Production of Chocolate
Chocolate is produced from the seeds of a tropical tree called the cocoa or, mor properly, cacao tree. As with coffee, the quality of cocoa is sensitive to growing conditions, so cocoa from the best growing regions commands the highest prices. Cocoa trees produce large pods full of seeds called cocoa beans.
After the pods are harvested, the beans are quickly removed and allowed to ferment until they lose most of their moisture. There are several ways of doing this, but the traditional lmethod is to spread them between layers of banana leaves and leave them for several days, turning them often so they ferment evenly
The chemical changes that take place during fermentation turn the beans from yellowish to brown and begin to develop the flavor. The fermented beans are next dried in the open air. The fermented beans are next dried in the open air, because they still contaion a great deal of moisture. The dried beans are now ready to be shipped to processors. A single tree yields only 1 to 2 pounds of dried beans.
Cocoa processors clean the dried beans thoroughly and the roast them. The true flavor of the cocoa develops during roasting, and the temperature and degree of roasting are important factors in the quality of the finished chocolate. After roasting, the beans are cracked and shells removed. The broken particles of cocoa that result are called nibs. Nibs contain more than 50 percent fat, in the form of cocoa butter, and very little moisture.
Grinding the nibs produces a paste and releases the cocoa butter from inside the cell walls. This paste is called chocolate liquor or cocoa mass and is the basis of chocolate production. When chocolate liquor cools, it sets into a hard block. (Chocolate liquor contains no alcohol, in spite of its slightly misleading name.)
The next stage of manufacturing is to separate the cocoa powder from the cocoa butter. This is done with powerful hydraulic presses that squeeze out the melted fat, leaving hard cakes that are then ground into cocoa powder. Meanwhile, the cocoa butter is purified to remove odor and color.
To manufacture chocolate, the cocoa powder is blended with sugar and in the case of milk chocolate, milk solids. These ingredients are ground and blended together. At this point comes the critical procedure called conching. This is a two-stage process that first removes additional moisture and refines the flavor. During the second stage of conching, cocoa butter is added back and the liquid mass is ground and mixed for hours or even days to develop a fine, smooth texture. In general, higher-quality, more expensive chocolates derive their superior texture from longer conching. Finally, the liquid chocolate is tempered and molded into blocks for sale.
Tomorrow I will discuss dark, milk and white chocolate.