Thursday, 13 February 2014 23:30

How is Chocolate Made?

Did you know chocolate grows on a tree?

Well, at least the cacao pods that chocolate comes from grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree.  It takes a lot of time and energy to process the seeds of a cacao pod to get the finished product we’re all familiar with in the form of candies, syrups, hot chocolate and the myriad other products that contain chocolate.


  • Growth:

    Let’s start with the tree itself.  It is a small tropical tree that grows from 12’ to 24’  within 20 degrees latitude of the equator.  It is not seasonal as it produces pods all year long simultaneously in every stage of development - from bud to ripened pod - at any given time all along the trunk of the tree.    Buds form flowers from which the pod develops.


    Cacao trees are propagated one of four ways:

    A tree planted from seed is not a predictable producer.

    1. From seed:  Seeds from pods that are not more than 15 days underripe are planted.


    The following methods produce a clone of the original tree:

    2.  Cuttings:  A branch with leaves and buds is planted and will grow into a tree.

    3.  Budding:  A new bud is attached to an older tree - once it has sprouted, the old tree material is cut off.

    4.  Marcotting:  A piece of bark is stripped from the “mother” tree.  The scarred area produces roots and then is cut off and planted.


    Preparation of cacao beans for shipping and further processing:


    1.  Harvest:  The ripened pod is cut by hand with either a machete or a long cutting tool.  

      2.  Removal of seeds(or beans):  The pods are split open to separate the seeds inside(as many as 50 per pod) from the white, fruity pulp that surrounds them.  This pulp has a very mild chocolate flavor and is sometimes used to make drinks and desserts.

      3.  Fermentation: The seeds are then covered and allowed to ferment for 2 to 8 days during which time the bacterial breakdown of the pulp causes death of the bean.  As a result, previously separate substances are allowed to mix and begin to develop a distinct chocolate aroma, color and flavor.  This step mellows the flavor of the bean and the pulp and results in less bitter tasting chocolate.  Quality chocolates require longer fermentation time.  

    4.  Drying:  The seeds are then spread in a single layer on huge flat rolling racks and left to dry - usually in direct sunlight.

    5.  Shipping:  Once the beans are completely dry, they are bagged and shipped to chocolatiers around the world.







    1.  Cleaning:  Beans are cleaned to remove all debris and extraneious material.


    2.  Roasting:  The beans are roasted up to 2 hours at 250F to bring out the color and flavor.


    Methods depend on type of bean and preferred end product.


    3.  Winnowing:  The beans are machine-cleaned to remove the outer shell and harvest the “nibs” inside.


    4.  Alkalisation:  Nibs are treated to develop flavor and color, usually with potassium carbonate.   


    5.  Grinding:  The nibs are ground into a thick, rich paste called “chocolate liquor” which is the basic ingredient for all chocolate products worldwide.  In this state, it begins to resemble the chocolate we are familiar with.


    6.  Pressing:  The chocolate liquor is pressed in order to remove the cocoa butter leaving a solid mass called a “presscake.”  Different proportions of fat are left in the presscake depending on the needs of the chocolatier.


    7.  Adding flavors and ingredients:  The process diverges here depending on the manufacturer:


    -  Low quality chocolates are a mixture of the presscake with vegetable oil, sugar, milk and/or other flavorings (sometimes artificial).


    -  High quality chocolates are a mixture of cocoa powder, pure cocoa butter, sugar,milk, vanilla and/or other natural flavorings.


    -  White chocolate of any quality is simply cocoa butter without any chocolate liquor or powder added back in.


    8.  Rolling:  This chocolate mixture travels through a series of rollers until it has a fine, smooth texture.


    9.  Conching (or emulsifying):  The mixture now is machine-kneaded and massaged for hours or days in order to mellow any remaining acidic tones.  The speed, temperature, and length of time conching determines the final flavor and texture of the chocolate - as well as varying degrees of agitation and aeration.  Emulsifying uses an egg-beater like machine.


    10.  Tempering:  The chocolate, still in liquid form, is now precisely interval cooled and heated and reheated in order to produce smooth, shiny bars and prevent fat bloom and discoloration.


    11.  Molding:  The chocolate is poured into molds and cooled at a fixed rate and temperature.


    12. Wrapping and shipping:  The chocolate forms are wrapped by a special machine and shipped to distributors and retail outlets.


    Addendum:  If the chocolate is meant for other uses than candy bars, it is shipped to chocolatiers either as nibs or as chocolate liquor.




  • Harvest:


  • History:

    Chocolate was first documented in Mexico as early as 1100 BC.   Mayans were already domesticating crops of cacao trees in 400BC.  The Latin name for the cacao tree is Theobroma Cacao.  “Theobroma” means “food of the gods” because the cacao pods were crushed into a drink used exclusively by the upper classes of the Aztec civilization where they were so highly valued that they were also used as currency.  Cortes brought the recipe for this Aztec chocolate drink “xocoatl” in 1528.  The response was unenthusiastic until sugar was added to the recipe.

  • Top Producers:

    Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ecuador, Venezuela and parts of Africa and Asia.  


  • Varieties:

    There are three major varieties of cacao:

    Forastero - The most common and hardy with a mildly flavored bean.

    Criollo -  A rare and delicately flavored variety with heavily perfumed beans.

    Trinitario - A hybrid of Forastero and Criollo with characteristics of both.