacao bean:
Cocoa solids refers to the nonfat element of chocolate.
Cocoa butter is the pure edible vegetable fat extracted from the cacao bean.
2. the powder created from the cacao bean: cocoa powder or cocoa

The original bitter chocolate drink favored by Aztecs and Mayans was very different from the smooth, sweet chocolate bars of today, yet the source of both remains the same: The humble cacao bean--the seed of the tropical cacao tree.

(That's nice, but how is chocolate made?)

how is chocolate made

Cacao trees are small, understory trees that grow in rain forests. In order to thrive, they require warm, humid conditions with regular rainfall and good soil. They cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 15° C (59° F), but must be shaded in their first 2 to 3 years. Because of their excessive need for warmth and moisture, they naturally grow with 20 degrees of either side of the equator.

They begin to bear pods when they are 4 to 5 years old, but they are not prolific producers. A mature tree may have up to 6,000 flowers in a year, but only produce about 20 pods. But, it produces all year long and a typical tree will continuously have pods in every stage of ripeness; always some part of it ready for harvest.

The pod of the cacao tree contains 20-60 seeds ("beans") buried in a white pulp. A pod ripens from yellow to orange, looks like a deflated football, and weighs about 1 lb (500 g) when ripe. It takes about 10 pods (300-600 beans) to produce 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of cocoa paste.

(Uh huh... How is chocolate made?)

The flowers of the cacao plant grow in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches. Unlike most of the world's flowers that are pollinated by bees or butterflies, cacao flowers are pollinated by tiny flies.

Cacao tree leaves are poisonous and inedible. They are filled with a creamy, milky liquid that tastes spicy and unpleasant.

There are competing theories on the origin of the wild cacao tree.
One is that they originally grew wild in southeastern Mexico and were distributed to other parts of Mexico and South America. But, recent studies of the species seem to show that the plant originated in the Amazon and was then distributed by humans throughout Central America and Mesoamerica. Either way, today the trees grow wild in the lowland foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins.


The three main varieties of cacao beans used to make chocolate are:
Forastero: The most commonly grown beans. They come from a large group of wild and cultivated cacaos, likely native to the Amazon basin.
Criollo: The rarest and most expensive beans on the market. They represent only 5% of all cacao beans grown.
Trinitario: A natural hybrid of Criollo and Forastero beans.

For more on the humble cacao bean, see Types of Chocolate

Now that we're done with that, I'm happy to answer your question,
"How is chocolate made?"

Step 1: Harvesting
Chocolate is made by beginning with the harvest of the cacao pods.

Because the pods grow in all degrees of ripeness and at any location on the tree, most harvesting is done by hand with machetes or by knocking them off the tree with a stick.It's important to harvest the pods when they are fully ripe. If the pod is unripe, the beans will have a low cocoa butter content, or there won't be sufficient sugars in the white pulp for fermentation. This results in a weak flavor.

How is chocolate made?
...By letting the cacao beans seethe.

Step 2: Fermentation
Two essential steps happen before the cacao beans are packaged and shipped to the manufacturer:

cacao pod

First, the pods are split open to reveal the cacao beans inside, surrounded by the pulp of the pod. (This pulp is sometimes used to make drinks or desserts, as it has a pleasant fruity taste with slight chocolate flavor.)

Second, the beans and pulp are scraped from the pods and placed in piles or bins to ferment for 2 to 8 days.

This fermentation process is crucial; it mellows the flavor of the beans and discloses the fruity undertones of the pulp. Without fermentation, the beans are too astringent and bitter to enjoy. This step gives the beans their familiar chocolate taste. Many high-quality chocolates undergo a long fermentation process.

How is chocolate made?
...By giving the beans a suntan.

Step 3: Drying
After fermentation, the beans are quickly spread in a single layer and left to dry, usually in direct sunlight from 5 to 7 days. The beans must be dried thoroughly to prevent mold growth.

Only after the beans are fully fermented and dried are they packaged and shipped to chocolate manufacturers around the world.

How is chocolate made?
...By "lighting their fire".

Step 4: Roasting
After they arrive at the manufacturing facility, the beans are cleaned (removing twigs, stones, and other debris), roasted, and graded.

Roasting brings out the most intense chocolate flavors and colors.
The time and temperature of the roasting depends on the type of beans and their relative moisture levels.

After roasting, the beans are cooled quickly. They are then transferred to a winnower that removes the shells and extracts the bean. This inner bean is crushed into small pieces known as "nibs"- the essence of the cacao bean that's full of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

How is chocolate made?
...By physically assaulting the beans.

Step 5: Grinding and Pressing
The nibs are ground and liquefied, resulting in pure chocolate in fluid form: chocolate liquor. (Misleading term, since the product contains no alcohol).
This liquor is the foundation for all chocolate products, and at last begins to resemble and smell like conventional chocolate.

The liquor is processed into two components: cocoa solids (the non-fat component)and cocoa butter (about 55% of pure chocolate).
(Cocoa butter has a mild chocolate flavor and aroma. In addition to making chocolate, cocoa butter is used in pharmaceuticals, ointments, and toiletries.)

The liquor is then pressed even more to remove the cocoa butter.
This leaves a powdery disc known as "cocoa presscake".
The presscake is pulverized and becomes common cocoa powder.

How is chocolate made?
...By confusing the beans.

Step 6: Mixing
At this point, the chocolate process differs depending on the manufacturer's recipe and formula.

If the chocolate is low quality, the crushed presscake will be mixed with vegetable fats, sugar, and flavorings to become substandard chocolate.
If the chocolate is to be higher quality, the cocoa butter will be re-added and mixed with the chocolate liquor, along with other ingredients like sugar, vanilla, and milk.

The newly mixed chocolate travels through a series of rollers to smooth out the texture somewhat before being sent to the conching machine.
At this point, chocolate still has an uneven and gritty texture.

How is chocolate made?
...By soothing the beans.

Step 7: Conching
Conching is the most important step in the chocolate-making process.

The speed, temperature, and length of the conching determine the final texture and flavor of the chocolate. In general, the longer the conching, the better the chocolate.

The conching machine (or "conche") is a container filled with metal beads that knead and massage the chocolate mixture for a period of time.
High-quality chocolate is conched for about 72 hours, lesser grades about 4 to 6 hours.

The conching process produces cocoa and sugar particles smaller than the tongue can detect, hence the smooth feel in the mouth. The refined and blended chocolate mass is kept in a liquid state by frictional heat.

The conche was invented in 1879 by Rudolphe Lindt from Berne, Switzerland. Legend has it that he mistakenly left a mixer containing chocolate running overnight. Although he was initially upset at this wastefulness, he soon realized he had made a major breakthrough.

Before conching was discovered, solid chocolate was gritty and not very popular. After that, it became possible to create chocolate "fondant" and other creamy forms of chocolate. Lindt's invention quickly changed chocolate from being mainly a drink, to bars and other confections.

How is chocolate made?
...By not letting the beans lose their tempers.

Step 8: Tempering
The final process in how chocolate is made is called tempering.

After conching, uncontrolled crystallization of the cocoa butter occurs. This causes the surface of the chocolate to appear speckled and matte, and causes the chocolate to crumble rather than snap when broken. The primary purpose of tempering is to assure consistently small cocoa butter crystals.

The chocolate is placed in large machines that cool the chocolate to precise temperatures in order to produce shiny, smooth bars.

The fats in cocoa butter can crystallize in six different forms, each form having different properties:

Crystal I: 17° C (63° F): Soft, crumbly, melts too easily.
Crystal II: 21° C (70° F): Soft, crumbly, melts too easily.
Crystal III: 26° C (78° F): Firm, poor snap, melts too easily.
Crystal IV: 28° C (82° F): Firm, good snap, melts too easily.
Crystal V: 34° C (94° F): Glossy, firm, best snap, melts near body temp.
Crystal VI: 36° C (97° F): Hard, takes weeks to form.

"Good" chocolate is made by forming as many type V crystals as possible in the tempering process. This ensures that the texture and appearance of the chocolate will not degrade over time.

Careful manipulation of the temperature accomplishes this:
1. Generally, the chocolate is first heated to 45° C (115° F) to melt all six forms of crystals.
2. Next, the chocolate is cooled to about 27° C (80° F), which will allow crystal types IV and V to form.
3. At this temperature, the chocolate is agitated to create many small crystal "seeds" which will serve as nuclei to create small crystals in the chocolate.
4. The chocolate is then heated to about 31° C (88° F) to eliminate any type IV crystals, leaving just type V.

After this point, any excessive heating of the chocolate will destroy the temper and this process will have to be repeated. Because of this, chocolate tempering machines (or "temperers") with computer controls are used for producing consistently tempered chocolate.

There are two methods of tempering chocolate manually:
1. The most common variant is by stirring already tempered, solid "seed" chocolate into molten chocolate to "inoculate" the liquid chocolate with crystals.
2. Working the molten chocolate on a heat-absorbing suface, such as a stone slab, until thickening indicates the presence of sufficient crystal "seeds". The chocolate is then gently warmed to working temperature.

How is chocolate made?
...By adopting out the transformed beans.

Step 9: Delivery
Finally, the chocolate is poured into molds, wrapped, and shipped to eager consumers around the world.
(I know. Technically, this doesn't tell you anything about how chocolate is made, but it's still an important step!)

For hundreds of years,
the chocolate making process remained unchanged
...until the Industrial Revolution.

How is chocolate made now?

Here are some highlights:

1732 French inventor, Monsieur Dubuisson created a table mill for grinding cocoa beans.

1795 Dr. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, used a steam engine for grinding coca beans. This led to the manufacture of chocolate on a large factory scale.

1800 Antoine Brutus Menier built the first industrial manufacturing facility for chocolate.

1828 Conrad Van Houten invented the cocoa press.His invention and his alkalizing process became known as "Dutching".

1847 Joseph Fry & Son discovered a way to mix some of the cocoa butter back into the "Dutched" chocolate, add sugar, and create a moldable paste. The result was the first modern chocolate bar.

1876 Daniel Peter of Vevey, Switzerland, invented a means of making milk chocolate for eating. (After experimenting for 8 years!)

1879 Rodolphe Lindt of Berne, Switzerland, invented the "conching" machine.

1913 Swiss confectioner Jules Sechaud of Montreux introduced a machine process for manufacturing filled chocolates.

1983-2004 Cacao production increased from 1.5 million tons to 3.5 millions due almost entirely to production expansion and not yield increases. According to the World Cocoa Foundation, some 50 million people around the world depend on cocoa as a source of livelihood.

2007 The U.S. Chocolate Manufacturers Association lobbied the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to change the legal definition of chocolate.

They want to be able to substitute partially hydrogenated vegetable oils for cocoa butter in addition to using artificial sweeteners and milk substitutes. Currently, the FDA does not allow a product to be referred to as "chocolate" if the product contains any of these ingredients.

For a more extensive time line, see The History of Chocolate

More interesting reading...

How is chocolate made in Belgium?
See Belgian Chocolate

How is chocolate made in Switzerland?
See Swiss Chocolate

How is chocolate made in Venezuela?
See Venezuelan Chocolate

How is chocolate made in Mexico?
See Mexican Chocolate

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