It can be stated with utmost surety that almost everyone who is reading this has had a bar of chocolate at least once. And for most of us, chocolate is one of our favorite flavors. From a simple bar of chocolate to the fancier bonbons, and from chocolate milkshakes to a chocolate cake; chocolate wins the battle: each and every time!
But have you ever wondered about how this wonderful ingredient is actually made? Despite its popularity, it is really sad that most of us don’t even know the origins of chocolate, let alone the processes involved in making it. Bean to the bar is actually a concept or rather the process of making chocolate from scratch. It a complex process which involves a series of steps, all of which contribute to the final flavour of the end product. Read on to find more about chocolate, where it comes from and how it is manufactured.
Where does chocolate come from?
Chocolate actually comes from a plant! Yes, you heard it right. To be precise, it comes from the pod known as Theobroma Cocoa. These are evergreen trees that grow in tropical regions. These areas include the wet lowland tropics of Central and Southern America, West Africa as well as Southeast Asia. And since these trees need shade to grow properly, they are often grown in combination with other plants, such as tall coconut trees.
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Plucking the pods:
The first step in the manufacturing of chocolate is plucking the pods and opening them. The pods are initially green, and the yellowing of these pods is a good sign that these are ripe and ready to be plucked. When ripe, harvesters hand pluck these pods and then break them open. Since machines can cause potential harm to the pods that grow on the trees, it is important to hand harvest the fruit, using hooked blades that are mounted on poles so that even the highest fruits can be reached.
Opening the pods
Once harvested, it is time to break open the pod. This usually takes place in a processing house. The pod is split open, and the seeds are removed. A single pod contains between 30 to 50 beans each. In fact, these fresh cocoa beans are off white in colour. And they do not taste like chocolate at all!
Fermentation of the cocoa pods
The cocoa beans are kept in large wooden boxes, between banana leaves. The heat and sunlight of the environment helps to naturally ferment these beans. This process usually takes around a week. During fermentation, the bacteria and yeast of the environment start to work on the natural sugars of the beans. They break down this sugar and convert it to alcohol. The acidity of the beans is reduced, flavour development takes place, and the result is brownish beans at the end of the process.
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Drying the cocoa beans
After fermentation, it is important to dry the beans completely. The fermented seeds are simply spread onto large trays, and left to dry out in the sun. This process is important to stop the fermentation process, and dehydrate the bean completely. Depending on the weather conditions, the process can take anything from a week to ten days.
Once these dehydrated beans reach the manufacturer, they are ready for further processing and their conversion to chocolate. Though different manufacturers may undertake slightly different processes, all of them are more or less the same.
The beans are roasted to enhance their flavour, and to dry them out completely. They are then heated, to form chocolate liquor. Lastly, the chocolate liquor is mixed with sugar, milk and vanilla for added flavour. The final product is then tempered, set into slabs, and then packed to be transported.
Step1: Roasting and winnowing
Roasting helps to develop the color and flavour of the beans. The outer shell is removed, while the inner parts are taken out to convert them into chocolate. The cocoa nibs, which are a result of this roasting process, are then passed through a series of sieves. This process is known as winnowing, and helps to sort these nibs as per their size.
Step 2: Grinding the nibs
Through the grinding process, the cocoa nibs then turn to cocoa liquor. This is also known as cocoa mass, or unsweetened chocolate. As a result of the grinding process, heat is generated. This turns the nibs into a liquid, since the fat content of the nib melts. The resultant cocoa liquor is mixed with additional cocoa butter and sugar.
Step 3: Moulding chocolate
Cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, milk solids and vanilla are added back to the cocoa mass in different proportions to finally make chocolate. This is followed by a process known as tempering. Tempering chocolate ensures that it sets smooth, has a glossy shine to it, and breaks with a snap. Tempering is important to allow the cocoa butter present in the chocolate to harden in specific structures. Finally, this chocolate is packed and then sent off to different parts of the world.
Do you know that there are a lot of fake chocolates available out there? These chocolates do not have cocoa butter, which is an important part of any good chocolate! Instead, this cocoa butter is replaced with cheaper versions, such as vegetable oil. This plays around with the flavour of the chocolate, and as a result, fake chocolates don’t taste that great! And because cocoa butter is an expensive ingredient, good quality genuine chocolates much more than fake ones!
For true chocolate lovers, there is nothing better than some pure and rich dark chocolate. In fact, a lot of Indian manufacturers have also started making their own chocolate in the country from scratch, so be sure to try those out if you can!